By Kazuko Shiraishi

Translated by Yumiko Tsumura

from Issue 20: Landmarks


one who dies does not return to life
so we make a memorial day call to the dead person
Issui Yoshida, Samantha and Teruo’s father
all have died
riding on a swan      on a drug      on a glow in the morning sky
each had a different style
but set out on a journey
“write down the memorial day, your own memorial day”
even though you are not yet dead
even though you are still alive
for the sake of your own self that shall be dying      in advance
write a memorial day poem      a requiem
Gozo says
Gozo too is alive
and I am alive too
the others my friends      and their surroundings too
though not quite satisfactory     the earth is still
alive     during the time I am alive
a new star is born and disappears
toward a black hole
I will send a requiem for my
living being

a poem in the middle of my life
not yet dead but alive     putting down
the land that has still      ample green
the air that is dirty     but has a sweet life
the ear of a twenty year old young sailor who is to set sail
the black sound that perches      there
with a sweat dripping Stevie’s blind     rainbow voice     inside
to each one of those
before they leave the earth
one should send
a salutation
poem of soul pacifying      a charm for the memorial day

the soul of Miss A says
getting up from the coffin
“Ah, before I noticed     I’ve been dead”
to this soul     I turn on the record of
Mary Wells but
to the soul of this bank of the living
now      I turn on the music of
Earth, Wind and Fire
the ones who are alive too
death has begun     while being alive
while harmonizing with      fighting      hating
and loving     death that has begun
heads for the beach of the end but

now I can see
many thousands      many tens of thousands of globes
go flying
with frightening speed
toward the cemetery that was dug at the end of the universe
the giant throat of the black hole
the rearview mirror of my thoughts is
a lonely planetarium of a multimillion years ahead
I can see here      in the future
the death not yet     reached death doing an approach run for death
and the death that falls      pouring chaotic energy
and the sacred life’s march in the desert of quiet     life
it is not that everything      has died out
they are on the side of the living now
I can see even though this is not hell
the memorial days that hatch in the days of the living
the cemetery that swells daily
I can hear      because this is hell

I shall send a requiem
at first
to the earth in the future      gradually     getting worn out
and heading for death
if a living person      to oneself
gives water while being alive
gives flowers while being alive
gives words     prayer
and love while being alive

I can hear my voice of the thousand years later
tomorrow is
my memorial day
it seems to be     the memorial day

Kazukio Shiriashi is one of modern Japanese poetry’s foremost poets and is internationally acclaimed. She has published more than thirty books of poetry and has received all of Japan’s major poetry awards, including the prestigious Yomiuri Literary Prize (twice). New Directions has published three collections of her translated poems: Seasons of Sacred Lust, Let Those Who Appear, and My Floating Mother, City. This poem will appear in Sea, Land, Shadow, a collection forthcoming from New Directions in 2014.

Yumiko Tsumura earned an MFA in poetry and translation from the University of Iowa Writers’ workshop. Her poems have appeared in chapbooks and numerous poetry journals and are compiled in the collection Woman of March. Her recent books of poetry translations, in collaboration with Samuel Grolmes, include Kazuko Shiraishi’s Let Those Who Appear (2002), My Floating Mother, City (2009), and Tamura Ryuichi: Poems 1946 -1998 (2000). She is currently working on a translation of the novel Floating Bridge of Dreams by Yumiko Kurahashi. She lives in Palo Alto, California.

Original text: Kazukio Shiriashi, Collected Poems. Tokyo: Shichosha, 1994.

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