Here’s hoping for poems

Two years ago today, right now, I was walking around central Tokyo, probably. The quake hit, we were glued to the office television, I was glued to Twitter. No phones; no contact with home until later in the evening. A walk to the Conrad to see whether the brother in law was doing all right at his 26th-floor bartending job. (He was fine. The toppled bottles of pricy booze weren’t.) A walk back to the office; another walk to Yotsuya, where I crashed for the night at my wife’s family’s place. 

I don’t have a gripping tale of survival. I have no profound things to say about an event that touched me so slightly while it killed 19,000 to the north. I look at videos like this, two years later:


And all I can do is watch as the date creeps toward March 11 and talk to my monitor and tell the people get away, get off of the coast, take your children, run. I know they don’t and I feel a fist pressing into my stomach. And that afternoon the big circle expands to envelop most of the country. All those shores with their towns and schools and children.

Two years later. My daughter has just turned six and is set to enter elementary school in the fall. Baby number two is on the way and should be greeting the outside world in around six weeks. International school tuition is a big expense and I’ve signed on for an awful lot over the next 18 years. But it’s a future I get to worry about when grieving parents in the north cannot. 

A poet generally held to be Yamanoue no Okura wrote nearly 1,300 years ago:

. . . he uttered no more the words he had spoken with each new morning;
and his life came to its end.
I reeled in agony,
stamped my feet, screamed aloud,
cast myself down,
looked up to heaven, beat my breast.
I have lost my son,
the child I loved so dearly.
Is this what life is about?

This lengthy poem (translated by Steven D. Carter as “Longing for his son Furuhi“) and the two envoys accompanying it appear in book V of the Man’yōshū. My hope is that somewhere in Tōhoku a father or mother has created something that will commemorate what Japan lost two years ago today for thirteen centuries into the future. Nothing more important can come of this.