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from the October 2016 issue


Japanese poet Takako Arai conjures an unvanquishable ghost, who literally left work undone.

Video: Takako Arai and Jeffrey Angles read “Wheels” (credits below)

A fire’s coming! It’ll be here soon!
A female snake kept warning us
For ages it lived in the storage above the closet
We grew up hearing its voice
Each time we laid out the bedding
My sister and I could hardly stand it
We’d lie anxiously in wait, temples pounding
It’s coming! It’ll be here tonight!
It is out? It is out yet?
Has someone smothered it? Are there any cracks for it to get in?

We lowered our eyes to check

The snake was one of the factory girls three generations ago
She was so beautiful she turned the heads of men who passed by
The man she loved cheated on her
She started taking methamphetamines so often
She couldn’t leave the workers’ dormitory
She started having visions
She hallucinated about fire
A fire’s coming! It’ll be here soon!
Perhaps she wanted her own fires to burn
There were only women in the factory
They poured water into her mouth from a teapot
And she came to for a moment
One side of her face was smiling
But her expression looked so forlorn
With her hairline raised in a peak
A fire’s coming! Hot! Hot!
She steamed, went into convulsions, and died dreaming bad dreams
They say they gave her a funeral right there
Her brother didn’t come for her ashes
Even the locks of hair that her coworkers saved
Were stashed away in storage
It was that hair that cried out to us
Night after night

The fire in the kitchen range, the fire in the stove
The charcoal in the brazier, the cigarettes in the ashtray
The heater beneath the bath
The metal latch in the sliding door, the window key
We’d check them each one by one
When we grew too intent, we’d forget where we were
The snake would cry out, Look, it’s a trap! and we’d start all over again
A fire is coming! It’ll be here soon!
We had to crawl on the floor
Who knows how many times our eyes licked
The charcoal stoves by the women’s feet
In the spinning factory

I was terrified of the voice, it would get under my skin
It was my older sister pulling my leg
She imitated the factory girl
She turned off the bathroom light so it was pitch black
And imitated the dead girl, A fire’s coming! It’ll be here soon!
She made me cry
I cried and clung to my sister as she teased me
She was just trying to scare me
But even so
In the slowly cooling steam
Her eyes sparkled with a strange gleam
As if she were speaking the truth
A fire’s coming! A fire’s coming! Coming! Coming!
The factory’s going to burn!

Her voice, the voice evoked the snake
And came after me
It turned upon me and came after me
It got under our skin, swallowing
The two of us together, naked

We’d try to endure it as we rolled up the bedding
But we’d always crawl out
And the snake would lift itself up
The factory girl
Looked for the fire with us
We’d slither, slither, slither
The ceiling would spit out dust
The handles on the chest would rattle
I don’t get it! The more I look
The more fiery apparitions appear in the sparks

We’d check over and over to see if the fires were out
     If the gas on the kitchen range was out
          If the cigarette butts in the ashtrays were out
               If the burning embers in the hibachi were out
We’d light them
          By setting our eyes upon
     Those ghostly flames
I who was chasing my sister who was chasing the factory girl who was chasing my sister who was chasing me who was chasing
Me who was chasing me who was chasing the factory girl who was chasing my sister who was chasing . . .
We were mice, gasping, chasing one another in a big whirl
We were house mice, shaking our breasts in fear
We can’t catch you!
We called out to the sparks

While the spinning wheels smiled

We’d light fireworks by the ditch by the factory
We’d bring the brass candlestick from the family’s Buddhist altar
We’d bring the colored paper near the flame for our ancestors
And the powder would suck it in
It would choke a bit
Then the flame
Would spring up
Would turn, would kick the gravel
Would steal the children’s ankles
Would reflect in the water
Would explode and
Would scorch the straps of our sandals and at the same time
Would get under our skin
The flame had no feet
Nor did the dead
So the flames would try to swallow us
We were the ones being chased
We were the ones
         They were after

The spinning wheels smiled

There was a bright red quilt
Sewn from underclothes
The factory girl wore beneath her kimono
When I snuggled into it
My face would grow red
And wind would pass through my throat
Snuggle further down
The setting sun shone, flashing
The thick snake started slithering
From the storage closet
Coming for the two little mice
Its eyes clear, the color of flame

               The flame
          Crawled closer

It was on fire
              The factory girl, her hair had come lose
                              And had become the shimmering of the heat
It was on fire
               My sister, she stuck out her tongue
                              From behind her buck teeth
I stood
               On the edge of the ditch
The flame
               Burning at my ankles

The spinning wheels turn. They turn in the hot wind. They turn under the flames’ hot hands. They turn intently. They turn like a coiled snake. They turn staring at fate. The factory is a wheel of flame. It turns in a whirlpool of fire. It spins on and on to the end of the world. It spins on and on to the end of time.

It is spinning

It is spinning its bright red thread


© Takako Arai. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 by Jeffrey Angles. All rights reserved.

Video Credits:

詩 Poem 
新井 高子/Takako Arai

詩訳 Translation 
ジェフリー•アングルス/Jeffrey Angles

朗読 Poetry Reading 
新井 高子/Takako Arai
ジェフリー•アングルス/Jeffrey Angles

撮影•照明 Chinematographer/Lighting
川添 彩/Aya Kawazoe
中村 雄太/Takehiro Nakamura
鈴木 余位/Yoi Suzuki

録音 Sound  
川本 直人/Naoto Kawamoto

編集 Editor  
鈴木 余位/Yoi Suzuki
川添 彩/Aya Kawazoe

映像提供 Film Providing for “Shadows"
能瀬 大助/Daisuke Nose(「人のかたち」/“The Shape of a Man”)

助監督 Assistant Director  
イナン•オネル/Inan Öner

製作 Producer  
新井 高子/Takako Arai

監督 Director 
鈴木 余位/Yoi Suzuki

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