*Chieko’s sky

Chieko and Kotaro
Chieko with her husband Kotaro.

i saw a film about her once, Chieko,
married to the famous japanese sculptor
a poet too who could write strong things
in the worst of times, i don’t know
if Chieko could.
she was mad, mad the way the mad are
who have to do too much living in
one head one heart her name alone was
enough for me to love.
she had a line in her husband’s poem
someone read on the sound track,
and there was sky in that shot
a scratchy blue and Chieko laughing
on a hill with him.
in the poem he wrote how she
insisted, knowing too well that
the sky over Tokyo
is not the real sky.’
it took me nineteen years to understand
that less than simple fact,
i lived in that city for two years
that would have froze her blood today
if she saw how empty those faces were
in trains dead drunk lost under the moon
that goes on and off.
i knew of course her real sky
was the one over her home
a village i can’t imagine, let me,
thatched rooves you couldn’t even make out
the houses from the hill at first but
then you heard the water in a
stream all stones
and that sky was a place
she always wanted to play in
but never could.
i began to think of my own sky,
that sky where everything was
the sun shining the garden back
at you in a wind blowing colours
off the flowers, the moon that
slipped down drops of rain,
the edge of stars breaking like frost,
the high clouds long as your dreams
over a depth of blue.
i knew her sky was my own sky
no matter how far apart we were
in fact, in sense, in sex
that sky over Tokyo wasn’t real
her song of the sky was real
Chieko, let me sing you
a memory of my sky:

i felt the stars touch me
i was not in exile
i felt the stars draw me up
over the falling away
of dream.

a star would reach down
deep into my hope
i’d stand in its lightness
nothing of this earth
could fill.

the stars would give
full measure to time
i could find the darkness
on which they turned
old merry-go-round

of horse-head

Chieko ,
like an earthquake that sky
taps inside the head,
can fall i’m afraid
can fall a sunspot blown up
on a paper screen
a leaf rent with autumn.

harris park, sydney
september 1998

Copyright ©1998 Peter Le Baige.  All Rights Reserved

*’Chieko’ refers to Chieko Naganuma, a Japanese poetess and painter. Wikipedia notes: ‘.. she married Kōtarō Takamura in February 1914, a sculptor and poet, whom she met soon after he had returned (to Japan) from France.
Following the breakup of her family home in 1929, she was diagnosed in 1931 with symptoms of schizophrenia – she was hospitalized for that disease in 1935, and remained there until her death from tuberculosis in 1938.
Kōtarō’s book of poems about her, “Chieko’s Sky” (智恵子抄 ‘Chiekosho’), is still widely admired and read today.’
The specific poem, which, I understood from the film, Chieko wrote, was in fact written by her husband based on her remark on the Tokyo sky. In order to close the circle here, so to speak, I append a translation of it by a Mr. Paul Archer, a fine poet and translator. In searching for the poem online I found Paul’s website, and he graciously allowed me to include it in its entirety here below:

Talking Like A Child

Chieko says there’s no sky in Tokyo,
I want to see the real sky, she says.
Surprised, I look up at the sky.
Among the cherry tree leaves
Is the kind of clear sky
I remember from my childhood.
The leaden horizon tinged
By the moist pink of morning.
Chieko looks far off –
Every day there’s a blue sky
High above Mount Atatara,
That’s what I call the real sky, she says.
She’s like a child when she talks about the sky.

Paul welcomes anyone to view the entire sequence, which he has translated, on his website at:

The movie I saw many a year ago is titled ‘Chieko-sho (Portrait of Chieko’) of which Wikipedia notes: ‘Portrait of Chieko (Japanese : 智恵子抄 / Chieko-sho) is a 1967 Japanese film directed by Noboru Nakamura and based on a poem by the Japanese poet and sculptor Kōtarō Takamura. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.’

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