Paul Archer - photo Paul Archer - poet, translator



One Autumn Day in the Far North Country

'Now it's Autumn and the fire of red maples
rampages along the mountains,' so our
Japanese poet records, for a while
losing his troubles in finding words.
His shoes scuffle the sodden leaves
blown out from a cherry tree, bare-limbed
with only the tatters of a green canopy.

He searches fiercely for the words
for how discarded and frail we all feel.
His eyes are so acutely tuned, they settle
on one black branch forming a trident
delineated on the sky's parchment,
three prongs inscribing the ideogram
for 'yama' (the word 'mountain' in English).

Is the tree describing by representation
what is so immensely outside itself,
that it has to be tamed and contained?
Or, he ponders, is this more like a tribute,
a form of worship, a coded message
to its fellow trees and all those who could
read it? He is starting to think like a tree.

Our poet is now half out of our world.
The icons of splayed branches prick
his open eyes, hundreds of them,
crying out a warning, yama, yama,
and then softer, yama, yama, pleading,
plaintive, yama, hear me, yama, yama,
unyielding mountain, distant mountain.

He shrinks himself down to a seed
that puts out roots into the dark soil
to draw in nutrients, and then green
shoots lift themselves towards the light,
copying the configurations in the soil,
thickening into the firm trunk, the branches,
and, one Spring day, the blossoms. He thinks

'If only I could manifest myself in this way!'
Now let's watch our poet as he writes
words as shockingly pure and white
as the petals of the cherry blossom,
their clusters, their clouds and, as the earth
progressively warms, their blinding blaze
spreading southward to cover the whole of Japan.

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