Urashima and the Tortoise

Tangled in the cords of a silvery net
a fisherman heaved up a tortoise one day
from out of the sapphire waves. He tossed
his good fortune into the back of his boat;

but the tortoise was a princess who took him
away to live in a land far across the sea.
Patriarch of a young community, nestled
under the blue shade of white capped mountains

you ate prairie dirt all summer long,
toiled beneath a red sun to grow sugar beets.
Who knew you’d never return to the sea?
Your time came far too soon.

I never knew you, grandfather,
your memory becomes a dust devil
tracking the length of the Great Depression.
I only know your kindness from faded photographs

(when tilted to one side, you vanish completely).

Bearer of a forgotten code from a chivalric age
son of a mayor, a civil service left no room for heroes.
You set up shop on a muddy delta on the far
side of the sea, but the War dashed your glass dreams.

I never knew you, grandfather, but your blood
-stained fingers form petroglyphs,
fist-sized divots in the silent walls,
where the west wind drowns out the past.

I knew your sadness, saw it in your children’s eyes,
passed on from generation to generation.

Your children un-knotted the memory, tried to build
a home from dust and stone and prairie grass,
wipe the red earth clean of that land across the sea,
until even the table salt no longer tasted of the sea.

Grandfathers, though I know your spirits flitted
away years ago, long before my time,
if I throw my cord into the silvery sea
will I catch a glimpse of you?

~ Rob K. Omura

Rob K. Omura lives in Calgary, Alberta, where he lives from oil plumes, surrounded by vistas and all the trappings of modern living. He prefers to spend his days hopping mountain ridges in the Rockies, where there is nothing else to consider by the next step and the majestic views, and sometimes he even dabs the wet ink and ties words on to lines. His fiction and poetry appears or is forthcoming in numerous literary journals, ezines, and anthologies including the New York Quarterly. His poetry aired on CBC Radio for National Poetry Month in April, 2008. He was a 2009 Pushcart nominee. Sometimes he works on his novel, and at other times, he drinks coffee, sighs and wonders when he’ll get back to work on his novel.

“Writing poems is like carving stone; although you often see what the stone wants to be, it takes a sharp chisel and a little blood and sweat to bring it forth. You don’t create the stone; you merely give it the shape it wants to be.”

Read more of Rob K. Omura’s poetry:
Great Lone Land
At the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre
Wendy Waits
On Kerr’s Prairie Skyes
Spring Cleaning

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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