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Long Fasting Since

Renshi



A Note on Renshi

     Renshi is a form of modern, linked verse that developed
out of the centuries old tradition of renga in Japan.  In
renshi, one poet writes several lines, then passes it to
another poet.  The second poet then draws upon a theme,
image, word, or idea present in the first poet’s verse to
write their own.  Once done, he or she passes it to the next
person, who adds another new verse, this time drawing
inspiration only from the verse that came immediately
before.
     In each case, the poet is careful not to stick too closely
to the previous verse while trying to develop the sequence
in a new, unique direction.  As the progress of the poetic
sequence is passed back and forth between poets, the
direction grows organically in fascinating and often
surprising directions.  In order to produce an interesting
sequence, it is an especially good idea to bring together
poets of different backgrounds and styles, as we have
done in this particular sequence.
     From the reader’s perspective, the pleasure of renshi
has to do in mulling over the connections between
individual verses and the various forms of play between
the voices of the different poets.  Rather than looking for a
single, unified plot, theme, or voice that ties all the verses
together, the poets encourage you to think of this
sequence of poems as a jazz composition or an Indian
jugalbandi, in which one poet comes forward, performs a
solo for a moment in harmony with the other work, then
steps back, ceding center stage to a new, fresh voice.

[Jeffrey]




[1]

there are electrical wires
   beneath these surfaces
amperes, ohms, coulombs
   emitting electromagnetic fields
      that draw us together
   in the off chance
      we might connect
           and make a spark

[Jeffrey]


[2]

A brand-new tooth was born in my mouth
at age 44.

The dentist said,
–Welcome to a land of milk and honey, mister.

–A land? The land! I chuckled.
He ignored my correction and added,

–You’ll soon have two more heads,
Two white wings, a vagina, and more –
But don’t get near electricity,
Or you’ll lose all possibilities imaginable.

Then he undressed and showed his pregnant belly.

The bill was too criminal to pay,
Not covered by medical insurance.

With no other choice left,
I became one of his concubines.

[Goro]


[3]

electric, or
  electronic intelligence,

an eye from outer space
  surveying our streets –

a long-awaited message
  finally arrived today –

   a tug on my fishing line

[Yoko]


[4]

l   E ntement sur mon coeur
   L e poignard
w E
   C  annot con-
  T
  R ol the trag
  I
  C things that happen to us (can we?)

[Jane]


[5]

Price Hamlet might love our company
but how did he get back from England?

[Keiji]


[6]

A five-mile stretch of toll-road traffic
best described as —tragic.

No pocket-change. Perhaps you
ought to make this vacation

last long enough to see the skull-tinged
moon bare its teeth.

[Adam]


[7]

At countless intersections
Are countless versions of me
You call out in greeting

[Tokihiko]


[8]

i dreamed my neck
was as long as the Tenryu river
my voice gone
and you were swimming in it
then later not at the summit
but the foot of Mt. Fuji
i disappeared
at regular intervals

[Jane]


[9]

I disappeared because I was unjustly arrested
I’m still imprisoned because I’m a poet and —dangerous
My only companion in jail is a sturdy male peacock

In court I was often called a deadly —terrorist
The media billed me daily as a pathetic —poemist
—Just like Plato’s Republic, I sighed, and the peacock
nodded

I’ve been long fasting since the day of my arrest
Everyday I’m busy contemplating the infinite
So I don’t feel hunger, thirst, the heat, nor cold

When I’m electrocuted the peacock will spread its tail
on which countless suns will reflect my —tragedy again
What a Hamlet I am — What a Quixote I am

[Goro]


[10]

when the birds of the mountains
cry out weeping
I suspect it is my father
I suspect it is my mother

when the deer from the ridges
come close in familiarity
I know how far
I am from the world

[Jeffrey]


[11]

And each time the thunder strikes the ground,
it is the first time I’ve heard it. Memory

grows bored with me or either I with memory.
Must sandpaper in a simile always be so rough?

Must doubting nature be required
to be an intricate or everlasting part of it?

[Adam]


[12]

The sandpiper says to the sun,
You fly so high and brightly shine,
but you cannot fish as I do
without a bill like mine!

[Keiji]


[13]

Up-to-date report on the website:

One summer day scandalous news
spread among animals in the woods,
human babies were trying to walk
          upright…

then, on the rock walls were painted scenes
of hunting bison, boars, horses, deer…

next came a war cry as humans killed
one another, beating their brains out…

chestnut trees are in full blossom
                   in the sunlight

[Yoko]


[14]

You, deserted
under the eaves,
live the life
of a stranger

[Tokihiko]


[15]

I’ve heard say

 a cat has nine lives,
 a yogi resurrects three times in flames,
 our Father dwells in heaven –

Anybody’s guess

[Yoko]


[16]

On the calendar on the wall
someone scribbled

Today is the day.

It was already yesterday,
when you did nothing but say

Let there be light.

[Keiji]


[17]

flick the switch
 and electrons
  flow through
 the mercury
making
 ultraviolet light
phosphors
 fluoresce

                  until the day
                the ballast burns out

    reactions stilled
  darkness down
    we remember instead
  reaching out
    feeling backward
      for what
  once we knew
    but so quickly forget

[Jeffrey]


[18]

Timothy, the tortoise, wakes up.
He feels the balmy green air
and considers which grass would taste good
on such a morning.

[Tokihiko]


[19]

The days of my poetry-loving grandfather
who went missing in action as an imperial-army grunt
on foreign soil in 1945
are finally numbered in my hometown Hiroshima

He keeps motionless in his bed
with numerous IVs and catheters all over his body
I sit beside him to tell him a bedtime story
「どうして 英語なんか使う?鬼畜の言葉だぞ」, he grumbles

I tell him about my shadow’s recent arbitrariness
Every morning it declares,—Fuck the entire world!
and leaves me behind
Every evening it hangs on me and slobbers,
—All the murders in human history are my fault
「それがおまえの詩か?実相観入がまだ足らんな」, my granddad
grumbles

「さあ、いよいよ今日だ・・・光あれ」, he shouts and changes into
a large larva
Its shell splits straight open and a massive firefly looms up
My shadow sneers at my body dressed with IVs and
catheters
And I whisper, 「もの思へば沢のほたるもわが身よりあくがれいづる
たまかとぞ見る」

[Goro]


[20]

i would rather do nothing
and write nothing but let the
words write themselves—i was
written off yesterday like
a calendar tossed aside—so
i scribbled poems on the walls
but it rained and now they’re gone

[Jane]


[21]

As though day or night distanced themselves
enough for my liking, the dog

ran through the house, tracking words
here and there. —Like a fish out of water,

you asked without asking. Perhaps
it’s time to replace the sidewalks or take

on some other task that will somehow
need repeating. I suppose that’s most tasks.

Today I have been counting the number of times
your eyes have blinked and my thoughts drift

towards the garden out back and the seeds I cursed
and dared to grow, the dirt mixed up in my teeth.

[Adam]


[22]

Out in the garden fallen leaves
    swept into a heap
        scattered by a strong wind

Keep still a moment,
    there’s not much left
                                to say
    but cry
            or smile

[Yoko]


[23]

I must have medical treatment—
Thanks—depression.
Waterfowl—on a pond (green).

[Tokihiko]


[24]

the arrhythmia comes more often
(strangely regular for irregularity)
the results of warning dots and dashes
vanishing on the atrium’s telegraphic lines

the message, a dead letter
earthquakes shake the ventricle
books topple from the shelves
plates crash on the floor

but this diagnosis is wrong
the arrhythmia isn’t in the organ
but the other heart, the one that longs
for far-away places then falls

when the airport is empty,
the one, driven by desire,
that reaches outward then retracts
hardly daring to say a word

[Jeffrey]


[25]

Flying carpets are more expensive than I thought. My
girlfriend says we’d rather buy a normal airplane, but of
course that will require a huge garage, which we cannot
afford. The dealer smiles and quotes a line from the
manual for the second time: Flying carpets are perfect for
Japanese households, being foldable and fitting every
corner of an incapacious room. Yes, our flat is narrow, and
furthermore every corner of it is occupied with books and
CDs. I sometimes wonder how we two find places to eat,
have sex and sleep. On our way home we discuss the pros
and cons of moving to a new flat, and we buy fish and
vegetables for dinner.

[Keiji]


[26]

Of course what we eat we invariably
become. Over time (or either through

time) the way we define an open space
is through its distant relation to an ocean

we’re perpetually forgetting. As for flight,
you can be halfway across the globe

in half or day or you can clean every corner
of the house in a few hours and call it

a day. What else could it be called? Our
bed: a metaphor. A blanket of questions.

[Adam]


[27]

I thought a blanket of words would
protect me, but I was wrong about
that, and much else. I write in order to
forget —but I can’t remember who wrote that.

[Jane]


[28]

Now, in an immense and quiet crematorium
You’re trying to pick up with long chopsticks
a tiny bone of the Adam’s apple
out of a bed of the hot ashes sheeting
the cremated corpse of your loved one
And you know an Adam’s apple is
called a throat buddha in Japanese

What would you do next if this was your true story?

Your story shouldn’t be clear
Your story shouldn’t be about any personal matter
Your story should be authorless
Your story should be timeless
Your story should be misunderstood in many ways
Your story’s characters should be mere signs
Your story should exist to disembody the whole world

If you believe firmly that
you can remember easily the voice
of the ocean you heard before with your loved one
when you drop the throat buddha
into the bottom of a tiny porcelain urn
in the immense and quiet crematorium
you may have to start all over again

[Goro]


[29]

lines radiate, a nimbus of light
toward the halo of language
around the man dissected
across the white gurney of the page

frontalis, masseter, maxilla—
the words call him part by part
into familiarity where he congeals,
perfect, in our image

or perhaps they pull him apart,
performing their cruel division,
dissecting him into a sea of signs
so that he has no name of his own

[Jeffrey]


[30]

wounds heal all time

[Jane]


[31]

The watch on my wrist
manages to remain a clock

even though I stopped
winding it years ago.

It might have been seen
as a drastic act back then

but today I mold normalcy
into something less than

that and divide a wave
along a shore with the only

sense I have left, though
this act plays out free

of sensitivity towards
anything resembling

a grain of sand, a pebble,
or an unanswered telephone

that continues to ring
itself deep into eternity.

[Adam]


[32]

And today, when I’m about to take a walk
the walk suddenly refuses to be taken
—This is not my walk of life anymore,
it says with a strong-minded look

The walk snatches from my hand a book
The title: Everything That Rises Must Converge
—Now is my turn to read this book by Flannery O’Connor,
the walk says and swiftly starts to pack

The title of the book comes from the freak
evolutionism established by
a French-born philosopher who believed
that everything must develop to God’s peak

Fearing this cruel division, I phone an ark
The walk is now on the way to rising to the spot
called by the philosopher the —omega point
The phone is still ringing hollow and blank

[Goro]


[33]

All the poems before this are actually its title.
Don’t let me forget to mention that.

But what is left to say?

I got a letter from a friend.
He wrote he didn’t feel well.

Today it’s been raining,
sometimes hard,
now
really hard.

My windows are white
as if it is all clear outside.

[Keiji]


[34]

Clockwise
I turned three times
a bowl of green tea on my palm
         an offering to the clear blue sky

        Up on the high plateau
      people and yaks
  circumambulate
      the sacred mountain
          emitting phosphorescence
                          into the void
  go around
    mawatte, mawatte, mawatte
               life is a rotating dream

Fearing radioactive fallout
I covered the bowl
  with a hydrangea leaf

[Yoko]


Notes

[4] begins with a line from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal
meaning —slowly on my heart / the dagger.   Other than the
words —can we, the remainder of the English comes from a
tee-shirt worn by a student in one of the author’s classes in
Japan.

[10] is a verse reworking of the following passage from the text
Hōjoki (An Account of My Ten-Foot Square Hut) written in
1212 by the ascetic Kamō no Chōmei (1153?-1216).

山鳥のほろと鳴くを聞きても父か母かとうたがひ 峯の鹿
かせぎ
の近く馴れた
るにつけても世に遠ざかるほどを知る

[20] The author gives the following glosses for the Japanese in
this verse.

First Japanese line: —How come you use English?  That’s the
goddamn devil’s language.

Second Japanese line: —Is that your poetry?  You need more
explorations into essentials.   The expression —explorations
into essentials is a phrase from the tanka poet Saitō
Mokichi (1882-1953).

Third Japanese line: Today is the day—Let there be light.

Fourth Japanese line: —While contemplating / I see a firefly
in mountain streams / as if it is a soul wandering / out of
my own flesh.   This is a waka poem from the poetess Izumi
Shikibu, born in the late tenth century.

[27] The idea of writing as a way to forget comes from Hank
Forest‘s Party by Ascher/Straus, which appeared in The
New Review of Literature
(Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 2008) and
John Kinsella’s disclosed poetics: beyond landscape and
lyricism
(Manchester Univ Press, 2007).

The author would also like to acknowledge Jacket (Vol. 36,
2008) for featuring her essay “Mistaken Indemnities” where
she first made reference to this idea.

[34] The word mawatte means turn in Japanese.  In the
Japanese tea ceremony, one turns a bowl of tea three times
before bringing it to one’s lips or offering it to a deity.


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