|(Photo by GOLDENORFE.)|
I remember this one.
Way back in 2008, I attended a summer writing program at a university in Boulder, Colorado. One of the workshop leaders was Sawako Nakayasu. My strongest memory of her workshop involves an exercise in which each of us took a literal word-by-word translation of an old Chinese poem (I am almost certain it was Li-Po) and attempted to make it intelligible and beautiful in English. I also remember when she read everyone some poems she had written about ants -- and earlier this week I found the text of one these poems.
Any work of art can serve us as a mnemonic and a timekeeper. Reading Sawako's poem again, I think about hearing her read it in Boulder in June, 2008, and that whole's month's bodiless details come bubbling up. I'd driven out from New Jersey by myself, taking the scenic route through Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, listening to Ian McKellan read Fagles's translation of the Odyssey. I remember the giddy sense of expansion from being in Boulder after such a trip, and being among a temporary tribe of poets, writers, artists, idealists, and passionate twentysomething ragers. I recall growing accustomed to and fond of the certainty with which I would see mountains in the distance if I only tilted my head toward the west; I recall intimate conversations on park benches, in bedrooms, and on river banks with people I'll never see again, whose names are lost to me; I remember the germs of the poems I wanted to write for them, write to them, but never did, and now they're gone; I remember the romances I was hoping for and the romances I got; I remember showing my latest poems to a visiting artist/writer workshop leader and listening to him tell me that he hated them and how I should reconsider writing -- but most of all, recurring in every other memory, I remember how arrogant I could afford to be when I was twenty-four instead of twenty-nine.
Well, anyway. Here's Sawako Nakayasu's poem about the ant in Madonna's mouth!
An ant in the mouth of Madonna behind locked doors
for Reiko Hagiwara
is there, is there, is there but can’t prove it to anyone, is small, is glistening and black, is determined, is hanging on, is at a loss for a good perch, is wet, is blown by the wind when she takes a breath, is happy, is uncertainly happy, is ardent, is devoted, warm and plenty full of courage, is going to write a Moby Dick-length book about this upon returning, is unsure, is still looking to perch, is unable to see its own feet, is developing a relationship, its first adult relationship, is in a wet place or a hard place, is not strong enough to hang on, not even to the backs of her teeth, is hardly noticed, is tentative, is shy, is timid, is sweet, oh if only it could prove it, is waiting for its chance, is waiting for a big break, is going to show those folks back home, is feeling the slightest bit homesick, is determined to make it, is determined to go down in history, is determined to beat the odds, is casually hoping to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the Longest Time Spent in Madonna’s Mouth, is an optimist at heart, is fearful at the moment when her breathing gets rough, is shaking, is shaking, is shaken, is having a once-in-a-lifetime experience, is, after all, an ant with a fairly short lifespan, is gay, is not gay, is female, is black, is uncertain, is nothing compared to the giant scale of all the people who surround her, is everything relative to the other organisms inside her mouth, is big-hearted, is open-minded, is sweet, really, all it ever wants is for her to, for her to, oh, and then she comes, and the ant is, and isn’t, and is as it ever was.