Sultry Day

by Takamura Kôtarô
Translated from Japanese by John Peters

Singing dribbles
from a timid and simple cicada.

Red spots on a large oak’s leaves,
in the azure depths of a jewel sky,
before bright faces behind bamboo-blinds,
in front of an ice shop, crimson spots
dazzle and luminesce—
Onions choking in a suburban Tôkyô produce market,
Gnats clinging to a horse’s sore stomach,
The sun, like a thin plank,
slaps my cheek.

I wipe the sweat oozing from my flesh.
Resting at a tree root,
I feel the weird sneer of phenol.

 

Takamura Kôtarô was one of the most influential figures on 20th-century Japanese poetry. His 1914 collection, Journey, was innovative in both form and content. He is best-known for his 1941 book, The Chieko Collection, which chronicles his life with his wife Chieko from their courtship until her death and his later coming to terms with that event.

John Peters teaches in the Department of English at University of North Texas and has studied Japanese on and off for over thirty years. His translation of Takamura’s The Chieko Poems was published by Green Integer Press in 2007, and he recently received an NEA Literature Fellowship to translate Dōtei. In addition to The Chieko Poems, his translations have appeared in such literary magazines as Artful Dodge, Sonora Review, Tampa Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, New Orleans Review, Quarterly West, The Literary Review, Utne, Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Mid-American Review.

 

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