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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012



 (For Koharu Hiratsuka, Decapitated by Tsunami, March 28, 2011) 

Querulous cries of a raccoon, like lost notes from a soprano clarinet. Two pileateds hammer for their breakfast—an arrhythmic percussion.---Dave Bonta, The Morning Porch, 02-20-12 

It sounded querulous then before it was angry.
Even as she digs with bobcats now, her hands
tremble at the touch of every flotsam, debris
from the mud that still buries Ishinomaki.


Koharu! Koharu! Koharuuuuuuuuuu…
she calls out even before she mounts
the oriole-like excavator she traded
for the books and pencils at Okawa
Primary School. A sensei first, she
has blended rather oddly into a daily scene of diggers, trundling trucks
carting out anything and everything that can be scraped from a landscape
rended by the temblor’s uglier sister:                                    Tsunami. Tsunami.
Koharuuuuuu….Koharu. Koharu…                                              peters out into sobs
now, and it’s been almost                                                                     a year of sunrise to
           @@@@@@@@                                                                               sundown digging.
Koharu. Koharu. Koharuuuuuuuu…I must
Make her whole again.  I must find her hair,
her eyes, her mouth. Oh, Great Otosan out
there, I will be here until the end of tomorrows
and more, and I will rouse you from your sleep,
and cry for my daughter. Will you give her back?
     Brackish tides roar in and out of the sea
          dumping black Sargasso pickled
            in oil not her girl. Not Koharu.


“Koharu, are you there in your broken schoolhouse?
Look, from this distance, it looks like your toothless
father’s indelible grimace, he has stopped talking,
except to the tatami walls when he drowns in sake
so he would not feel the twist of this god-given
Sepuku, this knife in his gut, this loss, this loneliness. 

He is not here digging for you, Koharu, but do not
be sad, come home soon. Touch his face. Tell him
it is not a shame not to be able to cry anymore.
The onions he cuts for our sashimi at noontime
will not make him weep, he says. He has just given up
on all of Miyagi Prefecture’s ancestors and shin tao.*
Where were they when the monster wave cut my
daughter’s head and cut our lives,  he growls daily.

There is not a day he does not look at your picture,
Koharu. On the hill beside Okawa, he has built
a stone stairway where, he says, you will run toward
when the wave comes again. Not the bridge, he yells.
All our tomadachi* whose children perished then
think he has lost his mind. No, darling, his heart. 

Not I, not I, Koharu. If you don’t come today, I will
be here again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and…
I will not even give our Shinto ancestors a chance
to rest. No, not I, my love, until I see your face
once more, one so much like your grandmother’s,
your hair as dark and silky as your grandfather’s,
your lips as red as red can be, your birdlike mouth
I delighted in feeding the rice I first masticated
in my own so you would not choke on your meal
of seaweed and kane and ika, oh, and octopus!” 

Sounds at sundown not unlike lost notes from
a soprano clarinet, are blended for some time now
with the doleful call: Koharu. Koharuuuuuuuuuu…
Until Hiratsuka climbs into the cab of her digger,
and starts searching for her daughter’s severed
head amidst the urgent percussion of excavators.

---Albert B. Casuga

This poem was based on Toronto Star reporter Raveena  Aulakh’s 02-18-12 story of Naomi Hiratsuka who has left her teaching job to become an excavator operator so she could recover the head of her daughter, Koharu, who got decapitated in the Tsunami disaster that hit Fukushima, Japan (Miyagi Prefecture) on March 28, 2011. She has been at her quest for almost a year now, when her search of mucking in the mud was replaced by her taking on the challenge of operating a mechanized excavator. (See story. Click on image to zoomed on the text.

*Akiramena – the one who never gives up; Otosan -- father, mother; sensei –- teacher;  shin tao – way of the gods;  tomadachi – friends; kane – crab; ika – shrimps; sashimi – raw fish cutlets;  Shinto – ancestor worship
 (Click on Image to zoom in on Text)

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