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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 3: May 2020
Prose Poem: 275 words
By Keith Woodruff

The Shore: On Reading Saigyo’s
Poems of a Mountain Home

for Alan Kurdi, Syrian refugee. Drowned September 2, 2015.

Nothing has changed, Saigyo. On the shore in Half Moon Bay, hundreds of squid are dying this morning, stranded just feet from the water. Victims of climate change, red tides, toxins, politics. Above the carnage, seagulls swirl like weather. Years ago, I wandered this beach as a boy, my fingers happy as flies to know what touch could teach me of anything dead...the salty piper skull, featherless and pebble smooth, that I plucked from the surf and blew like a whistle. The harbor seal, swollen balloon tight. Once, a whale, head caved in by a ship’s steel prow. All gory baleen, bone. Raucous birds arrowing in and out of the mouth, choking down rags of meat. Dropping much more on the sand. A red rain like the falling cherry blossoms of Yoshino you adored. Impermanence. If I could get it right, all my suffering rolls away with the tide. I tried, old friend, but have a son now. Resist harder like a wave that prays to be a wave forever. Your mountain poems say the heart fastens like a star above the places we love, but sometimes still we have to leave. Crawling through the morning now, I think of your cherry blossoms, squid, of his black shoe no longer than my finger. Saigyo,

I come to you again. Maybe your words can be that shore, that place
to break where I find a way of being in this world again
that makes it feel like home.



Author’s Note:

Saigyo, 12th-century Japanese hermit-priest and poet



Publisher’s Notes:

1. Poem receives the Editor’s Choice Award for MacQ-3.

2. Emma Reynolds and Jennifer Hauser, CNN.com (14 March 2020):
3 men sentenced to 125 years each over drowning of Syrian boy Alan Kurdi

2. Saigyō (pen name of Satō Norikiyo, 1118–1190), Poems of a Mountain Home, translated by Burton Watson (Columbia Unversity Press, 1991), which contains 200 of the 1500 poems in the collected works of Saigyō, Sankashū (Mountain Home Collection)

See also Selected Poems by Saigyo with Multiple Translations (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh).

Keith Woodruff
Issue 3, May 2020

lives in Ohio, and has a Masters in poetry/creative writing from Purdue University. His poetry and flash fiction have appeared in Poetry East, Quarter After Eight, The Journal, Juked, Wigleaf, and RHINO. His prose poem “Summer” appeared in The Best Small Fictions 2017 anthology, his short-short story “Elegy” received a 2018 Pushcart Prize, and his flash fiction “Dog as Battlefield” appeared in The Best Small Fictions 2019. He is currently working on a chapbook collection.

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