You can also read the earlier English version of this poem.














Ray Bradbury reads “If Only We Had Taller Been” at NASA JPL, 1971

My favorite author of speculative fiction, Ray Bradbury, died recently. Where Clarke and Asimov explored what affect technology would have on humanity, Bradbury explored what it is to be human. The literary canon will remember Bradbury for Fahrenheit 451, but I love him for the language he used in books like Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Ever a proponent of science and space exploration, Ray Bradbury was invited to speak (alongside Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, and others) at NASA JPL just as Mariner 9 arrived at Mars in November 1971. In this clip, Bradbury reads his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been”.

Via Boing Boing.

The Rolling Waves of Home

Long Beach, Washington, June 2012

This is the moment on the sand
     when I see what it is that lies here at my feet
          tangled in the driftwood
     flecked with feathers
          draped with seaweed

Yellow chunks of insulation
     from soba shops and sake stores
          from houses
               upon houses

Shoyu pooled brown in bottles
     mouthwash and toothbrushes
          a television
     from kitchens and living rooms
          from bathrooms and bedrooms

I walk the snaking strandline
     over sandals
          and the soles of rubber boots

I know now each thing has its meaning

This is not trash

Nobody threw these things away

What show was Ojii-chan watching
     that sunny Friday afternoon
          when the alert came on?

What dish was Obaa-chan making
     when the floor bucked and swayed
          when the contents of her cupboards
     fell down upon her
          the shouts
     of neighbors ringing through the streets?

Where could they have run
     as sirens blared
          and the ocean roared behind them
     as she lost her sandal on the stairs?

That night here seven thousand miles from home
     I watched my childhood washed away
          in blackened surf
               in wooden waves

I stand here now and know
     I can never go home again

But borne on blackened surf
     on wooden waves
          home has come to me.

(UPDATE: You can now read this poem in Japanese as well.)

Grebe in the Surf

Brown foam nearly covered the bird
washed up during the storm. Out here
walking the dogs in that light that hangs
in the air between squalls, we’d left
our field guides on the table at home.
A grebe, perhaps, surf had battered
its black and white feathers ragged.
One red eye followed us as we stood over it
and asked each other what to do
as the dogs whined and strained
at the ends of their leashes beside us.

I want to say we took it in our hands,
washed the sand from its wounded wing,
carried it in my coat to our rented cabin,
dried its feathers by a fire, and watched it heal,
paddling back and forth in the bear-claw tub.
I want to tell you it grew strong from herring
we bought for it from the market up the street.

But I thought of the landlord, the barking dogs,
the smell of an injured wild animal –
and really, what could we do for a broken bird
in just the days we had left here at the beach?
Let’s go, I said, and we walked on.
Hours later, we passed that place again.
The tide was out and the bird was gone.

Dunes at Willapa

Where the swale widens to the beach
and dune grass gives way to open sand,
my dogs have exhumed the body
of a harbor seal. Mummified
by wind, black-spotted fur flakes
off skin stretched over brown bones.

I find the pelvis, a femur, and four ribs.
Vertebrae bloom like flowers
on the damp sand. Each in its place,
I lay all that I’ve gathered:
Phalanges still connected by ligaments,
tibia and fibula together, scapula above,
ribs in rows down the spine.

With a driftwood spade, I set to work.
The odor of death blends with the scent
of kelp on the wind, with smoke
from a fire farther up the beach,
with the calls of gulls who hang
suspended in the air. A barrow rises
over the bones, ringed with stones
rolled smooth in the surf. Above,
clouds soar to the curving edge of the earth.