Poetry / November 2012 (Issue 19)


Two Poems

by Nicholas Francis

Unpacking
 
The house was a message from one continent
in another's language, a tongue still stitching
itself together at the seams. Its content
 
was indeterminate and shifting. A kitchen
pegged out with heavy-bottomed saucepans,
for now holding its shape. Books twitching
 
anxiously in the study on unfamiliar stands.
Flat pack furniture strewn like a giant's bones
across the tatami, in elegiac spans
 
that muddied the gap between knowns and unknowns.
Those first weeks cicadas blew in through the windows
like welcome letters, bringing with them tones
 
of persimmon and zelkova. Our clothes
flapped like bright signal flags in the Kanto breeze.
One by one each room made the leap beyond prose
 
and into life, expanding outwards in the slow degrees
that fit snugly the cut of their new skin,
the new house becoming fluent in Japanese
 
long before the tongue-tied inhabitants within.
Possessions wear their pasts lightly. They do not groan
under weight of habit or history, do not brim
 
with the blown bulbs of redundant words. Left alone,
they`re happy to go quietly about the business
of unpacking themselves into something like a home.

Read "A Cup of Fine Tea: Nicholas Francis's "Unpacking"" here.


Neighbourhood Kids

"The eyes of others are painful." (Poster on the Tokyo Metro)
These boys with their eyes all at sea, or so it seems,
these boys with downcast eyes expecting disappointment,
are staying plugged straight into their manga or smartphone screens
 
aboard the seven forty-five to Shinjuku.
With scrawny arms rolled up into half-length sleeves
they`d do almost anything to avoid a hullaballoo,
 
almost anything to avoid the unseemly scene
the rowdies of the soccer club are seeking to provoke of them,
these boys with their eyes all at seaor so it seems
 
to the prowling rowdies, who are set to continue
taking advantage accordingly. An unseemly scene is unfolding
aboard the seven forty-five to Shinjuku,
 
or so it seems, in between the salarymen packed like sardines
who with downcast eyes towards the daily grind
are staying plugged straight into their manga or smartphone screens.
 
But the plugging-in's a ploy. These salarymen are sure to eschew
anything that seems like the unseemly scene
they'd do almost anything to avoid. A hullaballoo
 
is the last thing they want, when having to intervene
would mean all eyes on them, would mean having to meet the eyes
of these boys with their eyes. All at sea, or so it seems,
 
the salarymen passively let the rowdies through.
Thirty years ago they were the players in this same scene
aboard the seven forty-five to Shinjuku;
 
the same scrawny boys enduring the same routines,
the same humiliations. No wonder they're content
staying plugged straight into their manga or smartphone screens
 
when, thirty years later, they now know what they always knew
then to be true is true: that to avoid such a scene
they'd do almost anything. To avoid a hullaballoo
 
has been installed into them as effectively as any machine.
And that's why, as the rowdies close in, they avert their eyes from
these boys with their eyes all at sea, or so it seems,
staying plugged straight into their manga or smartphone screens.
 
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