Helen’s poem, Tsunami Forces, was published in ACUMEN 76 in May 2013
Oli worked on the JET programme teaching English to Japanese teenagers in school for 2 years in Yamagata, near where the tsunami took place in 2011. I visited my friend Sir Stephen Gomersall and his wife Lydia who were British Ambassador so spent a few days in great luxury then took the bullet train up to Yamagata and stayed in Oli’s tiny flat. I always worried about earthquakes when I was there and he did experience quite a bad one but fortunately had come home by the time this hit.
Nature’s Revenge: Japan 2011
The bullet train sliced through the landscape,
catapulted images of forest, river, temple,
Tokyo’s cubist blocks dissolved in Lilliputian miniature.
The disjointed view flashed me North
through cinematic snatches of mountain
sandwiching mist like dragon’s breath:
white waves of humid spray
a portent of a greater swell.
I left behind the mahogany splendour and polish
of the British Embassy,
the trembling table, clattering cutlery and clinking crystal
as earth’s underbelly roar made me quake.
We were too polite to mention it.
But the contents of my bedside table –
the helmet, torch, fireproof cloak –
told the story
accurate as tealeaves in the Wedgewood cup,
rumbled warning of the inevitable spew of nature.
My son, in his Yamagata studio,
welcomed me to his smalltown province,
standing in the door frame of Seismic shock
but he assured me to stay cool,
live in tune Japan’s unsettled earth.
His neighbours snap me up,
unacquainted with blue eyes, blonde hair.
Life ticked neatly then, like clockwork,
to the precision second.
The young girl sits now on the desolate road,
hands clasped to her lonely knees,
tattered shreds of an ordinary life
Skeletons of houses, matchstick shards of ships, bridges, cars,
piled up like a Delhi garbage dump,
a crater cavernous beneath her bare feet:
no life signs amid nature’s destruction.
The image froze in my mind.
The media moved on
to their next front-page profit,
leaving the paralysed figures
to unthaw their faces,
break out of statue shock
and clear up the mess
before the ground shudders its wrath again.