Poetry Page
  Miho Nonaka  

Poems reprinted from The Alembic, 2001


Flies hover around the golden pyramids
Of coconut flakes. Pastries in basketfuls,
Dark and indifferent. Dappled beans,
Sunset-hued mangoes, and whitefish
With dilated, silver-ash pupils. I walk through
Their market, not fathoming a word,
And I think to myself, this is why
I haven't dreamed in days:
The nexus of raw exchanges, the plucked,
The shored, the dried, and the cooked,
Either dead or alive. What have I brought
To trade with these: I am yet to admit
My appetite; I still haven't named my anxiety
To be touched, to melt, and to grow rancid


Mr. Sato slips into conversation with me
the way a petal drops from a cherry tree.
Mt. Yoshino has a fat waist girdled with three thousand cherry trees
        according to him.
Am I just in feeling flattered?
It's a rare feeling even in spring,
and his fingers are moving like translucent white bait.
I like repeating his name Sato,
drunk on its unoriginal resonance;
I even like his watercolor face
on the verge of merging with the rest of the scenery.

Mr. Sato shows me how to prepare arrowroot jelly.
There are more Satos than all the blossoms put together
     at Mt. Yoshino each spring,
but he is the Sato who makes arrowroot jelly.
I am not learning, not really—
I am busy thinking
I won't see New York again, even in a dream,
and how much sweeter my disposition will be once I become
     Mrs. Sato,
how much more civil, my world. For the final touch now,
Mr. Sato's hand lets float salted petals on the top of his jelly
in the manner nondescript and slightly feminine.


  David Radavich  


In memory of Pramoedya Ananta Toer,

One night they came
to his house masked, beat him
to the floor, then carried
him away to jail.

All his books torched,
papers burst into flames
like ideas
being first born.

More than a decade
without waiting.

Yet he kept
putting pen into paper,

sneaking out leaves with
visitors, nurses, missionaries.

How could he
think we would turn

his pages now,
open our eyes as telescopes
in the long, black, forgotten night?

In our smooth leather
chairs under halogen light,
how could we

what words are

whose heads
have not been fired
in the hands of the street?

Behind masks
with dark ideologies.

Here we are

consuming to death
like zombies, dominoes,
drugged-out vandals

of green life

that has lost
its mind in many

private cells

so silent
they no longer

see beyond striated walls

or even try
to escape the torture

they no longer acknowledge.


for Hilde Domin

I can still hear your voice
interrupting, commenting, throwing

the room into disarray

and then bringing everyone back
into your arms like a big mother bear

who needed to speak her mind
and still be loved.

The walls put up with it.

Other voices, other faces.

That was how a woman sometimes got,
over the edge of her emotions.

Not many found their way
to such language. Gorgeous, faceted.

So much to teach me,
a young son, visiting, naïve

out of study with words swirling
like snow-stars. Discipline was needed.

Your books unfold like
unforgiving roses

eyes that
no longer cry.

Only then do you laugh
like an anarchist.

The world only changes through disturbance.

Sun slicing through clouds,
making the seeds push and push,

fashioning new poems,
art, great skyscrapers, politics

that can renew a people for a time.

Mother, you have left us
all too quiet.


In memory of Tanya Wood (1926-2004)

Move over, Saint Peter:
Your angel costumes are way out
of date, the set looks, well,

too unreal — how about
those trees we jigsawed still
in the scene shop, taupe silk flowers

and the slotted white fence
we painted so many dozen times?

She’s coming, it’s only fair
to warn you, and your performance
won’t do: You must make it real,

grab the audience
and thrill in that moment
completely, without flinching,
without regret.

That’s life; that’s theatre.

Open your gates,
look up from that book
and be amazed.


I, as someone who does not
ordinarily salute individual destiny,

nonetheless celebrate your singularity.
How, one among many millions, cut against

the glass shards of broken generations,
all those who bled or were gassed,

you nonetheless found in your contradictions
a kind of poetry—that opened like a pregnant woman

in the heart of war, your song crying out
the painful majesty of life created

and creating. I met you only once,
surprised you by asking to hear poems

in Polish. Their native rhythms you chanted
lustily like a priest. Unlike others, your pain was

a gift you knew how to welcome.

One does not live for self or country but a world.
Now you have gone to the planet, leaving

hieroglyphics of a century too primitive
in its perverse sophistication, calling us out

to witness, against a fractured window
in the sunset, images to live by.

top | this issue | agora home
more work by david and miho in the author index