Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Blossom

I called
my mother on
her death bed. She in
and out of audible
and consciousness.
All those depths of
sleep we must drift
through towards nothing
known. A blossom
of her voice
appeared beyond
the phone in my dad's hand. 

"She's here," he said to me.
"It's Jerry," he said to her.
"Oh, I don't want to talk
to him right now."

A seed of laughter found
its place in a field in my heart.
"If not now, when?"
I said to the listener
always working that field.

by jerry gordon

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Oni Translation

Red Oni Cried by Hirosuke Hamada
published in 1933

Translated by Jerry Gordon and Rie Hase, 2015
Page numbers correspond to the 1992 edition from Kaiseisha with illustrations by Toshio Kajiyama.

This is translation is for educational and non-commercial purposes only. It is not intended to infringe on the publisher’s copyright. However, the copyright of this translation is jointly held by Gordon and Hase.

Red Oni Cried by Hirosuke Hamada

pg 2
Somewhere in some mountain, but I don’t know where.
In a valley of that mountain, there is a house.
[Somewhere in some mountain, but I don’t know where, there is a house in a valley.]
Maybe a woodsman is living there.
No, that’s not right.
Then, maybe it’s a bear living there.
No, that’s not right either.
Actually, a young red oni is living there by himself.

pg 4
This red oni doesn’t look like what you expect. The shape of his body and his face are totally different from what you’ve seen in picture books.
But, still, his eyes are big and always looking around. And, there is some kind of sharp thing on the top of his head, probably what is left of his horn.

Out of caution, everybody might think he’s unusual. [So, of course, everybody might think he’s unusual and be afraid of him.] But, that’s wrong. He is actually a kind and sincere oni. He’s young, so he is powerful. But, he never bullies others around him. Even if some oni kid plays a prank or throws pebbles at him, he just smiles and watches the mischief.

pg 6
Really, this red oni’s feelings are different from other onis.
“I was born as an oni, and I want to try to do things that are good for oni people.
But, actually, if possible, I want to make friends with human beings and get along nicely with them.”
This is always on Red Oni’s mind. And, he can’t keep this idea hidden in his heart anymore.

So, one day, Red Oni put a wooden sign outside the door of this house.
It said:
“This is the nice oni’s house.
Everybody is welcome.
I have tasty sweets.
I have fresh tea ready.”

He kindly used short sentences and simple letters, so everybody could understand it.

pg 8
On the next day, a woodsman was walking along the bottom of a cliff. He noticed a house that had a sign in front.
“Oh, there’s a sign.”

He saw that it was written in katakana, so everybody could read it. He read it and felt it was very mysterious. He understood it, but it didn’t make sense. He tilted his head to the side several times. Then he hurried back down the narrow mountain trail.

pg 10
There was a village at the bottom of the mountain. The woodsman met another woodsman.
“I saw something strange.”
“What, a fox wedding?”
“No, no, no. Something much more rare. Not something old fashion. I saw something new.”
“Really? What kind of thing?”
“An oni put up a sign.”
“What? An oni’s sign?”
“Yeah. I’ve never heard of an oni putting up a sign.”
“What does the sign say?”
“You should go there. It only makes sense if you see it yourself.”

pg 12
With one in front and one behind, they climbed up the narrow mountain trail and came to the house at the bottom of the valley.

“See, look at this. Just like I told you, huh?”
“Hmmmm. Huh.”
The 2nd woodman leaned very close to the sign and read it:

This is the nice oni’s house.
Everybody is welcome.
I have tasty sweets.
I have fresh tea ready.

“Hmmm. This is strange. It’s obviously an oni’s handwriting.”
“No doubt. It’s clear. You can see the power in his brush stroke.”
“Yeah, the brush stoke shows he wrote this with a serious feeling.”
“So, that means these words are sincere.”
“Shall we go inside?”
“No. Wait! Let’s just peek inside.”

pg 14
Red Oni stayed quite inside his house and just listened to what they said. He felt irritated because they seemed reluctant to come inside. If they just tried a little, they could easily come inside. Their unwillingness made him frustrated.

The two woodsmen just stretched their necks to peek through the window.

“It’s sort of quiet.”
“Yeah, it feels kind of creepy.”
“Is this a trick for him to catch and eat us?”
“Oh, I bet you’re right. We’re in big danger!”

The two woodsmen seemed to shrink in fear. Red Oni had been listening closely. Their words made him frustrated and then his temper made his say, “No way! Nobody is going to trick and eat you. Don’t insult me like that.”

pg 16
The honest Oni suddenly looked out the window. 
“Hey, Mr. Woodsmen,” he said loudly.
The woodsmen were shocked by how loud an oni’s voice is.
“Oh my gosh! The oni came! Run! Run! Run!!

The oni didn’t chase them, but the two woodsmen ran away.

“Hey, please wait. I’m not going to trick you. Please, stop. It’s true, there are delicious sweets and fragrant tea.”
Red Oni left the window and dashed outside to try and make them stop, but the two scared woodsmen just ran away and never even looked back. They ran and ran, sometimes stumbling and tripping. Their wooden shoes clonk, clonk, clonking on the path down the mountain.

Red Oni was really disappointed. He left his house so quickly that he forgot to put on shoes, so he stood on the hot ground with bare feet.

pg 18
Red Oni looked at the sign he made and felt really sad. He had cut the wood, sanded the boards, joined the pieces together and written the message all by himself while smiling. But, his plan failed.

“It was meaningless to put out a sign like this. I made sweets everyday. I made tea everyday. But, no one will visit me. It’s all just ridiculous and annoying.”

Red Oni is a kind and sincere oni, but he is also short tempered.

“Ahh, this sign is such a stupid thing. I should just break it into bits.”

He reached over and pulled out the sign. He threw it on the ground and then quickly stomped on it with all his strength. The boards cracked and snapped into little pieces. The oni was so frustrated, he broke the sign’s post like it was a thin chopstick.

Just then, someone came and stood by oni’s door. It was someone, but not a human being. It was his oni friend. But, this oni friend was not a red oni. He was a blue oni, completely blue, blue toe nails and blue on the soles of his feet, everything blue.

That morning, Blue Oni had left his rock house in the far away mountain where he lives. He rode a rain cloud to a nearby mountain, and then walked from there.

Blue Oni came up close to Red Oni and without hesitation said,
“What’s wrong? This kind of violence is not like you.”

pg 20
Red Oni’s face got an awkward and ashamed look on it, but he could quickly return to his usual self, and explained to Blue Oni all the ins and outs about why he became so angry.

Then Blue Oni said, “Ah, I’m surprised to drop by this time and find you worried about this kind of thing. Actually, you know, there’s an easy way to solve it. Let’s do this: I’ll go down to the village at the bottom of the cliff and act wild and violent.”

“Don’t joke like that,” Red Oni blurted out.

“Okay, listen. This is what I mean. You come in while I pretend to be violent. Then, you push me down and pop pop pop me in the head. The humans will then praise you. Don’t you think that will work? After that, humans will come and visit you without any fear.”

“Hmmmm. That seems like a good idea, but I feel sorry for you if we do that.”

“No, don’t worry. To achieve anything, we have to lose something or go through some pain. Somebody has to be sacrificed. Somebody has to fall for someone else to rise.”

Somehow, there was some sadness in Blue Oni’s eyes even though he spoke matter-of-factly, “So, let’s do it.”

Red Oni thought about that.

“Are you worried again? Don’t fret so much. Let’s just get down to it!”

Red Oni didn’t move to stand up, so Blue Oni tugged at his hand to get him going.

pg 22
Oni and Oni trotted down the mountain together. The village was at the bottom of the mountain. There was a small house at the edge of the village. Next to its low bamboo fence grew a Crepe Myrtle tree full of red flowers, its bark so slippery that even monkeys can’t climb it. The flowers looked like they were getting bigger and bigger in the sunshine.

“Let’s start. You come in after a little while, okay?” Blue Oni whispered and then ran quickly away, stopping at the front door of the small house.

Inside the house, the old man and old woman were eating lunch together.

Without warning, Blue Oni kicked the door strongly and started shouting.

“ONI!! ONI!! ONI!!”

The old couple saw the oni through their open door. Startled, they jumped up and screamed screamed screamed while they ran through their back door and away from their house: “It’s an oni! It’s an oni!”

Blue Oni let the couple run away. He had no plan to hurt them. He went inside and began throwing dishes and smashing plates and chucking rice bowls and busting the tea kettle. He shattered their wooden rice tub too. Pieces of sticky rice flew everywhere, even landing onto the frame of their sliding paper door and all the way to the side of the main pillar in the living room. Their pot of fermented soy soup tipped over in their hearth, letting soup drip drip drip into the ashes.

Blue Oni jumped up and down and rolled around and it sounded like: GaRaGaRa GaChan GaChaRin ChaRin DoTan BaTan.

pg 24
“When will he come?”

While Blue Oni was thinking that, the young Red Oni came, his breathing heavy from running.

“Where is this rowdy trouble-maker asshole,” Red Oni shouted, his hands clenched into fists. When he found Blue Oni, he went and confronted him. “Hey, you bastard,” he shouted and grabbed ahold of his neck and started strangling him. He gave Blue Oni’s hard head a light rap.

Blue Oni ducked, and said in a small voice, “Keep punching. Make it look good.”

Red Oni started punching more. Some of the villagers carefully approached to see the fight, hiding themselves here and there. To those watching, it seemed like Red Oni was giving that rowdy oni a heavy beating. However, Blue Oni said in a small voice, “Punch stronger. Really let me have it.”

“No, that’s enough. Just run away,” Red Oni said back in a small voice.

pg 26
“Okay, so now I’ll run away.”

Then he crawled between Red Oni’s legs and dashed.  Pretending to be in a panic, Blue Oni tried to hit his head against the house’s wooden pillar. But, he accidentally hit it too hard and let out a genuine, “Ouch!!”

Red Oni was surprised. “Wait, wait, Blue! Let me see it. Does it hurt?”

Red Oni was worried and chased after Blue Oni.

Unexpectedly, a big bump swelled up on Blue Oni’s forehead. As he ran away, he rubbed it with his hands.

The people in the village were surprised and didn’t know what to think. They just stood there dumbfounded, watching two running onis.

After the two onis were out of sight, the people started to talk with each other.

“What’s this all about?”
“I thought every oni is rowdy and wild.”
“That Red Oni is totally different.”
“In deed. In deed. Maybe that’s the only kind oni.”
“Then, I should have visited him for tea, before.”
“Yes, let’s go. It’s not too late yet.”

People talked with each other just like that.

pg 28
The people in the village felt relieved. They went to the mountain during that day. They stood in front of the door of Red Oni’s house and knocked lightly. They said, “Mr. Red Oni, Mr. Red, Hello.”

As soon as Red Oni heard the people’s voices, he dashed outside. With a big smile on his face, he welcomed the people.

“Welcome. Welcome. Please, Come in.”

pg 30
Red Oni quickly let the people come into his very simple livingroom. The walls were wood. The floor was wood. And, even the ceiling was made of tree bark. He had a round table and low chairs with very short legs. Everything was made of wood. And, everything was made by Red Oni.

There was also a painting hanging on the wall. It had a frame made of beautiful white birch bark. Red Oni made this too. In addition, the painting itself was made with great effort by Red Oni.

The painting was of a red oni and a human child. In the painting, the cute child was sitting on  the red oni’s shoulders and they were looking straight ahead.

Maybe the red oni shown in the painting was Red Oni’s image of himself. The smiling faces of the oni and the child looked happy and full of life. A green garden, maybe in the month of June, was painted in as the background behind them.

pg 32
The people looked around the room and sat down on the hand made chairs. The chairs were made so well that people felt comfortable to sit in them but also felt relaxed.

How skillful Red Oni is. Maybe we can ask him why.

No, wait. Look! Red Oni is now serving tea. Also, there are sweets he’s brought in.

Wow, such tasty tea.
Oh my, what tasty sweets.

Nobody has ever eaten such tasty tea and tasty sweets.

After the people returned to the village, all of them spread their praise of Red Oni’s fine hospitality. And, about Red Oni’s house, they all talked about how simple, relaxing and cozy it was.

pg 34
“Then, I will visit him.”
“You went there yesterday.”
“It’s okay. We can go there everyday.”

In this way, people started visiting him often. Sometimes three people, other times five people. Up from the village to the mountain, everyday. Like this, the oni got human friends. Red Oni no longer felt any loneliness like before.

pg 36
But, as time went by, Red Oni noticed that there was something weighing on his mind.

It’s as you might imagine. It’s about Blue Oni.

Blue Oni, his close friend, had not visited him at all since the day they parted.

“What’s wrong? Does he feel sick? Or, when he hit his head against the house pillar on purpose, did he injure his horn? Okay, I’ll go see him.”

Red Oni prepared for his trip.

pg 38
Dear People of the Village,

Today, I’m out all day.
Tomorrow, I’ll be here.

Red Oni

He wrote this message on half a sheet of paper and put it on his door when he left at the break of dawn.

pg 40
He climbed over some mountains and crossed through some valleys and got to Blue Oni’s house. Summer was coming to an end but the fragrant white flowers of golden rayed lillies were still blooming in the thickets. From the heavy branches of pine trees, water dropped onto the green bamboo grass. But, he couldn’t see the sun yet.

pg 42
He hurried up the high pile of rocks and stood outside of Blue Oni’s front door. The door was tightly closed.

“Is he still sleeping? Or, maybe he is out?”

Then, he found a paper on the wall next to the door. It had a message written on it.

pg 44
Hey Red Oni,

I hope you get along well with the humans and your life is a happy one. I won’t see you for a while. The humans might doubt you if we meet sometimes. They might think it’s weird. If it happens, things will get messed up, so we should avoid meeting.

I’ve decided to go traveling. It might be a really long trip. But, I won’t ever forget you. Maybe we can meet somewhere someday. Good bye. Please take care.

Forever, I’m your friend.

Blue Oni

Red Oni read it quietly, two times and then three times. Then, he put his hands and face flat against the wall. His tears welled up and fell again and again as he cried.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Flowers for Ghosts

A woman is readying
for her ghosts
to visit. On the subway
platform, she adjusts her
stroller's bulky load
of cut flowers. It's time again
to build a million momentary
gardens, vases of color
mingling amidst the rhythms
of smoke and voices.

Mumble us closer.
We promise to reappear,
but it's impossible
to say what shape we'll take.
So, try to not kill
spiders, mosquitos or centipeds
until after Obon.

Last night I found
a curiously curious
cockroach watching me
three times. First, near the door.
Next, beneath the chair.
Finally, from against the wall.
Each time, it allowed me
to get too close, only
dashing away when I showed
some violent intent.
Without evidence
I suspect my mother
borrowed some ephemeral
vehicle of insectoid mobility
to come say hello
or simply see
if she is still remembered.

by jerry gordon

Sunday, April 05, 2015


This morning
I was bit by a lion.
It came up to me
on the street
and requested I
offer my head
to its massive mouth.
I did--
as I often do--
trusting such moments
will inspire, purify or bless:
those dreamy illogicals.

Then the lion bit me
just above my brow.
And in the moment
when its teeth were bared
and its breath had yet
filled with my blood,
I looked into its throat
and saw a young woman
standing there, smiling
as they do
with enough hope to promise
an easing of some
of my pain.

by jerry gordon

Friday, April 03, 2015


Years ago,
before I was
who I am,
I was
sitting in a well
tended garden,
watching a cat

It was winter.
It was sunny.
The cat was curled
on a bright walkway,
not near enough
or too far.

I got up to see
the cat more clearly.
Maybe touch
its flow of fur.
I approached, but then
the cat exploded,
a dozen departing

Even the sun
didn't remain
long after that.

by jerry gordon
for Coline


the back alley
electric store,
a man exhales
his ghost.

In front of him,
it floats in the mix
of night and light,
forming before being
dispersed by my
black bike.

by jerry gordon

Moon Night

The moon gave glimpses
through the city's beauty
tonight: A roofline.
A canyon between buildings.
A sky of windows
shining like gravity pulls
pixels down a screen.

The moon moved
with me and my lover,
nodding with our promise
to remember
the night arises
between vanishings.

jerry gordon
w/ R

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Blood Moon

The blood moon
follows us
from the castle to
the river, where we assemble
Mexican food
upon its island's shore.
Our plan from a month ago
was to come here,
bringing foods and wine
and something to lay down on.

Tonight we let chance
replace our effort.
We go
guided by nothing
and all the beauty
it is famous for. We walk
and finish the day apart

your bleeding will start,
and the dreams
that connect us beyond
so much we don't know
in this world.

I will awake
with your ring lost
upon my heart.

by jerry gordon

Friday, September 26, 2014


This evening
a black bug arrived
four years ago, becoming
a premonition of
the present, speaking
a language it took me
this long to learn.

A tangled tongue
of stones and fuses.
A grammar built
of broken birds.
Siren pronunciations.

When a window appears
beneath your name,
I try to imagine
a cloud crashing
into a famous building
or mountain. Such a
soft mundane destruction.
What barely is becoming
what barely isn't.

There is no rain today.
The wind is
nice enough to sit again
on concrete by the river.

by jerry gordon