Three Poems by Dorothy Yamamoto


Father in snow

In this print by Hokusai the snow
sits on the roof like a quiet cat.
Sometime in the night
it will slide off the eaves,
a footfall in the flurry of dreams.
In the morning,
as the orange sun rises,
someone will take a sensible broom of twigs
and scrape the path clear
all the way to the misty river.

Snow is the same the world over—
so you’d think, but
it is also other­—
other even than itself, every snowflake
perfectly individual.

So here in England
it is English snow.
You’re in your boots with the ribbed tops,
and blue corduroy jacket.
The house has shoved you out—a puff of surprise
as you light your cigarette.

And though snow is a language, starred
with the small gates, the crystals, the
heart of difference,
and though you have come far,
and will always be strange to me,
here you are, and here it is,
banked against the roots of the hedge,
waiting for the skirl of your shovel.

The mushroom shed

If they come back
my mother will materialize
in her armchair, a book
fluttering its new white wings

but my father will walk through the garden
looking critically at everything:
the unswept leaves, the ground elder
sneaking on to the lawn.

I think the shy scalps
of the carrots will please him,
also the birdtable
with its offering of crumbled rice

but the moment I wait for
is when he eases open the door
and steps into darkness.

He’s back on the mountainside
among the mushroom plots
roped off for neighbours.
The old watchman, Koma, lets him through.

The smell of the mushrooms
is everywherehe kneels
among the braille of pineneedles
hoping to uncover their whole bald world . . .

as here, by the empty trays,
I watch his fingers silently questioning
and, little again, I crouch
close to him, almost behind him,
to see what he sees.

Paper cranes

Those same stained fingers
that spread a drift of tobacco

across thin wafers of paper
crimp triangles into wings

crease breastbone, neck, beak . . .

But our voices are insistent:
There are more rabbits than we thought—

so you yank nails from orange boxes,
fit miniature bolts,
and tarpaulins to keep off the rain

grumbling all the while.

In my dreams the cranes multiply
until there are a thousand of them—

one thousand cranes
adding up to one wish,
pondering flight from the same hand.

Dorothy Yamamoto grew up in Barnet, north London, where her Japanese father and English mother settled after the war. That divided background is the source of many of her poems. She now lives in Oxford, and writes non-fiction books about animals as well as poetry. Her collection, Landscape with a Hundred Bridges, came out after she won the 2007 Blinking Eye competition, judged by Don Paterson.

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