fish & styrofoam
& plastic wrappings
where we watched great tuna bodies
white still under frost
on carts that pass us by
here in this market without smells
a place for noble death
for fish death
we can view it from our chariot
this flat bed
moving forward—curving—in a dream
small fishes packed in rows
a giant clam like a vagina
a razor-beak sayori red dot at its tip
the kime showing god's large eye
(he said) or under lamplight
gills still moving
fish blood seeping out
the blood of white fish with what stolen beauty
orange fins & tails of poison fugu
nearby eels in vats of blood & water
& the dark saws splitting flesh & bone
the severed tuna heads their mouths still open
black fish wrapped in ice
a red slash underneath its head
eye wide & dry
a cavity that cuts down deep
that lets the hand move in & out
to draw out lungs & guts
shrimps wriggling    sad survivors   in the sawdust
"insects of the sea"
my mind aswim with these
with mouths that open in the blood they float through
miles of searching filaments
like flags for death
a paradise of bubbles fast ascending
tiny eggs & sperm
each one a seedbed for a hundred kannons
breaking into life
the cry of food & sex so strong
there is no wrapper can contain it
but it fills the air
& from my mouth it issues like the dead
the voices of our fathers calling
ploughed back in the earth
without regrets
reminding us how gorgeous death is
blood of fishes staining the white flesh
red flowers & round open eyes


He walks among the others: animals & neighbors. In the land of islands someone comes to meet him, tall & with an eye that cuts through space. Immaculate. The man cries out & falls. His death comes when it does by force of nature. In this way we feel the earth shake till it draws the light around us. Lungs and guts are emptied. When the shock breaks through the crust a block of houses rises from the sea and burrows down. Its people lie beneath a wall of boulders: stones a god shakes free. They see the fish swept up into a stranger's net. The corridors are white & lined with fish blood. Death is always sudden, always comes after the fatal blow. A mallet cracks the fish skull. They blast a hole into the fish's maw. The messengers who spoke a broken language, also now stare through broken eyes. We walk among the shelters & the empty lots. Awash in Tsukiji where the boards cry out with fish death. Continue with the work he hands you. To provoke & probe. A life disrupted is no less a life. Those who were sleeping when the floats drove by continued sleeping. Those who were awake were faster—like fathers running in & out of dreams. The prince of tides has written this for you. The land of islands.

for Makoto Oda

"a great quake
" shook the earth
the old poem has it
thinking how our legs have lost their balance
books & ladders tumbling down
a dream of fish death
where the bathers in their terror move like fish
the man who has an old world in his mind
sees it return to him
the year behind him lost to sleep
a rush of water dims his eyes
the words rewoven to the present day


months passed & people spoke about the quake no longer
but a skull would sometimes turn up in the earth
heavy with water
& the aftershocks now were inside us
carried with us day by day
the earthquake hidden underneath the ground
our houses like our ashes swept away
this is how a capital can disappear
or boats be swallowed by the earth
covered by mountains
a city with dead houses (someone thinks)
how long will they be standing?
- until the wild boars clog up all your streets
- until the mountain cleaves in two

days grow darker
world knows what its equal is
an earthquake spewing havoc all around us
when the elements light up

the days go white with aftershocks & black with clouds
houses slip into the earth consumed as dust
like that stirred up by horses racing thru a valley
where land gives way & blights them
trapped in the event

but when they speak the language of the gods
no words come out
therefore the masks they use are hinged
to make a show of speech

no one is free of it     no heart
escapes its vanities
but all their things record the years that pass
the way the wind shadows their months
all times abandoned to its ceaseless shaking
like a dragon moving up & down
like thunderbolts that strike them dead
like smoke that covers a pagoda
waves that break on rocks
seas burying the earth

a fish
under the light

a message brought out of the shadows
fin & claw
& claw tearing at your throat


torn to shreds

how many years before it ends?
how dark the sin? how raw the talk that ends it?
how cruel the buddha who resides here
who abides catastrophes & fires
aftershocks of quakes that pass us by
events that raise us on their wings
then let us crash pale billows
swelling up around the little temples
the little shorelines under water
rivers driven skyward in one final quake

forgotten with the dead
in glory
massive bodies hidden under frost

the words recorded
of a man beside himself who speaks
who says

"be here

(so like the world they are
so like the man himself

the water underneath his window
still a haven for lost birds

uncertain thoughts uncertain passage thru a foreign world

                                                                                                                finished 1.i.97

Jerome Rothenberg
At Tsukiji Market Tokyo
10/19/96, for Kato-kun