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Translator's Note: For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut

by Sawako Nakayasu


This poem is from Takashi Hiraide's book-length serial poem, For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut, which comprises 111 interlocking prose poems. The characters that inhabit this book are not limited to walnuts, as the title implies, but could be extended to include those who might possess this "fighting spirit" of the walnut. At times this belongs to smaller, ephemeral objects, such as insects, plums, or the space between brushstrokes. At other times, the walnut-like "fighting spirit" is manifested in an ability to envelop and enclose, with the toughness of a walnut shell.

Throughout the book are various "" and the characters that resist them. In this poem, the enemy is a section of light, which at first appears friendly, approaching a character in a vacant plaza: "you are tapped on the shoulder . . . and turn back, to your delight." This tap on the shoulder is childlike and gentle—and likewise the "you" responds happily. The light is a deceitful prankster, however, preying upon the loneliness of the character—it in fact seems to be in cahoots with the "countless hidden fibers of the atmosphere" (perhaps playing a sort of hide-and-seek) to gang up on the poor character (though we do not know if this "you" is human, animal, or walnut).

Light is a common theme in this book, and it is often unclear whether it is friend or foe. In another instance of violence-by-light, "The murky light of the city quietly pins me down, thrashes me, breaks me apart" (30). On the other hand, light is equally a victim, a "shipwrecked light" (34). Because of its uncontained reach, light is a formidable enemy with the ability to envelop, and thus capture, its object—and here we encounter the puns embedded in the book's title: although the book's primary meaning refers to the "fighting spirit" of the walnut, kurumi, the Japanese word for "walnut" is homophonous with kurumi, meaning "wrapping" or "enclosure." Sen'i, meaning "fighting spirit," is also homophonous to sen'i, meaning "fiber." Thus, embedded in the title we find alternative interpretations: fibers of the enclosure, fighting spirit of the enclosure. These acts of enclosure, enacted both by the section of light as well as the "hidden fibers" are formidable characters in this quirky tale of battle.

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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