Winter Poems: a letter from Sapporo, a nineteen-year-old’s suicide note, the metaphysics of a split-rail fence…

ZP_Pheasant on a snowy bank_Anonymous, Japanese_ colour woodcut_around 1900

ZP_Pheasant on a snowy bank_Anonymous, Japanese_ colour woodcut_around 1900

Shinji Watanabe

Three poems from his collection “Spell of a Bird”


“Letter from my Sister”


It’s almost winter in Sapporo;

the first snow this year has snowed for three days

and seems deep enough to cover the ground until next spring;

it’s past nine o’clock and the trees in the outside are dark

and white enough to scare me, for Hiroshi-san has not yet come

home and I’m afraid the dishes won’t taste good with a warm-up

once they are cold; Keisuke was hit with snowballs by his friends and

never stopped crying even after he went to bed; he has skipped

his supper; he will have to go to kindergarten next spring.


86-09-20      WATER                                       3,660          *154,886

86-09-25      TELEPHONE                5,360                  *149,526

86-10-04      ELECTRICITY              6,210                  *143,316

86-10-17      GAS                              6,601          *136,715


I have nothing to do now in the kitchen and sit near Keisuke’s futon to see

him sleeping and I remember those days we lived near Maruyama Park and

enjoyed playing cards until late with coals burning in a red stove; our

faces seemed burning too and there was a lot of fun and we had a lot of

time and Hiroshi-san made us laugh with his jokes, though I now doubt that

it was really followed by a promising future.

I’m sorry,

but once fun, then a burden,

nothing would come from the burden and I hate thinking we shared the fun

those days only to bear a burden later.

To tell the truth, Hiroshi-san was

fired from the factory this summer and is still out of work and I feel

uneasy every time I buy a can of kerosene though it costs no more than half

of last winter’s price.  No, it’s not the money, you know, as the life and

world is such and such, and I can manage anyway to live and eat and I have

some savings in the bank and he gets money from unemployment insurance,

though I know the fact that I actually manage may rather make our poverty

of the mind poorer and poorer.

To get back those cheerful days, we should

have been better losing such small savings; no, I ask myself, what’s that

to get them back, and never try, can’t try, just like the cold water from

the spout, you bet; next February Keisuke is going to be on for the second

operation, as he has been passed down to the disease beyond me and yet

through me, and his breathing in sleep gives me lots of torture, though I’m

sure I’ve known such a thing, but I almost gave up and got rid of him

twice:  in pregnancy and in delivery and it was not at all for love’s sake;

I couldn’t accept the same deformity with me, but the third time would

never happen to me, because I couldn’t anyway ignore anything related to

me; all the things from a 1,000 yen bill to a life should be possessed by

someone or anyone as far as they are in the world, I know, and I see water

drops flow down on the whitely clouded windowpane and I hear an old

familiar song which comes from dark and far trees:

Sleep in sound and peace,

and you are a precious baby I love

yes, I love Keisuke

When you wake and cry, Nen-kororo,

I hate you, bad baby,

Sleep in sound and peace, Nen-kororo,

yes, I hate him, too.

Oh, it still snows…

I, the person who was called “you” by you, called back to you with what I

had in my hands, just as taking after what father and mother had done, for

a short space and time permitted to us as life, and we, in dreaming a

bright and quiet life, set a permanent family register and built a home


No.116, Patient No.00-6628-0  PEDIATRICS O-41

86/8/1–86/8/14             Medications  6,500   Injections

2,260      Operations 1,860      Laboratory 4,930      Meals

& Hospitality 42,000     Papers 2,000         Total Charges

59,550 yen…….   ……..


Now out of this window, father, mother, we, or white illusions, go upward

and fluctuate in pursuit of something and there joins the image of Keisuke;

perhaps it is that forest of ours, though I have never seen it, and it is

always under the snow and it passes every relationship of the world and

makes the ancient fire up to tell about the murmur of life to those who

would like to listen,

and I’d like to believe I may share a piece of that fire, yes,

I’d like to, for it might make me shine

like a tree covered with ice,

and then get me back into that forest

when my permitted space and time is over,

and I’d like to pray that with the mind and belief

I may sing that lullaby

to soothe and lull myself

and to pour the water into pots

and light the gas to cook.


.     .     .


“A Bird on an Invisible Branch”


A human being has a piece of life

so that it may die at the end.

That is not all;  goes over to America,

to a warm down-filled jacket,

or buys a 75-cent coffee at Mac,

waiting for the AAA one cold night

when the car breaks down,

and I think not of the coldness or the broken car

but of a woman.


A human being can love

so that it has its own blessing.

That is not all; goes around with uneasy heart,

a letter from Japan; it happened on the same day

that someone threw her body into the winter sky

at Kodaira, the northern town of Tokyo;

she left no letter – actually, her parents burnt it.


Dear Father and Mother,

please excuse me for passing away earlier than you.

I don’t think you will understand, but I came to hate keeping my mind numb

with the medicine.  The doctor regards me as nothing but a precious spot

for his chemical reaction. I can’t believe the intake of ‘amine’ saves my

life.  What a terrible name tate manic-depressive is. I kept myself away

from that  compound, and since then I’ve been clear in mind.

And a voice comes to me, and calls me.

I am the sky, according to the origin of its name, the

shadow of the clouds, the vanity of the vanity, the empty sky.

I was asked, Could I have you just as a piece of redemption?

So I will go to the sky.  The blue sky, the sky at night, the sky with stars,

and the dimly lighted sky.

It’s my great pleasure to be accepted, just as a piece of redemption.

It’s not worth recording how I have lived for these nineteen years

without any special worries or burdens.

Everybody, everything will die.

The earth will die.  The sun will also die.

After the sun’s death,

there will remain the sky:

cotton-like cloudy bright dark clear and blue.

Just think it’s my letter

whenever cloud, rain, snow and sleet come down to you,

for I cannot resurrect.


Father, don’t be angry; please return to the sky what belongs to the sky.

Mother, don’t be sad; please put my body into the fire,

Like I did with my letters and diary.

Thank you.  It was a very short period but it seems to me

I had a pleasant time with you.

Good bye.

– Your daughter, Kaori


.     .     .


“Split Rail”


Do you know the beauty of a split rail in the field

which, with snow slightly and slantly on its

black body, almost falls into the white ground

to lose its original function as the boundary?


After enjoying its beauty for a while,

Uncle Frost would mend it with his neighbour

in the viewpoint of morality; though their footprints

couldn’t be the rabbit-like trails which make the scene


beautiful.  And what would you do, who also stand and

smell like a human being?  I’m not the owner of either

property divided by the split rail, I just wonder what colour

the split rail actually has, for a close look tells it’s not


black, brown, or snowburnt.  The sunlight

makes it look like the animated back of the

ancient tree that died a buried death before

a human being happened to divide the earth.


It should be wood and yet seems and smells like

a piece of earth.  I can’t help saying it’s the colour of

the post fence itself, or it’s a piece of the light

invisible and intangible with my human vision;

I wish I could appear not as a piece of the human being

but as another piece of the light, or a gift of the sun.

.     .     .     .     .