Takako Arai (1966 —) was born into a silk-weaving family in Kiryū city, Gunma Prefecture, on the outskirts of Tokyo. She began publishing poems in the early 1990s, and since 1998 has run a poetry magazine, Mi’Te, which features poems, translations and poetry criticism. Her second poetry collection, Tamashii Dansu (Soul Dance) was published in 2007, and received the Oguma Hideo Poetry Prize. Her latest collection, Betto to Shokki (Beds and Looms), published in 2013, explores the lives of female textile workers, applying a unique language inspired by the local dialect of Kiryū.
Takako’s poems in English translation are anthologised in Four from Japan: Contemporary Poetry and Essays by Women (Belladonna Books 2006) and Poems of Hiromi Itō, Toshiko Hirata & Takako Arai (Vagabond Press 2016). Her poems have been translated into many languages, including Chinese, French, Italian, Serbian and Turkish, and recited at International Poetry Festivals in countries such as America, Argentina, Italy and Turkey. Takako will perform her poetry at the Poetry on the Move Festival in Canberra in September 2017.
Withered while bowing, tsubaki1— single bloom on the hedge. Scoop it up & there’s— this old girl, lipsticked, watching from a doorway: “A lightbulb. Perhaps you could help?”
It startles me, her stranger’s phrasing. Yes. Better go in, better shed these worn-out scuffs. “The same socks as him!” Her voice runs clear & cold down my back. The floor creaks—
Her ceiling’s unbelievably high. Can’t reach it—not me. She points, I go for the stepladder, come back,
& she’s standing—
this old girl
in her bright red wrap
In dim light through paper screen I can see her looking down, touching her sash, her sleeves, standing on the kimono’s fallen layers—feet bare already! Crazy! I drop the ladder, of course, & turn to go—
“Pardon me. I’m not going to do anything. I just want you to take a look.” Her voice is pleading, catching me. Thin, thinner, sharpening, red, the whet barb hooking my ear’s depth. Ahh—ahh—her breath pushes back, her scent’s rising like smoke, my heart chokes, I turn—we turn to one another. Her make-up’s slipping. I can see her naked face.
Ogres, snakes—I’ll take what I can get. Pull it together, go to her. Push her down, tear open the wrap—what? Another underneath—silk, fine and white as a shroud. “I told you, I just want you to take a look.” Her thighs are twisting, she’s wrapping herself back up. Her face smooths, cool & waxy, her eyes flash a deep red. I grab the neck, pull at it, grab her breast—
it’s not there
a handspan cut
smooth as mountain snow
& Scolopendra flat.
“The operation was twenty years ago.”
the operation twenty years ahh like this you’ve looked down on me the sea of my breast surging reviving ahh so red the scar that tips my heart reviving as if new-born ridges swelling, yes? Scorpius of my breast ahh these stitches the scissors
like the tail, yes? the needle-tip puncturing
and should I let this stretch ahh ahh with my deepest breath?
That morning a bloom single, on the hospital hedge.
I was put in a white gown. The doctor looked like you, with your strong nose.
The anaesthetic began to work
and through the haze to my lost ears
the voice echoed
frantic I prised open my inner lids
& the bulb’s sting was printed
on the water mirror
my inner abyss
Quickly, turn it on again
you look like him today again
and in a white gown
I bloom yes
Turn it on c’mon
you just brush past me with your scissors so chilly
and I’m surging surging showing hot red scissors
I forever and ever in a white gown
you forever the doctor
slashed them, didn’t you? the white tsubaki
chopped them into pieces so I came in red!
Why doesn’t it turn on!
the single bulb
the poisoned needle prising scratching at my eyelids
scratching me stabbing pushing me down stinging bright
Just turn it on!
so sweet, this anaesthetic haze.
I’ll puff puff till I burst
let me hang on the hedge.
Red or white, it doesn’t matter.
it blooms anyway—
lightbulb swinging in the wind
pendant star of the sour night dew
clambering, stitched thread clenching clambering
hanging, dangling, Scorpius, bound up, springing droplets
swollen scorpion belly
reflecting in this image, this compact
lightbulb, a lightbulb, a lightbulb
Turn it on
- Tsubaki is a single-layered winter camellia, usually deep red or pure white. The flower is associated with traveling courtesans, who carried it both as a medicinal remedy and to indicate their profession. There is also an association with La Traviata, the title of which is translated, in Japanese, as The Camellia Princess. ↩