Four Poems on
Hiroshige’s 53 Stations of the Tokaido
by K.E. Duffin
Hodogaya: Shinmachi Bridge
A figure, hand to its head, stops mid-bridge,
arrested by a vision of the sea.
Mountains sink to oceanic ranges and day
is drowning in the evening’s undertow;
water’s blue tonnage lies in the village
where houses are baleen whales straining
darkness for plankton; the hatted crowds
are drifting into bellies filled with light.
Jostled by crate-bearers, the dreamer wakes
to the rushing sounds of black paper leaves,
and draws around his shoulders a cape of air.
Ahead, a box lantern glows, geisha wait;
he is tossed up dry on the shores of night,
he kisses the wind on its human mouth.
Yoshida: Toyokawa Bridge
At night, the scaffold propping up the stars
holds the house as if it were a caged beast,
fantastic, with its fishtail peaked roof,
its tiles like scales frosted by the blue light
of stone. The stars are as they were in childhood,
dim, contracted memories of infancy.
See the barges running swiftly beneath the bridges,
and know our home is not so far away.
A city being built is safe; by day we hear
the hammerblows, see the dust rise as rooves
shake in the distance, hear the roofers’ cries.
Our names are scratched in this foreign shoreline:
we sight those hieroglyphs and shout,
astonished as open windows in evening sun.
Okazaki: Yohagi Bridge
The bridge braces itself in a stiff breeze,
pulling back from the shore where horned rooves
listen, like a startled flock that stops and turns.
A few inked characters freeze in mid-air,
migrating birds, or exclamations trapped
in the sky’s amber, a cry photographed
forever over the white marshes. Light
slicks the lacquer railings, thoughts thunder
across wooden planks, race through the sedges
that bow low to the sea. Crowds suffocate,
are trampled; the wind presses on benignly.
A white tag on a hefted pole twirls in spasms,
waving; my last sight of you will be like this,
a lone leaf borne away, but never gone.
Kyoto: The Great Sanjo Bridge
The centipede lightly rests its arc
on mud-cracked shallows where fluent channels
swirl lazily between its feet; crossbars,
three abreast beneath, negate each traveled
segment, marking it done, while all around
the daily sounds begin to drift back up
as if the volume had been turned down
to accommodate the eye. Now villages
die quietly behind trellises;
the brown paper of sight crinkles and fades.
As ink-strokes slash the empty air and we contend
with the rash forgetfulness of vision,
the red bridge shakes off the clinging,
unrepeatable light, and shudders into
Copyright © 2012 by K. E. Duffin.