from New Habitat

Sayaka Osaki


At long last
You went

It was      a quiet      quiet morning
At times      ever so often      horseflies landed
On the northern hemisphere      that is      your back
You crawled      chest stuck out      toward the unsatisfied sun
Majestically      you
Went      out

It was       a humid      windless morning
Two spangle butterflies      flitted      in tangled paths
You walked      at your usual pace
No one      absolutely no one      even noticed
When you escape      you run fast      or at least that’s what
Everyone      absolutely everyone      thought

There were times      you went out      for a walk
On the shell      of a wise woman      you met in a dream
You read the words      follow me
And chose      your meandering route
Heading out      without much thought

But deep in your jawbone      you knew
There are      boundaries between
The inside      and outside of the zoo
The zookeepers      always
Came from outside      before going back
The customers also      always
Came from outside      before going back

In your docile belief      that the ground that goes on endlessly
There was no tenaciousness      written upon your brow
Your thick legs      marched through      shadows cast
By the highest branches      of the cherry trees
As you munched upon      the grass that tickles your throat
You raised up your head      and looked to see
Which way      awaits

For two weeks
Until discovered by a human father and his progeny 
In the woods not so far away—

You were      your own king      majestic
The slowness of your pace might have been distressing
But never did you doubt the righteousness of a single step

Farewell Festival for the Flesh

In the dimly lit entryway, a lizard
Takes shelter among worn sneakers
And a rusty umbrella stand
May his body, sleek from tip to tail,
Survive even a single day longer
(Be frightened of the house to the east!)

In the forest far to the west, a Japanese wolf
Disguises herself as a stray dog
And buries the great distances she has crossed
With the memory of the last human she saw,
A shrunken old lady from a tangerine orchard
(Beware the fields to the west!)

Between two islands, the sea snail
Continues his quiet breathing
Quietly, gently turning his gaze
From the humans who always mistake
Individual difference for diverging species
(The shallows to the north shine like a mirror!)

Between the usual palm tree
And the usual tourists, the iguana
Nods her head over and over and over and over
At the noisy horns of cars driving by the park
As she carries the usual pigeon upon her back
(Head for the flat land to the south!)

With a stomach packed with plastic, the whale
Croons a contrabass sonata to himself
All that remains are his abilities
To spout saltwater and make himself move
As he tries to ride the distant, shining tide
(Go bubbling up and down, up and down!)

And in this way, everyone
Bids a thankful farewell to the flesh

The Next Planet

The earth has already grown so poor
The only thing on the screen are pale pathways
They say not even sparks scatter on the street corners
So everyone says they’re leaving for the next planet
They say that there, perhaps we’ll catch whiff
Of the familiar scents of dirt, smoke and mud
And if we’re lucky, the scent of tree sap too

They say that people back in the olden days
Called the desire to pack their bags hope
The only hope that grows is the one
On which our lives hang; after its inflation
We hardly use that word anymore
Everyone is talking about the next planet

Yes, everyone is talking about the next planet
But are they talking about the same one
Or different ones scattered here and there?
None of us are entirely sure, and honestly,
It doesn’t really matter who’s talking—
The whole thing smells as fishy
As the word hope sounds

This place might have been a metropolis long ago
But wind has reduced the rubble to dust
Now it is a dimly lit field
Weak, idle grass is growing
Maybe we need not worry so much
But no one seems to have seen this place yet
Here is where I plan to build my home

Surely it won’t be long before they notice and
Everyone will stop talking about the next planet
Everyone will try building a home here
The land will grow increasingly congested
Lots of stoplights and streetlamps will be put up
The names of intersections engraved in maps
And new laws adopted

Not just bad things, I think
I’ll probably make some friends
I’ll experience both fun and tiresome things
One of us—you or I—will die first
While the other remains, continuing to work in sadness
You told me once everyone dies sometime
And somehow that cheered me up

Now the ground is cold
And doesn’t smell like a thing
But tonight I will sleep soundly
Not on the next planet
But on this one


As the tide swelled into the kitchen at dawn
You sat in front of the screen
The tide swelled on the screen as well
You drank a glass of water as you watched
And turned your heavy head unsteadily
Trying to solve the problem of rotation

The water you drank turned in your throat
Much more and you would have drowned
While you watched the swimmers climb from the pool
And walk to the podium for their awards

(What do we have to do to change the landscape?)
Thinking hard things was a bad habit for you
You know nothing proceeds along straight lines
Yet later you learn everything turns

A boat headed for the backside of the earth
Cuts slowly across the depths of the screen
Carrying night herons, poison snakes, cats, and fire ants
Laying course to other dreams

That dawn the tide swelled to meet your bare feet
You simply waited for yourself
To step away from the screen

A premonition of exhausting work
Stops you at the water’s edge
A cat that got off in some harbor is here
Come to catch a glimpse of you

translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles