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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 19-20

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Asagawa Aki

When I was very young
I had a small birthmark on my back.
Its shape and place were exactly like
Those of the young man
Who was my mother's elder brother
And died in the southern country.
My mother and grandmother told me so.
In the room where I was born
There was a painting he left
Of a delicate cream-colored rose,
As if wishing to part from his fragility,
He'd gone off to war.

He wrote that he wanted to
Come back to eat his mother's cooked red rice,
But what came back was only a cake of soap.
So we offered the red rice to the soap.
Yes, he was a sad man.
When I was as old as he was when he died
I knew his slender fingers might have
Shot, stolen from, humiliated, and killed
Those in the southern country.
My birthmark disappeared unnoticed.
Yes, it disappeared.

But in the country where he died--
Beside the river a war memorial hall was built--
A saying is carved.
"We will forgive, but won't forget."
When one has no wish to be forgiven,
Being forgiven is a terrible thing.
When one does not hesitate to forget,
Being remembered against one's will is a terrible thing. [End Page 19]

I had the same birthmark as
A young man I've never met.
It gave my life
A shape, and
Made me aware of
Connected time and human beings,
And now I know
I'm also connected.

Translation by Kijima Hajime

Sagawa Aki published the collection Dream Conceiving the Dead Again, which won the Oguma Hideo Prize in 1992 and from which the poem in this issue is reprinted. Her poems have been translated into Korean, and she, in turn, translates Korean poets into Japanese. Born in Tokyo, she now lives in Yokohama with her husband and daughter.

Kijima Hajime is the editor of The Poetry of Postwar Japan and the author of Little White Hen, a modernized folktale. His most recent books are Responses Magnetic: Selected Poems and Linked Quatrains: The Cycle of "fill." He lives in Tokyo.