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from the July 2012 issue


"Kawanae" (Riverwilt) is the title poem from my first collection. It was written when I was about thirty—at the end of my youth—and I worked hard in the poem to bring together a number of themes and images that I had developed up to that point. It is a poem that is full of memories for me. Kawanae is a word I coined myself—in ordinary Japanese the words kawa (river) and naeru (to wither/droop/wilt) do not combine. I was born in the countryside near Tokyo and played a lot in rivers when I was a boy, catching crayfish and so on. The land was much closer to me than it is today. There was a large space that I shared with plants and animals. At its core for me was a compound image of Mother-Water-Snake. Kawanae is how I referred to the distancing of that world. Perhaps the poem was a small attempt to crystallize this in language and thereby preserve it forever. That was of course impossible. I suppose all that remains through the piece is the uncontrollable oscillation of language, or the sensuality of the act of writing itself. Perhaps that is the very nature of writing the land in the postmodern period. –Nomura Kiwao
The riverwilt I must set down
Before the riverwilt pulls me down
Can I get across—Walk across?
           (In front of the house, they’re not there now, but in an oak tree, where branches spread out like a maze, they’re not there now, but like a place where echoes gather, where tree spirits gather, I climbed to a fork in the tree, and just as I was dozing off, no that’s not right, reading some erotic, no that’s not right, more gynaecological, probably that kind of book)
Can I get across—
Walk across?
                      (Reading that kind of book excitedly, unexpectedly my mother, unexpectedly)
The transient
Border realm of snake
Its breathing gentleness of skin,
                        (That’s right, my mother unexpectedly came to the foot of the tree, there’s a snake in the house, she said, her face pale, I jumped down toward that writhing neck omen of bad fortune, I loped toward it, but the book, what did I)
Getting up in the morning
Unsearched-for light blazing
Astride the steam in the kitchen
                       (What did I do with the book? Empty-handed nervously, so nervously, we)
Going up the elevator
Going down the elevator
                       (Want something to believe in? Forever wanting something to believe in? If so, here under the sun, the sky drooping wet pig hair, move ahead, with smart alveolus, ahead from the aimlessness of reality, from the certainty of imagination, and keep standing)
In those legs, Yuko Goes All-Out
That poster, as if breathless at the poster
West Entrance, Shinjuku Station,
At the end, the far end
Of the windless Keio Mall,
A soft wall, out of sight
Until we vanish together.
                                    (But anyway the snake, its head raised, came out from a lintel, that’s right, they’re not there now, the raised head facing us, an ancestral spirit has come to see how things are, so you mustn’t kill it, said my mother.)
No, that’s not right
If it’s a spirit send it out on the water
If it’s
Like those great complexes of muscles
That are not here now
                                    (So encouraged by my mother, I took the snake, clinging to the end of a bamboo stick, clinging, to the stream behind the house, to the stream like golden bovine flow, I took the snake, the snake took me, the snake via me, I don’t know which)
The stalk of the sun
The ultimate life power of the sun
                                    (I don’t know which, but anyway, the cause is far distant, far behind, instinctively I held my breath, I pushed down into place the rustling leaves, the rustling words)
With smart alveolus,
Listening to the prattle of the wind
The bracken shoots of memory passed,
                                    (Looking back, my mother was not there, instead, a myrtle tree, and what of the snake? At the end of my arm, at the end of the stick at the end of my arm, it was already a path, stretching out)
Our bodies
Cut up into parts. How dare they?
A sudden mound. How could it?
Saying how in the blood of those who try to live ordinary lives,
Uncrushed like grass underfoot
Is mixed bitter diluvial earth.
                                    (Like a light yearning)
Read in the inedible stalks of kerria flowers
On the sick
River bank
May come flooding in
                                    (Waves? Stretching out, riverwilt? And unified with half-sleep I cannot follow back to those faint hundred forking branches, which though cut and cut, still grow, stretching out, human faces, protozoa.)
Yes, although our ancestors’
Beautiful desire for copulation blows like wind,
                                    (Calling human faces, protozoa, making an extraordinary cross-section that really cannot be, repelling all water, I crowd together, I am the snake, the snake is me.)
As it were all meanings push together
And no meaning comes out
This is riverwilt
                                    (For now I’ll just give it that name, repelling all water, still)
Can I get across—
Walk across?
川萎え  © Nomura Kiwao. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Angus Turvill. All rights reserved.
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