Eric Selland and Kiyoko Sakamoto Nosker


Good evening. Is this working? Can you hear
me? Yes. Today I looked in the dictionary to see if
there would be a word that was a good word for “welcome” or for “greeting,” or “to greet”
because we are very fortunate to have the Misakis who are at our door. And I wanted
a special word for the word “greet” and as I looked in the dictionary my eyes fell on
the second definition of the word “greet,” and it was a Scottish word that meant “to grieve,”
“to mourn.” And I thought somehow that instead of saying welcome, I would say “we greet you,
we are pleased that you are here.” It has been fourty-five years since the atomic
bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. In that time, a new fear entered all our lives, and I think
has lived with us in that space of time. I think this year for the first time all of
us may look with more hope on the possibility of a peaceful world because both the United
States and the Soviet Union are making true attempts to approach a way of peace. So on
this day that we remember the ninety-two thousand people who died in an instant. We also must
look to hope in the hope of a new peaceful world, and I thank all of you for being here
because I know that all of our hearts have that wish for peace. I also hope that we will
continue to search for peace because there is still the problem of nuclear waste disposal.
There is the oceans being contaminated by nuclear waste, and we must all be concerned
because nuclear waste remains in drums on this earth. And this earth is for us and for
the children who follow us. We need to also consider the testing of bombs because we truly
do not know what it means to test these bombs upon this earth. So though we look forward
to peace we must consider ways of renewing our struggle for that. This evening we have with us Kiyoko Sakamoto
Nosker, who will play for us her koto. Following, Eric Selland will read from his own poetry
and from the poetry of Post-war Japanese poets. I think that this may be a first in Fresno
that this may happen. So I welcome you to this evening of commemoration for Hiroshima. [music …] Shionoyama
sashide no iso ni sumu chidori
kimi ga miyo woba yachiyo tozo naku
kimi ga miyo woba yachiyo tozo naku Awajishima
kayoo chidori no naku koe ni ikuyo nezamenu suma no sekimori ikuyo nezamenu suma no sekimori [applause] You’ll be back. That was wonderful. I’m Chuck Moulton, director
of the Fresno Poets Association, and it’s nice to see so many new faces here tonight.
Some of you may–might know it but the–might not know it, but Fresno is one of the most
important poetry centers in the western United States. In fact one of the poetry centers
of the United States, Fresno Poets have won more than seventy national prizes in the last
couple of decades. Prizes that are synonymous with careers in teaching English. And Fresno
has produced about thirty-five English professors that teach at universities. One of the things
the Poets Association has managed to do over the past eight years is to bring back most
of the Fresno poets, not all of them yet, but most of them. And those that have made,
at least those who have made their mark in the literary world. Tonight we are completing
one of our goals to bring Eric Selland back to Fresno to read. Eric is both a translator
and a poet. I am not a translator, but it occurs to me that the transformation of meaning
from English to Japanese, or from Japanese to English, especially with regards to poetry
seems more than just a craft. There must be some relationship between being a translator
and being a cat burglar. Springing across the rooftops, feeling the tumble of jewels
in your pocket, or a bird in flight with prey in its mouth feeling the pull of the
earth. Or an angel with a harp falling to earth. Starting to repeat itself, making judgements,
decisions, finding fault, finding one’s self compelled to take the next step in the formation
of meaning. Realizing that in order to be well received one must be a superior criminal.
One must also tune in on the schemes of others. Eric was born in Fresno, 1957. He attended
the University of Japan, or universities in Japan, completed his studies of Japanese language
and culture at San Francisco State University. While at San Francisco State he apprenticed
himself to the poet, Michael Palmer. At the same time receiving inspiration and guidance
from Robert Duncan. Selland has spent seven years living and working in Japan, where he
translated numerous Japanese poets; the most important of these being Yoshioka Minaru,
a major figure in Japanese post-war avant-garde poetry. The relationship with Yoshioka
had a profound effect on him, on his own life and work, which is now associated most closely
with the New Lyric, a term recently coined by the Canadian magazine of experimental writing.
Selland’s first book, Preface, was published by TELS Press in Tokyo, 1985. His poems and
translations have appeared in a variety of small magazines in North America, Europe,
Japan. He has an upcoming publication of translations of Yoshioka Minaru’s poetry from
Leech Books in Vancouver, British Columbia. Eric Selland now lives in San Francisco, works
as an independent translator of Japanese business and technical materials. It was interesting
to note that Selland was exposed to Asian Studies by his mother, who was student of
Asian culture and that he began his studies of Japanese language at the age of fourteen
at the Fresno Buddhist temple. As a high school student he attended readings of the Fresno
poet professors: Robert Mezey, Philip Levine, C.G. Hanzlicek, Peter Everwine– all of California
State University, Fresno. Of his own work, Selland has said, “I have an interest in musical
form and in bringing together diverse elements in the poem.” He is attempting to make a multi-cultural
poetry, both in terms of poetics and scene. Naturally translation becomes an important
part here in all that, that might infer. There is also pervading concern with time and memory.
And he has put quotation to use, as do many of his contemporaries. Eric Selland is a poet
of great intensity, highly eclectic, bounding in variety, risk, exploration, and unlimited
potentialities. He’s published quite internationally. His poems, essays, translations, and I’d name
them all but I can’t pronounce all those names. I’m anxious to hear Eric get up and read.
Would you mind coming up here and reading, Mr. Selland? [applause] Thank you. Jacqueline mentioned that this might
be a first in Fresno. I think it’s a first on the West Coast. I haven’t read any Japanese
translations in San Francisco yet. So I’m happy to be here. I enjoyed hearing the little
soliloquy on translation. I was just thinking about all this while listening to Chidori
no Kyoku. By the way I have all the pieces Kiyoko’s performing tonight. I have performed
it one time in my life on the shakuhachi, which I would dare not try to do again tonight.
I mean it’s been many years since I did anything of that sort. So those are very familiar things
to me too. Also something one wouldn’t, one wouldn’t really be– something like that really
wouldn’t be headed as the entertainment as something like this in Japan. It would be
very unusual to do something of that sort. It’s not at all common so it’s something very
special. The thing about translation is whenever–
I don’t know how many technical translators think philosophically about what they’re doing.
I don’t think they have the time. They have to make money. They are paid by the word,
how many words you can get out a day. But to me, whenever I look into these translations
there’s all these words that really have no translation. Sure you could explain them.
You could write hundreds of pages of anthropological theses about what they mean but there really
is no translation because there’s a totally different culture, different mindset, different
history. So every time you gaze into– especially something like a poem, a Japanese poem, you’re
gazing into the void. There’s no meaning. What is it that creates the meaning? You don’t
know, and you have to end up creating that yourself while you’re translating the poem.
And speaking of Hiroshima it may– one of the… one of the whole series of mistakes. Of miscommunication
that led– well to the beginning of World War II but also to the final dropping of the bomb
on Hiroshima. One of those was a mistranslation of the Japanese answer to the American warning.
That if the Japanese did not surrender immediately, within a few days then they would drop this
horrible new weapon on their cities. And the Japanese answered back a word which basically
means “give us some time.” It was translated as “absolutely not.” And so, boom. So beware of
translators. [laughs] But generally I think people usually think
of, in the States, actually quite a lot of people knew at least something about haiku.
It’s interesting how that’s not really the … the genres of haiku and modern poetry are really
very different genres. As a matter of fact they don’t connect at all. The people in the
respective genres don’t speak to one another. And if one is a haikuist who experiments a
bit too much or does something a bit unconventional then they especially don’t speak to you. You
get dumped from the modern paperback haiku collection, which appears yearly. Most of
the haikuists I’m interested in are people who have been dumped basically, like very
adventurous people. With the exception of actually, there’s one person. People who have
had quite a lot of communication with the modern poets and with a lot of new ideas that
came in the 20th century. The word for poetry in Japanese. The word
that would be translated as poetry is “shi.” A term which was originally used to describe
Chinese poetry. In other words “shi” is something which is foreign, which is imported. It is
brought in, it’s a foreign form. All of Japanese poetry, we think of Post-War Japanese poetry,
all of 20th century Japanese poetry is directly influenced by Western poetry, especially French
and German. One of the problems I’ve had with some of the translations of modern Japanese
poetry is that a lot of the… a lot of the American academics translating the poetry,
whether it’s because they’re own disinterest or unfamiliarity with modern poetry in English
or whether it possibly because they are basically Anglophiles. They are unable to accept the very
strong surrealistic influence on most 20th century Japanese poetry. And so, things are
smoothed out. Things are made conventional, linear. And so you’ll lose a lot of the flavor of
the poetry. It’s interesting that a lot of the best and even popular poets were taught
in elementary school by say one Nakata Kuya was the first Japanese Dadaist. And a lot
of his poems are really sound poems and it’s very rather difficult to translate them because
basically it’s the sound that you want to hear. You lose that once it’s in a different
language. This is the poetry I’ve been very interested in, but I love the classics also.
So this is something I’ve loved since I was in college and that’s what really got me to
be involved in poetry. So I have two haikuists and a poet. Both of
the haikuists are fairly experimental, but the first, Saito Sanki was writing before
and during the war. He was one of a group of poets who were– they were not nearly as
experimental as some later people like Takanagi Jyushi who was totally wild, just words all
over the page, this way and that way, and this was his haiku, and totally shocked the
Japanese haiku world. Not quite that far, but basically he was doing things like dropping
the seasonal words and so on. Haiku, it has very conventional rules. You always have to
have a word at some point in the poem which will tell you what the season is, and there’s
a whole series of conventions of these sorts. And Saito Sanki decided to drop these conventions.
This is what he was doing in World War II. He was arrested by the thought police for
writing haiku without seasonal words. This was radical. “Maybe the guy’s a Communist.
Who knows? He’s not using seasonal writing.” He spent a number of years of prison and was
finally released. They decided he wasn’t worth keeping around. [laughter] One of the conventions he broke was the convention
of subject. He did things like, he wrote– during the war, he wrote about the war. Which was
something taboo. You don’t… you don’t say what’s really going on. You’re not supposed
to mention these things. Hiroshima at night—
distant voices explode with laughter. No moon, no stars—
Hiroshima with the hard ground. Night coming on—
onion heads many and countless. There’s something I should mention before
going on. These translations are by a good friend of mine named Masaya Saito. No relation
to Saito Sanki. Who has also translated Saito’s autobiographical novel, which is not yet
published. It’s very difficult to publish poetry of any sort in the United States right
now, but especially translations. A black man enters
an iron ship— nightfall in winter. Hiroshima—
to eat a boiled egg a mouth wide open. An air-raid drill—
caressing her moonlit fingers. The Anniversary of Hiroshima—
encrusted with sand grains the swimming tube. A machine gun
eating, it scatters cartridges. The soldiers
depart in a black ship. The war dead report—
made into a bag for ripening an apple. A machine gun,
the low moon, round and resounding. In a trench
huge eyeholes of he who remains. A war horse runs
on iron shoes, that spark in the darkness. A machine gun—
In the middle of the forehead a red flower blooms Crawling in a trench,
an insect comes to rest in my hand Here’s one I hadn’t noticed when I was looking
for things to read: Harpo Marx–
who was born from God’s excrement. [laughs]
That’s bizarre [laughter]
I’m gonna have to read this. [laughter]
That’s pretty much what it says in Japanese. [laughs] More or less. The weird thing is
he has the Japanese, has written the Japanese here under the translations, and of course
I think he’s done a good job on his translations. But being a translator I look at the Japanese
and say “well you know you could do this, this way” or “no I would do it this way.”
[laughs] There’s a hundred ways to translate these. It translates any way, almost. It’s amazing,
especially because of the simplicity. A machine-gun bullet
still in his body at graduation. On the Mona Lisa
the animation of a golden beetle suspended forever. This one I think is wonderfully ironic. I
think this was probably just after the war, I would assume. A packet of cigars,
bearing a picture of the Diet Building has increased in price The Diet Building, the Parliament. The Japanese
Parliament building in Tokyo. It’s tough to think about this. It’s incredibly
ironic. A packet of cigars,
bearing a picture of the Diet Building has increased in price. Cannon booms—
I count them, Ice melting on my tongue. That is what I have of Saito. Actually that’s– there really isn’t much
political poetry in Japan. The Japanese don’t like to make huge statements or comments.
They don’t like causes like Americans do. Americans are very– you know, very excited
with causes of various sorts. The Japanese are much more quiet about that. And since that’s probably why Saito, simply
by doing something a little bit different, simply by mentioning the fact that there are
machine guns and insinuating that maybe it’s not so good, that got him into prison. All
you had to do was just insinuate. Of course a lot can be said simply by insinuating in Japanese.
It’s not a direct statement, it’s a roundabout statement. Another haikuist I’m interested in is Nagata
Koi, who’s now ninety years old. He did not really begin his career as a haikuist until
he was sixty. He was writing of course the whole time up until then, but he didn’t really
get started with his own school of haiku in publishing and all that. So virtually his
whole career, well his best work, has been written as a very old man. It’s just something
I very much– He’s very much the embodiment of the– I don’t know how many people are
very familiar with the melodrama, [inaudible]. The ideal according to the melodrama is the
old actor, the older actor. Through doing this, and working through the form for many
years one finally reaches perfection. So it’s … the elderly person is the ideal,
not youth. Not the young person. There’s not instant overnight success, which
is admired in the States. It’s someone who’s done something for years and years. Nagata’s haiku are very influenced by Buddhist
philosophy, by the writings of Dōgen, the Buddhist philosopher, and are extremely simple.
They’re like simple statements. Small like an object in itself. It’s not an image. It’s
not a comment on an object. It, itself is a thing. So there are even simpler–
In essence he’s really a radical classicist rather than an avant-gardist. That he is not
really thought of all that kindly by the more conventional haikuists because of the things
he does. I’ll read this first haiku in Japanese. Kusatta ritsu shira yuki no fuboku kana Driftwood on the rotting snow Shaft of sunlight, suddenly absurd,
the sleeping Buddha Near death, laughing at the plum trees The reclining Buddha overgrown with bamboo
leaves Dusk brings waking from nap’s dream Cutting grass, the night shade tilts, spring
moon. Lifting its tail the earth darkens
spring sparrow Winter clouds become one in half The body’s existence drags on
baby’s breath Moonrise like a leftover seed in Inamino. Inamino is a place in Hyogo Prefecture near
Osaka, in that general area in Southern Honshu. The pain of flower-viewing is in the body
in the flower A last chrysanthemum plays in the world’s
machinations Embarrassed goes, becomes distant
autumn’s end A winter day appears at the grave of one gone In the fullness of old times a winter fly New Year’s Day three cakes dried up dead
thinned out Field of frost– Is this? Field of frost, I a youth of eighty When Nagata talk about frost, he’s talking
about gray hair; about age. Old woman gives rice paste then
passes bridge of frost Autumn rain evening walks into a man’s mouth This is a poem that’s very special to me because
it’s the one that he wrote down for me on a little notepad when I visited him in Kobe
where he lives. He had just written that day, April 17th, 1988. This describes his experience
as a child playing in the fields in spring when the fields were still fallow, they had
not planted the rice yet. And he would play in the irrigation ditches and so on. And so
he has an image of the irrigation ditch. So in the Japanese it’s: Kyakusen gaboshun— Feet stuck out of bare irrigation ditch
at Spring’s end. The last word of– fun thing about this poem
is the last word “nuto” is a onomatopoeic word which just means “mphth!” Just means
pushing it up. And so he’s just describing the physical gesture of sticking the feet out of
the irrigation ditch. This is something you wouldn’t find in a haiku very often. It’s something from
colloquial speech from an onomatopoeic one might use in describing something to someone
in regular speech. So that’s very difficult to figure out how to translate because it’s
just the description of a gesture. It’s not a word, in a sense. And now something from his more recent collection.
There’s an interesting series. I think I’ll read both of these versions of the translation.
When I first read this next haiku, a translation immediately came to me. It just sprung from
out there and later when I re-read the original I realized that I had made a mistake. So I
re-translated, but the mistake is so interesting. [laughs] I am going to read the mistake also
and then the corrected version. There’s actually three versions, but I’ll only read two of
them. The Japanese: — Excessive whiteness of white plum
its overflow of life in me Which turned out to be incorrect. White spaces on white plum
what remains of life for me Take either one you prefer. [laughs]
I like the mistake so much I couldn’t bear to– [laugh] to deal with reality there for a second. Koi is very interested in the object of one
of his main collections is entitled — which means “object” or material, stuff, things,
things are made of. It’s his Zen Buddhism of course. Reality, daily reality. Very interested
in the materialness of things, of existence. Woo, those things are dangerous. Spring wind that is flesh
it’s passing Scent of rice paste seems stuck to them
old man and old woman Spring’s morning twilight moves over both shores
is gone Spring wind with red snappers
a school of fisherwomen These are– these and also the Sanki poems
are going to appear shortly after a long delay, in a magazine. Which a friend of mine was
publishing from Paris and will be available instead from Steven Forth who’s publishing
Leech Books in Vancouver. If anybody in Fresno wants to get ahold of any of these things:
the magazine or the– you can probably contact Chuck and he can contact me. I don’t think
any of these things will be in bookstores. The magazine’s by subscription only. Maybe I’ll read a couple of my haiku. I was very much against doing any haiku for
a long time. I just– I was very involved … with the recent avant-garde and most of the haiku,
the recent haiku, I’ve come across was very conventional and I wasn’t interested in it.
Everyone gets into haiku and wants to do something different for once, but then I ran across Nagata
Koi and some others and became quite fascinated with what they were doing. Since then, I’ve
been more involved. And I’ve written a couple myself. One, which
I wrote one evening while I was babysitting my son, and he suddenly laughed in his sleep.
And this just came to me. So– Laughter in sleep
The mind’s gift Child’s spring And then something. It was– this has a title,
“On the Way to the Crematorium.” Pure white crane above rice field. Which was written upon the death of a friend.
After the funeral on the way to the crematorium there was a white crane gliding across the
rice fields. Which I imagined to be carrying her soul back to the Adriatic where she had
assured us she was going after death. Straw fires spew rust-colored smoke over the fields
autumn Early summer rain gives sheen to gathering
of black coats Smoke curls upward from incense bowl I think I’ll go on to– I mean–
The main poet I’ve been interested in over the years, Yoshioka Minoru. Yoshioka just died
very recently. That one haiku was actually written at his funeral. The black raincoat,
the black coat poem. Yoshioka was born in 1919. He only had an elementary school education,
but has written some of the most difficult poetry of his generation, in terms of the
usage of the Chinese character, various other things. He’d also started his career as well very
late. He was drafted into the Imperial Army at age– I think around 18 to 20 years old.
Interestingly enough, one of the things he brought with him to the induction center was– this was just a– actually it’s a very short while after all foreign literature, all foreign
language and the literature of all sorts had been banned. Anyone reading foreign books
would be arrested, or at least questioned for suspicion. … I don’t know if it was out
of naivety or if it was some way of his own way of rebelling or what. But Yoshioka arrived
at the induction center of the Imperial Army with a copy of the poems of Arthur Rimbaud under
his arms. It’s a great anecdote. Now he has never said whether, I mean– what he had on
his mind when he did that. But they just took it away from him. They didn’t punish him.
He spent the war in Manchuria and then a number of years in a Russian prison camp after the
war. So he really got started publishing– published his first work when he was forty
years old. I have translated his collection of poems
called, Kusudama. The word “kusudama,” which I chose not to translate in the book, is actually a large
brightly colored paper maché decoration and object of sorts– that are round with all
sorts of frills and bright colors. It would have– been, you know in the old days, outside of
a new store that was opening up or perhaps was advertising some sort of event perhaps
for a festival. One of the things he would have seen in the area of Tokyo called Stamachi,
the– what would you call it? It’s literally translated as “downtown,” but it doesn’t mean
downtown. It’s sort of like “the other side of the tracks” in a sense. And that was where
he grew up. That was something he would have seen in his youth. The characters are written, the “kusu” means
“medicine” and “dama” is “ball,” so it means “medicine ball.” If you think of that in say,
Native American terms it’s something which, well you know, the medicine ball has medicine
in it. So there’s all sorts of things in there. Magic. All kinds of things. Stories, myths,
and so on. Another meaning of the word “dama” is “soul”
or “spirit” and it’s the same “dama” in another word that’s important to Yoshioka, “kotodama”
which is “the spirit of words.” It was believed at one time in Japan’s history,
in ancient times, that certain words had certain magical characteristics inherent in them and
that there were literally spirits; tiny gods attached to them. And that if one uttered
these words it could be very dangerous. It could be, you know, there could be a good
effect if it was done right by someone who knew what they were doing, but it could also
have a dangerous effect. So, who knows maybe that’s one of the reasons why his Japanese
culture developed in a way where when people believed they’d want you to keep quiet because
words are dangerous. But they’re also alive and have that kind of beauty, that strength,
and meaning, that it comes from that idea they’re alive. They’re not just dead things
on the page. Yoshioka has collected all sorts of information,
subject matter in the poem. He has quoted a lot. He has brought in Japanese myth and Western
myth. Greek myth. A whole range of things, so it circles a lot around the goddess, the
mother, who appears in the poem quite a bit. My first poem here is “Rooster.” He quotes
a line from the Classics here, which describes a myth where the sun goddess was angry about
how her brother was acting, so she hid in a cave and stuck herself in by putting a huge
stone in front of the cave, saying “I’m not coming out.” So darkness came upon the earth
and everyone got upset like, “come on. You gotta come out of the cave. What are we gonna
do without you?” And so, “I’m never coming out.” So they had to have a ritual in order
to coax her out. What the ritual was, was a woman– well actually a shamanist
danced and took off her clothes and shook her breasts and did a nude dance into the
cave. And then, everyone started laughing, and then she peeked out of the cave and they
put a mirror up to the cave, so she could see the mirror. And then she came out. There’s
interesting symbolism there, but this line is from that, one of the lines here is from
that myth. The rising sun beyond the top of the pines
Is like a picture scroll of popular music Calls to mind a line
From the mythical accounts— “collect the birds of sudden darkness and
make them sing, bring the Goddess out”
Rooster that walks Rooster that sleeps
Upon observing, the powerful figure undoubtedly holds
Slime, slender tubes and feathers collecting Gold claws and dynamos
Imitations On the earth of straw and the annihilation
of living things The somersaulting cock
Tells the time Rushes at the water’s edge sway
And the jar of jam breaks Spring that quivers in the diaphragm
Hairpins fall From the jet black hair of mothers and daughters
Make ready the cooking knives and camphor Inside a hut dreamed while napping
Ready the chamber pot for father on the moss A meditative darkness
The blacksmith’s bellows, womb contracts Chicken pecking at vegetables
Chicken that lays an egg Is this a world of grace—
In the corn fields On the icy peaks
”The men are fighting far away” Brightness of the sparks
Without looking up at the empty sky Like a hen
Strangled ”The women straddle an open grave and give
a difficult birth” Things abundantly dispersed
Types of seeds and dried leaves And now some feathers
Like amulets Dance lightly up in the watery sky of evening. Something else that I might mention, most
poets do not read their poetry out loud in Japan. Poetry is not to be read out loud.
There’s a couple of exceptions amongst modern poets. The exception in the Classic is that
there is a form of singing the Classic poems, but basically when– once Japan’s ancient oral
tradition disappeared, it really disappeared. It was totally taken over by, really by a
sense of the poem as being written. Being on the page and seeing the character and so
of course when you read a poem, the written character is essential. Except for those poets
who’ve decided to use very simple language to use the — instead of the Chinese
character, and so on. There are probably various reasons for doing that. But a lot of poets,
including Yoshioka, present the character as very important. And there are a lot of
visual puns that the use of characters within the same line or very close together, which
have some of the same parts, the same radical, and that there’s sort of a visual rhyme. The
two characters, the reason that, that word is there is because the character looks similar.
Of course you lose this in translation. One of the– it’s usually considered one of the
tasks of the poet is to, sort of, to bring old words and old characters back to life.
You use things that aren’t used in say the newspaper or in daily speech or daily writing.
Use something unusual or something older. And that also has a special meaning if you
use a different form of the same character. You could have the same character, it’s an
older form.The unsimplified form. And that has something special about it. It means,
it feels different. You know, it will be translated the same, but it’s different if you read it
in Japanese. It’s all really untranslatable. It’s simply lost in translation. So I’m doing something that Yoshioka would
never do. He would never read his poetry out loud. He would scoff at people that are, there
are a couple people that will actually go “oh you’ll do wonderful performances of poetry
in Japanese,” Shiraishi Kazuko, and a number of people I’ve met, but Shiraishi has been
translated by Kenneth Rixron. She was one of the Beats. Is one, I don’t know what I’m
talking about, she is alive. Still performing with her glittery make up and glittery outfits. Besides these poets, most people don’t read,
and Yoshioka himself would scoff at– say “reading your poetry out loud, that’s not
the real thing.” So it’s very different than most– most American poets and poetry, most people
feel their poetry should be read aloud at some point, in the States. “Pilgrimage” I pass two women in the hall
One is straddling A tricycle
Definitely my little sister Reading several pages
Out of a red book The biography of a great man
With numerous descriptions of oranges and tomatoes
The other is my mother grown fat Mounted atop a scale
The interior, dressed in cheap clothing, is drenched
And flowing from there Are literary style, dead bodies
And a tapeworm It is said in the family precepts
The sheets have never been soiled with blood or impurities
Eternally a landscape of snow Does the subject become clear
At the moment my father loads up a cart with large objects and leaves town? The artillery smoke hangs overhead Is it a battleship made of mortar fire
Or a granite peak The troops continue the assault
During the flash of glory A man’s insides could be seen
Flowering plants are torn up Clothing torn
And hair On top of a shining plate
All the parts of the body are dismantled And the souls of the dead
take the shape of stars If that which is possible does occur Then let it be so
If what cannot happen does not happen So be it. Cicada showered midday
Inserted with foreign matter Mother
Mother Mother
Hole Sister
Sister Sister
The wild goose flies west If you must ask where this place is
It is the earthy paradise Peach and plum bloom wildly
And there are pearls Birds and other animals repeatedly call my
name And call to my mother
Soldiers prefer wild boars And old people various goblins
A ravine is cut in the mountains And the fresh water flows, flows home
The days pass The newt remains
My little sister bathes in the river and is clothed in froth
And like a cuckoo Continues to search for the ideal master
Praising a world of change in the arts and in thought. Smoke rises
A state of forgetfulness What image carved in the eye of the rhinoceros
Masculine things— Fire and air
And things poetic, poetry itself Feminine things—
Water and earth And things near to love, love itself
The stars glitter The spider hatches its eggs with its own eyes The poet crawls upon the ground
Pours flowing blood from his head I was present at my sister’s birth
Poetry’s advent This evening a cool wind passes
And the papers rustle Prosaically
Then from the land of scarlet autumn leaves Carrying a bucket of night soil
A man resembling myself crosses a bridge And boards a ship
For Damascus far away and in dead of night He goes round and round the world of marble
And watches a flea jump Like a line in a poem
Covered in disgrace And here is second childhood That nuclear place at chaotic dawn
Where stems of millet catch fire Corpses of people, dogs, and cats
Frost falls to the earth without a sound Describe this in exclamatory mode
Pheasants Cuckoos The darkness in the harsh cry
Of a buck with newly sprouted horns Pass through the red Shinto gate
At the far ends of the grounds Is a wall the color of a sea slug Used carelessly
They rot in people’s hands Or die
Words and a portion of flesh Living things
At the far end of a cave At the tip of a flame
Today I have done nothing Nothing at all
That which occurs on earth ends on earth The sea slug image by the way doesn’t sound
as awful in Japanese as it does in English. Sea slugs are not such terrible critters in
Japanese. Most of the poetry, I think a lot of the–
most Fresno poets are very interested in story and the poem being a story, in a sense a description
or commentary on experience. But the poetry here isn’t really a story. In a sense there
may be a story somewhere down there. Somewhere hidden or somewhere between the lines. It’s
kind of like an archaeology. A series of sediments. You go in and you find a broken shard, a piece
of pottery. And over here you find another object. Over here you find something else,
a piece of writing, like an ancient character. And you have to piece these together yourself.
It’s a series of fragments. No one can tell you exactly what’s going on.You find out what’s
going on through this series of fragments and these serious discoveries. This is the title poem, “Kusudama.” There’s some images here. The chrysanthemums
and various other things that make one feel like — may be commenting on the Imperial
family, or perhaps on certain aspects of Japanese history. Within a hedge fragrant with chrysanthemums The banquet has begun
Grandfather slits a chicken’s throat And grandmother soaks a mouse nearby
My father has carried the spirits of the ancestors To a grassy river bed
And questions, voice raised What is it mother carries of her own will
The neighbors glance furtively Undoubtedly bathed in light
She employs a pair of large testicles Raise three cheers and sing the national anthem
My sister, all dressed up like a battleship, Bites into a plum
Its simplified interior throbs The crimson gate opens onto the world
Beyond a plate of brass The one dying
Is my elder brother The darkening of a far-off field in spring
With heat waves oscillating Grows like fingers of bracken
This is my little sister Anyone would feel like applauding
The night the family line is set straight And banquet trays set straight in a row
I toddle all through the house And secretly desire a daddy long legs
A model of the family’s bodies is complete Divided into blue, yellow, and red
Its most sublime points still shine like gold A portrait of the emperor Jimmu
A cry rings out: The kusudama has split open
And the sacred farm implements lost In the mundane “I cut the water inside the pot with a sickle
And shout for it to retain its severed surface” The autumn of disastrous St. Elmo’s fire
My father stops vomiting Looks out the bay window
And drop tears onto the rocks One great auk
A brandished Fuse
Within a circle Which passes into infinity
The plump ridge of a shipwreck’s belly can be seen
Waves, waves, semen shed Static electricity is produced in the inner
wall of a jellyfish Which swims around the belly of a pregnant
woman and sinks Into the swirling waves
Sense exchange irradiation peeling termination The sound and raw smell of death
Oh merciful Buddha I am unable to conclude
That this was my sister Certainly at dawn
A diamond shaped piece of land filled with the dead will be found
Sipping up their bowls of hot soup Mother and little sister cheerfully
Set out to pick chamomile flowers On the periphery of the sundry goods
Is a deep blue garden Where swans float dreamily
A man can be seen screaming in the flames A bundle of sutras are folded up
A horned serpent Is held hotly in his hand
Sentences studded with diamonds and word-spirits Clipping off the chill dry leaves
Mother and sister venture toward the cliffs Look at their cat-feet
A winter mist enshrouds them I am fighting from day to day
Figuratively speaking, or calligraphically The enemy may be hiding in a snow dug-out
Language Or form
On top of some fresh straw Several eggs have been laid and left behind Do you think we have time for something of
mine? I was thinking of reading that Fresno poem. [laughs] I’ve been working on a long poem for a number
of years. In a sense, like Yoshioka’s, a kind of an archeology. A series of fragments or
small pieces. It’s called “Transparencies.” Transparencies being, you know, those little
clear pieces of film you place under the light and you get a picture up on the wall there.
It’s like a series of these pictures, of these images.
The subtitle of the poem could essentially be “The Theater of Memory,” which actually
there was a theater of memory. The contraption being built by this crazy guy during the Renaissance
during the 1500s. Actually it wasn’t that crazy, he was right on in a lot of ways. It
was kind of a physical mandala in the shape of a classical theater one could enter. You
felt that anyone could have contact with all knowledge, all spiritual knowledge would be
placed in this theater and compartmentalized and essentially it’s a primitive computer.
It contains the memory. It’s artificial memory. One stands on the stage in the classical theater
and looks at the seats which are spread out in this manner and are organized according
to the zodiac. All of human knowledge and understanding is placed in all these various
compartments. Quite a lot of people were fascinated with that idea during the Renaissance. He
never completed his project. He was one of the most promising men of his generation.
He never really completed anything. So it’s really fascinating cause it’s just pure potential.
Nothing was ever really done with his potential. But this, I have an interest in history and
so on. Amongst other things, I mention so many things. Everything in the poem, but this
one has a lot to do with Fresno and the Fresno history. Begins with a quote. It’s the second movement
of transparencies parts eight through twelve. Each stanza has twelve lines. Each line theoretically
has seven syllables. Although I break my rules a lot. And each section of the poem has seven
stanzas. So the numbers do have a significance. Begins with a quote from St. Augustine’s Confessions.
“And I come to the fields and spacious palaces of my memory. Where are the treasures of innumerable
images brought into it from things of all sorts perceived by the senses?” Solemn was his dwelling in the shadow of the
tree. Mirror-like, his face.
The homeless wind-swept landscape. We are, in threes.
These three here. The tree
and wait him then to go down in the cave. the condominium
television and all comforts hell is a nice place after all
drinks and salted nuts, occasionally a face this internal crystal
inset jewel encased in black, no one sees a reflection is what is seen called clarity
but not the thing the mirror is gone
man is gone only seeing
the waiting and the waiting and the falling back
around sounds confused still
the seed planted growth is terrible
how it twists, spurns, turns away no clarity here but dark pitch earth
encrusted layers of mineral and rock this tiny seed trembling live in its thick
bed now we come to memory
its ritual calls internal flaws eternal untapped
whisked out of childhood it returns there
calms crossbeam screw and saw that touch of hand
things which do not exist have existed have come and left
the extension of a set a perfect triangle
voice of stone interiorized the frozen surfaces
moments, occasions lifted up out in doubt to the recycling air
all this imagined how the past has more clarity
is more real form is shadow
and shadow form this tiny seed
the ash colored land cut off from the sea where meadowlark and mockingbird sang simultaneously
where the river flowed and men found peace found food and good things the earth will
give all rotten, all spent
the waters held back this dryness and chemical death
called progress called success
the fresno tree ash in a deep pond
a low place by the river the forgotten one
grey branches hard wood
opposite pinnate leaves purplish flowers in small clusters
how this would attract new powers in Sacramento and San Francisco
Railroads, cash crop, irrigation, a dam then the immigrants from Asia and Armenia
to live here the body of the tree
the figs swollen sides turn crimson openings that bring in light
green curtain to shut out darkness these tools put in the hand to carve a daily
existence stone ax, fire stick, blow bow and blade
extensions of the imagination into flesh of plant, animal, and earth
this map of the mind of labyrinthine journey through the day to
day map of the dream
its circular way through ravines and up slopes always returning to another place
a poetry of objects placed near to one intimacy is of the glands
the biological institution something beyond the self
as it is forgotten when crossing paths in the new snow
the season changes the figs rubbery leaves shrivel to brown rags
in winter the trunk a gray stump plopped heavily into
the valley fog now spring light is more resilient
comes earlier over the purpled hills and pulls the green cigar shoots out of the
softened flesh of the tree a sticky leaf like a canopy over its short
base and some places oozing a thick sap
the night and again the night the impossibility of connecting
where is the way where light dwells great clusters of grapes as when gathered
they came to the valley to farm for the orchards and the canals
for a safe haven away from sword, horsemen, Ottoman Turks,
away from history the Armenians in Fresno, 1895
and their crops burgeoned packing away the autumn fruits
the ladies with their thick fingers, nimble, hold world
caressing apple, pear, and quince for good pay– better than a man
these relics are the valley dried and tart
like their birthplace apricot, prune, peach, raisin.
sent away with the railroad sent in big crates to big cities
growth is industry and the past fading in the evening gloom
growth and decay how all things tend towards certain shapes
a drop, a ripple, fine crystals contour of green pepper or eggplant
all related in structure and form their cells following an inner map
the pull and necessity of earth’s own movement and shape
like a large drop and how all things which gather dissipate
we have come full circle the tide years span
entering the house music emerges from the paneled walls
the world is populated with usable objects figurines, utensils, tiny gods
and she went into the tree and became a tree became a house and had its memory
all must enter here the dwelling that is the heart
gathering the ripened fruits perhaps an olive grove
that branch which held allows to see while those who forget pass beyond another
river to be born is endless
sorrow fills like an earth in the vase as the stomach sickens
the perineum is sad leaps out the mouth
the transformed being which is pain this is a holy place all overgrown with laurels,
vines, and olives the poison seeps in on E Street down to the
Greyhound near the tracks
the tunnel reaching out to the city as it spreads flat across the dry
poison in grapes, in the Southern Pacific. poison that eats the brains of the Mexican
migrants that fills the jeweled swimming pools of the
rich and saw the land at that time commanded about
twelve dollars per acre also planted about fifteen acres in fruit
trees but at that time there were no canneries
only a very few of the choicest fruit trees were retained
white meats, taro, and numerous other choice varieties
the sink of Fancher Creek, the voracious posited the red oxidated iron silk from the Sierra,
like a map spread out before the eye calidafornics, californo, hot furnace, high
hills surfaces resurfaces
McKinley to Shaw Olive, Belmont, Divisadero, Stanislaus
the map does not essentially change center at Fulton and Mariposa
farm colonies surrounding mountains in view at all times
intensity of light reflected off flat land leads to a stigma
fertilizer and dust to allergies people living in history don’t know what’s
happening to them Beyond memory a wheel turning on itself
a man becomes a can in perpetual repitition the same man
these meanings to shift memoritiva
branch made into bow changing of the season of what food can be found
pine nuts in fall deer in winter
spring brings acorns to make meal knowledge from ground
beyond speech Tule for construction of huts
ballsis and rafts, rivers, lakes, marshes provide habitats for pelican,
cormorant, avocet, plover, gall, heron, tern, duck, greebe, bittern, geese, curlew and snipe
From rivers come also mussels, species of suckers
a narrative in nature a prehistory
possibly fifty tribes in the Tulare Lake basin and south
another line also started at the depot went up Mariposa to K and to Tulare
then travelling east on Tulare towards Terminus another to Belmont Avenue on the edge of the
plains the Fresno, Belmont and Yosemite railroad
crossings and recrossings the heart is a terminal
a resovoir the tribal economy in the terrain
bringing the point into a point shifting of foci
sir O, dead say it, dead
skylark and emperor all dead
history passes before their faces like a bridge
a large break in the continental skin fancy the holes
the ashes small boats of the yarrow stocks and eggplant
columbine, holly on the door each pushing a shopping cart
precariously overloaded with old bottles and cans down Gary street
the threshold all these things falling back into themselves
deliniated the world has passed
delphinium in tall clusters one prolonged into a conspicuous third
variously colored, common and poisonous the city is a labyrinth
mouth open like an inverted helix running downward the tongue
of history weighing down the face he had before he was born
the return is most difficult over long stretches of highway
ground burned in sun ragged flowers of ornamentals
ninety nine point forty, five, five eighty
the elliptical series a closed plane curve generated by a point
moving in such a way that the sums of its distances from two fixed points is a constant
used as a highway divider and light screen for freeways
nerium oleander leaves in threes are opposite
flowers pink rows white
corolla funnel shaped toxic part
entire plant the sickness soon develops
distancing separation the form of history
the way a shape in the sunlight makes its own shadow
the larger teleglow panes rest in the doctor’s body
enveloped in a blanket of something like slime not bigger than a finger and often less
finally I could take them out of myself this I, product of matter
slipping back sucking the wound finally entering the cave itself they found
some small children the hero of the occasion being a humane man
could not bear to kill these babies at any rate not with a heavy fifty-six caliber
Spencer rifle he was carrying it tore him up too bad
so he shot them with his thirty-eight caliber Smith and Wesson revolver
Mill Creek, April 1871 then she dreamed she saw the sky rising
and blood dripping off its edge immediately followed the kalla-ah
first night of dance curious movements with their hands
obliquely on each side of her long dark feathers wailing and sobbing
the door tightly closed and a gourd placed beside it
I began with a dream I was ill
filling my basket with dentalia pounding, pounding to a large hole
there is something remembered various panes flying above the heads of the
people wild sage to soothe the throat my thinking was flawed could all this erase each step folding in
on itself a way to live
the story is perhaps all dead there a large house stood on the ice with
many human beings in and around it from below the waters moved up, surrounding
impossible to push back 1964 on this spot
the inability to understand the terror of history
of the survival of image the underground spring bubbling up from below
Mariposa Street years later it gives back to them
it is the mask mask within mask
embodiment where can we go now?
away from ourselves farther in along this huge river system
shedding, shedding the skin I becomes other
to build a house inside of this my body
in a grove of oak lies the opening a gap from the mute skin of the earth
here our hero a Yokuts man steps down
as if into the last structure of recollection it is the dead in ourselves
the valley oak’s small leaves chattering over the gentle slopes of the lower Sierra
voices of the dead bird, mirror, frost
the ground which is the first shield in the world beckons
opens to that branch of the old tree he follows his wife who as if in sleep has set
out walking toward the other world he follows her until he comes to a stream
crossed by a bridge that constantly shakes and moves
through me you go into the city of weeping through me you go into eternal pain
at the end of the bridge a great bird screams and readies its talons to tear the new souls
to pieces but the man carries a talisman
a magic rope and succeeds in crossing to the other side
there he finds his wife with the crowd of the dead dancing the round dance
the banquet of the dead the lord of the underworld invites the shaman
to wage a contest against sleep and if he can stay awake one night he may
take his wife with him back to the world of the living
the round dance begins but he does not take part
thinking to save his energy for the long night’s vigil
he bathes and goes to bed with his wife they spend the night chatting
but just before dawn the man falls asleep he awakens with a rotten log in his arms
the inner fields of the body a mouth opening at the stomach
the recesses of the dance a blood letting
the invention of history take, eat, this is my body
jutting to time take this my scatteredness and I become like
the land nemortia contuitus expectatio
to fill carried across that light
impassible distance here in the city smaller lights
electricity, gas stove, stew to warm us and we wait for arrival
there is life within complexity small joy
embrace salvation and time’s passing [applause] thank you
[applause] maybe we could take a little
seventh inning stretch

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