Chimako Tada

Chimako Tada Poems

the round spoon
with the curvature
of a concave mirror
scoops out my eye

the hot water in
the abandoned kettle
slowly cools
still carrying the resentment

one narcissus
draws close to another
like the only

I listen to songs
of someone handsome
at the apex of night
the Milky Way overflows

there is a hole at
the end of night
a secret
surrounded by red

The mirror is always slightly taller than I
It laughs a moment after I laugh
Turning red as a boiled crab
I cut myself from the mirror with shears

Facing the mirror, I put on my face
Apply a thin layer of makeup
But not like usual this time, not like each night
Tonight, I become an adolescent boy!

A fifteen-year-old boy's shirt and blazer
A fifteen-year-old boy's slacks
Strangely enough, they fit me well
I become a boy just before his beard comes in

This bet I wager takes hardly any cash
Not even as dangerous as a bet I suppose
Secretly switch jack for queen
And all is well, no one will know
(Repaint a rusty boat and at the right time
The launching ceremony will commence
All eyes on deck focused on the bow)

No longer will I envy any man or woman
I do not need perfume or pistols
Just think and I can be
Concrete woman
Or abstract man

The night grows long
Preparations done, I am ready to go
Among people who are
Neither husband nor lover
Farewell, unfamiliar adolescent in the mirror
Until that boyish dawn one step this side of man


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?

Carved around the tower of Vega
Which soars high into the night
Are tens of thousands of stars, each a cuneiform letter
- Who carved this and when, using a sapphire stylus how sharp?
These letters bestow their meaning to the desert and sea
Which sleep with closed eyes
Their meaning is quietly snatched
Like ice stealing bodily warmth
From Man who lives with eyes half-open
Pythagoras probably read these inscriptions
Shepherds probably read them too
And well as slaves rowing their masters' galleys
But inside the shining spire
Humanity smiles happily
Letting its meaning slip away
- Who built this and when, creating this purified void to the zenith of heaven?
We grow suspicious of the hushed, sanguine warmth of the body
That has failed to melt away completely into the crystal currents of air


I am planted in the earth
Happily, like a cabbage
Carefully peel away the layers of language
That clothe me and soon
It will become clear I am nowhere to be found
And yet even so, my roots lie beneath . . .

And then, the snow finally started to fall
After the wind and rain and sand

Stopping all the clocks in the town
The snow slowly accumulated
Upon the towers of ill will
Upon the ramparts of mistrust
Upon the ruts of wheels mired in black mud

Wrapped in a cocoon of snow
The town became legend
A grave of white pumice riddled with holes bored
By spirits the shape of glowworms . . .
(No matter how sick and worn
The old all become beautiful with death)

Where was reconciliation?
The town of mankind forgot its weight
And sent a precarious bloom
Atop a single trembling stalk
Where it continually unfolded, petal after white petal
(Like a deep and gentle wound
That becomes the stage for the divine)

Where was prayer?
After the wind and rain and sand
The snow finally began to fall
Blanketing white nights with white days
Without end

Spilling twinkling droplets of light
The child crawls upward
Into a world still free of furrows

He somersaults forward
The hourglass turns over
And a new era begins

He picks up stars to skip like stones
Ancient fish flap their fins and laugh
Splashing the feet of the gods


In due time the child grows tall
His memory grows heavy

The world becomes full of his footprints
And with a yawn
The child leaves for somewhere unknown
With the sun still stuck, dead, in his pocket


On earth where many bare feet have run
We boys stretch out
We exchange embraces with no one
But we are more complete than any future


We boys hang down
Upon swings at the height of day
Our slight yawns
Like a ripening akebia fruit


Long ago, we boys left a fountain
And now go in all directions through the square
The sun which has lost its eyelids watches
The same radiant dream over and over again


With the soles of our feet, we kick up waves
And we leave along the muddy shore
Our arms reach further and further ahead
Perhaps toward the deep blue of the ancient sea


Turning the earth with our father's bones, we spread young seeds
And cultivate summer upon cetacean memories
Each era gets its own forest
Each era gets its own graveyard


As if creating cairns, we stack
The corpses of cicadas caught during vacation
And with our butterfly nets over our shoulders
We depart for another, even taller summer

With flies that speak the language of men
She inhabits these mountains
Collecting innocent stones
And building aimless stupas
(This is playing with karma in sand)
Her eyes shine the color of amber

Each evening she plucks centipedes from the wall
And encloses them in bottles of oil
(In ten years, they will melt away
And leave perfectly clear oil
The same color as my eyes)

Sometimes she plucks a metaphor
An amaranth from the shade
And dresses its leaves for dinner
For fifty years she has lived here
Conversing with the flies
(Shall I remove my cloak before long?)

Butterflies the color of dead leaves
Return to soil the color of dead leaves
While the woman, the color of a corpse
Kneads earth, the color of a corpse
Into a doll of indeterminate sex

(In one hundred years I will have crumbled away
Becoming just clean, light sand
Both the doll and me as well)
Then someone will collect the sand once again
To construct another game of karma

One morning when heaven grows distant from the land
The cicada shell will shed itself and return to the wind
In any case, I present a flower as offering
The black lily blooms
Releasing its faint, foul aroma

The moonstone woman combs her hair
Blind even before birth
She lives only within her own light

There is the sound of an earthenware jar cracking
And water flows down a long staircase
Into the depths of a murky violet hole

When she lights a lamp in loneliness
She senses dogs crouching
At the four corners of the earth

The woman will someday go beyond the tower
Crossing corridors of gathering clouds
Led by fish with lidless eyes

But now, she holds sour fruit in her mouth
And combs the moonlight
Sitting swallowed in shadow

I stand someplace and watch
People without weight transported
From this bank to that
Only once are they carried across

The water is clear, finely textured yet viscous
The boatman's oar sends up no spray
Although the passengers are spirits perhaps
All spirit seems to have left them long ago

As if caught in a deep sleep
Their mouths hang slightly open
They need no water from the river of forgetfulness
Probably their memories are already long gone

The old women look like my mother
So I probably resemble them too
Standing with mouth slightly agape
A close resemblance like one dream to another

As I gaze on them, I begin to wonder
From which side of the river I watch . . .
Meanwhile, a dragonfly perched on the helm measures
The weight of the vast afternoon on its thin wings

Finally after half a century, a clearly observable law has been found:
For mankind, all matters proceed
Along geometric lines

(If you put one grain of rice on the first intersection of a game board, two grains of rice on the second, four grains of rice on the third, and continue along these lines, what vast quantities will you have by the time the board is covered? When the ancient king was told the answer, how surprised he was . . . )

By the time I realized what was happening, I was clinging to the earth
So I would not be shaken off as it spun with ever greater speed
My hair, dyed in two parts with night and day, had come loose
(Yet still I toyed with dice in one hand)

As it turns, it is stripped page by page like a calendar pad growing thin
A cabbage growing small, shorn of leaves before our eyes
Once, this planet had plenty of moisture
(But that was in the days when those things that now belong to dead languages -
Things such as dawn, looks, and smiles - were still portents of things to come)
That's right, for mankind, all matters proceed along geometric lines

Four and a half more centuries into the future
The shriveled brain that revolves
Rattling in the cranium's hollow will grow still
Like the pale eye of a hurricane

All will see its resolution in those moments
As the rolling dice tumble, turning up their black eyes
Then finally coming to a halt

The palm of the hand
Has both a back and a front
Turning it over
And back again, a day spent
In sickness draws to a close

Since it was he who
Spilled the blood of tens of
Thousands of people
He should not die after
So many blood transfusions

(On hearing of the critical condition of the Shōwa Emperor)

Karma of women
And the karma of men
Entangling and
Dying the world the pattern
Of a serpent's stomach

Like a twisted rope
The karma of men and women
Clinging to one another
Yet still always pulled apart

I bathe myself to
My heart's content in the
Meteor shower
Later in my cancer ward
I bathe in radiation

Various wonders
Have already lost their sense
Of wonder
Wonderland heads for
Its own sure destruction

We roll the dice
And play our game, we the people
Of the playful star
Doing the forbidden and
Turning the skies round and round

Born as we are onto
This playful star of deep green
Why is it we do
Not dedicate ourselves to
Playing for all we are worth?

Chimako Tada Biography

Chimako Tada (多田智満子 Tada Chimako?, April 1, 1930 – January 23, 2003) was a Japanese poet renowned for her surreal style and evocation of women's experience in post-war Japan. She authored more than 15 books of Japanese poetry, and also translated prose and poetry from French. Tada wrote in traditional styles, such as tanka and haiku, as well as contemporary prose poetry.)

The Best Poem Of Chimako Tada

A Spray Of Water: Tanka [the Round Spoon]

the round spoon
with the curvature
of a concave mirror
scoops out my eye
and swallows it

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