December 10, 2008

Tada Chimako

Tada Chimako [Japan]

Born in 1930, Tada was inspired in her late teens by the poetry of Hagiwara Sakutarō (see PIP anthology, volume 1) and Nishiwaki Junzaburō to write poems. Hanabi (Fireworks) was published in 1956, followed by nine collections before the definitive editon of her complete poems in 1994. Her seventh book, Suien (Water Spray), published in 1975, is a small collection of tanka. Her eleventh book of poems, Kawa no hotori ni (By a River), published in 1998, won the Hanatsubaki prize.

Often described as an "intellectual poet"—a term that Tada has not resisted—she argues for her poetry (particularly in her noted essay "The Mirror of Velasquez") that she attempts to combine the senses of intellect and emotional feeling to create sublime pleasure. "All the elements of poetry function together, each word having a value like a number that shifts with the changes in syntax. Even in a short poem the reader must use his intellect to record the possibilities of its infinite complexity. How does such a complex writing create pleasure? The specific images, situations and structures of the poem satisfy not only the emotions and all senses, but the brain's delicate interconnections.... The pleasure that results can approach a pure bliss that is among the human being's most sublime experience."

Majoring in English in college, Tada is also recognized as a distinguished translator of French writers such as Marguerite Yourcenar (Mémoires d'Hadrien), Claude Lévi-Strauss, Georges Charbonnier, Antonin Artaud, and Saint-John Perse (see PIP Anthology, volume 2).


Hanabi (Tokyo: Shoshi Yuriika, 1956); Tōgijo (Tokyo: Shoshi Turiika, 1960); Bara uchū (Tokyo: Shōshinsha, 1964); Kagami no machi arui wa me no mori (Tokyo: Shōshinsha, 1968); Nise no nendai ki (Tokyo: Yamanashi Shiruku Sentā, 1971); Tada Chimako shishū (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1972); Suien: Tada Chimako kashū (Kōbe: Bukkusu Kobe, 1975); Hasu kuibito (Tokyo: Shoshi Ringoya, 1980); Kiryō (Tokyo: Chūsekisha, 1983); Hafuribi (Tokyo: Ozawa Shoten, 1986); Teihon Tada Chimako shishū (Tokyo: Sunagoya Shobō, 1994); Kawa no hotori ni (Tokyo: Shoshi Yamada, 1998); Nagai kawa no aru kuni (Toyko: Shoshi Yamada, 2000); Kaze no katami (Saitama: Yūhin Bunko, Fukiage-chō, 2003); Fū o kiru to (Tokyo: Shoshi Yamada, 2004); Yūsei no hito: Tada Chimako kashū (Saitama: Yūshin Bunko, Fukiage-chō, 2005)


Moonstone Woman: Selected Poems and Prose, trans. by Robert Brady, Odagawa Kazuko and Kerstin Vidaeus (Rochester Michigan: Katydid Books, 1990); Forest of Eyes, trans. by Jeffrey Angles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010)


Like a loquat stone that rools on the tongue
smoothing June passes by.
When both the piece of ice put on her palm
and the sorrow congealed in the morning
melt by themselves in the body warmth
she at evening clothes herself in a faint light sky
and alone, idly, gently,
caresses for a time the breeze in her hair.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


The rain washes away the remaining summer,
in the garden a soaked dripping autumn crouches.

My tongue, cold as a clam,
imprison soft words
in its shell grown used to the tides.

I put a wet stone reflecting my eyes
on a thinkly spread palm,

and my long gaze in the end returns to itself,
abandoning a memory
that lists and sinks like a wrecked ship in the distance.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

The Withered Field

Tree-searing winds write and thrash.
The mind no one inhabits
has no horizon.
It's simply, unimaginably, wide.
In the shoes are the feet.
How distant the feet are!
Pushing aside the sun reeling from hunger,
today too, teeth exposed to the wind, I go through the winter field.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


Slowly, slowly, the man inhales the air,
his thick chest swells,
his thick arms rise,
his glistening ax lifts,
into the blue sky,
into the blue sky where birds fly,
his glistening ax rises.

Under his feet is a tiny head,
a think neck, a torso, and legs;
taking aim, the ax stays still,
in the blue sky where birds fly, it stays still;
the whole world falls silent, that moment,
behold, the white neck begins to stretch, sliding,
under the raised ax,
escaping far off from the bound torso,
the white neck stretches, sliding, endlessly.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

Morning Fireworks

A rose morning,
chewing stale gum,
I walked by the sea.

On the sand a disfigured rock statue blocked my way.
An infant hermit crab
was scratching its cracked heel.

From between my gripped fingers
the sands leaked sandy dreams and lost themselves.
A discarded urn, mouth open,
persisted in drinking the wind that was too dry.

In the offing the island were dots
unrelated to one another.
From time to time, just about when I'd forgotten them,
snow-white fireworks rose and burst.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

Legend of the Snow

And finally the snow began to fall
after the rain, wind, and sand

Stopping the hands of all clocks
the now slowly went on piling
on the steeples of evil intent
on the castle walls of foul distrust
on the ruts of the wheels that struggled with black mud

Enveloped in the snow cocooon
the town became a legend
became a white pumic gravestone
with countless holes bored in it by the souls, the noctilucae....
(however ill and emaciated, old people
all become beautiful before dying)

Where was reconciliation?
The human town forgot weight
and precariously trembling as a single flower
atop a thin stalk
kept openilng one white petal after another
(like a deep gentle wound
that turned into a holy theater)

Where was prayer?
The snow that began to fall at last
after the wind, rain, and sand
laid a white day upon a white night
and never ceased.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

The Mirror

The mirror is always slightly taller than I am
laughts slightly after I do.
I blush red like a crab
and cut with scissors those parts of me protruding out of it.


I bring my lips close to the mirror and it clouds
and I vanish behind my own sigh
just as for example an aristocrat vanishes behind his crest,
just as a rascal vanishes behind his tattoo.


This mirror, a graveyard of smiles, traveler,
go to Lacadaemon and tell this:
that, heavily made up, a grave painted white,
only a wind blows through the mirror.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

Poetry Calendar

I who wait for me
I who do not appear
Today, too, I turned a sheet of ocean
And threw away a clam that died, mouth closed

The day that can't break a white beach
A mother's womb that doesn't give birth a broken oar

I who wait for me
I who do not appear
Today, too, I turned a sheet of horizon
And threw away a snake slough that's too light

The day that can't break a wasted parasol
A suspicious laugh cold fries

I who wait for me
I who do not appear
Today, too, I turned a sheet of sky
Swept together sooty stardust and threw it away

The day that can't break tearful grass
I turn I turn
But I do not appear

I wait for me
The world of imaginary numbers armless love

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

The Autumn Thought

It is, for example, a single eggplant left on a withered branch,
a raw-smelling empty can clunking down a mountain
from its deserted apex toward the bottom of a valley,
the sound of wind that startles the Honorable Toshiyuki
[1] studying for tests.
The single paulownia leaf
[2] is a worn-out and eternal autumn thought.
Noticing that sound,
even a liar hesitates a little before speaking.

Go, endlessly stepping on the shadow of a slender steel tower
and you come out in the country of a northern tribe far beyond the castle wall.
This rose doesn't put on flowers but has many thorns.
Deteriorating civilization,
Queen of Allergia suffering asthma,
the persimmon on your palm, like the innkeeper,
is tipsy, jolly, and sour at heart.

If you sneak into a room in an alley,
a bachelor acupuncturist stabs a white platinum needle into your nape
and quietly pins you to the wall.

grab the wind fluttering like a sail and leave.
Toward the twilight of Inferno,
today, too, the sun is clunking down like an empty can rusted red.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


Facing the mirror I lightly make up.
This is what I always do, a custom every night.
What isn't a custom:
Tonight I become a boy!

A dress shirt and a blazer for a fifteen-year-old boy
Slacks also for a fifteen-year-old boy
These mysteriously fit me right
And I become a boy just before his beard begins to grow

This gamble doesn't cost much
Isn't even as risky as a gamble
I may replace a jack with a queen
But it's all right: No one will notice it
(Its rusted hull repainted
Its prow loaded with eyes
The ship launches from orthodox time)

From now on I won't envy any man or woman
Won't need perfumes or two revolvers
If I want to, I can become
A concrete woman
An abstract boy

The night has deepend
Preparations done I'll go now
To someone who's neither husband nor lover
Farewell, strange boy in the mirror
Who's about to become a man, until the daybreak smelling of mother's milk

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

Fear of the Kitchen

No matter how peaceful a house may be, it has, by necessity, one room tainted by murderous omens. There, people wield murderous weapons in broad daylight and slaughter pitiable small animals. Those who are already corpses are skinned and cut into pieces—on the sacrificial platform called the cooking board.

The cooking board is purified by blood. You wash the blood off with water and detergent merely to return the sacrificial platform in a state of extraordinary exhilaration to the state of carte blanche and make it wait for another purification
The cook is a priest who sanctifies the corpse to turn it into savoriness in the mouth. His clean white robe signifies his priestly status.

Even a dainty fruit knife acquires, doesn't it, the features of a nakedly murderous weapon when it stabs and apple's red cheek?

That white box which makes a manmade Arctic materialize in a corner of the warm kitchen. A refrigerator or a freezer. It is a space of a different character in the bright, heated kitchen and, like the murderous intent in a tiny corner of the brain of a smiling man, hermetically seals its fatally cold air, along with its darkness, and never lets it out.

The plucked birds and beasts stuffed into this white box—how they resemble the frozen corpses in the morgue!

A room equipped with a number of gas burners where you can freely cook and broil. If you feel like it, you can even turn the knob on and just leave the burner unlit. Your kitchen will soon turn into a perfect gas chamber.

And when you put a whole chicken or turkey on a broiling pan into the oven and close its door, don't you think of the steel door that seals in a cadaver at the crematorium? Even the meager oven in my house can readily broil your baby.

The fury of the water that's put on the fire and made to boil—well, that's hard enough, but how can we wash away its resentment as it's left in the kettle to slowly turn cold?

In the peaceful kitchen, stacked pure-white eggs keep a precarious balance, and a highly sharpened meat knife is suspended above the cook's head like a Damoclean sword.

—Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

Distant Autumn

I sweep together the corpses of cicadas
and bury them in a new hole.
I rise to my feet, wavy pampas grass at eye level;
when I rise further, an asure sea at eye level.

In a distant autumn there was a wedding.
Since then many summers,
many attempts and failures to raise Spanish flies.
One morning a boy swam ashore from the offing,
his hair made of corn silk.
Turning around a fermenting vat,
I persisted in killing centipedes.

All this is painted in ancient murals.
The world is plastered in the walls of caves,
and in time peels away.

Peer into the telescope upside down
and distance the shore of shipwrecks,
the shore where thorns prosper
covering my twenty-year-old body that died by water.
Or perhaps what I am now
is in retreat into the interior of time.
I rise to my feet, an azure sea at eye-level.
I rise further, and from my eyes
scaly clouds magnificently drop away.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


English language translation copyright by Hiroaki Sato