Japanese Speech Contest

The miracle of speech,
sitting amidst these young voices,
hearts beating on their tongues,
and the need to say anything,

the flower’s need to bloom,
the body’s need to resist the open sky.

In this foreign language they falter,
breathlessly,
and I think of antelopes tottering
in muddy reeds,
lions in wait beyond us all.

I think of the first words we ever said,
when our world formed like a
fragile bowl,
those first, dangerous hatchling stutters,

the first time we stood on two rootless feet,
the first time we danced with the flow of others,
the first time we dug in
against the blue and baying tide.

Did we know then what they planned for us,
these declarations of independence,
the words of these young ones here,
painfully forming the contours of the heart,

these songs that lead us to the listening edge,
and demand we give form to our vaulting lives.

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It’s the I that complicates things.
The things the I keeps
in the pockets of his soul,

you wouldn’t understand
that even he finds this
difficult to explain to himself.

Come near.
You’ll find an
endless tower of hands
covering each other

and the thing the I keeps
buried beneath in the dust.
So deep, he can’t find
a reflection in the damp earth,

he can’t see the
opened seed of lament.
But he was once a child
of painful births.

One after another,
summers bled from him.
The I was a solitude of love,
a whisper of farewells,
and places waited, naked for him.

Now, beneath the hands,
the hands that strangle one another
in tightening handshakes,
will you ever know who I am?