Poem for the Day
WANTED: JAPANESE SWORD
It's one of those lighted signs
you tow behind a truck. For years,
the man down the street has kept it in his yard––
as if a retired samurai might wander by
on his way to Lund's Hardware
or the Whippi Dip. Tonight, I sit out
in the moonlight. The neighbor is drunk,
his stereo loud, You done me wrong,
sung in a man's voice. The music
seems familair, but it's not.
Moonlight has a strange effect.
In 1856, under a full moon,
James Jesse Strang,
the self-styled Mormon prophet,
ran a sword through his chief rival
on Beaver Island, declared himself King
of Michigan, and began a bloody rebellion
that didn't end until a frigate was sent
to put it down. And did you know
the Japanese saber combines
a European hilt with a Japanese blade?
It's forty inches long and weighs three pounds.
Of course, my neighbor may want
a katana, long-sword of the samurai.
"The human heart is unknowable," the poet
Tsurayuki wrote, "but in my birthplace,
the flowers smell the same as always."
The wind moves through the roses
that tangle in the fence, rose that are
a delicate pink in any light.
Did you ever want a different life?
When I did, I went into the fish business
and sold salmon roe to the Japanese.
Ikura, it was called, tiny eggs
that gushed from the razored salmon
like translucent orange moons.
I was going to be rich.
You lost your ass! my father laughed,
meaning I would never be the King of Michigan.
The music stops. My neighbor
comes into his yard and starts
banging a stick against the ground.
He begins a drunken dance, a dark figure
backed by a glowing sign––whirling,
jumping on one leg––he falls, rises, and
falls again, twirling the stick around
his head, groaning and shouting out.
Finally, he stumbles and does not rise, his body
lost in the cedared dark.
What does it mean to want so badly
you dance in the glow of your own desire?
Sending a stick hissing through the sky,
pounding the earth until you disappear,
amazing no one but yourself?