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from the November 2017 issue

Roadkill

Japanese poet Hiromi Itō meditates on dislocation, violence, and shifting terrains of language in this narrative poem. 


It was the year the Persian Gulf War started and came to an end
I came on my own to California
I had no roots, no family with me, I felt like I could do no wrong
One day someone bewildered me by asking
What brought you here?
Translating it literally, the question sounded like What transported you to this place?
It wasn’t someone specific from somewhere, just a random person
What transported you?
The wind? An airplane?
I thought, it’s true I was transported here
But it’s also true I came on my own
I couldn’t summon up the words quickly
Back then, I couldn’t catch what people were saying
Even if I did, the idioms they used were unfamiliar
I couldn’t convey what I wanted to say
So I mulled the meaning of the question what brought you
Until I understood the words brought here
I wondered, what did bring me here?
And this was my reply
(But by the time I thought of this answer, the person who had asked was gone
So I’ve been repeating this answer to myself ever since)
To see a coyote
To listen to the sounds of the dark night
(A long time ago, I read a poem by the Owl-Woman of the Papago Tribe
In the great night my heart will go out,
Toward me the darkness comes rattling
In the great night my heart will go out
)
To research spells
To observe rainclouds
To kill a coyote
But I was possessed, I meant to kill but was possessed
I became preoccupied with sex, it was all I did, I had to have a man
If one was there, if he was erect, I had to have him, my vagina opened and closed
I swallowed his penis
It didn’t matter if it was night or day
It didn’t matter if others were there or not
He’d enter me quickly in the clumps of glass
Flip up my skirt
I was possessed by the coyote
Not because I wanted to, not because of sexual desire
I wanted to confirm through bumping bodies together

Through crying out aaah (it hurts), aaah (it hurts)
To confirm
Where I was
That I had worth
Where I was
That I had worth
(I felt as if I was nowhere, I couldn’t imagine I was worth a thing)
I did the same thing over and over, over and over
I was confused about sex, I did it, confused
I’d forget how for a moment when trying it with someone new
I had to remember and try my best
To drive out the coyote that had possessed me
To kill the coyote I’d driven out
There were lots of corpses on the road
On the freeways and on the small side roads
Some on their side, some squashed flat
Someone told me
That’s called “roadkill”
I remember where I first heard that, I remember the voice
I remember the way it pronounced the English word but
I forgot the speaker’s name
It wasn’t someone specific from somewhere, just a random person
This is how the word is used:
“I saw a piece of roadkill in the street”
“Roadkill’s something you get used to seeing in America”
“You know you can eat roadkill? There’s a cookbook about it”
But why does roadkill end with kill
And not killed?
It has been killed, it isn’t doing the killing
Even though it’s just like the words School Kill
But doesn’t imply any malice
To be more precise
ROADKILL = Animals fatally struck by or run over by vehicles on roads and freeways
To translate it more precisely
ROAD WHO KILLS = The road who kills animals, fatally striking them down or running
them over with vehicles on streets or on freeways
The road, kills
I, we, road, kill
I, we, road, kills
I am, we are road, kill
I am, we are road, killed
I am, we are road, killed dead
I watch, we watch with open eyes as
I am, we are torn to pieces and scattered in the wind

Here is some of the kill I have seen on the road
Opossum: White face, eyes closed, mouth open
Skunk: Dead ones can be detected miles ahead from scent alone
Raccoon: The tail was the only sign of what it was, the rest was a lump of meat
Rabbits. Squirrels. Deer. Crows. Hawks. Dogs. And cats. Two at once.
Something I couldn’t identify, like a tanuki, two at once, big and small
A mother crossing the road with a baby in her mouth, I guess
Road killed
(The remaining babies must have died alone in their den)
And a coyote
Legs splayed, strength gone
Original shape destroyed, covered in blood
The road kills, kills and kills, kills completely
It was the year the Persian Gulf War started and came to an end
That I came here
To catch a whiff of the coyote’s scent
To observe rainclouds
To listen to the sounds of dark night
To stay awake through the night darkness
To eat the flesh of the coyote and wear its pelt
The roadsides were decorated with yellow ribbons for victory
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill
The corpses on the road and roadsides
Raised their voices in unison as they returned the volley of violence
Raised their voices in unison as they returned the power of death

 

Author’s note: This poem contains quotes from the Wikipedia article “Roadkill” and A. Grove Day’s The Sky Clears: Poetry of the American Indians.

*Translator’s note: In a 1997 incident that rocked the Japanese nation, a fourteen-year-old in Kōbe committed two murders. In the first, he cut off a fellow student’s head and stuffed a note signed (in English) “School Kill” in the victim’s mouth. 
 

© Hiromi Itō. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Jeffrey Angles. All rights reserved.

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