Junko & Other Poetry

by Yumiko Tsumura


You were four years old
when you came into our hangover bed
between me and my lover
and sang loudly
“a rose opens, a red rose opens, in our lonely garden”
looking at the book upside down

You were four years old
when we took you to an American restaurant in Kobe
You couldn’t eat hard bread
I didn’t know your front teeth were gone.

You were four years old
When I saw your gaze go vacant
from the train window
and your waving hand stop

You know your grandparents footfalls
You know what stone is your father
You know me by the name “Mama” or “America.”


Happy Birth Day to Junko

September is the month of
typhoon in the island country Japan
but it was warm and less than full moon night
on Kii peninsula when you were pulled out of
my injured body with broken bones and cracked pelvis
by the old doctor’s hands with a pair of forceps
because the umbilical cord that yoked us was too short

in spite of the car accident in the Cascade Mountains
that took your father’s life and saved our lives
you came out to this earth without even a scar
with all your faculties intact

embraced by the wonder of life
as I lay down side by side with you
the pain and fear melted in the center

it was plenty bright with
less than full moon
I thanked even pebbles


A Birthday Gift to Igor

Getting past the hard
knots, the bamboo
grows straight
upward to the sky

With this humble
bamboo spoon
scoop two heaps
of this powdered tea
from old Kyoto

Pour in boiling water
a fourth of the tea-bowl
and whisk until
you see foam

The sip will cleanse
your senses and
will give you
a moment of oneness
with nature
in this time of war
and you will practice your cello
with a beginner’s mind again


The Ecstasy

half a century after the tragic end to the tragic war
between Japan and America

from spring to summer
when tulip trees, horse chestnuts, and crape myrtles
bloom in this quiet
green city of Palo Alto
you and I took countless walks
in morning light
engaged in serious learning
from each other
like Peripatetic

our human universe was
united and filled with
your love for the east and my love for the west
we explored into the time of creation
and each time we discovered
it inexhaustible with the new
and our universe expanded

from fall to winter
when liquidambar and gingko
flaring in ruby and gold
tremble in sunset
we walked reciting poems aloud
in praise of life
and when green magnolia trees
endure in north wind
you and I walked endlessly
in silence


Care Partner

Always our wings were spread
We flew high and wide together
Always in a trance with
simple and profound
timelessness until
one of our wings snapped
My love’s cancer spread its claws
and engulfed us in darkness
We crawl on the path
of radiation and chemo drugs
nights and days, I scream
myself into a pillow
spitting the phlegm out
of my brain
At night the black hole is visible

In the morning white light bends on my skin
The red maple leaves have fallen with gusts and rain
Winter is near
I think of my brother and sister across the Pacific
I think of my daughter across this continent
My dead parents are looking at me through pictures
my father with Buddha’s benevolence
my mother with enduring smile

As though they answered
there was a gentle knock at the door
A friend brought
cooked seaweed and taro potatoes

My tongue dove deep
into my roots in the village
I devoured the memories of the sea and the soil


Sam and Yumiko

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

you wrote to me
from your death bed
“what you now begin is a new us”

the cancer came
between us and
ended your life
we could not wave
a magic wand

you surrendered to
the ebb tide of your life
bigger than we are
with magnanimous grace
and entered the infinite

I, in this white light of
June in Palo Alto,
walk around
this house, the cloister
visit our days
on my memory walls

and tonight in the blue moonlight
I listened to the Sibelius music

it took me to the first night when
our life was about to begin in Osaka

and forty years later on Thanksgiving Day
I saw you lie in repose on a wooden board
covered in a white flannel blanket
just as you were born

the Swan of Tuonela, gliding majestic
a large river of black waters
in the land of the dead

I surrender to
the beginning of
“a new us”
you in the other world
me in this world

soon I will take
a holiday
to see the waves
in San Francisco Bay
you so loved

your river will
meet my river
in the Pacific Ocean
one day
you and I
will have a whirl


The Buddhist Priest

Snow was falling
on the temple
the voice reading sutra
cutting the night
incense floats
in the room
my thought turned to
the dead. The priest
came in and gave me a red
camellia. Flakes of
snow on petals.
His feet moved quietly
into the darkness.


Eiko’s Gift

your calls across the Pacific
brought a refreshing
taste of lemon sherbet
to my day
when we were together
our time had the light
color of a yellow rose
and a tender
fragrance of a white ginger flower
with your neat
and sweet


After Your Untimely Departure

I lament
not coming to say
thank you
for your gift of
because you left me too soon

This year when I take a walk
in crisp air of May
at dawn
I see you in dainty
flowers of hydrangea
in melancholy blue

I wonder if they will turn pink
next May after I have many
more rendezvous
in my dreams at night
with you


My Room

a solid delta
in rainbow color
where the two rivers from
the East and the West


A card came
from Kyoto.
An abstract sculpture
white alabaster
of standing rock melting
into a bigger
gentle egg like being
peace harmony romance
all in it
Isamu Noguchi
The Kiss 1945


A card came
from Kyoto.
A powerful mastered motion of an ink-brush
on gentle mulberry paper
expressing the ideograph
Stone Garden 5.19.1992
the fluidity of an enlightened being


A card came
from Kamakura.
Cherry Tree at Daigoji Temple
Togyu Okumura 1972
misty silver pink blue green
in Monet’s elegance
a romance with the soil you reside on


A card came
from Woodside, California.
to wish me a happy Spring
a proud woman with
a medallion in pink blue brown
striding to a
direction, not a
phantom at dawn


A card came
from New York.
On a young green hill
her little house
and my big house are
by a red heart-shaped
telephone line
“Mother, even though
we’re far apart”


A card came
from Blue Springs, Missouri
superposing on
the design of fading
brown leaves
a deep green window
frame in three partitions
each filled
with a golden letter
looking at me
eyes clear


A card came from Varazdin
the old capital of Croatia
a birthday wish in naive art
many chains of small round silver clouds
float in the wine pink blue sky
over the small village of six small houses
each a different shape with two windows
they look like six human faces
gazing at the young green field
after a good long sleep
behind them countless fiery red
flowers human height stand side by side
in a line clear across this
small round universe
Spring has come


A card came
from Montmartre, Paris
a happy new year wish
Catherine Poire’s oil painting of
Sacre Coeur in red orange yellow
the color of love of the people who gather there
from all over the globe
beyond race, religion and country


there is one more,
an old card
I have
The village called Takara
between orange mountains and a pine beach
white waves of the Pacific Ocean
washing the pebbles
Every night I trust
my love-lit lantern
to the waves

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