Takako Arai

(translated by Jeffrey Angles)

 

 

Give Us Morning

Clusters of Falling Stars

Colored Glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give Us Morning

 

Morning is the time we count the dead

In the newspapers, in the hospitals, on the roads, on the seashores

In the rubble that was once our homes

Possess us all the more, Amenouzume-san

The morning is still not enough

We still cannot count them all

We still cannot carry them all

Dance more for us, Amenouzume-san

Put a green twig in your hair

And call out to them

Give the dead

To morning

Possess them, call out to them

 

               It’s me, the girl floating here this whole time

               It’s me, Mama’s boy crouched down

               It’s me, the boy with the right arm wrenched off

               I want to see you again, I want to see you again

               A bullet to the temple

               I scratch my throat, it hurts

               Now I’m sinking as far as I can go

               Why? Why was I the boy

               Blown aside by the bomb blast?

               The fingers of flame came in no time

               I struggle but there’s only sand, I struggle but there’s only sand

               One lung was crushed by the ceiling

               Left alone like this, where will I float?

               I wait for an extended hand

               Here I am, here I am

               I want to escape this blood-bathed school

               With my girlish eyes still open wide

               I know this is my last breath

               I am fed up with the roar of the bombs

               The sea has raised its clenched fist

 

Morning is the time we count the dead

On the TV news, in the embassies, in the community centers

In the rubble that was once our buildings and our mosques

Possess us all the more, Amenouzume-san

The morning is still not enough

The morning is still not enough

The morning is still not enough

Dance for us all the more, Amenouzume-san

Claw the milk from your breast, shake your hair wildly

Pound your feet on the ground

And dance

Spin your arms round, shake off your sweat

Bend back your neck

And dance, dance

More

More

Sway your spine, lift your legs

Shake your hips

More

More

Set your womanly shadow on fire

Open your womanly shadow

And call for them

And dance for them

And possess them

And gather

The dead

To the shadow

 

Give them to morning

Give us morning

The time we count the corpses

 

 

Translator's Note: This poem was born out of Arai's reaction to Iraq War, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and many other events in 2004 that filled turned newspaper headlines into daily casualty reports.  Amenouzume is a mythical Japanese goddess, the goddess of dance and performance. She is said to have lured, with her dance, Amaterasu out of seclusion in the rock cave. Magatama are curved beads which were often found in graves, as offerings to deities. They were also popularly worn as jewels for decoration, their physical shape being a representation of the human spirit. The suffix san appended to Amenouzume’s name is a polite expression that shows respect, roughly equivalent to “Missus” in English or “Madame” in French. The words “womanly shadow” that appear toward the end of the poem is a euphemism for the vagina. 

This translation is included in the book Soul Dance
(Tokyo: Mi'Te Press, 2008).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clusters of Falling Stars

 

 

Just how many millions of e-mails

Could have been deleted?

 

               *

 

The dye factory that Asako's father had owned was put up for auction

Two months after the change in leadership

At the branch office of the bank

It was the rules of the free market

That had crushed the local factories bound with loans

But she was fourteen when she learned

It was speculation that determined

In which order the hatchet would fall

 

The golden boy of the day, IT company CEO Horie Takafumi was arrested

Nine months after the change in the section chief

At the Special Investigations Unit of the Tokyo Prosecutor's Office

It was the rules of the Security Exchange Law

That had governed the price fixing of company stocks

But Asako thought it was speculation that determined

In which order the hatchet would fall

 

"You can sweat but still don't get ahead," her father had said

"You can buy people's hearts with money," Horie had said

"I want to expose a case that'll enrage all of you who sweat for a living," the section chief had said

                         In the end, with this arrest,

                    Did they investigate

               The companies swollen

          From buying up other corporations

     With the speed the investigation deserved?

 

She heard that well over a hundred computers and cell phones were collected

She heard that was because all the important transactions were done by e-mail

She heard that two hours before the police came in it was leaked to the news

She heard that the investigators were fretting that most of the evidence was gone

She heard that some of it had already been disposed of

 

Just how many millions of e-mails

Could have been deleted?

Asako thinks to herself

Perhaps an astronomical number

They must have deliberately hit delete countless times

So the e-mails would never be found again

It must have been quite the busy week

For the company which fortunately avoided

Being number one on the speculation block

 

               *

 

What do you wish for

When wishing upon a shower

Of falling electric stars?

She heard Horie once wrote

"Number One in the World"

On a card for Tanabata

If you look up

Right there

Tonight once again

There will be the flashes of another

Tremendous cluster of falling stars

 

 

Translator's Note: In this poem, Arai refers to the collapse of the textile industry of her own hometown of Kiryū in Gunma Prefecture, as well as the arrest of the young CEO and television personality Horie Takafumi.  Horie's company Livedoor had bought up massive amounts of stock in media-related companies, so when he was arrested for securities fraud in 2006, it became a national media event.  Tanabata, sometimes called the “Star Festival” in English, is held during the summer. On that day, people write their wishes on long cards and hang them on a sprig of bamboo. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colored Glass

 

 

I'll raise it in my tummy

I'll break it

Squashing the bitter worm in my teeth

If I swallow it down

I doubt I'll spit out a moth

Or that it'll fly out as a butterfly

I suppose it'll stay a silkworm spitting out silk forever

 

                         Maybe it'll become a spinning wheel turning its own neck

                    The axle letting out a rhythmic rattle under the sawtooth roof

               Its arm extended as it turns itself

          Its knees shaking ever so slightly

 

I'll swallow it down

The silkworm

Down the well of my throat

Where it rebounds in the pit of my stomach

This little worm will spit out a lifeline

And crawl from the watery depths

Forgetting its dreams of flying through the air

 

                        In this strange factory, the worm spins in the spinning wheel

                   The raw silk thread winding around before our eyes

              The scissors slip in, and it is bound up tightly

         Pulse throbbing from the effort

 

Warawara    Are you inviting the thread?

          Carried away

Somosomo    Are you touching the thread?

          Laughed at

Sawasawa     Are you lining up the thread?

          Slandered

Moshimoshi     Are you resentful of the thread? 

          Forgotten

          Extolled

          Untold

Sing: Roll your hands     round and round     pull your eyes flat

          Roll your hands     round and round     pull your eyes flat

          Roll your hands     round and round    pull your eyes out

 

I swallowed it!

The eternal silkworm

On its mission forever

Crawling through the labyrinth of my bowels

The bitter worm squashed in my teeth

In the rustling thread it spins

It ties itself up

Withdraws

And sleeps

 

It cannot sleep,

I cannot sleep,

Sing: Roll your hands     round and round     pull your eyes flat

          Roll your hands     round and round     pulled my eyes out

I hold it over my head

 

                        There is a factory floating like an isle inside

                    It head turns round and round

               While the blind silkworms glow

          Under the colored glass window

 

 

 

Translator's Note: The poem represents the author's reaction to the collapse of the silk and textile industry in her hometown of Kiryū in Gunma Prefecture, once a major Japanese center of textile production.  In this poem, Arai imagines a person swallowing a silkworm, which begins to grow and creates its own silk factory inside her stomach.  The poem was inspired by the Japanese expression "Nigamushi o kamitubusu," which literally means "to squash a bitter bug in your teeth," but is used to describe someone's expression when they are making a frown or grimace. 

               Many of the textile factories in Kiryū had roofs that zigzag up and down like the teeth on a saw, hence the phrase "saw tooth roof" (nokogiri-yane) used in the poem.  Glass windows would then be placed on one side of each "tooth" of the roof to let in light.  In the final stanza, Arai imagines a mini-silk factory floating in the narrator's stomach, the colored glass in the saw tooth roof illuminating the interior. 

               The lines "roll your hands, round and round, pull your eyes flat" (kaiguri kaiguri totto no me) are from a children's game.  The child rolls their hands around one another as if they are rolling up thread on their hands like a spinning wheel, then after that, they pull at the corner of their eyes.  Arai creates a variation on this song, imagining that the narrator pulls her own eyes out.