I heard Sawako Nakayasu read at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program in Boulder this past June. I and everyone else in the audience were captivated by the hard-hitting poetry that contrasted with her quiet demeanor. This was the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics’ 40th anniversary, and its director, Anne Waldman, had gathered a diversity of wordsmiths from a variety of cultures. In future postings of The Sunday Poem I will share a couple of the others. This time, let’s read one of Sawako's prose poems:
An Ant in the Mouth of Madonna
Behind Locked Doors
Is there, is there, is there but can’t prove it to anyone, is small, is glistening and black, is determined, is hanging on, is at a loss for a good perch, is wet, is blown by the wind when she takes a breath, is happy, is uncertainly happy, is ardent, is devoted, warm and plenty, full of courage, is going to write a Moby Dick-length book about this upon returning, is unsure, is still looking to perch, is unable to see its own feet, is developing a relationship, its first adult relationship, is in a wet place or a hard place, is not strong enough to hang on, not even to the backs of her teeth, is hardly noticed, is tentative, is shy, is timid, is sweet, oh if only it could prove it, is waiting for its chance, is waiting for the big break, is going to show those folks back home, is feeling the slightest bit homesick, is determined to make it, is determined to go down in history, is determined to beat the odds, is casually hoping to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the Longest Time Spent in Madonna’s Mouth, is an optimist at heart, is fearful in the moment when her breathing gets rough, is shaking, is shaking, is shaken, is having a one-in-a-lifetime experience, is, after all, an ant with a fairly short lifespan, is gay, is not gay, is female, is black, is uncertain, is nothing compared to the giant scale of all the people who surround her, is everything relative to the other organisms inside her mouth, is big-hearted, is open-minded, is sweet, really, all it ever wants is for her to, for her to, oh, and then she comes, and the ant is, and isn’t, and is.
from The Ants, Les Figues Press, Los Angeles 2014.
Sawako Nakayasu was born in Japan and has lived mostly in the US since the age of six. She is the author of numerous books of poetry, including So we have been given time Or (Verse Press, 2004), and most recently Texture Notes (Letter Machine, 2010) and Hurry Home Honey (Burning Deck, 2009). She has received grants from the NEA and PEN for translating the work of contemporary and modern poets from Japan, including Chika Sagawa and Takashi Hiraide. Books of translations include Time of Sky & Castles in the Air by Ayane Kawata (Litmus Press, 2010), For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Hiraide (New Directions, 2008), Four From Japan (Litmus Press, 2006), and To the Vast Blooming Sky (Seeing Eye Books, 2007) by Sagawa. She edits the journal Factorial, which frequently publishes works in translation, and her own poetry has been translated into Japanese, Swedish, Arabic, and Vietnamese.
Sawako has written: “I work mostly in poetry because it claims to be neither fiction nor non-fiction, because it acknowledges the gap between what really was or is, and what is said about it. Is the woman really in a box? It depends on who you ask, how they see it, or what constitutes a box. I like to claim that all of my poems are ‘true.’”