I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee
A snow lark hovers over the isolated Isle of the Dead A shadow on the beach is an echo of Venus who bestows upon me some ripened red fruit In this isolated moment waves produce a dream that seduces me An ingénue queen executes a dance step that blows up the petals of the dream Scarlet footprints tarred to the pitch-black heaven tap there When dream pollen spills onto my lashes a voice is heard in a flash From the direction toward which a wand is pointing, a far-off starwort gives the order, “Sing” At one time three stars were two eyes
A kettle of vultures seems to be a ribbon around an active volcano Just so murmurs a sunblind monk scavenging acorns (brothers of the moon) in a field as he makes a wave motion shaped like a sea-bottom rosary Is a telegram-delivery-system a single kind of maternity The angel-shaped rubber glove that confused an “at-risk-asterisk” with “coming-to-terms” is becoming widespread It’s as much an amalgam as pure silver peacocks The brain of an Iwana fish spilling over with carefree dreams, informed by Japanese poplar trees, will soon be caressed by the bill of a gem store in the not too distant future This is because the two-lip-mint Tiffany shop that keeps hopping around is promising an orange desert island inside the paraffin seal of a sea-goddess The electric light in an eggshell that was blown out by the eastern wind is a crane-beak pickaxe What breaks the egg into a pure-white idea and a pure-yellow idea is the thought of two starry Boötes-the-Herdsman hunting dogs wrapped in a halo Since the era of Pliny the Elder the notion that a decided half-circle is heliotropic has been a tragic one In a natural-Technicolor dream that doesn’t personify Greece, an eyelid boat blinks by In the afternoon when only the otter’s bright light illuminates it, the marvel of the starving is that they can see it The salt’s young son who wishes for a Sirius star ignites and burns up the transparent part Soon in the new ruins, a maze of moonlight-colored corn melts down I’m a satyr diving for pearls I’m as saturated as pearl-flowers O you who sit and eat between swaying blades of seaweed With thy palm lines needlework a net over the Muscat-wine of the horizon Drift off in a state of unanimous-oneness The first cat one encounters is actual An omen of every kind of emotion Set out the toddy cats in the tops of palm trees and leave them to forage the field for stars
One see-through succubus bee is escaping along the length of my finger where transcendental air is expanding The arctic starflower dashing into my body The sparks of a giraffe The infinite prolongation of logical pay dirt Meanwhile I, a mutually sated lover, fall asleep gazing at a meal inside a rainbow Now is where the “earliest stars, earl-stars” were fissured and smeared on their lips Without so much as a blink in time, a kiss at sea That the sightless and silent Easter cacti are the bright eyes of an Immaculate Mary is impossible, impossible, impossible A waffling communion wafer A plate-like disc started starving above the crimson whimsy in the sky The blood-red snow dying of hunger began to go fast The carpet shark’s passenger accidentally chutes down the illusion of a metamorphic rock I make inroads into the feminine carbon fantasy and claim it’s mine Midnight-black morning, black midnight sun, all is called “the golden-sandaled dawn” O silver and gold water overrunning the dance slippers of night owls Pearl-gray mice gambol about from pole to pole Let them eat bread Let them use my voice Let them have my see-through beard Diamond spring wheat sprouts The frozen spring in the bedroom of a snow-in-summer flower turns round and round and becomes nothing The lover’s ringlets are survivors Everything negates figures The white-uniformed sun endlessly clean-starved The sun inside the horn of a penned-in unicorn The virgin forest vision of a walking stick-bug Wrapped in a fabricated nimbostratus of stratified stones the white-uniform sun is eternally sleeping and weeping in a white-sand bedroom on a strand A set of dream-keys is the invention of a convict surgeonfish. A marble that lays eggs leans and looks over a lover “Let us go then, you and I” through pure-white city streets full of blown whitecaps, the flaming fragrance of white horses Thus the humor behind the green-light hue of a particolored dream being the anima that animates “going to town” and “coming in a car” Finally love conquers all black and white striped halfbeak fish
Sum up all the little piggies from the mosquitoes’ fifty floors Patterning itself on the barest outline of a mare’s tail annihilating the Hail-Mary beads of a lightning bolt, the twenty-year ears of wheat cast a lead coin toward the arctic north At the North Pole, the marble-patterned life of a pie-dog, drawn on the surface of a prickly-pear mirror going in head first, equals the faceless rose’s bent flex of the arc that endlessly swallows pliable swords The turbulence of a cloud on its way to fireworks creates a lather of positivity and negativity on a beach when one covers a heliotropic sunflower with a leather boxing glove, causing a woman wearing rainwear to take a global view of an outback kangaroo that trots out of a seen-through incision The Leaning Tower is aquiver in an arrow pouch A Japanese Iris watch-crystal blooms inside a wall—an uprising that flattens the moon When the “poor us” sorrow of one girl of three doesn’t dissolve like dew in a porous rock Maybe just maybe a locomotive will turn into a rose Maybe just maybe a raccoon dog will be born on a littoral boundary Maybe just maybe a rock lobster will watch a clock face Maybe just maybe the sublime sky will enamel its nails Maybe just maybe night will come to an end in a sea-sponge subclass Maybe just maybe a star’s idler pulley will create a commotion Maybe just maybe the Manship Duck Girl fountain will make ants lose their footing Maybe just maybe Rockefeller will be restored as a string of pearls Maybe just maybe when stumbling over an old flame numerous suns will fall like rain On the heels of that, two-thirds of the sky will go dark While a sailing-cat rests between trees, all earthly cable lines will catch on fire On endless pastures, countless scorched roses will be wolfed down by innumerable horses Untold waterfalls will begin to melt down and the horizon will be bent like a bent-bamboo flute A beyond-imagining lake-like fad cultivates a tempest by feeding it the shade of a cerulean-blue sea sponge The cautionary warning of a slaughtered eagle drifts off onto the masculine mask of an elliptical angel A bulrush in a howling hand uses a scrub brush to rub out a fire in a babbling brook One fairy tale follows another as time flows From one old chestnut to one glow-worm showing the mowers the way From one lighthouse to one bioluminescent sea cucumber From one nitrogen bed compound to one common broom closet The fishbowl for figures who appear crestfallen and pass by like a waterfall is a devil in a vacuum (? To question it was belle in an icy snow-white dream that came down like countless ballet steps) His dance music would reach the ears of each urban female of thirty-or-so who was passing by If it’s a snap to wring as much sunlight as you wish from wood grain and equally a snap for a tap to provide the same amount of water for a guillotine lock and a honey love-cottage and your glove then you will be able to look and see how the mash-up of a good-luck horseshoe and a pearl and an iceberg is like an aurora. When a high-rise apartment building set beside wild roses releases that shade that is also reflected by the cellar of your heart, which is most likely rust-red, your soul mate suddenly no longer trusts the role of a Leica camera When the shadow of a death mask leaps out in the early light of day, you brighten up like a lightning rod From your pursed lips, quote marks fall out, “Stars are far-off armchairs—Stars are far-off alarm clocks—Star’s small arms fall off” If copper currency endlessly pursues a hawk on the horizon, some sea dogs will never look at a blue bowl Red blood will wet the stars, as well as sweet-tooth-seaweed rooted in clouds A sect of Christians will see crystal wild boar badges on royal guard uniforms that are lying in ambush on a layer of shark teeth And will be ecstatic to see a rainbow lightning bolt hit a bombardier beetle And will discover seared meat three thousand feet below ground And a pear tree will appear to come up by leaps and bounds And one cinema screen will be split into three
For the sake of gravity O Holy Communion Go down three suns O aphrodisiac star anise Grow six more feet The manifestation of sight in a crystal The manifestation of taste in a bottle The manifestation of hearing in gravel The manifestation of touch in a ball of lard The manifestation of smell in a vent sending you into a dreamlike delirium in the sensorium The cat that buffed his claws makes the antelope buck glisten in a hand tiller Blue geraniums will be made to shout out Seed pearls will grow in a meadow A gushing geyser will let go & go fly a kite A cast-iron Venus scatters hail beads that are both cathartic and make bell beans look belle When a bituminous tar-pit devil says hello to his South Pole coeval An endless list of quitclaim deeds from November were dispersed, while the hopes of an Inuit falling from a rising iris were amended Defenseless walnuts washed by breakers A devil’s triangle that can’t be drowned out The nimbus that prompts a young Elle to flee from clouds, fog, haze, or mist It’s the milkman who’s always seen as the thunderous boom-boom-boom When the Notre Dame bell-ringer with the bent back is only a ray of light the photo call sheet will be altered from having a Madonna in Red on it to having a One-Eyed Jack with the same name as the OR nurse and will keep changing, flickering like a wave, winking like an eye, alternating continually, on and on In a room, a radium-painted watch is being smothered by bioluminescent milk When a child’s femoral bone bore a resemblance to an isolated rainbow hourglass Oh, what a cosmopolitan artwork! Inside the eternal O’s Platonic body, a punning jester keeps juggling a hatching demon and rolling it out like a turnip A burning fire lying on its back Are you the horseshoer for every horse? In some fall grain on a dining room table—a meteor, registered mail, some atoms, and a storm, were discovered taking the place of an anniversary The interior lyrical suite echoes The cracked barleycorn snarls A lightning-green fantôme was smothered by the fan of a hand Muscles change into the mind The mind changes into muscle Here lies a little-chrysanthemum sumo wrestler How lovely eyelids are when they’re not being redressed Outfitted in a cold-wave permanent in a heat wave, a huntress presses the electric buzzer, uncomprehending that a wild peahen will slip from her hand onto her head A friend with bad handwriting carefully listens in on dirt It’s he who rescues the still oddly-unready fresh fruit The gallows under a mass spectrometer continue to be tapped out, dewdrop by dewdrop, the confessor priest is still glistening, everything is chilled to the bone and won’t move until the next earthquake Gold ore thrusts up and a platinum goatee flaps in a cold wind An implied mind gets eaten away when cryptically hidden Someone with the pallid fingers of an ashy sky with incompatible cowry money keeps patting the back of an inherited hedgehog and, unable to tolerate the sudden inquiry about whether an eternal Eden is going to open in a ship’s berth, forgets the hymn, “Hold Up the Signal, There’s Danger Ahead” That “call of duty” is a conversation in the transparent polar region I recall the outline of a draft in a waste land as if it were my own Any string drawn across from “over there” is an elegant artifact that can be tethered to an electronic elephant A bird-like barrel cactus is again rolled out in a café A constellation of consoled stars Your seal ring can make a crescent demented That’s a lively semicircular ball-in-a-maze game Pears have ripened within the range of pearl buckshot that got close to loony ducks From a freshwater pond, an octopus will look at the distant bobbing He will feel sleepy Will dream that saltpeter comes flying in as if it were a tasty Morse-code morsel Will know it is not from a midday Bailey, Banks, & Biddle gem store but instead from the two-named studhorse on foamy wavelets And when his bubble-pumper bursts, his pulse will stop forever A ruler will have a compound fracture Young sandbars love triptych mirrors Pups with iridescent insides love all the tall trees in water parks Silver and gold collide and spark A prairie fire is a blazer crest in a kingfish-spawning ground Within that chlorophyll kingdom, a worldly Jasperware urn hides at a distance of twenty feet inside the paddle of a stern-wheeler that’s making a difficult trip Reeds twist and turn like see-through mazes Heads together under one parasol, a male and a female prairie dog use a styptic pencil to slash-and-burn before fathoming how to find flint, and end up in an April sky as two alabaster statues that become two wisps that go up in smoke The second they’re all gone, a towboat scrapes the bark of an ash tree, setting off a meteoritic spark The moment a glistening raised eyebrow adheres to a rose-shaped body, the lustrous wheels of a stroller float on air like an ethereal orb A resourceful icicle, while reading tomorrow’s Morning News, drips out a milk tooth The irises of her round eyes are so vividly reflected in ashes “blanched to a veritable white” she can’t distinguish where her life ends and the spiral hell of a conch shell begins She casts a shadow from China to Spain Her keyless handcuffs melt and fly off from the icicle A compass presents a marvelous sight A hammerhead shark offers a beautiful view A mist exhibits a wonderful sight A doorway displays a lovely view All-out starvation causes a deep-green isthmus to be swallowed up, along with millions of dreams The Holy Mother Peak of Mount Everest gets reflected back in a savior’s hand mirror Five-colored fizzy water rises off the downy hair on the back of one’s neck The hot wind fanned by the pinkie finger never dies down At the end, ubiquitous air-filled pillows explode Cherry cockleshells will cover a feminine cheek Will compact alabaster double down on the difference? An incomprehensible (tender) button will keep on answering no, no, no Even if dawn sneaks up on a bivalve shell inside a human shoulder, the duel will never stop The Japanese rhinoceros beetle will reveal the Catholic mass as if it’s seen through a lens If a priest suffering from scurvy pines for sawdust, no diver will ever resurface If new shoots substitute for a near drum, the sun will stand in for stones If ostrich feathers are as heavy as lead, lightheaded gravel will laugh out loud Oval-cut diamond stars will travel around An active volcano will apply lava-red lipstick A straw will reply “Hey!” At that very moment, a bellowing voice will come from above “Bestow on each human a mirror” That same voice will state “The palms of those who believe in it will be as bright as gold The palms of those who do not believe in it will be as bright as silver” Those pairs can only talk when no explosion drives them off and they can walk to the four corners of the world If, when one pair among them came ashore, without having noticed an unshaded candelabra, what fate might then the second couple have suffered? When a pair of beggars among them happen to be lovers, the wicket gate they passed in the wee hours is a shaft of light from fireworks Then, you will all believe it If you possess courage, you yourself will go see it As your eyes meet your look-alike in a frescoed wall, a young lark in a distilling apparatus will meet the eyes of a parent lark Moreover, more than ten centuries dressed in downy plumage will form a line behind us The mortar between the stones will sing Approaching it without difficulty, two fish will fall in love Every wave will sanction it Each drop of blood will testify to it before the bench The reason a leopard’s cleverness is more clearly calmed by a Wedgewood blue sky—that can be touched by the top of a fir via a miraculous act—than by blue Jasperware, is because just-weaned leopard cubs received a midday letter from me, regardless of whether or not they wished to become members of a mariners’ club If the horizon line of late is getting more difficult to believe in, perhaps it’s because I insist on addressing this letter to those leopard cubs If every origin is found in a zoological garden, my eyes glisten like electrified fruit, and my fingers shine like copper pyrites, whether or not they do, I’m unsure A shrimp that flies will be refined If the maritime sky is thirty-five times more complicated than earthly seas, the footprints I’ve matched my feet to will not, in the end, be a mere revival Returning home, the three women who don’t believe me when I say the sea is my clock-face won’t know about the dive into a huge bottomless barrel It’s no surprise if they confess they’ve never seen a green tree, since the siren’s harp they’d never seen was, in fact, made of water wisteria, and the mermaid’s house they’d never seen was, in fact, “wreathed with seaweed red and brown” When the beaded bubbles burst, those women who could only believe that “the foam / Of perilous seas’’ took place in a dream will understand it was just a fragment of my clock-face For the first time they’ll ground down that bird “off on swing” into a deep powdery blue Whether that’s going to delight them, is a secret only the little birdies know Whether her mirror will be made of that powder, is a secret only the nightingales know
Translated by Mary Jo Bang and Yuki Tanaka
Shuzo Takiguchi (1903–79), a poet, painter, and art critic, was one of the most prominent Surrealists in Japan. He introduced and actively promoted the works of André Breton, Max Ernst, and other European Surrealists through translation and criticism. An Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism, compiled by Breton and Paul Éluard for the International Surrealism Exhibition in 1938, recognized Takiguchi as a “poète et écrivain surréaliste.” Takiguchi was imprisoned in 1941 by the Japanese “thought police” and held for over eight months. After his release, he stopped writing and reinvented himself as a visual artist and art critic. It was only in 1967 that admirers of his work collected the individual poems that had previously appeared in magazines and published them as a book titled The Poetic Experiments 1927–1937. The prose poem “Textes,” which is included in that book, was originally published in 1930.
Mary Jo Bang is the author of eight books of poems, including Louise in Love, The Last Two Seconds, A Doll for Throwing, and Elegy, winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award. Her translation of Dante’s Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, was published by Graywolf Press in 2012. Her translation of Purgatorio is forthcoming in 2021. She’s been the recipient of a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and a 2015 Berlin Prize fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. She teaches creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis.
Yuki Tanaka was born in Yamaguchi, Japan. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Michener Center for Writers, and a Ph.D. in English from Washington University in St. Louis. His chapbook, Séance in Daylight (Bull City Press), was the winner of the 2018 Frost Place Chapbook Contest. He teaches at Hosei University, Japan.
Originally published in
This issue features interviews with Chitra Ganesh, Tania Cypriano, Charles Atlas, Netta Yerushalmy, Vi Khi Nao, Amani Al-Thuwaini, Andrea Hasler, and Bruce Boone, as well as fiction from Verónica Gerber Bicecci, Justin Taylor, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, and Lee Relvas, and poetry from Shuzo Takiguchi and Bruce Boone.
I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee