E S L
Since we parted by consensus,
you and I have passed many noons
in politest conversation,
in phrases not native to us.
Our mother tongue––the language
known first-hand even to Shakespeare
before I.Q. and time’s passage
so aptly circumcised the ear––
is all gesture and mew and trill.
Before our destinies were clear
our signals blazed atop a hill,
or like honey bees in the brain
they murmured as we sipped our wine.
So forgive us if we falter,
slipping back into the culture
of tender eyes and lips and hugs,
the not quite forgotten gutturals
of grunts and snarls, slant smiles and shrugs
A friend of mine has
died. He was ill a long time,
yet he told no one.
Instead, he kept the knowledge
to himself as if
it were a pill, a lozenge
to savor in his
mouth, sucking out the sweetness,
swallowing the salt.
Now the earth will seek him out
with her wet mouth and
she will taste him and manage
what others could not––
she will unlace the strands of
him and he will go
bare soled with only his name
into the cave of
time––with the high wind keening.
The sting of it sends the earth
the sky darkens, and motors
cease whirring as if
the Sabbath came with all her
peace. But for the trees––
all along the streets
of the world, their leaves murmur
(Woman of Tokyo, 1933)
In the opening frame, a kettle whispers.
Ryo’s cross-legged on a tatami,
calling to his help-mate, his sister.
How sweetly Chikako smiles, yet––falsely.
Days she works, a typist; nights she’s dancing
Or riding with foreign men in black cars.
That is how she pays their rent––she’s modern.
Translate this: she’ll have no wedding.
Ryo studies, loafs about, handsome, proud.
She brings his socks to him––this young man
whose traditions she has secretly
betrayed long before this poem began.
By the nth frame, Ryo learns the word.
“I’ll just show them,” he whispers.
Now her face drains to the color of tea
pooled on the table as he is leaving––
Wipe it off, he’d say, but there’s no need.
He plunges to his death, and her cup’s empty.