Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Hiroshima-Nagasaki Feature—Issue 56, August 2015)

Hiromi Itō
Cooking, Writing Poetry

A huge earthquake, a huge tsunami

People die and just moments later

There’s the nuclear meltdown

Drawn-out fear assaults us

Each time I go to Tokyo

It is darker

Hot and humid there

It stings

In Tokyo

Everyone was afraid

Everybody was angry

Neko has been my close friend for thirty years

Cooking is her profession

I had a dream, she said

We were coming home after going to see the giant sequoias

I was driving

She was nodding off next to me but then suddenly woke

And began saying, when I was young

I had a dream

I had a baby

The baby was with me

But I couldn’t breastfeed it

The baby was dying right before my eyes

But I couldn’t breastfeed it

That was how the dream went


That was from a past life

And that karma

Is the reason I now cook

Morning and night like this

Feeding the children

Of other people

Now she is doing something

She calls the “Nicomaru Cookie” project

First she called the young women in Tokyo

In Tokyo all alone

All alone and anxious

And unable to stand it any longer

All of them in Tokyo

All of them made cookies

And sold them

And sent the proceeds to the disaster zone

And then she changed gears and brought to Tokyo

The food the people in the disaster zone had made

And sold it in the city

She worked her fingers to the bone

And hired some staff

And went to the disaster zone

And cooked

She went into town

And started collecting signatures for an anti-nuclear petition

She made dozens of dishes each day

Even though she had her parents to care for

Even though she was working

Her fingers to the bone

She moves around, in the crisis

The only thing she knew to do

Was to cook like that

The only thing she could do

She couldn’t help but cook

And work her fingers to the bone

And I watched her do it

Powerless, useless

There is an expression

Take the dirt from under someone’s nails

Boil it and make it into tea

It means to admire someone so much

You would do those things

I asked her for some and she gave it to me

When I made it into tea

It was sour and sweet

Poets wrote poetry

The thoughts rained down continuously

Drenching us to the bone

So many poems were written

Like Kaneko Misuzu

Even easier to understand than Kaneko Misuzu

Unsightly poems

Boring poems

But still they were read

They say people read them and wept

I heard lots of stories like that

Don’t cry

Don’t write

Don’t miss out

From that perspective

They cannot say no

The poets

Who can do nothing but write

Cannot say no to writing

They cannot relate except

Through writing

They must not

Say no

They must not

Fail to be read

Yesterday Jeffrey

Asked me to help him with a translation

Some American poet had written a poem about the disaster

I tried reading it, but it was a complete cliché

That guy

Had not even been to Japan

He wrote the poem looking at pictures

Complete cliché

But that guy had seen pictures of the disaster

He saw them

And his heart was moved

So he had no choice but write

The clichés he tried to convey

In a clichéd way ended up clichés

But still it was a good poem

I could not write

After all, the places I live

Are in California and Kumamoto

There was no shaking

The radioactivity didn’t reach us

I didn’t want to write

I couldn’t write

A clichéd poem

Like that guy in America

I could not do a thing

The only thing I did

Was to translate and read out loud the second part of

An Account of My Ten-Square Foot Hut

I took that old text that depicted so vividly

The earthquakes

The tsunamis

Nine hundred years ago

Put it into my own voice

And sent out my voice like this

Around the same time, we suffered another terrible earthquake

Unparalleled in its force

The mountains collapsed, the rivers were buried

The sea crashed in, inundating the land

The earth broke, water bubbled up

The boulders split and tumbled into the valleys

The boats plying the water were tossed by the waves

The horses traveling the roads were unable to keep their footing

In one area of the capital, no place, no building

Escaped unscathed, they collapsed or leaned to the side

Dust and ashes and smoke billowed up

Both the sound of the moving earth and the collapsing houses

Were just like peals of thunder

Those who were inside were crushed on the spot

Those who ran were swallowed up by the cracks in the earth…

The worst of the shaking continued for a while then stopped

The aftershocks continued for some time

Everyday, twenty, thirty times a day

There were aftershocks large enough to terrify us ordinarily

Ten days went by, twenty days went by, receeding into the past

There were four or five aftershocks per day, then two or three

Then every other day, then two or three days in between

The aftershocks continued for three months

This way

The earthquake

The tsunami

Crept into my body (just a little)

And then I read the Buddhist classics

For instance, the Lotus Sutra, I am always

Asking myself, how can I

Share the truth with living beings

Share the Buddha’s teachings

Or the Amida Sutra, All who want

To be born in the land of happiness

Or all who will one day request that

Or who are requesting that right now

They will all awake to the truth, they will not return

To the confusion

Or the Nirvana Sutra, Each and every living being

Has the heart of the Buddha

That’s right, it was Mahayana Buddhism

That said so clearly to the Buddhists of the time

During an era when they were reading for all they were worth

Not sure if they understood or not

But obsessed with grasping the truth

You are wrong

Entirely wrong

First you help people

That is what it is to be a bodhisattva

All I’ve experienced is an earthquake and tsunami nine hundred years ago

But if I were to put into my own words

And deliver a message to

This wounded



Trembling society

That’s no doubt what it would be

That would be best


So I hope

If not then

I would not even know

Which direction to turn


“Cooking, Writing Poetry” was translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles. It originally appeared in the 2012 issue of Poetry Kanto (Kanto Gakuin University’s Kanto Poetry Center, Yokohama), and is forthcoming in Jeffrey Angles’ These Things Here and Now: Poetry Responses to the March 11, 2011 Disasters (Josai International University, 2015). See also Angles on Itō’s “Cooking, Writing Poetry.”