Konoshima's Tanka PDF Print E-mail

Translations by David Callner



Honolulu, Hawaii


Someone runs splashing downhill in the rain -  indoors
I chase memories of my youth



My mind grows dull - my hearing poor - my vision dim
yet recollections rise vividly before my eyes



Love and hatred grow distant
while memories become blessings of the moment



Immersed in recollection - somehow one year has passed
New Year’s fireworks thunder through the town



Memories that survive in this doting body
are usually all about my native village



A village by a mountain stream - people live there
but my friends have all passed away



Having brought me into this wonderful reality
Father and Mother ended in misfortune



With no means to benefit from the Edo-Meiji transformation
young Father saw his family wealth collapse


(The transformation from the Edo period [1603 to 1868] to the Meiji period [1868 to 1912].)



Ignoring Mother’s nagging in silence
puffing on his cigarette - a vestige of Father



From New Year’s day well beyond mid-April
parties are held to celebrate the New Year



Flowers have seasons even on an island of endless summer
blossoming vividly in turn



Men and women of all ages dressed up on the bus
Suppose everybody were stark naked?



Vying with little birds for the morning I open my window
the Pacific dawn spreads before my eyes



The buildings of Diamond Head and Waikiki set
in a Pacific flower bowl of muted silver



Where jade sky meets pale-blue sea
a ship moves whitely in the morning sun



Tired of awaiting the next bus I sit - beside me
an old woman gives me some of her banana



Each bus sways differently
with each driver’s personality



Even strangers say hello in passing
a Meiji simplicity survives in Hawaii



Someone hails so I ask who he is
“Your grandson” - he puts his arm around my shoulder



“I will write poems till I die” - I declare
but my notes are all covered with smudges


Latham, New York


Crows caw and little birds twitter in the fresh verdure
the morning sun yonder peeks through the woods



A stream peeks through the verdure and reflects the light
up and down the valley dances the morning sun



Beneath the shade of an unseasonably blossoming cherry tree
I speak with a stranger in the moment



Having found a pair of Joumon pots
“You only get one” - says my friend’s postscript

(The Joumon period is the time in Japanese prehistory from about 14,000 BCE to 300 BCE.The term Joumon means "cord-patterned" in Japanese. This refers to the pottery style characteristic of the Joumon culture, and which has markings made using sticks with cords wrapped around them. Wikipedia.

After WWII Konoshima began acquiring what was to become a significant collection of Japanese art and antiques from East-side antique shops in New York City - this collection is now part of the Herbert R. Johnson Museum at Cornell University.)



A Joumon pot - an unskilled and uncontrived amusement
faintly brews the tradition of sabi

(The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant "chill", "lean" or "withered". Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs. Wikipedia.)



Hokusai’s little picture books
reflect the Tenpou Tokaido Road with delight


(The Tenpou era - 1830 to 1844. The Tokaido was the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo period [1603 to 1868], connecting Edo [modern-day Tokyo] to Kyoto. Wikipedia.)



Horses and coolies and river men
stars of the road one hundred fifty years ago



Their heads between the legs of those they bear
the river men have no qualms about human rights



Running ceaselessly with kimonos tucked up and postal cases shouldered
couriers - the heroes of Tenpou communication



Carried on shoulders - with a fan atop his head
a traveler gauges the height of a roadside overhang



Tidings of cherry blossoms from the Japan I cannot visit
inside I wander Meiji’s Ueno untiringly


(Ueno Park is a spacious public park in Tokyo that is famous for its cherry blossoms.)



True to their name the Sanjaku Uri dangle down
each morning a vegetable patch consoles this old man


(Sanjaku Uri is a variety of cucumber which translates as “three-foot cucumber”. Konoshima owned a farm of tens of acres in California, but lost it to the Japanese-American internment in WWII.)



Cucumbers from my vegetable patch - fine in shape
fine in luster - I’ll share the best with my neighbors



The sound of a jumping fish vanishes into the sky - reeds sway
a smile plays on a little mountain lake



Mastered through youthful play in my mountain-village
tree climbing comes back to me in dotage



Countless life-and-death crises in the mountains and rivers
appear to me still now



The fields of horsetail already turn to summer
as I remain far away - indoors from the rain



Sadly I gather up the horsetail I remember well
the flavor and recipe I no longer recall



I remember horsetail sadly
now surely gone from the banks of my native home



White and crimson with purple and yellow too
summer wildflowers bloom in a contest of blessings



With the Japanese flowers of my memory
blossom an abundance of wildflowers I have never seen



A gust blows my hat down the country path
but O I simply refuse to trample the violets



The splendid flowering fields mature
each color and shape heavily weighed with seeds



I take down a persimmon ripened scarlet
a glaze too perfect I return it to the butsudan


(A butsudan [literally "Buddha altar"] is a shrine commonly found in temples and homes in Japanese Buddhist cultures. Wikipedia.
Fruit, rice, and sake are often placed in a butsudan as offerings.)



A ripe persimmon clings to a snowy branch
shining beneath the morning sun in my mind’s eye



More dead leaves float on my pond each morning
autumn - gone to return once more - draws near



A drizzle falls in smoky woods - all is silent
one small bird puffs itself up amongst the leaves



Still no human sound beneath the trees
cold - I sit in wait of little birds



Buried in snow and gurgling through crags
water flows - never to return




In the falling snow - in the budding rain - in the evening showers
do people of my native land measure radiation?


Kisaburo Konoshima was born in 1893 in Gifu, Japan. He left his village for an education in Tokyo when he was fifteen years old, and went on to become a professor of political economics at the now defunct Shokumin Gakkou in Kyoto. In 1924 he abandoned academia for the life of a farmer, and emigrated to California with his wife and children. In 1941 Konoshima was forced off his farm and he and his family were interned in the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming. Following the war Konoshima moved to New York City, where he devoted himself to his children's education and his poetry. In 1950 he joined the Japanese poetry society Cho-on, which published his entire opus of over fifteen hundred tanka in the Cho-on quarterly, from 1950 to his death in 1984. 






David Callner was born in 1956. His youth was spent in France, England, Italy, and America. Since 1978 he has lived in Japan. He has written four novels and teaches English at Nagano University. He is a grandson of Kisaburo.