(Futami-ga-ura, Ise-Shima. For Peter Watson)


Here, where the Pacific seems a pond,
Winds like pocket knives have carved out islands
From sandstone, to netsuke:—
With rampant ruffs and fan-spread claws,
Scratch at coiff’d waves.
A pirate junk
Lobs cones from conifers (its must
That solitary pine trunk staved
With two dead boughs).
Tortoise, dragon, cormorant.


Our boat throbs on
Through sea and sky, the seamless bowl
Of solid light ecstatic, in which pearl fishers dive.
It thrusts through scarcely lifting waves;
—Long rollers moving under silk—
A stretching and unstretching surface.
Fisherboats are delicate
As water-boatmen.


We land
Where a path skirts the rocks. Twined ropes
Are slung between two boulders to lasso
At dawn the sun, risen for pilgrims.
Following the path, I reach a park
With cliffs hewn into caves embossed
With hieroglyphs…
In one cave,
A hermit sits. He scrapes a tune
Upon one hair outstretched of his white beard.
His bow’s his bone-thin arm.


Suddenly I hear your voice,
Inside my skull, peal—like the tongue
Inside a pilgrim’s bell—peal out
In those gay mocking tones I knew:—
“You were
Once my companion on a journey
The far side of the world, the Alps,
Rock-leaded windows of Europe.
You saw fields diamonded as harlequin
Reflected on my laughing eyes, who now
Am dragged under the soil in a net
That tangles smile and eyeballs with
Their visions rainbowed still.
But you
Lacking my eyes through which you looked
Turn like a shadow round the sunlit dial.”

“The situation can be changed only by the patient changing herself. Nothing can be changed in the mother, for she is dead. And the friend cannot be nagged into changing. If she wants to change, that is her own affair.”


She is the one you call sister.
Her simplest act has glamor,
as when she scales a fish the knife
flashes in her long fingers
no motion wasted or when
rapidly talking of love
she steel-wool-burnishes
the battered kettle

Love-apples cramp you sideways
with sudden emptiness
the cereals glutting you, the grains
ripe clusters picked by hand
Love: the refrigerator
with open door
the ripe steaks bleeding
their hearts out in plastic film
the whipped butter, the apricots
the sour leftovers

A crate is waiting in the orchard
for you to fill it
your hands are raw with scraping
the sharp bark, the thorns
of this succulent tree
Pick, pick, pick
this harvest is a failure
the juice runs down your cheekbones
like sweat or tears


She is the one you call sister
you blaze like lightning about the room
flicker around her like fire
dazzle yourself in her wide eyes
listing her unfelt needs
thrusting the tenets of your life
into her hands
She moves through a world of India print
her body dappled
with softness, the paisley swells at her hip
walking the street in her cotton shift
buying fresh figs because you love them
photographing the ghetto because you took her there

Why are you crying dry up your tears
we are sisters
words fail you in the stare of her hunger
you hand her another book
scored by your pencil
you hand her a record
of two flutes in India reciting


Late summer night the insects
fry in the yellowed lightglobe
your skin burns gold in its light
In this mirror, who are you? Dreams of the nunnery
with its discipline, the nursery
with its nurse, the hospital
where all the powerful ones are masked
the graveyard where you sit on the graves
of women who died in childbirth
and women who died at birth

Dreams of your sister’s birth
your mother dying in childbirth over and over
not knowing how to stop
bearing you over and over

your mother dead and you unborn
your two hands grasping your head
drawing it down against the blade of life
your nerves the nerves of a midwife
learning her trade

This Issue

December 30, 1971