Paul Archer - photo Paul Archer - poet, translator



One Autumn Day in the Far North Country, under a cherry tree

'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 scuffling 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 might
feel, his eyes, acutely tuned, settle
on a black branch coming to a trident
delineated on the sky's blank paper,
three prongs inscribing - it now comes to him -
the ideograph for yama (mountain in English).

Is the tree describing by representation
what is immense and outside itself,
and by so doing so, taming it to its size?
Or, he ponders, is it less of a statement,
more a tribute, a form of worship, a message
to neighbouring 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.
Into his open eyes, the icons of splayed
branches are pricking, hundreds of them,
crying out a warning, yama, yama,
or then, softer, yama, yama, pleading,
plaintive, yama, hear me, yama, yama,
unyielding mountain, arrogant and distant.

He closes his eyes, shrinks himself to a seed.
A seed rooting in the dark soil, drawing
in nutrients, spreading out further, and
then, he imagines, the shoots lifting to light,
copying in the air the configurations in the soil,
thickening into the firm trunk, the branches,
and come the spring, the poem-like blossoms.

He desires the self-manifestation of such a tree.
Now let's see our poet as he madly writes
words as shockingly pure and white
as the petals of the cherry blossom, their
clusters on the bough, their clouds,
their blinding blaze spreading southward,
as the earth warms, to cover all Japan.

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