Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath

after a photograph  (December 1971)
W. Eugene Smith

Ofuro: The Soaking Tub

 

The ofuro has been filled.

Its wooden walls and gathered water

appear dark as spilled oil.  What

we can see is permitted only by light

that lights on flesh, a white-wrapped

head, a rise of bones exposed.  Axis

of beauty and terror, stamped

in black and white.

 

2   Tomoko Uemura: Daughter

 

Floating, supported in her mother’s

arms, the two

 bodies crossed in eloquent

echo. Look and look

away from this Pietà—

from contorted form—

her naked and damaged

daughter—at 15, ever breastless.

Whose ribs plainly strain

beneath her taut

skin.  Whose hands

warp at fingers, wrist.

Tomoko peers back, as

though to counter, or

encounter

the photographer,

her image floating

in the glass

of his lens.

 

Chisso-Minamata byō: Chisso-Minamata Disease

 

1956: year of her birth.     1977:  of her death.

 

. .  . the placenta removes [methyl-mercury]

from the mother’s bloodstream and concentrates

the chemical in the fetus. . . . [Chisso Company’s]
own tests revealed that its wastewater contained

many heavy metals . . . discharged directly

into Minamata River. . . .     

                              Water she absorbed

in the womb.  Water in which she bathes—

      no, is bathed—

before us—   

 

When their mothers complained, their fathers—

those who could still

            speak.  To those who knew.

                              The O,O       of their cries—

were denied.

 

Ryoko Uemura: Mother

 

. . . who chose this place and pose, a deliberate

testament to doubled suffering.  Who exposes

and enfolds her child in witness that

                                    cannot            be distinguished

                                                from love.  She bares and bears

again Tomoko’s weight, light catching

the swell of her own undamaged flesh—

smoothed shoulder, hint of breast—

                                        and the crisp scarf wrapped about

her head.

Light picks out the arc of her wrist

as she lifts her daughter’s legs into

lens-range, so that injury

may be made plain

to any with eyes to see. . .

 

And yet, beyond what shock the flash discloses,

its light falls almost softly on Ryoko’s face

as she bends her gaze to her child,

not afraid to look on what’s

gone wrong.

She holds Tomoko’s body

afloat in black waters, so we may see how beauty

 

and despair are leavened by the fiercest love

                  that dares exposure.

                                            See, she says, without

looking our way.  See what has been done?

What could be done

                        again.  What we endure.    

 


Judith H. Montgomery’s poems appear in Healing Muse, Bellingham Review, Measure, Prairie Schooner, and Cave Wall, among other journals, as well as in a number of anthologies. Her first collection, the chapbook Passion, received the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Poetry; Red Jess, a finalist for several national first book prizes, appeared in 2006; Pulse & Constellation (2007) followed.  With the aid of a Playa residency, she recently completed a manuscript, Litany for Wound and Bloom; it centers on injury and healing in the lives of woman, especially mothers.  Her companion manuscript, Mutable Flame, explores changes in lives and relationships as human beings move toward death, with meditation on the vivid recognition of the beauty and value of individual moments at both intimate and universal levels.

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