Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Lipoic acid and malic acid, picolinic acid and pyruvic acid
Coenzymes and chondrotins, selenium and andrographis
Anthocyanin, alpha-carotine, isoflavone, gingko extract
A whole bowlful of supplements
Instead of the morning meal
Vitamins H, I, J, K, L, M, N
Potassium and calcium, magnesium and germanium
Glucosamine and glycogen, taurine and tumeric
Cat’s claw, chitosan, eye drops made of maple, melatonin
A second bowlful of supplements
And still nothing for my skin
Placenta, pueraria, collagen, squalane
And then there’s those menstrual cramps
Progesterone, pasque flower, chasteberry, evening primrose
And if they’ll rev me up there’s the men’s meds
Zinc, selenium, arginine, ginseng and viagara too!
Kekyo kekyo kekyo kekyo, hohohōhokekyo
I feel like I’m flying
Looking down on the whole world
I feel nauseous
This won’t work, relax.  For relaxation try
Carotine and resitine, teanine and valerian
And let me throw in something to prevent senility
I gulp down gingko extract once again
Polyphenol is now out of date but
One can cover the old-fashioned supplements with
Acerola, chlorella, ebios, biofermin
Vitamins O, P, Q, R, S, T, U
Flavonoids and grape seeds, marigolds and oligopeptides
A thirtieth bowlful of supplements
Vitamins V, W and X, Y, Z
A thirty-first bowlful of supplements
And still I can go on
Still there are the things written only in kanji
Luohanguo, lidanyan, licorice, cordyceps
Wheat germ oil, flax oil, egg yolk oil
Lactic acid bacilli, natto bacilli, colon bacilli
Folic acid, nucleic acid, medium-chain fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids
Pills to fight crotch itch and athlete’s foot, pills to lift a man into seventh heaven, pills of potassium cyanide and quince and aconite
Ointment to make a shiny head grow hair in a flash, powder to make a body grow ghostly thin, beans for off-the-cuff word play……
I will not get caught
I will not get caught no matter how long it takes
I am a slippery, smooth pill
Sliding slickly down the throat
The supplement is I
α, β, γ, δ
Hiragana, katakana, kanji, romanization
Alliteration at the beginning, rhymes at the end
The words tangle together
The words tangle turning
So rhythmic they bring tears to the eyes
A heavy rhythm within a light-hearted one
Here within this poem
Did it dissolve?
Is the mystery solved?
What you have swallowed is language itself.

Note: Throughout the poem, Arai tends to associate names of supplements that have lots of alliteration in the Japanese, but the translations do not always line up quite as neatly as the Japanese.  For instance, in the second line she lines up lipoic acid (riposan) next to malic acid (ringosan), both of which start and end with the same sounds.  Hōhokekyo and kekyo are onomatopoeias that represent the sound of a nightingale singing.  The names of the supplements are written in combination of the two syllabaries of Japanese, the katakana syllabary used for borrowed words and plant names, as well as the hiragana syllabary used for indigenous worlds.  In the second stanza, she lists supplements that are written in long strings of kanji (Sino-Chinese characters).  These have been included in italics to give a sense of how different they look from the rest of the poem.  As the kanji compounds grow more complex, they degenerate into amusing nonsense.  (The last six names are medicines Arai made up.) 


The Morning Child

The color of a bruise spreads across the eastern sky
It is the Mongolian spot of morning being born

It trembles, rustles, and wriggles its way upward

Crawling with all the energy of a newborn’s buttocks

On the opposite side, the morning child regrets

Kicking open the double doors of the birth canal

It is crying about being carried

Down this river of amniotic fluid

After the afterbirth, the mother

Is an albino snake shaking her tail

Knowing there is not a trace of wind

On the seam suturing morning to night

Soothingly she sticks out her tongue

Awkwardly bends her back and dives down

The path of flowers that have not bloomed

At the bottom, stamens that could not stand the sun

Suck up slippery nourishment

Now is the time they shake loose their silver pollen

So the mother forgets all about the morning child

Wets her eyes and scales enough to crawl away

Then copulates with the flowers, going down the path to night

For both mother and child, the womb is the cast-off skin of a snake

The color of a bruise spreads cross the eastern sky
It is the Mongolian spot of morning
It is the bruise on the sky which reveals
The loneliness born upon it
It trembles, rustles, and wriggles its way upward
With all the energy of a first attempt to crawl
There is no choice but to crawl upward
After swallowing to my innermost depths
The head lice mother left as a keepsake
My umbilical cord, which holds mother dangling in space
Grows thin as it turns and – oh no! – gets ready to snap
No, perhaps I am the one left dangling upside-down
And then, the cord breaks
Mother falls into continuous night
I fall into a morning that may continue but may not—a straight line
And then
I have no choice but to crawl
For both mother and child, the womb is the cast-off skin of a snake 

And the color of the bruise spreads
One will faintly see the blood blisters
On the morning child’s hands and feet
Rip open and illuminate
The eastern sky

Note: Children in many East Asian countries are often born with a large bluish spot on their backsides known as a “Mongolian spot.”  In almost all cases, the spot fades away by the time the child turns seven or eight years old. 

Ekleksographia #1

January 1, 2009


Takako Arai

Takako Arai was born in 1966 in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture to a family engaged in textile manufacturing, a traditional industry in Kiryu. She is a graduate of Keio University's literature department. Her first collection of poetry, Haobekki, was published in 1997. Her second collection, Tamashii Dance (Soul Dance), was published in 2007 and awarded the 41st Oguma Hideo Prize. Since 1998 she has been a contributor to, and eventually editor of, Mi’Te, a magazine featuring poetry and criticism. Arai also writes on language and folklore, and has published a series of writings on the poet Sakutaro Hagiwara. She has an interest in the performing arts, especially the butoh dancer, Kazuo Ohno, and the playwright, Juro Kara. She teaches Japanese language and culture to foreign students at Saitama University's Center for International Exchange. In 2006, she performed at the Festival of Contemporary Japanese Women Poets in New York City.  An anthology of her poems in English translation is forthcoming.

Jeffrey Angles

Jeffrey Angles (b. 1971) is an assistant professor of Japanese literature and director of the Japanese program at Western Michigan University (USA).  He is the co-editor of the book Japan: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press, 2006) and the translator of From a Woman of a Distant Land: Poetry of Tada Chimako (University of California Press, forthcoming).  He recently won two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the PEN Club of America to translate the memoirs of the Japanese poet Takahashi Mutsuo.  He has translated many modernist and contemporary writers and poets, including Hagiwara Sakutarō, Edogawa Ranpo, Yumeno Kyūsaku, Itō Sei, Itō Hiromi, and Fukushima Yasuki, for numerous anthologies and journals.