Tuesday, September 5, 2017



The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho Buson and Issa edited by Robert Hass
(The Ecco Press, 1995)

as well as the following novels: Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and A Personal Matter and Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, both by Kenzaburō Ōe

as featured in Beneath the Spanish by Victor Hernández Cruz
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2017)

Note: The following prose and poem are from BENEATH THE SPANISH about which Victor Hernández Cruz says:

 (click on image to enlarge)

Reading Japanese in Morocco

“No oil to read by

I am off to bed

But ah . . .

My moonlit pillow”


I have always admired Haikus, I compare them to having little money and you have to enter into a grocery store and get the ingredients to compose a meal, thus select with the little there is wisely. Robert Hass’s The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa has been with me as constant companion since it came out around the mid 1990s, it was with me in Puerto Rico for years of morning café, along with the nightly singing of the coquís. Some of the nights of Bashō, Issa nearby owl mooing sitting on a lonely Guavara tree or was it a Guayacán árbol of Taino dark wood. My left elbow juncture bone point has stained itself dark from pressing upon it during my nocturnal bed reading, a bad habit I just have to live with; here in Morocco Senegal people in the old Medina sell some good Shea butter which I pick up to rub into the stain agony of my lectura. Once in New York I picked up three Japanese novels, Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe and Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids. Kawabata was born in Osaka in 1899 and died in 1972 supposedly committing suicide a la Yukio Mishima who was his partner in right-wing politics, something about a gas stove. His wife denies the whole suicide bit. Blames his death upon some gas stove malfunction. Whatever happened he is stiff dead, his body that is. Both of these writers have received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Kawabata in 1968, making him the first Japanese to obtain this award. Kenzaburō Ōe was born in Uchiko, an agricultural region. As a child his mother gave him the gift of the American classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, assuring him a lifelong influence from Mark Twain. Kawabata along with the writer Yukio Mishima signed a petition against the Maoist Cultural Revolution in China whereas the left wing leaning Kenzaburō gave it full support, even visiting China. Kenzaburō took influence from the French philosopher Sartre, existentialism something I could never understand, I had a copy of that big book Being and Nothingness in the 60s, but I was not analytical enough to penetrate the polemic, some people do and well many blessings to them. A friend of mine had told me to read Snow Country, aware as he was of my love for the Haiku form, indeed the Novel’s prose is like a necklace of haikus, a “renga,” as a Japanese critic called it. The scenes pace themselves slowly, a cadence of paso fino which was translated by Edward G. Seidensticker, he translated not words but space-air-timing, the Japanese scholar and translator of many great Japanese works including The Tale of Genji in 1976. Seidensticker speaking about the translation of Snow Country: “You translate not just the words but the rhythm as well”; in other words you translate silence. I would imagine you translate the temperature as well, turning the pages I felt many whiffs of cold mountain snow air, even while reading segments in tropical Puerto Rico. The lonely freaky mountainous isolation zone, a feeling that you are sunken within an immense cold white stretch of earth scattered hotels, inns, rich lonely men, geisha girls, putas not exactly though the melody can be played. The character in the novel Shimamura a cultured man who loved the ballet, refned, making observations, young girls rattling through snow in kimonos. Komako his geisha vaporizing sake, dizzy of desire, snow drunk feel the chills evermore even. Like ice cubes the prose tumbles down into you until you apprehend the tragic avalanche you are frozen in, a prose precise, ice staring at the mountain snow tips. It shines cold sun. Slow honey dripping upon frozen chrysanthemums.


It’s not guacamole,

Sure by now

You’ve found out

This wasabi shit

Not hot sauce

Rather some kind of vapor

It creates an implosion

Inward nostril

Tsunami next

As Brains spills

Down your nostrils,

Turns you insides out

The first rush

Survive that

Proceed with the meal.

I had some chuchuki

San Francisco

Red kimono

She spoke Spanish.

Books are paper

Wild timber tamed

Trees in your hands,

Wonder if they have lice

Mealybugs, termites.

In the Caribbean books aging

Heat moisture

Yellow spots grow

Makes a stank of mildew.

I am witness to print

That moves

Periods who stride

Meaning till the comma sleeps,
As such changing

The sentence-meanings,

The pace, apostrophe rests into semicolon

Like a question mark elaborated,

Minute creatures persist,

A particle of dot dust,

An organism partial to books.

Bamboo thin of tropic forest


Cool winter Maghreb

Paper holds better

Mediterranean ether

Reading the Japanese novel

Kawabata Snow Country

An isolated distant cold looms.

Are there people in town

Or frighten bones struggling

Toward hot spa water,

Geisha serves tea

In magenta kimono,

Ah what breast-less

Breathless beauty,

Buttock curve like

Shushi tuna rolls,

Something is aesthetic happening

Through the whiteness

The writer makes you see:

“The road is frozen. The village

Lay quiet under the cold sky. . .

The moon shone like a blade

Frozen in blue ice.”

How chuchi can you get,

The prose throughout

Links of Haiku pictures,
Slow peeling strips

Of apricot, cheek tongue

Labios blood red

Tumbling lengua in mouth,

Black hair silk shines.

Kenzaburō transmitted

A delight through my

North African icy fngers

Hanging on to: “Nip the buds,

Shoot the kids”:

“Then the girl’s small face

Appeared-red with fever

And with the down from

Her cheeks to her ears shining


The no sense is non-logical

Sense it makes sense Since

In the cup of tea: it is taste.

Image rolls flickering

Measured shape colors,

Bud growing flowers,

Music like the

Zen spells of koto long zither


Bamboo by the river

Wind flutes color


I’ve long trips gone with

Bashō who is a road

Through cherry blossom springs,

The Spanish refrain

“Por si las moscas”


The chance

Knowledge comes suave

On a wave of obvious


Geisha secret better

Than the mafa.

A rose like the

Waves of a fan

Within red,

Medina window view Mountains.

Language fades

Words diminish

As an alphabet

Sticks upon

Two little Sapo




"Reading Japanese in Morocco" and "Chuchuki” are reprinted by permission from Beneath the Spanish (Coffee House Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Victor Hernández Cruz.


Victor Hernández Cruz is the author of several collections of poetry including, most recently, The Mountain in the Sea and In the Shadow of Al-Andalus. Featured in Bill Moyers’s The Language of Life series, Cruz’s collection Maraca was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall and Griffin Poetry Prizes. He divides his time between Morocco and his native Puerto Rico.

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