“To Yoshinaga Sayuri” by Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill


What’s an old man say
to beautiful roses from
such a great lady?
I was astonished, struck dumb,
my poet’s tongue tied numbly.

But it’s not roses,
the greatest gift you gave me.
No. It’s Sadako.
Folding all her paper cranes.
You gave me a thousand cranes.

You gave me the work
of finding joy making peace.
Sadako, dying,
folding cranes, radiation
ravaging her small body—

such joy in sadness,
such sadness in seeking joy.
What our ancestors
have done to one another
cannot ever be excused.

And yet we are here.
Me grateful for your kindness,
silent, embarrassed.
You are a great actress and
a noble human being.

I’m a fool poet
grown white-haired in the shadows
of Hiroshima,
In Chris’s shakuhachi,
I felt, I believed, your hand,

but I could not write
the poem for Sadako
afterward. Oh, I
wanted to, I struggled to,
but could not write the poem.

What I cannot write…
to… for… about… the victims
of Hiroshima,
I found in Yusuke’s father’s
carving ten thousand Buddhas.

I found it in you.
Kawabata would be moved
by your elegant
control of consummate grief.
How classically Japanese!

I write this for you
in a Japanese measure,
with just a little
American jazz or blues
contained in every line.

Your roses will bloom
somewhere in my heart and mind
when I fail again.
I too have a crush on you,
one among millions of fans.

Your gift was rarer,
a Buddha smile for the ghost
of a holocaust.
Nine bows, my sensei. Gassho.
That lesson will not be lost.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004

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