Kitahara Hakushu
Translated from the Japanese by James O'Brien

NOON

Ah, the midday cannon boom
With low reverberations all around,
Ravenous sirens groaning near and far
To die away in time;
Again, Yanagihara's sweltering streets
Lapse into silence.

Abodes of red brick along the river;
Prison-like workshops, from within
The off-and-on rumbling of printing presses,
Shears snipping away at tin,
Hammering upon coffins and scraping files
All heard as one monotonous sound.

A row of used clothing shops opposite;
Garments hanging, heavy with menace,
Oozing with consumptive coughing;
A dank odor glows
Within the mouldering warmth,
Exposing one who sits there mute.

Coming, going, the leaden-hued trams
Slow to a halt,
Grumble at one another.
Then, to the sound of heavy groaning,
Wheels again creak, the red flag hangs
Onerously: CAR FULL.

An awful quiet
Festers again in the cruel sun;
Shop signs, their paint fading, drip
Poison, while gaunt dogs with frizzled coats
Appear here, there on the bank
Laboring after carrion.

Tracks slick with oil,
A bridge of steel girders where
One cloud unfurls
In blinding noon light.
Sweating with his cart in tow,
The street-sprinkler man comes crawling by.

 

BLUE DRAGONFLY

Blue dragonfly, with emerald eye
Silver and green;
Blue dragonfly, the delicate wing
Glinting on a reed in flower.

Blue dragonfly aloft,
Perhaps by sleight of hand;
Blue dragonfly caught,
Crinkled skin of a diva.

Blue dragonfly beauty
Fearful even to touch;
Blue dragonfly composure
Grates on the jealous eye.

A grinding leather sandal
Crinkles the blue dragonfly.

 

THE ENEMY

The enemy is somewhere,
He could be hiding near.
When I cross the brewery shadow,
Or head for the neighborhood store
To buy silver foil;
When I watch the canal at sundown
And rub a tattoo onto my hand,
Rub it on the back of my hand;
On streets where I wander alone,
The enemy is somewhere
Seeking me, seeking me, never a pause.

 

WATERWAY

Here, there, the fireflies glint...
A quiet waterway in Yanagawa
Where a boat after the theater
Lulls a returning family in the glow
Of old paper lanterns crest-adorned.

Here, there the fireflies glint...
The cry of insects under a faint moon,
Walls glowing white on opposite banks
While fear as of a flickering wraith
Tightens its grip.

Here, there the fireflies glint...
Lowering his pole now and again,
The boatman passes underneath
Low earthen bridges pungent with grass,
Steering for where they speak in whispers.

Here, there, the fireflies glint...
She stands on a glistening pier
From where a house draws its water.
Her fair skin hardly visible,
What does she discern deep in the night?

 

SPINNING WHEEL

Wheel, wheel, a hand spinning in quiet depth,
Mournful evening, wheel softly turning.
On the wood floor where a gold and a red squash lie,
The wood floor once a PUBLIC CLINIC,
The old watchwoman sits all alone.

She is blind, deaf. And when May returns,
Poignant indeed are fragrant wisps from spun cotton.
A skeleton stands alone, strange in its glass enclosure,
And gently falls the moonlight on the canal.

Wheel, wheel, a hand spinning in silence,
Mournful evening, with thoughts softly turning.

 

WHITE MOTH

White moth with thick eyebrows,
Reminder of Okina, the old man of Noh.

White ginger blooms in the early night
And you, white moth, riding their scent.

Dancing in moonlight, gliding and yet
Lustre on wing must wither someday;

Thin legs with their brightness as well,
And vermillion breast that softens to powder.

Ah, be still, white moth,
While autumn is indistinct.

The watching eye's real and flying a dream,
The moon waxes only to wane soon.

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