Known in Japan as the ‘bank clerk poet’, with her work frequently featuring in the bank newsletter where she was employed, Ishigaki’s poetry stretches from the dreariness of domestic life to more complicated implications relating to Japan’s history of conflict. Never before reprinted, two poems have now been transcribed in full from our archive.
First published in the Feb/March 1976 of The London Magazine (Vol. 15, No. 6)
CATCHING AT A STRAW
At the end of the morning’s work
I go to my firm’s gigantic restaurant
and just as I pick up my chopsticks to start my lunch
the background music strikes up right behind my back.
The music has no kind of melody
that would passionately address itself to the human heart
nor any harmonies to grip it with ecstatic sadness,
but only such nondescript veils of tone
carefully chosen, deliberately intended to soothe the workers,
selected scientifically to sugar their fatigue
to stimulate their taste-buds for the tasteless food.
Whenever that insidious music starts
with its lulling melodies like lullabies
washing over the restaurant
I wake up
and get restless-
remembering, as music dandles me,
of some scholarly research I read
about how cows when fed to the strains of gentles music
start giving better milk.
In recent years
our industrial giants have evinced
such unfathomably kind consideration for
their workers and for humanity
that I often feel as if
I found myself sinking in bottomless waters-
and suddenly I start fighting free of the tugging depths.
Oh I am drowning drowning drowning
in these ever-so-kindly waves of music
unless I snatch
at the last straw-
my own humanity!
How could I live without eating?
The only reason I’ve kept on living is
that I could stomach rice
and my parents
and my brothers and sisters
and my teachers
and incidentally my heart.
I wipe my mouth
above the discarded bits of carrot
my father’s bowels
all cluttering the kitchen sink-
one night- ah, I am forty now,
a beast with her eyes full of tears-
tears that have never been seen before.
Translated from the Japanese by
James Kirkup and Shozo Tokunaga