Sawako Nakayasu is the winner of the 2016 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa. This is the first full-length English translation of Sagawa’s work, and Nakayasu’s translation brings a renewed focus to this important Japanese modernist poet. The following is an excerpt from the collection.


The Day the Bell Tolls

All day
I hear the fallen, trampled leaves groaning.
Such is the afternoon of life 
It reports the time that has already passed.
As when the sound of the bell
Shaves away the flesh of trees
Piece by piece
Because time no longer exists there.


Mountain Range

Distant peaks swaying like the wind
In the orchard at the mountain base, bright white flowers bloom
Paused in mid-winter, the hillside
Is beautiful like a spread of silk over every morning
Water flows noisily through my eyes
And I wish to bow down in gratitude – thank you – to an invisible being
But no one is listening   there is no forgiveness
Will the turtle dove cry in sympathy
And echo my voice back to me

The snow will disappear
And laurel flowers and red lilies will bloom in the valley
Creating a covering of green
In the nettles, too, the slow summer will lurk
And in our hearts
How beautiful the flames that will flare up in a ring

Smoke Signals

Beating the golden tendon
In the light from the blue sky
The daughter of the sun
Applauds the new sacrificial ritual.
The morning plays
Upon the keys of the harpsichord.
Dirty ivory fingers are scrabbled together
And as life is burned
The time has come to spring into action.

Lavender Grave

All the keys have left the piano
I shall drown my joys into the pitch black wilderness.
Exposed chords of the air that obstruct
The naked parade of afternoon shall be severed.
Rhythmical waves long for the festival that has passed.
The loud laughter of the spirits, as if praying forever,
Prod the branches to take a bow
And blow out our activities.
The destruction of those giants
Will soon set the frozen marble into the earth.

The Street Fair

A cloud has collapsed on the pavement
Like the horse’s white struggle for air

Night, screaming and shouting into the darkness
Arrives with the intention of murdering time

Wearing a mask plated with light beams
Lining up single-file from the window

People moan in their dreams
And fall from sleep to an even deeper sleep

There, a stem that has gone pale
Like an exhausted despair

Supports the tall sky
An empty city with neither roads nor stars

My thinking is to escape
That pitch-black metal house

Steal away the glimmer of pistons
And smoldering embers of noise

Retreat into a shallow ocean
Collide, get battered to the ground


From The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa, translated by Sawako Nakayasu (Canarium Books, 2015).

Read other excerpts from the 2016 PEN Literary Award winners here.