September 2, 2022

Takahashi Mutsuo (Japan) 1937

Takahashi Mutsuo (Japan)



Born in Yahata, Kyushu in 1937, Takahashi Mutsuo spent most of his early youth with relatives and other families, his father having died soon after his birth. With the end of World War II, he began to write poetry, publishing his first book of poetry, Mino, My Bull, in 1959. During that same period Takahashi became friends with Friar Tsuda, and became interested in Catholicism. He graduated from Fakuoka University of Education in 1962.

     From the beginning, Takahashi's poetry was overtly homosexual, and his second book, Rose Tree, Fake Lovers, published in 1964, has been compared to the writings of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. The same year, he became acquainted with Japanese novelist, Mishima Mishima Yukio, with whom he was to remain friendly until Mishima's suicide in 1970.

    Over the next several years, Takahaskhi published numerous books of poetry, fiction, and essays, including Dirty Ones, Do Dirtier Things, Twelves Perspective, Ode, Holy Triangle, and King of the Calendar. He also traveled extensively, staying for more than a month in New York City in 1971 and for briefer periods in Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, England, Mexico, Korea, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Taiwan and other countries throughout the world. His work has been translated into many languages.

     In the 1970s Takahashi worked with translations of Greek and French literature, published a magazine, Symposium, and continued his travels, this time to San Francisco, Germany, Austria, Hong Kong, and Algeria. In 1982 he received the 20th Rekitei Prize for his collection of poetry, The Structure of the Kingdom. The same year, he published A Bunch of Keys.

     Other prizes include the Takami Jun Prize for Usagi no Niwa (The Garden of Rabbits), the Yomiuri Literary Prize for his haiku and tanka Keiko Onjiki (Practice/Drinking Eating), the Gendai-shi Hanatsubaki (Modern Poetry Flowering Camellia) Prize for Tabi no E: Imagines Itineris (Pictures from a Journey), and the Nihon Gendai Shiika Bungakukan (Museum of Modern Japanese Verse) Prize for Ane no Shima (Older Sister's Island).

      Takahashi’s magnus opus was published in 2018, in English Only Yesterday. His memoirs, Twelve Views from the Distance, translated by Jeffrey Angles, was recently published in English by University of Minnesota Press.




Mino, Atashi no Oushi (Tokyo: Sabaku Shijin Shûdan Jimukyoku, 1959); Bara no Ki, Nise no Koibito-tachi (Tokyo: Gendaishi Kōbō, 1964); Nemuri to Okashi to Rakka to (Tokyo: Sōgetsu Art Center, 1965); Yogoretaru Mono wa Sarani Yogoretaru Koto o Nase (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1966); Takahashi Mutsuo Shishū (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1969); Homeuta (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1971); Koyomi no Ō: Rex Fastorum (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1972); Kyūku chō [haiku] (Tokyo: Ukawa Shobō 1973); Dōshi I (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1974); Watakushi (Tokyo: Ringo-ya, 1975); Kōdō Shō [haiku] (Tokyo: Ringo-ya, 1977); Michi no Ae (with Kyūka-Chō) [tanka] (Tokyo: Ringo-ya, 1978); Dōshi II (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1978); Sasurai to iu Na no Chi nite (Tokyo: Shoshi Yamada, 1979); Shinsen Takahashi Mutsu Shishū (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1980); Ōkoku no Kōzō (Tokyo: Ozawa Shoten, 1982); Kagitaba (Toyko: Shoshi Yamada, 1982); Bunkōki: Prismatica (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1985); Usagi no Niwa (Tokyo: Shoshi Yamada, 1987); Keiko Onjiki [haiku and tanka] (Tokyo: Zenzaikutsu, 1987); Tabi no E: Imagines Itineris (Toyko: Shoshi Yamada, 1992); Nii Makura [tanka] (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1992); Kanazawa Hyakku, Kanazawa Hyakkei [haiku] (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1993); Zoku: Takahashi Mutsuo Shishū (Tokyo: Shichôsha, 1995); Ane no Shima (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1998); Tamamono (Tokyo: Seikoku Sho'oku, 1998); Only Yesterday (Tokyo: Shichōsha, 2018)




Poems of a Penisist, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1957); A Bunch of Keys, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (Trumansburg, New York: The Crossing Press, 1984); Sleeping, Sinning, Falling, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (San Francisco: City Lights, 1992); Voice Garden: Selected Poems by Mutsuo Takahashi, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (Tokyo: Star Valley Library, 1996); selections in Partings at Daen: An Anthology of Japanese Gay Literature, trans. by Stephen D. Miller, Hiroaki Sato, and Steven Karpa (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1995); selections in Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists, trans. by Jeffrey Angles (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1999); On the Shores: New and Selected Poems, trans. by Mitsuko Ohno and Frank Sewell (Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2006); We of Zipangu: Selected Poems, trans. by James Kirkup and Tamaki Makoto (Tormorden, United Kingdom: Arc Publications, 2006); Poems of a Penisist (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012)






My bull

Before I reached your knees

I was already your sister

I climbed your sturdy legs

Or from between your crescent-shaped horns

I looked at the distant ocean

From field to field where the wind blazes

We ran together

You brandishing your horns

I streaming my hair behind me

At night we slept, holding each other

Belly to belly, thigh to thigh

Until the terrible sunrise


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



(from Mino, Watashi no Oushi, 1959)



To a Boy



you are a hidden watering place under the trees

where, as the day darkens, gentle beasts with calm eyes

appear one after another.


Even if the sun drops flaming at the end of the fields where grass stirs greenly

and a wind pregnant with coolness and night-dew agitates your leafy bush,

it is only a premonition.


The tree of solitude that soars with ferocity,

crowned with a swirling night,

still continues in your dark place.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



(from Sasurai to iu Na no Chi nite, 1979 [poems from 1958-1961])




At the Throat


Fury─iron swung down,

the, black fleeing in many blue nights.

For a while through the trees your face, now a pulpy mess, chased me,

closed eyelashes trebling as if they wanted to say something.

But I no longer envy your gentle throat.

What has come between you and me:

an act, a crime─and, time.

Hot morning, throat gurgling,

I drink water. Sweat turns into beads, blankets my forehead, and trembles.

Reflected in the sweat beads, a breeze from a tamarisk is trembling.

I take a plow in my arms of solitude and, in the deep noon, become a man.

That pitiful fellow─I devise the coarse soil into two strands of soil

and, back turned to the noon where silence resounds, and plowing,

walk step by step toward the evening with lightning flaring in the clouds.

─In the barn's cold darkness gleams a razor-sharp sickle.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


(from Sasurai to iu Na no Chi nite, 1979 [poems from 1958-1961])




Foreskin (from Ode)




And with the tounge tip sharpened like a needle, everts the wrapping cloth

A bandage would tightly round and round the ring finger

The bandages for an abscess, the bandages rolling up a fireman burned all over

The bandages that wrap the invisible man, the bandages with a mummified boy- king sleeping in [them

The white cover-cloth a leper has pulled over himself, from head to toe

The flowering stalk of a butterbur, a peapod, skin-covers of a bamboo shoot

A miscanthus roll, a taffy in a bamboo leaf, a butterball wrapped in cellophane

A hat, the Pope's miter, a cardinal's hat, the hood for a child in the snow country

The chef's somewhat grimy white toque

The K.K.K. hood, socks, a rubber thimble

A rubber glove everted like a pelt of gelatin

A god's glove that has fallen from heaven toward the sea of chaos

A turban, a calpec, the hood of the Eskimo parka

Roofs rising in the Kremlin, in rows as if in a fairy tale

In the Kremlin, from the balcony

Soviet elders wave to May Day crowds in Red Square

All in uniform caps

At Buckingham Palace, guards swagger in bearskins

Pericles' helmet, Napoleon's hat

The Pohai Emperor's hat, the Egyptian priest's headdress

The Old Blossomer's cap, Mr. Ebisu's cap

The fearful shoes, the shoes that, once put on, can't be removed

The rubber boots worn by a young cock in the fish market

The riding boots made to fit the legs closely

Each time the rider walks its spurs clack, clack

A hill-fresh yam wearing a maxicoat

A wandering yakuza's slightly soiled cape

A man rolled in a mattress carried by thugs to be dumped in the river

One unhooks the beltless, pulls the zipper

And recklessly pulls down the pants

A gaiter unwound swiftly, the leather chaps

A shutter pulled down with a rattle, a curtain, a double-leaf louver door

Concealing a man, panting, his hairy shins showing, a surgical intern in white

A noncommissioned offer's cap pulled down to the eyes, his uniform well-creased

The armor hiding the young blond knight, his Lordship

On a morning when each exhaled breath visibly turns into steam, white misty droplets

An auto repairman's one-piece workwear

The zipper extending down its stained cloth from neck to crotch

When one pulls it down in one breath

There, vividly, jumps out the young flesh, flushed with cold─

The leaping pink flesh wrapped in a lobster shell

The pelty diving suit, a suede suit

Skinned with a stone and bloody, a wild animal pelt

An antelope, a wolf, a coyote, their pelts

The membrane that wraps the bloody heart of a wild animal

The membrane of the morning haze that wraps the bloody daybreak



Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato



(from Homeuta, 1971)



Myself in the Manner of a Suicide


I will be buried in the road, cut far off from my right hand.

(Because of its behavior the right hand is forever cursed.)

Among the roads, a road with particularly heavy traffic of carts and horses.

Endlessly crisscrossed by the ruts that come and go,

my face will have deep wrinkles imitating agony chiseled into it.

My flesh will rot like a seed potato and, rotting, become transparent;

but because, blocked by the hard surface of the road, it cannot sprout,

in the dark earth my face, my phallus, will meaninglessly multiply.

Rather, from the sinful hand that was cut off and buried

I will bud as a new plant,

but the multiplying me in the earth will never take part in it.

I will become a single tree, spread in the light,

and as a testimony to myself putrefying in the earth, to myself that was once in the sunlight,

will flutter, and blaze, in one spot in the ravaged landscape.

Of that dark blazing face of that dark blazing day,

I now exist as a clumsy copy.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


(from Watakushi, 1971)




Myself with Cheese


As en embodiment of the word "manducation," for example

there will be a hunk of cheese with a golden fragrance.

If, to spotlight the manner of its golden embodiment,

the plate on which the hunk of cheese is placed is an ordinary plate of tin,

and where the tin plate is a casual wood table,

what will be the manner of my being with knife in hand, in front of the table?

I, as poet, witness this embodiment of gold.

Because it is said that to witness as poet

must be more impersonal than to witness as eater,

before the plate of cheese, my beard is an impersonal beard,

my wet teeth and tongue are impersonal teeth and tongue,

even the lifted knife is an impersonal knife.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


(from Watakushi, 1971)



Myself in the Manner of a Troubador



Mounting a horse with an abundant mane and in glittery armor, a hero

will have to have a face as dazzling as that orb of day.

But a base one ordered to sing of heroes,

I cannot have a face, however ordinary.


Like a photo of the hateful man an abandoned woman tore into shreds,

My face is torn apart and lost in advance.

Faceless, holding in both hands a lyre quite like a face,

on a hill with a view of the field shining with battle dust, under a plane tree,


or on a boulder of a cape overlooking the sea where triremes come and go,

I sit for thousands of years, I just continue to sit.

The odes that, faceless, I sing in praise of passing heroes

overflow as beautiful blood from the chest would I hade with the lyre.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


(from Watakushi, 1975)



Myself as in the Onan Legend


My face will be dark.

The glittering liquid that spurts out of my holy procreative center

will not be received into that contractile interior, which is eternally female,

but spill, and keep spilling, on the cold lifeless ground,

so my sons, who are my shadow, will as Little Leeches make a round of the earth,

make a round of the water labyrinth at the bottom of the earth, make a round of

the crisscross paths inside the tree,

and, ejected from the skyward mouth of every leaf at the tip of the tree,

will drift aimlessly in the empty blue sky and become lost,

so my face should have been what my sons of the endlessly continuing

glittering links of light began to weave and ended weaving,

so the overflowing light is behind me, not before me.

My face, the whole face as one large mouth of darkness,

in the overflowing, spilling light, is voicelessly shouting.



─Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


(from Watakushi, 1975)



Three Curses for Those to Be Born


"Be Afraid of Fish"

Be afraid of fish.

Be afraid of fish that have no voice.

Be afraid of fish that are soul-shaped.

Be afraid of fish that are the alphabet at the bottom of man's memory.

Be afraid of fish that are more aged than man or tortoise.

Be afraid of fish that came into being when water did.

Be afraid of fish that know every strand of bog moss, yet keep silent about it.

Be afraid of fish that are more shadowy than the shadow in the water which is more

dreamy than the dream.

Be afraid of fish that silently slip in and out of your nightly dream.

Be afraid of fish that remain in the water even when they mate.

Be afraid of fish whose gills continue to move even while alseep.

Be afraid of fish that move their mouths, afloat, with their air bladders, in

watery heaven.

Be afraid of fish, that are softer than lovers when caught.

Be afraid of fish, the foul feeders, that swallowed a god's phallus that was

twisted off and discarded.

Be afraid of fish that shed human tears when broiled on fire.

Be afraid of fish that are your fathers, that are your mothers.

Be afraid of fish that occupy your entirety the morning after you were bored by fish.

Be afraid of fish that remain fish-shaped even after turning into bones.

As for the fish bones, put them on your palms and return them to the water,

going down, barefoot, to the beach where your sewage pipe empties itself.


"Wheat King"

I am the Wheat King.

My dried-up small face is half rotten in the darkness of earth.

Extending, transparent and arched, from the black, cold putrefaction, are the

buds of the disease.

Feeling the air of early spring, the buds grow sparsely and turn pale as a dead man's brow.

When the wind becomes warm, the feeble wheat seedlings catch fever at once.

The ears of wheat, broiled with high fevr and emaciated, are pulled off by women's voilent

thigh-like fingers.

and are slashed, slashed with flails all day long.

Stone mortars smash me, and when I become wheat flour of poor coloration, I'm put through sieves.

I am kneaded with water, baked in ovens, and, as shabby noodles, carried into mouths with

rotten teeth.

The left-overs are thrown, with saliva, into vats, and are made to ferment grumblingly.

I become a coarse liquor, go down men's sinuous throats, and wander wih their muddy blood.

I am disfigured life that is poured out from man into woman at the end of travels of sufferings.

I am great death that fills that disfigured life.

Take me from this seed pot.


"Those with Wings"

Those with wings

those with long beaks

those that fly across clamorously moving their beaks up and down

those with pointed eyes

those that come and go between the city of life and the city of death

those that cross over both into purity and into filth

those that circle man's sky cautiously

those that, with scaly legs, alight on the sandy beach of time

those that clutch pebbles with crooked nails

those that stand about in flocks

those that ruffle up their feathers, vying for food laid out by the gods

those that are treacherous and easily surprised

those that flap up all at once

those that are bathed in overflowing scarlet as they dive into the sunset

those that chase the shooting stars

those that reach the shore of the spirits throughout the night

those that fly up, holding white-haired, wrinkled babies in their beaks

those that fly down, like frost, to the ridges of roofs in dawn

those that push orphan souls into the crotches of women sloppily asleep:

shoot those suspicious shadows.


─Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


(from Kagitaba, 1982)



On the Reality of the Pot



There is a pot.



The fact that there is a pot is not more certain than the certainty of the syntax that says there is a pot.



To make factually certain that there is a pot, the position of the pot, for example, on the axis of co-ordinates may be set. For now, the pot is in the darkness. Definitely outside the line of vision of my, or your, wide open eyes.



It is probably useful also to limit the darkness. For example, a corner of a kitchen made by piling up cut stones, the space below a dangling bunch of garlic, the tip of a whisker of a Chinese cricket, a line of light from the skylight─also outside any of these.



Next, we make limits within the limits and set its positon in the darkness. Its ass on the oven built directly on the earthen floor (or rather by putting stones in the shape of !¬!), it has a wooden lid on top. "On top" means simply "facing the ceiling, the upper-lower relations carry no meaning. (Of course, the space below the bunch of garlic, too, is meaningless, and the tip of a whisker of the Chinese cricket also becomes meaningless.)



This means that to say the vigorous tongue of fire is licking the tail of the pot from below is also meaningless. If the expression, "from below," is meaningless, the expression, "tail of the pot," naturally becomes meaningless. Because the tail exists as something opposed to the head and, in an upright being, the two imply upper-lower relations.



As long as upper-lower relations do not make sense, you can't necessarily say of fire that it's licking the pot. The expression, "The pot is licking the fire," won't be wrong, either.



Here, let us digress somewhat and anecdotally consider the fire. That the fire is coming out of the wood placed on the earthen floor is no more than one possible explanation. If, for example, we are to take into consideration the match which was the direct cause of the fire in this instance, it will be more appropriate to explain that there is a certain amount of time between the wood, which, because of the fire that came from elsewhere, is in the transitional process from wood to carbon (and ultimately to ash), and the pot. Of course, you must at the same time think of reversing the order of "wood" and pot" to "pot" and "wood."




Well, then, is it possible to say that the fire came from the match? It will be far more accurate to say that even with the match the fire came from elsewhere to it, no, to the space between the compound at the tip of the match-stick and the compound on the side of the match-box (match-stick and match-box may be reversed) and stayed at the tip of the matchstick for a certain amount of time.



If that is the case, where did the fire come from? Is it that in some invisible place there is the ideated world or hometown of fire and it has been called out to signal the friction between the tip of the match-stick and the side of the box? Or is it that one of the seeds of fire which are everywhere in the field of air has been made to sprout by a sudden stimulation? We will leave to the future the unknowability of this conjecture, as it is.




If we could make a transition from the uncertainty of the fire to the certainty of the pot, we certainly would be happy. No, it is fully possible that such happiness is no more than our wishful thinking.



At any rate, let's begin with the shape and the size of the pot. As for the shape, we will choose that of the traveler's hat of the ancient god of the road, the skull of the enemy commander which was also used as a wine cup at the victory banquet, the grave which the convict is forced to dig for himself, the mortar-shape of hell pictured in our short, wide-mouthed, deep, and as conspicuously special-shaped as possible. As for the size, its diameter is about the length of the lower arm of an adult male. Its depth is approximately the length from the wrist to the elbow. But as something made by hand, the size is irregular. That is to say, both the diameter and the depth may differ slightly, depending on where you measure them.



If its shape and size are special, it is desirable that the material be also special. One would hope it is shoddy pig iron made by stepping on the foot-bellows and containting a good deal of impure elements. Therefore, it is on the whole thick and uneven. Because it has remained intimate with fire for at least a hundred fifty to sixty years in time (assuming there is time), the parts that are directly exposed to fire and the parts that aren't have changed differently: either thinning by heating or increasing in thickness through the attachment of soot. There are differences in parts, but on the whole it is as black as if the darkness around it had condensed. It may indeed be the condensed darkness, not "as if."



Let us continue for convenience. If, as we say conveniently, fire is burning outside, something is cooking inside. This is what's called logic. The most fragile fiction.



15 beans. Like oatmeal. Like overripe tomatoes. Like meat with bones....It may simply be water. Even the air. Or vacuum. Though it must be vacuum as substance.



Why are we concerned that it must be some substance? Because if the reality of the pot remains uncertain after all this description, we will want to make the certainty of what's in it guarantee the certainty of the container.



Still, if what's cooking is vacuum, the pig iron that is the material of the pot itself will cook and diminish in weight though only little by little. But wait. The pig iron may not be diminishing, but merely moving elsewhere. That will be the case, especially if the pig iron is a metaphor for the condensed darkness.



The darkness is a container. Rather, the notion of container starts out from the darkness. If your brain is thinking, about the true nature of what's cooking in that darkness, what's cooking may well be in your brain. Will you say the brain, too, is no more than a metaphor for the darkness?



There is a pot, we began. It could have been a shoe, a jute bag, an armory, a mesure for wheat, a silkworm moth, a horse-bean pod, or any other thing.



Even so, we chose a pot over everything else, because a pot is thought to be extremely commong and boringly certain. But, for now, we must pay attention to the point, "is thought." When it comes to where the pot, which is thought to be certain, came from, we must say that our conjecture is cast in the unknowable darkness, just like jour conjecture on where the fire, which is thought to be uncertain, came from.



That there is a pot is that there is darkness. This is the same as saying we are. That is, the darkness called us has conjecture the reality of the unreality of the darkness called a pot. Or, the reverse of that.


Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


(from Kagitaba, 1982)






"Mino," "To a Boy," "At the Throat," "Foreskin," "Myself in the Manner of a Suicide," "Myself with Cheese," "Myself in the Manner of a Troubador," and "Myself as in the Onan Legend,"

Reprinted from A Bunch of Keys, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (Trumansburg, New York: The Crossing Press, 1984).

Copyright ©1984 by Hiroaki Sato. Reprinted by permission of Hiroaki Sato.


"Three Curses for Those to Be Born" and "On the Reality of the Pot"

Reprinted from Sleeping, Sinning, Falling, trans. by Hiroaki Sato (San Francisco: City Lights, 19

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