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Winter 2008, vol 6 no 4

Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
newly translated by David Callner*

This is the thirteenth in a series of new translations of selected tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima

Snow-capped Rockies jut through clouds below
I soar the blue sky to my native land
I soar ten thousand miles through the sky
and gather wild udo by the Kuzuryuu dam

(Aralia cordata, known as udo in Japan, is a herbaceous perennial that is prized for its edible stem and leaves. The Kuzuryuu dam is located in the mountains near the border of Gifu and Fukui prefectures. D.C.)
A ravine abloom with wisteria
the song of the bush warbler still young - Kuzuryuu in May
From foothills where I once gazed at the moon with my mother
I take a bogie to see eel traps

(The Nagara river, near Konoshima's ancestral home in Gifu Prefecture, is renowned for ishitsuri eel traps - large stones set in semicircles against the current. D.C.)
My coveted Shinkansen trip is utterly
without azure sky or blue sea

(Japan's renowned Shinkansen high-speed train. D.C.)
Every time we part I declare "This is farewell"
I sneer and my friend smiles
When I left my family home at the age of fifteen
my father's words of parting were - "Never inspire hatred"
Rising with the turtledoves I open my window
morning glows on Diamond Head
Plumerias sing outside my window rustling in the morning breeze
fragrant well into my room
Honolulu remains free from air pollution and water pollution
yet cannot escape human pollution
Dazzlingly blooming anew with each morning sun
the hibiscus - Hawaii's state flower
Try as I may I cannot step on my shadow's head
the moon and I share a laugh
I never found what I was after
though I pursued an ideal for years and years
Where sky meets sea - azure and navy blue
the white speck of a ship is motionless
Alive with flowers vying in multicolored splendor
Honolulu is good - I will come here again
The Hudson and its hills remain unchanged
after seven months away I linger by my window
In my absence my one dear friend passed away
leaving a Chikuden to await me in sadness

(A painting by the Japanese artist and scholar Tanomura Chikuden - 1777~1835. D.C.)
I hang the Chikuden Oxherd on my wall
and offer incense - there drifts the shadow of my lamented friend
I open my window and as though having waited
the great river exhales with a shiver - "Autumn!"
"One's remaining days" indeed
now I simply live on with nothing to do
A daily task - I must walk for an hour
out to the street I go
"So this is enterprise" - I say to myself
socks for ninety-nine cents
An ordinary man with no schedule to keep
I stand by my window with a mighty yawn
I always have to check for a motive
When did this pathetic habit take root?
Sometimes I hear the word "intellectual"
it is a word I hate for no reason
We have water pollution and air pollution
but the basic pollution is moral
Awaiting a friend in poetry - while we have never met
I imagine his personality and my heart is filled with excitement
"Mother - mother!" - the turtledove calls sadly again this morning
I mourn the death of my grandchildren
At the southwest corner of Central Park
the Columbus monument rises majestically
One hundred thousand people gaily parade Fifth Avenue
a Columbus Day event
Crying out that Indians discovered the continent
the Columbus monument is splattered with paint
To credit Columbus for the discovery of the continent
is history based on white men
Is a time not far when world history
will be based on the human race?
On the moon - where there is neither water nor oxygen
two men spend three days
Distinct from wife and children or parents and family
the Apollo crew must share a unique bond
Perhaps a time will come when stones from the moon
are polished - made into rings - and sold on the street
The moon - without dominion and common to mankind
already has two American flags
British military power dwindled after World War I
American military power will decline from World War II
In the final quarter of the twentieth century
a discontented America will fall into the same rut as the British Empire
You question yourself for the My Lai Massacre - O America
how do you reason for Hiroshima?
Newspaper and television reporting
is dedicated to making heroes from gangs of lawless villains
Mere word games and idle thought
the empty blather of showy journalists
Lawless villainy and shamelessness are vaunted
the future of democracy seems dark
A chill goes down my spine
for when the feared silent majority might arise
Confrontation - with no right or wrong - seems closer
the sound of these footsteps is not an illusion
The Hudson cloaked in rain - one big ship
sounds its whistle and dimly ascends
Wandered down a mountain path I find myself in a ravine
and raise my face to the setting sun
The great river runs a leaden streak beneath black hills
the sun sets - the sky stains scarlet
Beyond the hills where the sun has fallen - I will follow
beyond the hills - what if it is dark there too?

*Readers who have enjoyed this series of tanka translations may now add them to their personal libraries in the perfect bound, 136 page book:

Hudson: A Collection of Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
Translated into English by David Callner
Tokyo, Japan: Japan Times, 2005.
ISBN 4-7890-1179-8


Kisaburo Konoshima Kisaburo Konoshima was born in 1893 in Gifu, Japan. He left his village for an education in Tokyo when he was fifteen years old, and went on to become a professor of political economics at the now defunct Shokumin Gakkou in Kyoto. In 1924 he abandoned academia for the life of a farmer, and emigrated to California with his wife and children. In 1941 Konoshima was forced off his farm and he and his family were interned in the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming. Following the war Konoshima moved to New York City, where he devoted himself to his children's education and his poetry. In 1950 he joined the Japanese poetry society Cho-on, which published his entire opus of over fifteen hundred tanka in the Cho-on quarterly, from 1950 to his death in 1984.

David Callner David Callner was born in 1956. His youth was spent in France, England, Italy, and America. Since 1978 he has lived in Japan. He has written four novels. He teaches English as an adjunct at Nagano University.