“Ode to Short Shorts” by Kenny Tanemura

Kenny Tanemura


It was the summer
short shorts came back,
even in Kyoto women wore them,
they came back like a first love
returns in a dream,

back to the hometown
that hasn’t changed
in her absence.
Like all good things,
I got used to

short shorts
being gone for seasons
& seasons
& forgot anyone ever wore them
until that year summer broke loose

from spring’s gunshot
like a horse galloping into a sprint
& short shorts
blossomed everywhere—
in denim,

in pink & lavender & scarlet
in sky
blue & women with light skin
& dark skin
wore them, women

with long legs
short legs small legs
thin legs
beach-tanned legs
European cruise-tanned legs

& pale city legs
wore them
even on days when it never
got too hot
never sizzled

never baked the dogs
making their tongues hang
out in the heat
dying for a taste
of water—

because it was the thing
to wear that summer
& it was enough
to pack June
make July eventful

& August a festival
without going anywhere
like Paris or London or Tokyo
or Beijing,
a festival of swiveling lights

of studying the play of light
like Monet
& the play of shadow
like Hiroshige
& the play

of playful couture
& one day I imagine
there will come the summer
of soulful eyes
for the first time on earth

the soulful eyes of women and men
ablaze on the street
telling the story
of the inner life as
it’s always been lived—

but I won’t forget that summer
of thigh-muscle flexing
of the powerful ankle
of hands smoothing imaginary
satin against the skin

hands unused to baring
and brushing against so much—
of not wanting to be a Buddha
of shooting the Buddha in the back
of adding fuel

to the volcano
& letting it get out
of control—
those calligraphic lines
behind the knee

were characters
in my ancestor’s language
& their spirits had returned
that summer
we celebrated even the dead

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014


Kenny Tanemura: “I became interested in poems when I found some translations of classical Japanese haiku at the Maruzen bookstore in Tokyo. I was there on a family trip and Tokyo is also my mother’s hometown. Years later, I was awarded a Monbudaijin certificate from Japan’s Minister of Education for a contest held in honor of the 300th anniversary of Matsuo Basho’s death. This past summer, I visited the hut where Basho lived in Kyoto. No one has successfully written Japanese forms in English, including me. But these forms brought me to the desire to write.”

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