- Three Poems
Crossing a battlefield in single file, A woman leads a child and an old farmer. In the lead-gray light before dawn, The weedy grasses are silvered by dew.
Empty tin buckets swing on the ends Of the pole the old man carries across His shoulders. This quiet May morning!
Around them, defeated soldiers squat On the beach, under the poor shade of palms, Under rock ledges. Their eyes are glazed, Their canteens dangle from their shoulder clips.
On a hardscrabble trail toward a palm grove, In the lead-gray mist before dawn, The three—this quiet May morning!
—begin running in desperation, Exposed to enemy gunfire, For the grove beyond the open field. This quiet May morning.
At the grove’s edge is a well In the limestone, and a cave so dark, Sunlight reaches it bent and broken.
Inside the cave the terrified people Huddle together, dip their cups in the well, Whispering to one another Like the sounds of water dripping. [End Page 178]
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[End Page 179]
If a bomb kills everyone here, the water Will continue seeping into the well, As if you had never existed. So drink up.
Slake your thirst. And listen As enough sweet water touches your lips For you to survive another day. Outside the grove, a legless soldier begs.
His phantom limbs extend Into the nothingness, his pleading mouth A hole of emptiness to be filled.
Oh, give him water! Give him his last water And don’t leave him to die thirsty, This quiet May morning!
Where the dawn breaks soundlessly As if silence were a shelter against the rain Of fire that each day starts falling.
A CORAL ISLAND
Inside, the cave’s walls and ceiling The steady seeping of rain. Outside, the May rain falling, Falling.
This shining rain On the concrete, on the naval ship Floating invisibly, Inside the season’s rain,
The steady May rain. The rain in Saigon, The rain in Naha, The rain in the naval harbor, A nuclear submarine in the mist. [End Page 180]
Agitating the heavy water, Drunk on the goblets of black crude, A shark thrashes out to sea.
The sweet May rain Runs down my cheeks. In a rice paddy an artillery shell Wallows in the mud.
Sweet waters of the stream Moisten my dry mouth. I am burdened like a pack animal. Several men accompany me,
Walking single file through the field, In the open, exposed, We leave our fate to the gods.
The horn blaring, The bus halts in the neon rain. The red fins of her raincoat fluttering, A woman swims off the bus, in rain,
In the rain seeping in the cave, The rain on the cave’s walls and ceiling, On the black trees where The bus stops in the neon rain.
And I plunge into the town Where the people like embryonic Fish, all safe in their bubble-sac, Watch the rain falling.
The rain in Saigon, The rain in Tokyo falling. On the bus for the airport, The pounding rain, the rain
Falling in the town’s listless boredom, In the insufferable boredom of peacetime. [End Page 181]
UMANORI: RIDING HORSES
What kind of “riding horses” is this? It’s simple: you bore a hole down Through the ceiling of a cave, Pour something flammable in, Then toss a match, or a grenade.
Umanori is what Americans learned On the battlefields of the Pacific war, Perfected it on Okinawa Island. Regarded it as permissible during war. Above the caves: American soldiers.
Underground: the ones who will wear Flaming hoods of sorrow. Needless to say there are infants In the arms of mothers, old women Old men, amidst the Japanese soldiers
All wearing hoods of sorrow, cooked alive Inside the ovens. Can you restore the bodies Of pregnant mothers, whose bodies were tombs Inside a flaming tomb? Foolish dreams. To ride such horses is to ride them forever. [End Page 182]
Makiminato Tokuzō was born in 1912 in...