Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3

Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
newly translated by David Callner*

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

Why not celebrate my seventy-seventh New Year's Day with my lamented grandchildren?
despite a snowfall I pay a visit to their grave
A fine day after snow - the cemetery reflects the sun in purity
with each gust snow swirls up and glides
In this old man's hands I pack some snow and fling it
for my lamented grandchildren too snow was a thing of joy
Swept lightly in the whirling wind - a powdery snow
I grow weary of packing it in my shriveled old hands
Her home burning she flees clutching her baby
I pray to the New Year for the mothers of Vietnam
Hundreds of thousands of young lives sacrificed
North and South Vietnam - O what is "Victory"?
Fifty thousand young lives sacrificed
and America wins universal disgrace
Four thousand time bombings in one year
even their origin remains unclear - a "civilized nation"

(Perhaps this refers to the activities of The Weathermen, also known as the Weather Underground Organization. D.C.)
Yesterday and again today time bombs explode everywhere
there are no days of peace in this free nation America
Arson - looting - time bombings - hijackings
one questions the future of this free democracy
We possess the understanding to send a man to the moon
yet the mystery of the time bombings remains unsolved
From America and Russia to the lesser nations of Asia and Africa
world peace hinges on a balance of military power
The indolence of military power - to wit the bankruptcy of nations
an arms race has no end
Empty slogans for "the liberation of mankind"
asinine portraits of real carnage
Human karma is without independence or freedom
from captivity to captivity only the shackles change
Unfit leaders with nothing but ambition
give rise to calamity at every turn
With no philosophers to guide almighty science
mankind follows a path to destruction
Entrusted with my children's puppy and cat this holiday
I think of my lamented grandchildren
At the hour it brings my shoe in mouth
"How clever" - I mutter and take the puppy for a walk
Blackened snow squats intractably on the roadside
it reflects the moon and gleams with lustre
The Japanese-American principal has two vice principals
one black and one white - a New York high school

(Konoshima's second son, Isaku Konoshima, was principal of the Isaac E. Young Middle School, in New Rochelle, New York. D.C.)
Diverse in ideology culture race and custom
problems abound - American society
A jumble of all races black white brown and yellow
the rich country America bears this lot
Rushing to the hospital a heavy silence fills the car
I try to praise the scenery
Nineteen seventy is a year for leaps and bounds!
I prance about on my crutches in caprice
Like an aged kangaroo in a zoo
I hop about my room after the winter sun
Pleasantly surprised to live through the harsh winter
a fly rubs its hands in the sunlit window
My twenty-year pace has been sluggish
my poetic ideal remains far off in the clouds
I was taught that Providence has no bounds
Poetry too seems infinite
From bugs of The Great Beginning to me
the wonders of life
Neither successful nor wealthy
I thus find peace of mind with age
The soil shines with whitely crumbling frost
spring steals closer beneath the sunny hedge
月見草だけいっぱいに咲かせ狭き園 家も小さし誰人か住む
A small garden filled with evening primrose
the house too is little - who lives here?
The sun falls away brilliantly - the hills turn black
bridge lights stream glistening across the river
A white chrysanthemum - not one speck
a whiteness so satisfying I come back and linger
The whiteness of a chrysanthemum is basic to my heart
yellow and crimson are alien to me
I burn my plants with all their bugs
and inhale the frosty air
Smoke crawls across the evening fields
touched with frost - the scent of my native home
"The entire world is my home!" I say
yet this old man yearns for his native Japan
Pines and maples drape the towering cliffs
The Palisades - luxury in my window
Maple leaves scatter onto a path through a glen
caressing my shoulders - dangling about my feet

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.