Wandering Birds

translated by Tomoyuki Endo & Forrest Gander
Photo © Keiko Onoda / Olympus Pro Salon I
Photo © Keiko Onoda

A thousand countries in myself –
There’s something that precipitates to the very bottom of such a feeling.
Is everything just an image,
or is this only a wasteland where images overflow,
and become a language?
There is a sound you can hear
only when your body grows older and more tranquil.
And yet, can it be called “a sound”?
It’s more a smell
than a sound.
People die,
just as the dead die,
and then, those who died twice
die three times,
and they seem to fill “afterdeath.”
As such, in regions where water is abundant,
human life and death aren’t separated out.

Odor of snow.

In the margin, going paler and paler,
where not even one line has been written,
an empty sky has already collapsed.
(After that, 500 years pass)
And in the second line, not yet written,
a water rail begins to chirp.
From where the chirp merges with the sky
(another 300 hundred years pass)
a river begins,
offering the gods an entrance,
as if remaining in place,
     you stop where you are,
     reflecting on yourself,
     going mad.

And the gods are already gone.

The breast-like mountains
sink below the misty, gloomy air.
The mountains are so low,
clouds, like a dog’s tongue, lap at them.
The skies are so low,
the river gets much colder.
Sticking your hand into the flow
you cleave the stream into two
currents that come clear as life and death.

Around here,
when you ask the name of a tree,
what you’ll hear is “It’s a tree.”
Yes, that’s a tree.
Yes, that’s a mountain.
Yes, and this is water.
“Here in this place,
there are more badgers and foxes than people.
You may see a human
who is not human
who is some hirsute creature
and if you see some part of its body
is transparent,
you’ll know for sure it was once human.”

Well, is that a human?
It may be I miss the living.
The thousand countries within me –
appearing from nowhere,
and uttering nothing: this is my father.
Sitting upright with her legs folded
and smiling unselfconsciously,
my mother.
Every night, the illusion passes,
leaving a sliver of pain;
wandering birds chirp sadly,
not given to fly anywhere else.
The birdsong carries up to the clouds,
tomorrow it will snow.

Translation from the Japanese

Read Tomoyuki Endo’s translator’s note from this same issue.

Photo by Keiko Onoda

Shuri Kido has been a leading poet for more than thirty years on the Japanese poetry scene, and his book of poems in English, Names and Rivers, will be published in 2023 by Copper Canyon.

Photo by Hiroko Koga

Tomoyuki Endo is an assistant professor at Wako University in Tokyo and co-translator, with Forrest Gander, of Shuri Kido’s forthcoming book of poems, Names and Rivers.

Photo by Ashwini Bhat

Forrest Gander, born in the Mojave Desert, lives in California. A translator and multigenre writer with degrees in geology and literature, he’s the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. His most recent title is Twice Alive.