Poem to the Senkaku/Diaoyutai mole

mappa sddThere’s a photo-tagging war raging around the Senkaku / Diaoyu / Tiaoyutai Islands on Google Earth, and it’s hilarious. Many of the photographs are accompanied by messages more or less well parsed by machine translation, often with exclamation marks in full patriotic profusion. Images of Chinese rockets and torpedos, annotated with the words “To defend the national dignity, weapons against the invaders, the Diaoyu Islands are China’s inherent territory”; patrols of the China Marine Surveillance, the Japan Coast Guard, and the ROC Coast Guard (Taiwan); a massive military operation from the September 2012 face-off (“Diaoyu îles, territoire chinois depuis l’antiquité, les chiens japonais de sortir de îles Diaoyu ! ! ! ! ! ! !!”); water cannons shooing off fishing boats of nationalist activists (“Red China is Vietnam and a Japanese common enemy !!!”); people racing across the rocks on the shoreline to plant their Chinese and Taiwanese flags, a traditional Chinese gate which looks suspiciously too intricate to really be on the island, a Japanese contingent raising their flags close to an old campsite and bonito fish processing plant, Japanese empire flags torn up and laid to rest on a pile of rotting fish… Other messages are kinder and more inviting, yet always with their own agenda, such as “Every foreign visitor who has a PRC visa is welcome”. Then of course, there are a plethora of messages in the logograms of hanji/kanji and the curvy syllables of hiragana, no doubt much nastier than they look, and I’m probably better off not knowing how to read them.

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In the foreground, Kita-koshima, reminiscent of the sundial at Machu Picchu

In the foreground, Kita-koshima, reminiscent of the sundial at Machu Picchu

And yet, as you’d normally expect on Google Earth, there are also scores of photographs of spectacular, oneiric tropical scenery – mountain slopes, jungles, cliffs, sleepy boulders, caves and virgin coves, the kinds of landscape that tug at the heart of island lovers stuck in the expanses of a continent, or simply dreaming of islands smaller and more distant than their own. Reading up on the islands of Senkaku, or Diaoyu, or Tiaoyutai, I come across the Senkaku mole, otherwise known as the Ryukyu mole, or since 2010 as the Diaoyutai mole. It’s endemic to the main island, and in danger of extinction ever since the Japanese introduced a pair of goats in 1978, the descendants of which now number over 300. The short-tailed albatross, once hunted for its feathers on two other islands, has also severely dwindled in its numbers. Meanwhile, the paper tigers continue their kurfuffle over rights to airspace, land, and of course, potential oil and gas fields either side of the Okinawa trough. As an islander who knows what it means to be bullied by nations overflowing with symbolism and significance, I cannot help identifying with the mole. What does she care what her name is, or what her names are? May she go about her day in peace, oblivious to the children’s play.

The Senkaku / Ryukyu / Diaoyutai mole (Mogera uchidai)

The Senkaku / Ryukyu / Diaoyutai mole (Mogera uchidai)

Here’s a poem I wrote to the mole of the Uotsuri or Diaoyu island, the latest addition to the Atlas series. I enjoyed writing it more than many of the others, mainly for the element of playful satire (which was present at the start of the project, but somehow got buried), but also for the direct and friendlier speech in the second person, which is a recent development, particularly in the poems about islands. Funnily enough, I seem to be discovering that I express myself clearer in these cartographic verses than in my love poems and haikus.

I wrote this poem in Maltese, but I give the English adaptation first. The Maltese contains a number of idiomatic expressions on being alone and being alert, and was more difficult to translate than to write.

Uotsuri-shima, or Diaoyu-dao, or Tiaoyu-tai, the main island of the Senkaku/Diaoyu archipelago

Uotsuri-shima, or Diaoyu-dao, or Tiaoyu-tai, the main island of the Senkaku/Diaoyu archipelago

To the Senkaku/Diaoyutai mole

From the northeast, Uotsuri-shima,
a right foot sole
still turning inside as it treads.
From the northwest, Diaoyu-dao,
a banana peel
where endemic ants
slide and clamber.
From the southwest, Tiaoyu-tai,
a cocoon fallen
from the dark side
of the tobacco leaf.

From below, the mole emerges.
Such a racket! Drones,
helicopters, jets,
motorboats of homesick activists
with megaphones shrinking their heads,
fishing for the poisoned octopus
with flagpoles for harpoons.
Mole, you may not know it,
they’re fighting over your name –
some want to baptise you
the Ryukyu or Senkaku mole,
others the Diaoyutai mole,
further away, some fear
you’ll end up being nicknamed
the Archduke Franz mole.

Mole, no need to fret,
it’s not your fur in the crosshair.
Opposite, before the horizon,
right where your snout
is pointing, the pilots
are practising their bombing –
they’ve reduced Kita-koshima
to a petrified ray,
they’ve sculpted Minami-koshima
into a sun dial
that nobody reads,
not even the short-tailed albatross –
not only has she lost her refuge,
but her feathers too.

Oh mole! Why give a hoot,
or two, or three about your name?
Bow your head, and plough on.
Keep digging with those sickles
of your third and fourth thumbs
that we did not evolve,
and as you shovel with your feet,
make sure the earth you toss up behind you
soils the cloth of the yellow stars
and the one with the red sun –
perhaps then their light
will dazzle a little less.

They may call you subterranean,
covert, myopic,
a pest, of vile taste in the mouth –
bow your head, and go about your day.
If they make mountains
out of your molehills,
take it as a compliment.
Keep on digging, to your heart’s desire,
sovereign in your map-maze
invisible from the ground up.

But be alert,
all ears –
should you hear any footsteps above you
crawl away as quickly as you can,
lest they pierce your burrow
or your flesh
with a flagpole.
Above all, as you’re digging,
be careful not to dredge
too far down –
at the first drop of oil
shooting up in the air,
your fur is as good as peeled.

Kita Kojima (Bei Xiaodao) & Minami Kojima (Nan Xiaodao)

Kita Kojima (Bei Xiaodao) & Minami Kojima (Nan Xiaodao)

Lit-talpa ta’ Senkaku/Diaoyutai

Mill-grigal, Uotsuri-shima,
pala ta’ sieq leminija
għadha ddur ‘il ġewwa mar-rifsa.
Mill-majjistral, Diaoyu-dao,
qoxra ta’ banana
fejn jiżloq u jixxabbat
in-nemel endemiku.
Mil-lbiċ, Tiaoyu-tai,
fosdqa li waqgħet
minn man-naħa l-mudlama
tal-werqa tat-tabakk.

Minn taħt, titfaċċa t-talpa.
Xi storbju f’daqqa! Drones,
ħelikopters, ġettijiet,
bastimenti tal-gwerra,
laneċ b’attivisti tan-nostalġija
b’megafowns iċekknu rashom,
jistadu għall-qarnit intuskat
b’arbli tal-bnadar flok il-ħarpuni.
Talpa, forsi ma tafx,
qed jiġġieldu fuq ismek –
min irid jgħammdek
it-talpa ta’ Ryukyu jew Senkaku,
min it-talpa ta’ Diaoyutai,
aktar ‘il bogħod, min jibża’
li jispiċċaw ilaqqmuk
it-talpa tal-Arċiduka Franz.

Talpa, tinkwieta xejn,
mhux ġildek il-bersall.
Faċċata, ‘l hawn mix-xefaq,
fejn tipponta ż-żennuna
ta’ mnieħrek, il-bdoti qed jitħarrġu
fit-twaqqigħ tal-bombi –
Kita-koshima ġabuha
bonn ippetrifikat,
Minami-koshima naqqxuha
f’arloġġ tax-xemx
ma jaqrah ħadd,
lanqas biss l-albatross
ta’ denbu qasir –
li mhux talli safa bla rdoss,
talli bla rix.

Ja talpa! X’jimpurtak
minn ismek, jew ismijietek?
Int għaddas rasek, u ibqa’ ħaffer.
Kompli skava b’dawk l-imnieġel
tat-tielet u r-raba’ ibhma
li aħna ma rabbejniex,
u int u tordom b’saqajk,
qis li t-trab li titfa’ warajk
itebba’ sew ix-xoqqa tal-istilel sofor
u dik tax-xemx ħamra –
forsi b’hekk id-dawl tagħhom
jibda jgħammex anqas.

Għad jgħajruk sotterranja,
taħtieni, mijopika,
pesta, ta’ togħma vili mad-dewqa –
int għaddas rasek, u agħmel fattik.
Jekk il-gzuz ħamrija li ttella’
jgħodduhom b’muntanji,
inti ħudha b’kumpliment.
Kompli ħaffer għal qalbek,
sovrana fil-mappa-labirint tiegħek
li mill-għatba ‘l fuq ma tidhirx.

Biss, oqgħod attenta,
seba’ widnejn –
malli tisma’ xi passi fuqek
kaxkar ‘l hemm mill-aktar fis,
ma jmorrux jinfdulek il-bejta
jew laħmek stess
b’xi arblu ta’ bandiera.
Fuq kollox, int u tħaffer,
attenta wkoll
li wisq ‘l isfel ma tfannadx –
mal-ewwel qatra żejt
tiżgiċċa ‘l fuq,
sufek għoddu ġa maħlul.



About antoinecassar

Poet, translator, editor, activist http://antoinecassar.info http://passaportproject.org http://mondepasrond.org
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3 Responses to Poem to the Senkaku/Diaoyutai mole

  1. Antoinej Cassar, I’ll be reading your article and poem on KNYO-LP tonight (Friday night, Dec. 6, a little after 9pm California time). http://knyo.org

    I hope that’s okay with you. If it isn’t, let me know in time and I won’t.

    At some point I’ll fix our little radio station up with a way to put phone calls on the air. I’d like to talk with you.

  2. All yours, Marco! That will be around 6 am CET, hope to be awake to tune in. Heartfelt thanks for the honour. The Senkaku/Diaoyutai mole will appreciate it tacitly, then will continue digging, minding its own business away from the nation-state noise.

  3. What a piece! I was carried away by the praises to the mole…
    I love your imageries!

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