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  • Three Poems
  • Yamanoguchi Baku (bio)
    Translated by Katsunori Yamazato (bio) and Frank Stewart

A Conversation

“Where are you from?” asked the woman.

Where am I from? Well, I light a cigarette and think about a place where the clothes are dyed with images of tattoos and songs are played on snakeskin-covered shamisen!Way over there …

“What do you mean by way over there?” asked the woman.

It’s just way over there … actually the southernmost point of the Japanese islands. Does she want to hear that the custom in my homeland is for women to carry pigs on their heads and everyone goes barefoot? Down south …

“What do you mean by down south?” asked the woman.

Down south; just down south … place of unending summer, islands rising from indigo seas, century plants, deigo, screw pines, and papayas huddled in the glaring white season. Where stereotyping says the people are not Japanese and don’t understand the language! The subtropics …

“The subtropics?!” exclaimed the woman.

Yes, the subtropics, my woman … but can’t you see the subtropics are right in front of you?! Like me, the people there understand your Japanese well, though the world associates us only with tribal chieftains, natives, karate, and awamori liquor. Close to the equator … [End Page 21]

A Letter to My Sister

She asked a friend to tell me:

Brother, I am certain you will be a big success.Brother, where in Tokyo are you living now?

I feel you watching over me in your message, and though for six or seven years I have tried I cannot write you of my struggles to survive, of poverty that keeps me from marrying, I cannot write that your brother’s appearance in Tokyo

is like that of a hungry dog. How can I write such things? Nor can I write that your brother lives hand to mouth, with no fixed address. Unable to tell you the truth, yet finally cornered by your stinging questions, it takes all my strength to write these few words:

Dear sister, I hope you are all doing well.

Introducing Myself

Gentlemen gathered here today, I have been thinking of your status for some time, And now I have noticed myself thinking of you.

Well, I don’t wish to sound arrogant. But me? I am proudly one of the poor. [End Page 22]

Yamanoguchi Baku

Yamanoguchi Baku (1903–1963) was born in Naha, Okinawa, and in 1922 moved to Tokyo, where he lived most of his life. He began publishing poetry while still a teenager. A prize named in his honor is awarded annually to a promising poet.

Katsunori Yamazato

Katsunori Yamazato received his doctorate from the University of California at Davis and is a professor of American literature and culture at the University of the Ryukyus. His books include Poetics of Place: Reading Gary Snyder (2006) and A Narrative History of Ryudai, 1947–1972 (2010). Among his translations from English to Japanese are Gary Snyder’s Place in Space (2000) and Rivers and Mountains without End (2002). He co-edited Voices from Okinawa, the summer 2009 volume in the Mānoa series. At present, he is the director of the Pacific North/South American Research Project “Human Migration and the Twenty-First Century Global Society.”



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pp. 21-22
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