Born in Tokyo, Japan and raised in Europe and America, Mariko Nagai
has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center,
UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries for the Arts, Akademie Schloss Solitude
among others and has won the Pushcart Prizes for both poetry and fiction.
Nagai is the author of Histories of Bodies: Poems (2007), Georgic: Stories
(2010), Instructions for the Living (2012), and Dust of Eden: A Novel (2014).
Her work has been translated into Bulgarian, Chinese, French, German,
Japanese, Romanian, and Vietnamese. She translates modern Japanese
women poets into English, and currently lives in Tokyo where she is the
Director of Research and Associate Professor at Temple University Japan
Campus. These poems are from Irradiated Cities, winner of the 2015 NOS
Book Contest and published by Les Figues Press.
: they come to : they come to after the pika & don : the unfamiliar landscape, the strange new logic of familiar objects : glass bottles wilting, bending as delicately as flowers or acrobats : beams & concrete slabs collapse like waterfalls : the dead walk aimlessly & the living are lost : they say the silence, the eerie silence after the don : then the fire, always the fire : the dead cannot talk : fire engulfing the living : fire swirling in a vortex, alive like an injured creature, thrashing out in pain : when they come to, a different landscape : a father is trapped under a beam in the burning fire, & he tells his children, go, leave me here, go : a horse runs around, spraying blood with each step, then buckles & it is dead : a tram full of people in various reposes of their morning commute : a morning full : a morning's work done for the men up in air, making their way back to Tinian Island : a ladder is now a memory, only a shadow imprinted on the wall & next to it, a man, any man would do, his shadow left behind as if to say, I was here, & I'm still here : a mother leaves behind her children trapped somewhere under the roof, they are calling to her, they are crying for her : but the fire is threatening to engulf her : & she can't move the house to get to them : it's so hot, mommy, help me, help me : & she runs away, tripping over bodies intact & mangled : fire everywhere, one path of wind colliding with another wind, creating a vortex in the middle : a little boy comes back to the land of the living on the back of a strange soldier, being carried through fire toward the rivers & he sees naked people, & he himself is naked : always the rivers : people ambling toward the rivers, their flesh melting from their bones : faces burnt off : a student remembers sitting in the classroom one moment, & coming back to consciousness in the schoolyard, having travelled through the air while she blacked out : I'm so thirsty, please, water, water : but no one gives water, no one can & you're not supposed to, besides : the rivers : people crawl toward rivers, any rivers : they jump from the bridges : they roll down the banks for water, to cool down, to get away from fire, but the rivers have disappeared : rivers are filled with bodies : those who can walk try to walk home, the instinct of a homing pigeon, home, where things are safe, home, where everything makes sense : rivers clogged with bodies : rivers stay still : houses burn : the rain falls, & it is black, but they still open their mouths to quench their thirst : the quiet : that's what they say : they say that they remember the sun disappearing that day : they remember how quiet it all was in the devastated city :
This Brilliant City
: of the destroyed : this brilliant city that lives for its dreamed future : the city lay in ruins : then rebuilt, first shacks, then permanent : it moves forward as its inhabitants walk, not looking back : the war has been over for a decade : ten years, in this city, is another lifetime ago : buildings pop up like mushrooms after a rainy season : a man without legs sits on the sidewalk, wearing the white of the past : he begs, I am a former soldier, have mercy : people walk by, carrying their invisible losses & griefs : they do not look at him : (we all lost someone or something ten years ago) : another war has started in Korea : another war brews in Indochina : this brilliant city lives on the backs of wars : see that tower, Tokyo Tower, made out of decommissioned tanks from the Korean War : see that building : built from profits earned from wars close & far : roads are built over rivers : rivers lie fallow & forgotten : people do not look back : the hunger they felt during that war another lifetime ago ghosts their steps : they walk, trampling away the past : (we all lost someone or something ten years ago) : the sun rises : the sun sets : the city shines bright at night, eradicating the darkness : the city has conquered nights & darkness & the past : another man walks by in his construction worker's clothes : he sees the legless man in white : he carries with him an anger : I lost my parents in the war : my father died like a dog on some South Pacific island, they said that he starved to death, & when you are starving, hunger consumes you : my mother died that night when Tokyo burned bright : she was trapped underneath a burning beam : I was only five years old : I couldn't lift the beam to save her : she said, Go, go, leave me, or you'll die with me, go, go : I cried & cried & no one helped me or my mom : I know hunger : I don't ever want to be hungry : he walks by the legless man in his steps of his anger : (we all lost someone or something ten years ago) : the night is here : the city burns : the city burns with hunger for more : & there is never enough in this city : the city shines brilliant & hums its electric song, footsteps keeping beats : (we all lost someone or something in that war a lifetime ago) : there is never enough in this brilliant city : the city hungers : it can never conquer its hunger
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