DIARY OF AUNTIE Poem by Shuntaro Tanikawa

DIARY OF AUNTIE



I see Auntie crouching on the river bank. Behind her is a large chimney letting out smoke. I can't tell Auntie to do this or do that. Auntie takes a stand. She says she is going to cook devil-root cake tonight.

*

Auntie forgets what she just said and repeats the same story. One moment she is angry, but the next moment she is very happy. She cooked such delicious rice before, but now she burns it black. But she doesn't care, because she quickly forgets that she burnt it. Oh what a waste, so burnt up, she says, nonchalantly blaming it on someone else. Inside Auntie, so protean now, the conscientious Auntie of the past is playing hide and seek. Has Auntie gone somewhere else? No, Auntie is here, still. She is alive, with her pretty silvery hair shining in the sun.

*

Oh, you shouldn't, she said, Auntie tells me. A bent nail caught and tore her apron, she says to me. Then the guy just pulled his arms away. A dumb fellow, Auntie says, and she is angry with him. It was some thirty years ago, but Auntie, her nostrils flaring, is seriously angry for some time.

*

Of course what I see is not all of Auntie. Auntie invades me like a virus. Invisible Auntie is more dangerous than Auntie I see, because I begin to lose distinction between her and me. In an effort to see the invisible Auntie I try to describe her. Immunity?
A word like that is of no use.

*

Auntie treasures an earthenware teapot with a chipped spout. When she pours casual tea from the teapot into a teacup, she is most dignified. Then she deliberately begins to follow newspaper pages with her eyes. Captions for a deserted child and for a coup d'état are printed in the same font size, so Auntie well understands that there is no difference in importance between those incidents. She has lost three pairs of reading glasses, and she is now using her fourth.

*

There is nothing in this world that can be named clearly. Just as a cooking pot is an assemblage of parts that are not pots, a sorrow is the ruinous end of countless fearsome burdens which are not sorrows. A single name, like a black hole, is apt to suck in all other names. Names take root in anonymity. (For the moment I just leave it this way.)

*

We are going to have a better world, Auntie says. But she says, the world is at best something of this sort. I have seen Auntie crying facing the wall in the evening. All I can do is to keep an eye on her, nothing else. I am so terribly powerless. Because of that, from time to time, Auntie looks to me so incomparably beautiful.

*

I've come to realize the terrifying fact that there is only poetry in this world. Every bit of matter in this world is poetry. That has been the unchangeable fact from the moment words, as we call them, were born. How desperately people have tried to escape from poetry. But that has been an impossible thing to do. How cruel.

*

When she gets hungry, Auntie grabs what's in the pot in her hand and pops it into her mouth. She might take a bath for three consecutive days, then she might not take a bath for a month. She starts fussing saying someone stole a tattered removable collar. Yet she completely forgets about the stock certificates she hid under her bedding. Auntie is falling to pieces. But inside her is another Auntie. She is like the nesting wooden mosaic box she bought me when I was a kid. I found a box inside the box, and I found another as I opened it, and yet another smaller box inside that . . . Auntie exposes what she has been hiding one after another, but unlike a box, she never becomes empty. It is silly to ask which the real Auntie is. Contradictions and confusions are Auntie herself. But I sometimes find such an excessively honest Auntie terribly hateful. Because it's me that she exposes.

*

I'm ready for them to come for me anytime, Auntie says. But I cannot die until they come for me, she says. She cannot take care of herself, so she wants to take care of others all the more. You can just leave me alone, she says. I cannot bring myself to tell her that she has no use for pride of that sort. Because I am barely managing to be me just by being in front of her.

*

This world is a square of crazy quilt. Motley colors and cloths are connected in an illogical way, yet the four edges are cut beautifully straight. On the Northern American continent one hundred years ago there must have been aunties very much like Auntie, by a big river, in the shadows of a beech tree, and on the porch of a shack on the fringes of a city.

*

Someday I will become Auntie. I wonder if I am already. My name, my money, my future, or something else of me, none of those can keep me from being Auntie. My hands, my hair, my words, my wandering mind, all I can call my own are so much like Auntie's.

*

Stroking its belly, Auntie is whispering to the dog. Auntie is really happy to see the dog pleased. I cannot keep my eyes off her, wondering if Auntie will keep stroking the dog forever. But soon she slowly stands up, and goes inside. I am left with a feeling that almost chokes me. I simply cannot name it.

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