From a Woman of a Distant Land
In this country, we do not bury the dead. We enclose them like dolls in glass cases and decorate our houses with them.
People, especially the cultivated ones from old families, live surrounded by multitudes of dignified dead. Our living rooms and parlors, even our dining rooms and our bedrooms, are filled with our ancestors in glass cases. When the rooms become too full, we use the cases for furniture.
On top of where my twenty-five-year-old great-grandmother lies, beautiful and buried in flowers, we line up the evening soup bowls.
We do not sing in chorus. When four people gather, we weave together four different melodies. This is what we call a relationship. Such encounters are always a sort of entanglement. When these entanglements come loose, we scatter in four directions, sometimes with relief, sometimes at wit's end.
I wrote that we scatter in four directions, but I did not mean that we merely return home, scattering from one another like rays of light radiating from a single source.
When there is no more need to be together, we scatter in four different directions, but none of us ever breaks the horizon with our tread.
Because people are afraid at the thought of their feet leaving the earth, we turn around one step before reaching the horizon. After thirty years, those faces we wished to see never again enter our fields of vision.
In this country, everyone fears midday. In the daytime, the dead are too dead. Bathed in the sharp view of the sun, our skin crawls, and we shudder.
When the nights, vast and deaf, vast and blind, descend with size great enough to fill the distances between us, we remove our corsets and breathe with relief. When we lie down to sleep at the bottom of the darkness, we are nearly as content as the corpses around us.
The sight of fresh new leaves scares us. Who is to say that those small buds raising their faces upon the branches are not our own nipples? Who is to say that the soft, double blades of grass stretching from the wet earth are not the slightly parted lips of a boy?
In the springtime, when green begins to invade our world, there is no place for us to take refuge outside, and so we hide in the deepest, darkest recesses of our houses. Sometimes we crane our necks from where we hide between our dead brothers, and we gaze at the green hemisphere swelling before our eyes. We are troubled by many fevers; we live with thermometers tucked under our arms.
Do you know what it means to be a woman, especially to be a woman in this country, during the spring?
When I was fifteen, becoming a woman frightened me. When I was eighteen, being a woman struck me as loathsome. Now, how old am I? I have become too much of a woman. I can no longer return to being human; that age is gone forever. My head is small, my neck long, and my hair terribly heavy.
We can smile extremely well. So affable are our smiles that they are always mistaken for the real thing. Nonetheless, if by some chance our smiles should go awry, we fall into a terrible state. Our jaws slacken, and our faces disintegrate into so many parts.
When this happens, we cover our faces with our handkerchiefs and withdraw. Shutting ourseleves alone in a room, we wait quietly until our natural grimace returns.
During our meals, sometimes a black, glistening insect will dart diagonally across the table. People know perfectly well where this giant insect comes from. When it dashes between the salad and the loaf of bread, people fall silent for a moment, then continue as if nothing had happened.
The insect has no name. That is because nobody has ever dared talk about it.
Three times each day, all of the big buildings sound sirens. The elementary schools, theaters, and even the police stations raise a long wail like that of a chained beast suffering from terrible tedium.
No matter where one is in this country, one cannot escape this sound—not even if one is making love, not even if one peering into the depths of a telescope.
Yes, there are many telescopes in this country. There is always a splendid telescope at each major intersection in town. People here like to see things outside of their own country. Every day many people, while looking through the lens of one of these telescopes, are struck by stray cars and killed.
When the faint aroma of the tide wafts upon the wind into town, people remember that this country lies by the sea. This sea, however, is not there for us to navigate; it is there to shut us in. The waves are not there to carry us; they continue their eternal movement so we will give up all hope.
Like the waves that roll slowly from the shore, we sigh heavily. We throw our heads back, then hang them in resignation. We crumple to the ground, our skirts fanning over the dunes...
Ignorant of all this, trading ships laden with unknown products, move into the harbor. People speak in unknown languages; unknown faces appear and disappear. Ah, how many times have I closed my eyes and covered my ears against the wail of the sirens while sending my heart from the harbor on board one of those ships?
From The Forest of Eyes by Tada Chimako, translated by Jeffrey Angles. Copyright © 2010 by Tada Chimako and Jeffrey Angles. Used by permission of University of California Press. All rights reserved.
Born in 1930 in Kita-Kyūshū City, Fukuoka, Japan, Tada Chimako spent most of her youth in Tokyo, during the tumultuous years of the second World War.
Tada attended college at Tokyo Women's Christian University where she studied French literature and formed friendships with other poets and intellectuals. Upon graduation, Tada enrolled in Keio Gijiku University to further her studies of literature.
In 1954, she became a member of Mitei, a magazine formed by poets and writers of the Japanese avant-garde. In 1956, she married Kato Nobuyuki, with whom she moved to Kobe, a quiet town in Western Japan, at the foot of Mt. Rokko. That year, her first book of poems, Hanabi was published. She continued to write on the outskirts of city life, in relative isolation.
Tada authored over 15 books of poetry in Japanese and was also a prominent translator of French literature, most notably of the poet Marguerite Yourcenar. Her Japanese translation of Yourcenar's Memoires d'Hadrien was published to critical acclaim. Tada's own work, which frequently referenced Greek, Latin, Chinese, and Japanese classical literature, concerned itself with the psychology of women in both mythology and the modern world. Her work took on several different poetic forms, including prose poetry, tanka, and haiku, demonstrating her fluidity with both classical and contemporary modes. She also published several books of essays on cultural theory, ancient thought, and mythology.
Tada was the recipient of several Japanese awards, including the Modern Poetry Women's Prize for her book, Hasu Kuibito, the Kobe Municipal Cultural Prize for her contributions to local culture, and the Hanatsubaki Prize for Modern Poetry for Kawa no hotori ni.
In the 1970s Tada taught French and European literary history at Kobe College. In 1986, she served as Poet-in-Residence at Oakland University in Michigan where she taught modern Japanese literature. In 1987, she was appointed as an instructor of French literature at Eichi University in Amagasaki where she also went on to teach religious studies in the University's graduate school up until two years before her death in 2003.
Date Published: 2010-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/woman-distant-land