Thursday, November 6, 2008

THE GREEN INTEGER REVIEW Nos. 11-16 (Aida Tsunao)

Aida Tsunao

As An Experience


When crabs
crawl up from the lake,
we tie them to ropes,
go over the mountain
to the market
and stand by the pebbly road.

Some people eat crabs.

Hung by the ropes,
scratching the air
with ten hairy legs,
the crabs turn into pennies;
we buy a clutch of rice and salt
and return over the mountain
to the lake side.

grass is withered,
wind cold,
and we do not light our hut.

In the dark
we tell our children
what we remember of our fathers and mothers
over and
over again.
Our fathers and mothers,
like us,
caught the crabs of this lake,
went over that same mountain,
brought back a clutch of rice and salt,
and made hot gruel
for us.

again like our fathers and mothers,
we will carry our bodies, grown thin and small,
and throw them in the lake.
And the crabs will eat our sloughs
to the last bit
just as they ate
the sloughs of our fathers and mothers
to the last bit.

That is our wish.

When the children fall asleep,
we go out of our hut
and float a boat on the lake.
The lake is half light
and we, trembling,
make love

I have decide to take up “Legend,” a piece I wrote about fifteen years ago. About when and where I got the idea of “Legend,” toward the end of 1940, when I was twenty-five years old, I volunteered and joined the Nanking Special Service, a special administrative organization that belonged directly to the military. An organization which, on behalf of the military, requests cooperation from the Chinese administrative offices that the military can’t directly interfere with or give orders to—that’s the Special Service. Assigned to it, I was, to use the phrase of those days, a military civilian, and a military civilian had to read aloud what they called the military civilian’s oath in front of the director of the Service, and swear to it. For two years you had to stay, no matter how hard it was. As soon as I joined it I disliked it, but I endured it for two years. The Service included some of the soldiers who took part in Japan’s assault on Nanking, and some members of the pacification unit, the predecessor of the Special Service. I’m not sure that I should mention it in this sort of gathering, but the Japanese army committed genocide in Nanking. Some of the people had seen the genocide with their own eyes and told me their vivid recollections of it. After these stories, I heard something like this: that is, that crabs during the years of war were extremely delicious, and that it wasn’t something the Japanese said, but it went from mouth to mouth among the people whose land was occupied, who were slaughtered. That’s what my colleagues at the Special Service told me. Crabs harvested during the years of war were delicious, they said, because the crabs ate the corpses of those killed in the war and had a lot of fat. I have never checked whether or not crabs actually eat human beings, if not as they are, but in the decomposed state when they are as gelatinous as plankton, but I think they probably do. They may not eat them thinking these are human beings we’re eating, but I’m sure they do eat them. It is because of this, I think, that the Chinese did not eat crabs during the war except in extreme circumstances. Not a single one of the Chinese I associated with ate crabs in front of me. The talk of crabs eating the people killed in the war got stuck in my head, but I didn’t see crabs in Nanking. After I was freed from the Special Service, I went to Shanghai and ate Chinese crabs for the first time. On the grubby streets in Shanghai, there were a number of grubby small restaurants. They were run by Chinese. I said small restaurants, but they were more like bars, and on the streets where such bars were, when the season came, that is, from the end of autumn to the beginning of winter, crab vendors showed up. I’m not quite sure where they got them. It was close to the Yangtze, so they got them either directly from the Yangtze or its tributaries or from the marshes connected to them, I think; they were large crabs, I ate them, and they surely were delicious. Toyoshima Yoshio, whom I respect, was a good writer with the soul of a poet; he liked sake and seems to have come to Shanghai from time to time, since before the war, and the reason he came to Shanghai was that, though the sake there was good enough, the seasonal crabs were even better, so he came there to eat them, he once confessed to me jokingly. The crabs that you get to eat in Shanghai are that good. The one who told me how to eat them was Ikeda Katsumi, who has died since then. The people who recognize his name are becoming fewer, but he put out the poetry magazine called Hana (“Flower’) after the war and later started the magazine called Nippon mirai-ha (“Japanese futurist group”). Nippon mirai-ha, though Ikeda died, is still published by the original members of his group, and like Reikitei (“Historical process”), to which I belong, has a large family, and it is, I think, one of the influential “association magazines” of poetry that represent the postwar era well. In any case, Ikeda Katsumi was in Shanghai. It was Kusano Shimpei who introduced him to me. I became acquainted with Kusano in Nanking. On the day when he met me for the first time, Ikeda took me to a small restaurant in a grubby alley. On the way he bought crabs from a crab vendor. I said crab vendor, but he would just stand by the roadside and give you live crabs, tying each to a rope. Ikeda had been in Shanghai before me, so he knew exactly what he was doing: he bought four crabs, went in a small restaurant, had them boiled there, and ate them while drinking. I don’t think he knew the talk I’d heard in Nanking, that the crabs during the years of war were delicious. I hid it from him.

Ikeda was a very interesting man and took very good care of me in Shanghai. Today, on the train on my way here, I remembered his wife. This past spring, I think it was, I opened the copy of Nippon mirai-ha that was kindly sent to me and found on the back of the front page an article on the gathering in Osaka to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of Ikeda’s death, along with a photograph of Ikeda, his wife and their children, which made me very nostalgic. So that you may know what kind of man Ikeda was, I’d like to tell you an episode. His wife was a young actress with an old film company—Shinko Kinema, was it—and a beautiful person. Ikeda said something clever to her, lured her out, put her on a train, and seriously threatened her at a door, saying, “Marry me. If you don’t, I’ll jump right out of this door and kill myself,” so she had no choice but to give consent—she volunteered this story when I went to see them at their house in Shanghai. Ikeda has such a devil-may-care yet somehow calculating look and was at the same time a considerate and very loveable man. I hadn’t read his poems for some time, but found a book of his today and, since it has something to do with my piece, I’ve brought it here so you may savor it with me. In it is a poem that he published in 1944, with the title “Mr. Lu I the Poet”—pronounced Louis in the Shanghai dialect; a Chinese poet who was in Shanghai, he was a lively, interesting person in a different way from Ikeda, and the poem is about this Mr. Lu I. It is an interesting poem. Now a days few people write this kind of poem. Young poets today may find the piece lacking in something, but I believe even now it’s a good poem:

You are my age
but you have a magnificent mustache
you are skinner than I am
and taller by three to four inches
your Japanese has no conjunctions
but since you are a poet
your Japanese is pure
and all poetry
“I am clumsy poetry, I have a long way to go,” you say
but as we walk, you say
“The four legs that walk on history”
in front of the innumerable jars of lao chiu at Ma Shanghou you say
“Each one of these jars is each line of poetry”
China’s literary leadership, which has grown too old, will despise you
you aren’t sad about it
rather it just makes you square your skinny shoulders
when I say so-and-so is good
you hasten to add:
‘Is he still better than I?”
you believe in your sole self terribly adequately
but that isn’t your arrogance
it is loyalty to heaven’s principle that there’s always only one beginning point
you say you now have ninety members for your Poetic Territory
you urge subscriptions, collect money, and buy paper
saying you’ll put out a 300-page book of poems
your calculation will probably go wrong
but your skin, which doesn’t stop renewing itself for a second
will remain
so you feel bright
ah every thing, every phenomenon is poetry for you
I trust you for your being busy
“Since Japan and China had a quarrel I went to Hankow. I go Changsha. I go Kweichow. I go Yunnan. Then it’s Indochina, Hong Kong.”
your wandering
your return home
you now put it boldly:
“Twentieth century, farewell
“Poetry, farewell
“Literature, farewell
“Shanghai, farewell
“Earth, farewell
“There’s no culture. There’s no hope. There’s no light.
“There’s no Chinese literature, now”
parting is your courage
despair is your “departure”
your eyes, the slits, are
murderous swords to me
at the tip of your walking stick that you never part with
I sense the sad anger of a young China
you trampled upon the decorum and manners
of the aged great country
the realist China
you put your fist to your mouth graceful for “Ching ching”
and still at my word, “World poetry will come from Japan”
you say stubbornly, “World poetry will come from China”
ah who in the world knows
of this childish dispute in Asia
on a day when the earth is disturbed
fifty-five yuan Bamboo Leaf Green
sixty-five yuan Carved Flower
our two wallets good enough only for another chin
you are poor
I am poor
your child is often ill
my two children often cry
but what abundant talkativeness of you and me
we don’t talk about politics
but we’ve said enough
you love China obstinately
I love Japan obstinately
you are our friend
you and we are full
your youth with a mustache is beautiful
your droll, desperate face
is very good
yes its very good

I became friendly with his Mr. Lu I, too, and I think Ikeda introduced me to him. I drank with Lu I at Ma Shanghou, which is mentioned in the poem, and sometimes at other places, too. There’s one thing I can’t forget. At a restaurant in Wumalu, when the three of us—Lu I, his younger brother Lu Mai, and I—were drinking Carved Flower, chatting, I inadvertently ordered crabs. As soon as a waiter brought the crabs, Lu I’s eyes became a little sharp and he clearly said, “I wouldn’t do it, I don’t eat crabs.” I knew at once, but pretended not to know, and asked, “Why?” “I’ve hated crabs since when I was a child, I don’t like the way they look, I don’t even want to see them”—he explained, but Lu I didn’t eat crabs, possibly because of the way they look, but more likely, I think, because he didn’t think it quite right to eat, with a Japanese, the crabs which were said to have become delicious by eating something that the flesh or blood of his compatriots, slaughtered by the Japanese, turned into. This has become one of the things I can’t forget. The talk among the people that I heard in Nanking, the talk that crabs in the years of war are delicious—and Lu I, my good friend, wouldn’t eat crabs with me. I thought it was natural for him not to, but the two things—what I heard and what I saw—did not fade in my memory, and the desire to write something about them grew stronger in me. But, in what form to convey them, or in what form to record them—I was clumsy and couldn’t turn them into a novel or an essay, I couldn’t make a poem out of them, either. I came back to Japan, and in 1955, that is, ten years after the war ended, one day, suddenly, the imagery for “Legend” was born. I don’t directly show in this piece either Lu I, Ikeda, or the things I experienced in Nanking and Shanghai, but I do think that the poem wouldn’t have been made without those experiences during the war. Beyond such experiences, I can say the poem “Legend” was made as my own requiem—though I don’t know it manages to be that—for the tens of thousands of guiltless people who were summarily shot by the Japanese army and dumped in the Yangtze, and for the people, such as Lu I, who associated with Japanese in Shanghai during the war, were troubled, yet kept writing poems. Rilke said, “A poem comes out of experience;” the people who were cruelly killed during the war on the Chinese continent, my encounters with various people, the large shadows they cast over me, their deep resentments, the odd nostalgia I feel for them—of “Legend,” I think I more or less managed to put these things in it in my own way. Needless to say, that wasn’t the only motive for writing “Legend.” There was a motive of another dimension, but for now, I don’t want to touch on it. “Legend” is a piece already fifteen years old and is far from my present mentality. Far, yes, but nonetheless it is what I wrote. But for me to write it, there had to be unconscious collaboration—pardon the poor phrasing—of a truly great number of people. And the feeling that it is my own piece is gradually fading. Basically, there’s something about the poem that makes me feel that Ikeda Katsumi, Lu I, Kusano Shimpei, to name a few who were close to me during the war, and countless other friends and comrades, guiltless people, Shanghai, Nanking—these things were more or less unified in the form of the poem “Legend,” and that with the unification came a sort of relief.

In my talk, I’ve used the word “poem,” but I don’t know whether or not “Legend” is a poem. For my book called The Lagoon which included “Legend,” I consciously avoided and did not use the phrase “book of poems.” I avoided the word “poems,” too. So, to say something like ‘my poem “Legend,” doesn’t strictly go well with my feeling. To call it “one of my pieces,” or ‘“Legend,” which was my piece,’ suits my sentiment better. The world at large counts it among poems, some are kind enough to like it, and it’s also in textbooks. Butthat’s something I can do nothing about. To be tedious, I myself still don’t know for sure that “Legend” is a poem or what. This isn’t about “Legend” alone; among the pieces I wrote before it and among those I’ve written since then, there’s not one that I wrote with the conviction that it was a poem. For convenience, I sometimes call my pieces poems, and when others go ahead and treat me as a poet, though I never call myself that, there’s nothing I can do about it so I don’t say a word, but I have not once thought that I’ve written poems, or that I am a poet. Nor will I in the future. But I think Ikeda Katsumi and Lu I were poets. Among the people I was friendly with, I felt, there certainly were some who deserved the name of poet. It’s better to say I believe than to say I feel. Because I know such poets, I can’t possibly think myself a poet. “Legend” is an expression of gratitude, or an apology, or something like that, for those people who made my experience, but, to repeat myself, it isn’t a poem.
30 June 1970

Stolen Goods

bitter shoe
bitter rice
bitter water
bitter salt
bitter plate
bitter fire
bitter gate
bitter tooth
bitter hair
bitter stone
bitter peach
bitter sword
bitter ear
bitter egg
bitter bamboo
bitter snow
bitter devil
bitter wheel
bitter silver
bitter sprout
bitter nail


Andrea is dead, you said
The Andrea I know is in New York
Sing along with Mitch
The conductor with a gracefully pointed goatee, Mitch Miller,
she is his daughter
Herself, on the staff of the Asia Society
Mailed me only a while ago a present
The record of the Confucian Odes that Ezra Pound made for spoken arts
Printed on its jacket is Andrea’s name
Probably she assisted Pound’s recording
The aged Pound’s voice is solemn but terribly husky and hard to comprehend
Sometimes it sounds like
Shem shem
Shem jarr
Shem shem
Shem jarr
Sometimes it sounds like
Shim shim
Shim dear
Shim shim
Shim dear
Pound’s voice isn’t good but my ears aren’t either
Turning up the stereo’s volume
Pound’s voice, like bitter rain, pattered on my ears
That was his will
Pound is dead, but my left-handed skinny Andrea is alive
Your dead Andrea was a dog
It looks like uterine cancer they told me, so I had it cut out, you said
It was cancer all right, but it was cancer of the liver
Too much anesthetic, and she died of a heart attack
Sometimes I thought, I shouldn’t have had it cut out
Sometimes I thought the other way, No, she died without pain, and that wasn’t bad
Last night I couldn’t sleep at all
Before coming here I took off my sweater and put it over Andrea
I’m cold, you mumbled
There’s no coal, no oil
I poured rotgut in a bowl, gave it to you
And went into the brush to get branches for a fire
Among those I broke, crackling, and carried back
You noticed a lean branch with lavender fruit and pulled it out
What is this tree?
A little Lady Murasaki, its fruit are completely frozen, it’s finished I think
I’ll keep it, you said
I’m going to take it to Andrea
She’s a strange dog
When she finds a tree with lovely fruit like these, she stops
And, entranced, would gaze at it forever
Warming ourselves by the fire in the garden
You emptied your bowl of rotgut for Andrea who is dead
I mine for Andrea who is alive
I don’t want to cremate Andrea, you said
I wouldn’t like to bury her either
Then why don’t you get her stuffed, I said
There’s a book of poetry called Gate of Heaven
Its author, if I remember it right, was an expert at stuffing
During the war, I once met him in Nanking
He was a quiet Nanking museum man, I was a dull Nanking Special Service man
This is his poem called Exposed to the Sun

Halfway up the mountain there was a dugout
Scattered here and there were white bones
I picked up a small, roundish
Apparently a young woman’s skull
Teeth beautifully complete
From the forehead aslant, a bullet trace, cruelly exposed to the sun
A plume goldenrod was in bloom
On a stone by it, I placed the skull quietly, and joined my hands
The Yangtze was gleaming in the evening sun.

Stuffing I said, but Mr. Kamiji’s specialty may have been birds
But this Exposed to the Sun is very good
He’s a rare Christian who deserved the name poet
I’m getting drunk, I’m sleepy, you said
I boiled water over the fire, and took you to the straw bed
As I tucked in the foot warmer I touched them—
Your bare feet were soft like velvet
I held you
You looked like you were in pain, I unbuttoned your shirt, and your nipples were pink
I didn’t let go
If you want to throw up, go ahead and throw up
The way we are’s fine, go ahead and throw up, I repeated
Andrea, you whispered

—Translated from the Japanese by Hiro Sato

English language copyright ©2008 by Hiro Sato

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