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Winter 2007, vol 5 no 4

Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
newly translated by David Callner*

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

Drinking with an old friend the conversation
is of things past - despite a spring evening
One glass becomes two then becomes three
the moonlit night grows late in drunkenness
My lamented mother revered the moon
now six fine young men are chosen to go there
The world changes faster and faster
a man of Meiji I stand bewildered
Representatives from one hundred sixteen countries bow their heads
and listen to the pledge - "War never again"
Vying for pride in the heights of science and human knowledge
all these machines are designed to kill
Machines of death are maneuvered grandly in a public square
something is deviant with human sense
Forced to dance by America China and Russia
brother kills brother - Vietnam is sad
The excited broadcast is loathsome
I violently turn it off and quiet my indignation
His invective at the United Nations forgotten
now Khrushchev's baby face is "dear"
I have ancestors who were beheaded for violent protest
I shut my eyes and think of them while my hair is trimmed
A half year without seeing any Japanese except my wife and children
I am confined in a cosmopolis
I discover an Asian face on the bus
and suddenly recall the Meiji expression "Homogeneous in race and character"
To host the Olympic Games
Tokyo is dug up everywhere and anywhere
Advanced under the slogan "To the Olympic Games"
flash construction is one type of posturing
I visited yearning for Tokyo
but not a trace remained - nor was there any relaxation
Tired of the drive my grandchildren sleep on each other's shoulder
when they awake they start fighting again
As I dangle my line in a lake in a glen
the breeze somehow speaks of fall
Wafted across the lake by a gentle breeze
a single cotton tuft catches on my fishing line and shines
Without a single weapon for striking back
the hare just fervently runs away
Ignorant of any means but flight the hare flees
and in the end gets eaten by a hawk
Cats yowl - dogs bark - birds sing
the hare doesn't even have a voice
The Hudson - ice-bound in eternal silence
a winter sun shines dimly down
With Christmas waiting just ahead
nine little children and three adults are swallowed up in a fire
Did they search through the smoke?
crouching in each other's arms and dead are my grandson and granddaughter
Extolled as the most excellent child in his school
my grandson at ten years old leaves this world so soon
Leading me by the hand with the air of a grown-up - caring she was
my granddaughter at eight years old dies before I do
Did they call for their father - call for their mother?
as the little children crouched overcome in poisonous smoke
I rise and weep - lie down and weep again - I change rooms
how to dry up this old man's tears I do not know

*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


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.