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The Village of the Mermaids

 

My cat said, “Your thick green robe tastes of salt,”
and licked a satin curtain for a change.
Careful, don’t step on that long brown hair,
it once strangled a seal.

I have learned to sit still on a chair
in front of my house and stop a crying girl—
her lollipop scorched, her brother killed in war,
or whatnot—and drink tears out of her eyelids

to remember our home, where I wore a necklace
of sea foam some called a lovely snare.
We like it here because there is less dying
under the sun: a bag of skin casts a pattern

of blue veins on the dry street. In January
we hear voices from the distant mountains
streaked with birches and frozen pools, and we play
with our shadows. Some of us have left, naked.

Some have followed a man with a bowler hat.
He tipped it to us like a magician and said,
“There is a spell in every seashell.”
He showed us how to dye a jellyfish in a bowl

of poppies, how to fatten up cocoons with acid rain,
for they taste different, do they not, melting
wriggling lives. Will you show us your trickery again?
Perfumed doorsteps, marmalade in a glass hive,

a sunlit bed like a saffron-filled coffin—come back
to this jubilance. Think of us. Think of us engulfed in fire.

 

 

 

A Little Later, with Forgetting

 

There is hope in this—sewing my loose hairs
into a skull, dreaming of your face.
The waves have swallowed our home.
I cover my eyes with a raccoon’s tail
to make the midnight lighter.
We melted in amnesia, bubbled up
from the ocean, rinsed clean
of appetite, all healed,
all negated, a sequence of two spines
imitating an arrow. A jaguar loved us.
He licked where our hips had been,
and we cucooked in reply.

My sisters go on sleeping.
They never know what happens at night.
Mother milks a cow, and the same wet hands
put us to bed. If lightning wakes them
for a moment, they fall asleep again
while I stir their pupils and whites with a spoon.
They never know what happens
in the dark. A broken manikin in the shallows.
You pulled out my bone so painlessly
I thought I’d found another longing.

 

 

 

Séance in Daylight

 

She opened her mouth as if her throat were a bird
ready to leave her. I thought she was going to sing
for the dead, because she saw them always.
I was cold. I snuggled against her like a tall cat.
When she put the petals of a hydrangea on my eyelids,
I heard rain pattering behind them, and I was a window
from which she saw her friends return:
lights lit inside them, now alive, now burning,
moths in a struggle to escape their own wings
edged with fire. She waved at them
and spoke through me, fogging my skin with words
I couldn’t hear. I wasn’t cold anymore,
her breath so warm, her cheek pressed against
the fragile glass, which was my body.

 

 

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Yuki Tanaka was born and raised in Yamaguchi, Japan. He is currently a Ph.D. student in English and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. His translations of poems by the Japanese surrealist Shuzo Takiguchi (with Mary Jo Bang) have appeared in Asymptote, The Awl, Poetry, and elsewhere.

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