Poems / November 13, 2023

The Body in Fragments

Yuki Tanaka

In 1904, thirteen geisha girls visited the St. Louis World’s Fair,
    to be exhibited.


She drinks peppermint tea for the first time.

It cools her as if winter hurried just for her.

Outside, humid air ballooning a shirt on a clothesline.

At night the mist becomes so thick it feels like a person.

Once she placed a green bottle on the porch to gather him

and drink dregs of him, her teeth hidden.

Daily practice of English: maze, meteor, marsh.

Advanced level: marzipan, mating, mesmerized.

In return, she teaches Japanese. Mizu is water,

matsu to wait, homonym for pine tree (chuckle of confusion).

Mizu o matsu, to long for water.

If she were an ocean, she would overflow.


She loves marsh—the ooze, the thickness of it.

She opens her mouth wide enough to swallow a small tangerine

but the word comes out wrong, overripe,

making her jaw ache. Her flaw charms her guests

like a glass eye in a comely face.

The Japanese numa, she says, represents the wary gait of a farmer,

nu one step, ma next, so as not to sink.

You could eat wind and be thin and afloat

or you have to be the weight of an eyelash.

I marsh you. She means to hold her lover in her arms

and allow him to sink—earth at its tenderest, most welcoming—

until he is clean flesh.


Persimmon is kaki, every labial sliced off, angular.

We have no persimmon, they say, so try this for your tea ceremony

and they give her a slice of pear, dotted with an evening gnat.

She scratches the gnat off with the tine of a fork,

and blows it onto her palm.

She wishes she could blow a mole off her chin like that,

the size of a sesame seed, the only defect on her snowy skin.

But with whose breath—lover, mother,

or one of the girls who seem clean.

I’d ask her to eat this pear first and sweeten her breath.

When she blows on my chin, I will close my eyes and become

a swaying field of wheat.


A gift arrives—gossamer from Virginia, wrapped in tissue paper.

At dawn it falls over her shoulder.

She takes it off at noon and folds it over her lap,

now heavier, having absorbed her sweat,

and finally hers.

A mirror makes her worried about a gap between her front teeth.

Soon, abundant winter hair,

a sick planetarium spinning in her skull.

Sora is the sky, kumo the clouds, which also means spider.

A spider eats clouds to make a web

in which she is caught with her parents and her lover.

When she moves, the web trembles and they look for her.


Ue means both hunger and above, so she looks up

when she is hungry. A cloud breaks into mouthfuls

and fills her. At dinner, they give her a glass rabbit,

one foot missing. She presses him against

her powdered neck, hoping he will mistake it

for a snowy hill. When she looks out the window

for a new landscape, she thinks, If I carry that meadow,

folded in my pocket, and spread it back home,

our cows will go mad. In the middle of the meadow,

a night lake with a pleasure boat. She wants

to touch its soft pupil, make it blink and swallow her.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Yuki Tanaka

Yuki Tanaka's debut poetry collection Chronicle of Drifting will be published by Copper Canyon Press. He teaches at Hosei University in Tokyo.

More from The Nation

The Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University, 1965.

The Education Factory The Education Factory

By looking at the labor history of academia, you can see the roots of a crisis in higher education that has been decades in the making.

Books & the Arts / Erik Baker

Prisoners at a prison in Tel Mond, Israel, 2004.

Bringing a Seminal Palestinian Resistance Novel to the World Bringing a Seminal Palestinian Resistance Novel to the World

Talking with the translators of Wissam Rafeedie's The Trinity of Fundamentals, a book whose genesis is as extraordinary as its contents.

Q&A / Rayan El Amine

Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together

Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together

Her art integrated painting, quilting, and the assemblage of Indigenous practices from around the globe to forge solidarity.

Books & the Arts / Jasmine Liu

Kid Cudi in Las Vegas, 2024.

The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi

In Insano, the rapper and hip-hop artist comes back down to earth.

Books & the Arts / Bijan Stephen

From “Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction,” Aaron Douglas (1934).

The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance

A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art explores the world-spanning art of the Harlem Renaissance.

Books & the Arts / Rachel Hunter Himes

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

An interview with Gillian Slovo, whose new play about the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London just opened in New York.

Feature / D.D. Guttenplan