Four Poems

Yoshihara Sachiko

from Litanies for Youth (1964)

IV  Sleepwalking

A breeze at the doorstep, sparkler-scented
I remembered, then I was out in the street

I had been sleeping
It had been dreamless
A light rain had woken me up

I had left the trolley tracks a hundred
Yards behind. Down the street taxis howled like
Demons. I had crossed in the dark

Disoriented, I turned
I was nowhere at all
I was in the middle of it all
I was scared

So I set out back home

The kennel I passed smelled of straw
The snake-medicine shop smelled of alcohol

The watermelon in a Chinese restaurant gleamed so red
Did they really serve watermelon in Chinese restaurants?
I did not know
The watermelon in a Chinese restaurant gleamed so red

V  Budding

One of us drew a grotesque devil for art class.
One of us had a bob cut and sneered when she spoke.

The two of us stained our lips on the local shrine’s
Small purple cherries.

One of us writhed in the crook of that cherry tree
And shouted down: “Save me! Save me!”

I just laughed. We wore the same white kerchiefs:
Grade 1, Class 2.

She climbed down from the tree, glowered at me.
“I wanted to see whether you loved me or not.”

Aesop had his cats, foxes, little devils. Grown up,
We have the dark sweet smell of cherries.

I stared at the purple smear of her lips, trembling
As I kept my first secret in love.

VI  Festival of Red

There is nothing to this water; the heat
Of the hand closing around it turns it to steam
It drums on the glass like tumbling
Dice, like a dance of sprites

    ─The red sound      The red sound of sprites on glass

Under a naked storefront bulb
The scrunched-up faces of two kittens at play
Sparring with each other in a picture frame
Bright fruit

    ─The red taste      The red taste of a painted apple

The bottom of the wading pool ripples:
My boat’s tin propeller turns. It runs on
Rubber bands. Its passengers are paper-thin
Painted silhouettes

    ─The red smell      The red smell of fresh paint

Fear of seeing their sharp faces head-on:
No eyes, no ears, only slit mouths laughing at me

The kittens provoke a strange resentment
The sprites inspire strange prayers

from Radiances (1995)


The setting sun flushes a far-off snowy peak.
Pheasants hush on stones along the pristine riverbank;
Two children are singing, their soprano voices pure.
The world simply can’t be this beautiful,
Now that I must die.


Fatal colors explode deep in night’s vault.                         
Rock fragments stick in children’s tender throats.           
Black snow falls on black seas. The future’s
Lack of beauty hurts me, too,
Now that I must die!                        

translated from the Japanese by James Garza