Epicenter, a poem for Japan

Hiromitsu Shinkawa
EPICENTER, for Japan

Japanese sailors rescue Hiromitsu Shinkawa Sunday, two days after the 60-year-old was washed to sea on the roof of his Minamisoma home by a tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake. Thousands are feared dead.
                                Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2011

When the home is shaken, then taken
by the sea,

when all they can compare it to
are two atomic bombs,

there is no such thing as waiting as
when in this: the water wants.

There is no such thing as meaning as
when in this: the earth does break open.

Sometimes it helps to lift one’s head in prayer
and look around the world for what is missing,

to count the waves and all the waves have taken
and see how everything can be taken.

The shoulder of the globe is always soft to cry on.
The distance love will travel, salt to salt.

I look to the man on his roof floating on the ocean
and know he is a story unto himself,

having made it safely out of the doomed city, then
having returned for something he wanted, had to have.

What could it have been that made him be
the one who floats with the last of his home

in one hand, a red makeshift flag in the other?
What letter was it he returned for? What photograph?

What favorite piece of cloth, perhaps, or perhaps that’s
too perfect in the stories we want to tell about others’

survival of the disaster. He floated for two whole
days, had agreed with the sea that this is how

he’d die, surrendered his world to the wind
as he could not do on shore, gone from home,

unable to let it entirely go, and to the waves.
For the others, the other story we cannot know

even more deeply, so only hold onto them as one holds
onto strangers in a tragedy: closely—their open mouths,

their voices loud in our dreams, the screams and names
we want to say before the sea swallows them when it is

shaken, the earth

broken open, the heart of the world broken open,
gaping whole and in wonder at how it all—

the roar of it, the falling, the love, the families, the stories from
before the water through the window, the smiles, the touches,

the reaching hand we imagine emerging from the crushed
and drowning city reaching out of us to touch everything

that is never too far away.


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