Born in Toyko, Japan, Mariko Nagai has lived in Europe and America most of her life,
earning a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing with a concentration in poetry from
New York University, where she was the Erich Maria Remarque Poetry Fellow. She has been
the recipient of the prestigious Pushcart Award twice, in both poetry and short story, and
has received numerous fellowships and scholarships from art foundations and writers'
conferences. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, New Letters,
Prairie Schooner, among others. She also translates modern and contemporary Japanese
poems and fiction into English. Currently she teaches creative writing and literature at Temple
University Japan Campus, where she also directs the Writing Programs. The poem here,
"Histories of Bodies", is taken from her book of the same title, published by Ren Hen Press
(Los Angeles, California, 2007).
Histories of Bodies
That's how we can distinguish a man from a woman, or from ourselves: only in a moment
of embrace. Judgment on bodies has already passed, they say we are like any
other, cock is a breast, balls another pair that swings like hands
of a clock. Our stories have no listener; our stories are like any other.
We misunderstand each other, our bodies the only proof of intimacy, a repetition
of bodies coming together as we move on top or under each other,
we fill each other with ourselves in the moment of embrace,
an imago stretching its wings out, two bodies connected by an embrace.
"Hush," you say, "I love your body," "I get hard only for you, " "I am yours only."
You say that sex is another word for how we leave the body, or how, like the Whirling
Dervishes, we seek the eternal in the embrace, in the moment of unveiling
the white so much like a butterfly, or ourselves. You hold your cock, you release
come like a magician releasing the doves. They land on my stomach, they stay there
until they dry like scabs over wound.
"Love is another way to say how unoriginal we are," or, "You and I are separated
by a word, a mere word." Love is a division, it is a barrier that makes us who we are,
another word for how repetition becomes the way we part from each other, over
and over again, love is another way of saying, Your face in this light is how I want to remember
you, a face only steps away from death, this is when I like you the best.
You call it shoah, the unrepeatable. Here's a picture: soldiers burning books,
another picture: soldiers dragging an old man who held the Torah as if it were
his child, or God. Let us move thirty years ahead: here's a picture of students burning
books, another of students pushing an old man clutching the Classics.
The faces of these boys are so many years before any partings they can understand,
their bodies taut with how little years they have. Pictures are repeatable, so are events.
God loves innocence and children, but two are not the same.
I say that the Holocaust is an image of bodies ahead of all partings.
The souls have already forgotten the rib cages, the backbones that protrude like a broken
violin. A picture: bodies after bodies thrown into a ditch. The only thing
separating a man from a woman is by how their sacks are carelessly placed:
here is a man, his balls have shriveled down to the size of a large pea: there, a woman,
I want to say, the shaved heads tell all: holocaust is the debasement of bodies,
where bodies turn into grotesque universality. In this picture, a woman lies on top of two men, their mouths open as if almost a kiss.
The proof is the body, not in words: you lie on your stomach, slowly rocking your self
to sleep as if the bed is another body you can ease yourself into. I lie
next to you, my thighs slightly open like a window, or a door, anyone can look
in, even you. But we have stopped our movements already. In this early morning, words are bodies
heaped up high, each body imprinted with past, they are remembrance. But we have already turned
our eyes inward, we do not hear. Each come-cry hides in the cave of the mouth,
stays inside of us like doves in a magicianís pockets, waiting for the signal they've been trained to recognize.
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