Noe Valley Voice March 2010

The Last Page


by Toshi Washizu


White-robed butterfly
flittering in the atrium
lands on a plump limb--
a naked baby
opens her eyes
to the burning glass of morning.

Out of mild blue,
spring rain weaves its silver.
How is it possible
that what I care for most
has vanished? a young girl weeps.
In the window planter
the butterfly shelters
inside a pale peony
wet with nectar.

On an island
in the stream of gleaming traffic
a soiled woman sits motionless,
eyes drowned in darkness,
waiting dog at her side.
Monshirocho alights
on a bony shoulder--
"God Bless You"
reads her cardboard sign.

A full moon floods an attic.
The butterfly lights
on a picture frame--
a sterling beau in uniform.
Dressed and combed,
a widow sits by the open window
raising her arms like wings.

Since the Tree Fell

Under the August sky
no one noticed
your fall--muted thunder.
Tiny insects crawled in and
out of the parched ground,
a farmer and an indolent cow
ploughed loamy soil,
hungry children hurried home
and the shimmering land faded
into night.

The next morning
the sun rose high, unweighted
by your passing.
Birds nested in a scrub oak;
under its shade
small animals went on
with their life.
I was 21.

It wasn't a disaster
for the rest of the world
that you had vanished.
Seasons passed, untouched
by the change, so huge,
so helpless.
One day dissolved into another
without question,
without distinction.

How have I left so many days behind?
Tomorrow, I will be 70.
But at the thought of you
blood retraces
the music through my stiffened limbs
that your hands once stirred.
I only know that you sang in me
a little while,
that now a day lingers longer,
and the moon seems brighter.

Summer Rose

9 months, 5 weeks, 3 days, and 11 hours since the stroke,
on her 60th birthday Naomi sleeps--
a tethered animal that opens and closes her eyes.

"Be quiet for two minutes," I used to tell her.
Laughing, she'd say, "Too many stories to tell,
too many places to go."

Another day floats in a stream of yesterdays.
A wisp of fog
hovers over the palm trees of Dolores Street.

My car moves forward
as if detached from my shadow.
Out there summer is going on for the outside world.

To an afternoon poetry class someone brings a twig,
a wiry, broken branch
from an old tree on Bernal Hill,

checkered bark of rust, dirt, desiccated marrow,
yet redolent of its secret life:
soft, moist, pungent green.

I leaf through the pages of my yearbook
and see more people

Yesterday Rosemary made her own exit
the way she chose to live her 93 years:

"Our stories live on in the memories of others," she said.

Against the blue sky an old shingled house stands
covered in vines, vibrant red roses--
a young girl's beret.

A Poem

On a sun-bleached senior center afternoon
I write a poem
of what is there--
pens, posters, potted plants,
the wall clock freezing my thoughts,
a water bottle refracting sunlight,
memories and longing,
the dead, the living.
Those things that sit
in the back of my mind
and bite--
things that no one will explain--
come to the fore,
and walk about.


In the empty parking lot of Home Depot
three Guatemalans wait all morning
gazing into the distance.
Round the corner of a winding road
a red pickup approaches.
"Buenos dias. You boys do gardening?" asks the driver.
"Si, senor. Anything," Juan-Carlos, the eldest, answers.

In the backyard of a modest country house
they cut dead branches off the fruitless trees,
the colored leaves falling.
They collect debris and bag it in sacks,
the same as for coffee beans they used to pack.
and melancholy invade,
then comes peace.
They hear the whirring cicadas
among the rocks of the Guatemalan hills.

The evening clear in cold moonlight.

At a candle-lit table
sits Mary, an 80-year-old mother and retired nurse.
Opposite, her son Frank,
a former Catholic priest, carves the turkey.
His companion, Yoshi, a florist,
dishes up mashed potatoes with gravy,
candied yams, green peas and persimmon salad
for the boys nestled among them.
"Muchas gracias," they say in unison.

"His first Thanksgiving dinner," Juan-Carlos points
to his brother, Alex.
"How long have you been in California?" asks Mary.
"Me for ten years. Jose for three.
My brother came here six months ago."
"And your family?" asks Yoshi.
"My wife and two sons are in Guatemala."
"Do you see them?"
"Not for ten years."

The warm, radiant banquet recalls
the last daylight he saw at home.
Alex steps out of a shadow
aiming his cell phone camera at the family.

"Let's pray for our families," says Frank,
their faces lit up by the flickering candles.

Once a Poet

Aboard an empty ferry
he leaves his homeland
in the last light of day.
Led by an invisible undertow
the ship sails
deep into a starless night.

The wayward wind turns blustery
erasing the vessel's wake,
stripping away his covering--
secrets flying by
like black clouds.
A damp moon swallows
his tongue,
voices silenced.

Naked, his shadow leans
forward at the bow
amid a wordless ocean
of oblivion.

In the mirrored sky
flashes of the past
flare and expire
like bonfires on water.

He floats on the calm
toward the other shore,
speechless and careless,
buoyed by the lightness of the universe.

Alone at this moment,
but a cold stone in his heart,
brilliant as the first morning.

Toshi Washizu

Born in Shizuoka, Japan, at the foot of Mount Fuji, Toshi Washizu never climbed his native country's highest peak. Instead, in his youth, he crossed the ocean to America. He became a filmmaker and for decades produced award-winning documentary films. "I come from an independent filmmaking background, i.e., I do everything--writing , editing, directing, and producing," he says of his career. His movies include Bone, Flesh, Skin: The Making of Japanese Lacquer (1988); Mr. Oh: A Korean Calligrapher (1985); and Last Testament (2000).

"Shortly after I turned 50, my first poem arrived, by accident or by a design," says Washizu, now 60. "I try to be receptive to what comes my way and to be open to where it leads. Once in a while, it becomes a poem. As a filmmaker, I looked at the world through the camera. Perhaps poetry is another way of looking at our world and trying to make sense of it."

Washizu's poems have appeared in the poetry anthologies Family Matters, In Other Words, and Poets 11. A resident of San Francisco for 30 years, he currently lives on 17th Avenue.

The Noe Valley Voice invites you to submit fiction, literary nonfiction, images, or poetry for publication on the Last Page. Please send submissions, which should be no longer than 1,500 words, to the N oe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. Or e-mail Don't forget to include your name, address, and phone number, and an SASE if you want your materials returned. We look forward to hearing from you.