Poems from Japan

Japanese Crested Ibis

Nipponia Nippon.
You, most Japanese of birds,
have suffered for your name.
Together with the hooded crane
and white stork,
you fell from flight
that human hands
might touch your mystery.

By making you
a Special Natural Monument,
we have consigned you to the limbo
of a living death.
Like the master potters,
carpenters and swordsmiths,
you have perched uncomfortably
on our pedestal.

Unmindful of publicity,
you search for frogs and crabs
in flooded fields,
still guided by your species’
aeons of experience
at this,
the last stop before extinction.

A few of you survive on Sado:
in history the lonely isle
across the sea.
The place of exile
for disgraced officials.
The island of forgotten gold mines
and bleak haunt
of a rare bird.

A strange bird.
Your legs are far too short.
Your beak unlike the beak
of any crane or egret.
Your bald, red face
bespectacled and bookish.
Was it an anthropomorphic itch
that turned the gun
in your direction?

Your death reminds us
that the birds unfortunate enough
to capture man’s imagination
are the first to die
in every land.
We honor them in art and verse,
we laugh at them and love them,
and blast them from their refuge
in the skies.

First published in An Asia Notebook.