Tuesday Poem

After Half a Century

Finally after half a century, a clearly observable law has been found:
For mankind, all matters proceed
Along geometric lines

(If you put one grain of rice on the first intersection of a game board, two grains of rice on the second, four grains of rice on the third, and continue along these lines, what vast quantities will you have by the time the board is covered? When the ancient king was told the answer, how surprised he was . . . )

By the time I realized what was happening, I was clinging to the earth
So I would not be shaken off as it spun with ever greater speed
My hair, dyed in two parts with night and day, had come loose
(Yet still I toyed with dice in one hand)

As it turns, it is stripped page by page like a calendar pad growing thin
A cabbage growing small, shorn of leaves before our eyes
Once, this planet had plenty of moisture
(But that was in the days when those things that now belong to dead languages –
Things such as dawn, looks, and smiles – were still portents of things to come)
That’s right, for mankind, all matters proceed along geometric lines

Four and a half more centuries into the future
The shriveled brain that revolves
Rattling in the cranium’s hollow will grow still
Like the pale eye of a hurricane

All will see its resolution in those moments
As the rolling dice tumble, turning up their black eyes
Then finally coming to a halt

by Chimako Tada
from Fū o kiru to (Upon Breaking the Seal)
publisher: Shoshi Yamada, Tokyo, 2004

translator: Jeffrey Angles
from Forest of Eyes: Selected Poetry of Tada Chimako
publisher: University of California Press,
Berkeley, California, USA, 2010

Translator's Note: The second stanza of this poem refers to a legend of Krishna, who appeared to an ancient king of southern India and challenged him to the game of chauturanga, saying that if he won, he would take the quantity of rice described in Tada’s poem. By the time the king lost, he realised the quantity of rice he had to forfeit was greater than all of the rice in all the granaries of the kingdom.

Half a Century