The Garden Shukkei-en
By way of a vanished bridge we cross this river
as a cloud of lifted snow would ascend a mountain.
She has always been afraid to come here.
It is the river she most
remembers, the living
and the dead both crying for help.
A world that allowed neither tears nor lamentation.
The matsu trees brush her hair as she passes
beneath them, as do the shining strands of barbed wire.
Where this lake is, there was a lake,
where these black pine grow, there grew black pine.
Where there is no teahouse I see a wooden teahouse
and the corpses of those who slept in it.
On the opposite bank of the Ota, a weeping willow
etches its memory of their faces into the water.
Where light touches the face, the character for heart is written.
She strokes a burnt trunk wrapped in straw:
I was weak and my skin hung from my fingertips like cloth
Do you think for a moment we were human beings to them?
She comes to the stone angel holding paper cranes.
Not an angel, but a woman where she once had been,
who walks through the garden Shukkei-en
calling the carp to the surface by clapping her hands.
Do Americans think of us?
So she began as we squatted over the toilets:
If you want, I'll tell you, but nothing I say will be enough.
We tried to dress our burns with vegetable oil.
Her hair is the white froth of rice rising up kettlesides, her mind also.
In the postwar years she thought deeply about how to live.
The common greeting dozo-yiroshku is please take care of me.
All hibakusha still alive were children then.
A cemetery seen from the air is a child's city.
I don't like this particular red flower because
it reminds me of a woman's brain crushed under a roof.
Perhaps my language is too precise, and therefore difficult to understand?
We have not, all these years, felt what you call happiness.
But at times, with good fortune, we experience something close.
As our life resembles life, and this garden the garden.
And in the silence surrounding what happened to us
it is the bell to awaken God that we've heard ringing.
Carolyn Forché's Other Poems
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