At the Yasukuni Shrine & Other Poems

by Srinjay Chakravarti

At the Yasukuni Shrine

Here, there is a sense of peace.
Since 1853, 2.5 million soldiers
have passed through its torii
into the enclosed spaces
of a museum’s memorabilia.

The air in the rooms is tainted
with war, with death,
with the absent odour
of history’s charnel-houses.

Yet the spirit of a divine kamikaze
dapples the Shinto temple
with the colours
of floating cherry blossoms,
and the grass by the walks
shivers with the tread
of ghosts, ghosts, ghosts.


Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon

Thimphu, Bhutan

With its head
propped up
on a blue cloud,
the northern mountain
leans against a sky
marmoreal in its pallor.
It drifts off into sleep,
misty wisps that whisper
through its thoughts

as it floats
on a magic carpet
(of fields green and yellow
spun into a checkerboard)
towards strange dreamscapes
beyond the horizon.



Or, All the Luck in the World

What a way to ensure
good fortune for a whole year!
Hordes of males of the species,
each clad only in a loincloth,
crowding Inazawa’s streets
in the hope of touching
a naked running man!

That’s the mid-February festival
at the town’s Kounomiyo shrine,
the young and the middle-aged
hot in pursuit after a quarry
chosen by the townspeople.

And not just that;
the (un)fortunate victim
must be pummelled, even bruised
en route to a rendezvous
where he gets to spend the entire day
in a heaving, sweating mass
of loinclothed bodies.

A bizarre ritual from a misty past
lingers into an unrecognizable Japan
more than two thousand seven hundred years later.

I suppose it must yield results…
otherwise, why do they do it?
But I pity the poor fellow,
though—of course—
somebody’s luck is always another’s misfortune.



Where the straits are perilous, more hungry spittle…
The ghosts gather, a shimmer on the waves.
—Meng Chiao, Sadness of the Gorges

The tide foams at the river’s mouth,
wind contrapuntal in a threnode
of susurrant sorrow.

Mermaids, drowned in air, gasp
for water: they abandon
their spindrift of spittle
at the white waves of the estuary.
The water is as briny as tears.

Coming to drink there,
ghosts of sailors exhale
wisps of smoke.
They return home
as thirsty as they always were.

Where the valley yawns,
cold breezes from the north
sough through ivory trees,
petrified pillars stained
with weeping starlight.
The leaves of the forest
tremble under the weight of dewdrops
as they condense in the chill air
into the white jade of memories.

This is the hour of séances.
The soul escapes its moorings,
loss its only cargo
as it flees across the dream-dark sea.

The surf has beaten its head, grieving,
on the rocks throughout the long night.
The blue twilight is fugued:
with wind and spume,
river and rain.

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