Encountering Mother — Youth 4 by Shuntarō Tanikawa

Translated by Chang Yuchen and Fan Wu

I went to the past by myself

  turned a sharp shoulder to horizon

butterflies dancing under dark sky

  but romantics see fireflies

a girl watching them

  a sharp eye turned to their shivers

sitting on the grass all alone

  hands raking — clumps and tufts


lonesome feelings originated from when and where

  syrup in my water, syrup in my coffee

I sat next to the girl quietly

  almost touching shoulders

staring at a pair of mating butterflies

  proboscis — ozone — hunger

this girl might be my mother

  but who owns her own life this time


a road walked on by no one

  but rough enough to be called ‘road’

vanishing towards the horizon

  sweeter for having been stirred

only the faint string music

  glissando along the bulkier feelings

retaining me in this world

  a refrain not made of words


faraway future becomes past

  Jagadishwar seventy times over

I will still be here

  Jagadishwar spent in prayer

as long as love is remembered

  Jagadishwar pits of clutching

death shall be felt as joy

  Jagadishwar and begin again



Poet and translator Shuntaro Tanikawa was born in Tokyo and came of age in the years following World War II.  Tanikawa’s poetry reflects a metaphysical and quasi-religious attitude toward experience. In simple, spare language, he sketches profound ideas and emotional truths. In this translation, Chang Yuchen and Fan Wu take Tanikawa’s fable-like simplicity as a point of departure for an unfolding dialogue: deviations on insect death and real death.

Chang Yuchen works in an interdisciplinary manner — writing as weaving, drawing as translation, teaching as hospitality, commerce as social experiment (see Use Value) and publishing as a dandelion spreading its seeds. By constantly entering and exiting each medium, she strolls against the category of things, the labor division among people.

Fan Wu is the dandelion of a shattered mind. His translation work includes the chapbook Hoarfrost & Solace (of triplicate variations on Tang Dynasty poems) and multimedia performance with the Toronto Experimental Translation Collective (TETC). Write to him of love or banality at fanwu4u@gmail.com.