From Gay Poems (2014) 『ゲイ・ポエムズ』and Others



From Everyone Loved You. (2001)






He had a tattoo.

Under his leather jacket, a solid, white T-shirt.

Don’t look at me.

I thought I didn’t make the cut.

There’re lots of other young ones.

I’m nothing to look at.

But he chose me.

Want to grab a cup of coffee?

He didn’t put in any cream.

So, you’re the same age as me.

He smoked a cigarette.

Only a single week of no smoking.

The name of the love hotel was

Under the Guava Tree.

Rain had soaked our socks.

Should’ve bought some new shoes sooner.

I showered with him.

His dick was white and beautiful.

Why am I writing this down in a poem?

Once and that’ll be all.

Just once and that’s okay, someone once said.

I didn’t go home right away.

That was true for both of us.

We both lingered on and on.

I was in Tokyo for seven years.

Dicks had rained down upon me.

Lots of them had rained down.

It’s good if there are natural enemies for people.

There was nothing for me in Tokyo.

His face said nothing was there

So he was here.

He was beautiful.

His back turned, he placed

His can of cola on the table





Under the Guava Tree Was the Name of the Hotel.


Have you ever thought about doing something totally nuts

Like sneaking into a hospital in the morning

And writing cancer, cancer, cancer

On the foreheads of the sleeping patients?

Using an invisible marker, of course.

A weird little gift to take home.

But probably

I’d feel too sorry for them.

Ha-ha, look at your hair!

It’s all curly, making swirls.

Look at those swirls!

Um, didn’t you forget something?

Yeah, but, I…

Suddenly you’re talking about a love hotel,

You surprised me, that’s all.


So, I….

You know the word sugasugashii (refreshing)

‘Til just the other day, whenever I saw it in a book

I thought it was pronounced kiyokiyoshii.

The other day, I said it to a friend,

And he was like, huh? What’d you say?

He made fun of me,

That’s how I figured it out.

Um, hey, you hungry?

Let’s go to KFC or somewhere.

I’ll show you where it is.

I like you.

Ha-ha, don’t stare at me like that.

What’d you do if you stared a hole right through me?

Um, say there,

You like breasts or thighs better?

I like thighs.

They’re easier to eat.

I’ll give you the breasts, okay?

Just think about it, this bird’s happiness

Came from being eaten by me.


Um, you’re weird too.

It’s not easy to eat the breast meat, is it?

Lots of teeny-tiny bones.

Look, my hand’s shaking.

So, level with me,

Am I really your type?

Even though I’m chubby?

Oh, come on, cut it out.

People will see.

My nipples are super sensitive.

Especially the one on the left.

They’re different sizes.

Maybe I’ve played with it too much.


This is your phone number?

You’re not married?

You know, I’m not smart,

But people say I’ve got a cute face.

A boyish face.

You know, people who like folks like me

Are called chubby chasers.

I’m cute?


I’ve been called fatso, fatso since I was a kid.

I totally hated it,

But now I’m glad

There’s some like you

Who says I’m cute.

I also like chubby guys.

They look so sweet, don’t you think?

Like you.



I like you.

I really do.





From Forest (2002)









Which bones should I use

To make a bird?


Which bones should I use

To make a bird?


I will make it with the bones

Of a man with no hands.


His fingers

Will be the wings.


His palms

Will be the chest.


I will connect the bones

In the shape of a bird.


With white bones

I will construct a bird.


With white bones

I will complete a bird.


The bones

Will not fly.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.


A bird

Without a neck.






Which bones should I use

To make a snake?


Which bones should I use

To make a snake?


I will make it with the bones

Of a hunchbacked man.


His vertebrae

Will be the backbone.


All his vertebrae

Will be the backbone.


I will connect the bones

In the shape of a snake.


With white bones

I will construct a snake.


With white bones

I will complete a snake.


The bones

Will not crawl.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.


A snake

Without a neck.






Which bones should I use

To make a fish?


Which bones should I use

To make a fish?


I will make it with the bones

Of a clubfooted man.


His ankle

Will be the dorsal fin.


His toes

Will be the tail.


I will connect the bones

In the shape of a fish.


With white bones

I will construct a fish.


With white bones

I will complete a fish.


The bones

Will not swim.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.


A fish

Without a neck.






Which bones should I use

To make a shrine?


Which bones should I use

To make a shrine?


I will make it with the bones

Of a spineless man.


His ribs

Will be the roof.


His spinal cord

Will be the pillars.


I will connect the bones

In the shape of a shrine.


With white bones

I will construct a shrine.


With white bones

I will complete a shrine.


The shrine

Will be deformed.


The shrine

Will be for the deformed.


Come, I call to you

The bones of the deformed.


Tear off the flesh

That covers you.


Tear out the blood vessels

That tangle inside.


Come here

And become an object.


Come here

And become an object.






Those things are divided,

One-sided chains of bone.


Their birth

Brings celebration.


Their deaths

Bring blessing.


Their corpses

Will not be buried.


Their shit

Will be thrown outside the gate.


Or maybe they will

Be burned alive.


One-sided chains of bone,

Deformed objects.


I will break their bones,

Smash them to smithereens.


I will suture the bones,

Put them back together.


With white bones

I will construct an object.


With white bones

I will complete an object.


The bones

Will not move.


The bones

Will not do anything.


The bones

Have nothing to do.


They will not

Pray to God.


They will not

Pray to God.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.


They will sit silently

Like a stone.



Without a neck.




From Gay Poems (2014)



What’s Going On.



I often drive around the Arashiyama area. I cross the Togetsu Bridge and take two or three spins around each bank of the Katsura River. Me: “What’s so good about Arashiyama?” My friends: “Two mountains press against the wind from each side, that’s where Arashiyama’s name comes from— ‘The Stormy Mountains.’ People like the beauty of the mountains and the pleasant feel of the wind coming off the river.” Me: “Where does the truth reside?” My friends: “Are you saying that the truth you seek isn’t there?” The words I’m about to say catch in my throat. As I smile, they branch apart, a camel with two humps. One of the words is itself, a single deep abyss. At what angle does a river become a waterfall? Even a vertical river wouldn’t be a waterfall if it falls slowly. If a waterfall fell slowly, it would still be a river.



Love is not only an indispensable, but also a beautiful thing.

(Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book 8, Chapter 1)

(J.G. Ballard, “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!”)


Don’t tell me there is anything more beautiful than being in love.

(Manuel Puig, Heartbreak Tango, Part 2, 13)



When I was living in Kitayama, there were lots of fields nearby. There were tight rows of labels stuck into every field. I dreamed I was asleep, curled up and buried in the ground like a dead body. There were lots of other corpses sleeping parallel to me. Somewhere in my mind, I felt like I was following suit, imitating the other corpses. Perhaps I wasn’t dreaming. A friend called me. As we were talking, I sank down into the soil with my friend. Perhaps that was because I was lying on my side as I was talking into the phone. My friend lives in a room on the fifth floor of a building, so he had much further to sink than me.



The person above us started pounding again.

(Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch, 28 from the end)


Two or three times.

(James P. Hogan, Realtime Interrupt, Prologue)


The next will be the fourth.

(David Brin, Startide Rising, Part 10)



What is the probability that a thing will become me? One out of how many? One out of how many tens? I walk down the street whispering these questions to myself. I see an electrical pole. And the electrical pole becomes me. I see a stoplight. And the stoplight becomes me. I see the white lines of a crosswalk. And the white lines of the crosswalk become me. I go into a bookstore. What is the probability that the books lined up on the shelf will become me? One out of how many? One out of how many tens? Metaphors are so vivid they torment. Torment is always vivid. That is one of torment’s special characteristics. The other day, I saw the word “Order list” (発注リスト) and since the characters are so similar, I misread it as “Go crazy list” (発狂リスト).



Lovers and madmen have such seething brains / Such shaping fantasies

(William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1)


Love knows no limit.

(Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost of Time, Vol. 6: The Fugitive)


Do you understand what this means?

(Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz, Part 3)



In Kyōgoku, there is a porno theater called the Yachiyokan, and in front of it is a small park where guys cruise for sex. The other day, there was a young man squatting on a bench, not wearing anything from the waist down. As I approached, he stuck out his bottom, looked over his shoulder at me, and said, “Take it.” He was an attractive young man who reminded me of a junior league baseball player. There were still some traces of childhood about him. He was probably around twenty years old. As I got closer, I saw the tip of a ballpoint pen sticking out of the crack of his ass. As I stood there silently looking at him without doing a thing, he once again looked over his shoulder and said to me, “Take it.” So I did. “Now, don’t look,” he said as a pile of shit came sliding out.



Madness and imagination are the same in that neither knows no limits.

(Jean des Cars, Ludwig II of Bavaria or the Fallen King, The Dove and the Eagle)


It seems that in your foolish head, you create relationships between people that don’t actually exist.

(Marquis de Sade, Justine)


Even love must be stopped within certain limits.

(Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 4: Sodom and Gomorrah)



There is a kind of peppermint candy called “Frisk,” which makes your mouth feel cool when you suck on it. I know this guy named Aki-chan who enjoys lying out along the banks of the Kamo River in the sun, wearing only a fundoshi. He’s close-cropped, bearded, gay, and a nudist. One time he handed me something and told me to try using it the next time I had anal sex. He said it would make me tingle, that it would make even people who don’t like getting penetrated eager to stick something up their ass. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve nicknamed the stuff “The Frisk Effect.” When one writes, it is the same as taking a good look at oneself. Expression is cognition. All self-knowledge is always too much or too little.



What’s the problem?

(Janet Fox, Faithful)


As long as you’re happy, it shouldn’t matter at all.

(John Wyndham, Trouble With Lichen)


That’s what love is, right?

(Philip K. Dick, “Frozen Journey”)



I missed the last train and was sitting on a bench in Aoi Park when a young man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties sad down on the bench next to me. His hand began to rub my groin. As I looked at his hand on me, the thought crossed my mind that the only reason he was doing it was to give his hand some pleasure. Instantly, all of my arousal, excitement, and curiosity vanished. I stood up and walked away, even though I knew that if I refused his affections, there wouldn’t necessarily be any forthcoming from anyone else. Until that point, I used to think that I was the kind of person who loves intensely and hates intensely. But I was wrong. I merely love hastily and hate hastily.



You don’t love me.

(E.M. Forster, Maurice, Part 2, Chapter 25)


Of course, you’re right.

(Terry Bisson, Get Me to the Church on Time, Chapter 3)


Oh noooo!

(Richard Laymon, The Woods are Dark)



I have no idea which of my feelings are real and which aren’t. Same with my memories. There are strange places here and there in my memories. When I was in elementary school, my parents used to take me to the Daimaru department store near Kyoto Station. I remember that near the middle of the room, there was a place where the waitresses would inevitably trip. One of them rammed her face through some glass. I clearly remember her crying, her face covered in blood, as her sobs reverberated throughout the room. No one moved or did anything. When I talked about this with my mother, she said nothing like that ever happened.



Didn’t you tell me you loved me?

(George R.R. Martin, Fast Friend)


And if so, so what?

(Stephen King, Cujo)


I was just surprised, that’s all.

(Ernesto Sabato, On Heroes and Tombs, Part 1, Chapter 3)



I had a phone call from my mother right as I got home from work. “I died today.” “Huh?” “Today I—your mother—was in a car accident and died.” I spit out my tea. “But I can still die again, any number of times.” “Sure, Mom.” “I’m sure I’ll have another car accident and die again.” “I wonder…” Silence settled between us for ten seconds or so before I put down the receiver. There was a letter in the mailbox which said, “There will be rain…” But the weather was completely clear. Earlier, all throughout the day, I had several distant memories of rainy days lined up in my head. In Japanese, there’s an expression “When dealing with good, hurry,” which means something like the English “strike while the iron is hot.” There’s another Japanese expression, “If you hurry, you’ll get turned around” which means something like “slow and steady wins the race.” Put these two proverbs together, and you’d get, “When dealing with good, you’ll get turned around.”



The person above us started pounding again.

(Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch, 28 from the end)


There is the fourth.

(Roger Zelazny, For a Breath I Tarry)


What are we going to do…?

(A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter 8)



I saw a white piece of paper the size of a person floating slowly down an empty staircase. As I passed by, I brushed it with my hand, but it was just an ordinary, thin piece of paper. On the platform where I change trains on my way to work, there are rows of lots of pieces of white paper about the size of a person, all swaying back and forth. I casually opened my hand. The entire day today I was a single sheet of white paper. Bringing my mouth to my hand, I breathed upon it. A small, white sheet of paper danced upward from it, riding the breeze. Lots of white, trembling sheets of paper were flying through the sky, blocking the entire sky from view. On the platform, we were all shaking back and forth. The train would be arriving soon.



Are you going to scream?

(Hans Erich Nossack, “Clontz”)


That’s about it.

(Gerald Kersh, “Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo”)


And then?

(W.B. Yeats, A Vision, “The Phases of the Moon”)



Translator’s note:

Throughout this work, Tanaka uses quotes from numerous sources written by various international authors, but in each case, he cites a published Japanese translation of the text. In the Japanese, the quotations flow together smoothly as if the books Tanaka has read are participating in his own inner dialogue. When translating this poem, I first attempted to locate the original text or, in the case of a Spanish or French original, an already existing English translation; however, I found that when I put the quotations together, the quotes seemed far more disjointed and disconnected than they did in Tanaka’s poem. (This was because Tanaka used them in a different context than the individual authors had envisioned.) Rather than use the quotes directly, I decided to treat the Japanese as the “original” and back-translate all the quotations into English. I have, however, kept the information in Tanaka’s text about where to find the original quotes in case a dedicated reader would like to go back and find the source texts.



TANAKA Atsusuke (田中宏輔) was born in 1961 and raised in Kyoto, where he still lives and works as a part-time, high-school mathematics teacher. In 1991, the prominent poet Ōoka Makoto identified him in the journal Eureka (Yuriika) as one of the outstanding new poetic voices of his generation. Along with Takahashi Mutsuo, Ishii Tatsuhiko, and Aizawa Keizō, Tanaka is one of the small handful of well-received gay poets who has written in unflinching detail about his sexual feelings and history. Although those poems originally appeared throughout his oeuvre, in 2014 he brought together many of his poems about same-sex relationships in a collection entitled Gay Poems (Gei poemuzu). That collection contains all of the poems translated below.

Since the mid-1990s, Tanaka has been writing in a more experimental, avant-garde vein. Many of his poems are in linguistic registers that more conservative poets would see as falling outside of the narrow confines of “poetic” language—the speech of teenagers, speech in dialect, erotic language, colloquial song lyrics, and even mathematical formulas. Many of his poems feature non-traditional punctuation and other flourishes that make his writing interesting on the page.

In a number of his poems, he incorporates portions of real conversations verbatim, creating a record of personal exchanges that under more ordinary circumstances might easily be forgotten. “Marlboro,” for instance, includes some of the conversation that took place before a fateful sexual encounter that Tanaka had in his youth. Similarly, “Under the Guava Tree Was the Name of the Hotel” describes the conversational lead-up to a visit to a love hotel. Like Poulenc’s experimental opera La voix humaine which presents only one side of the conversation, it presents only Tanaka’s side of the story, thus recording some of the silly, flirtatious, and heart-breaking statements an adolescent gay man might make as he opens up to an erotic encounter with an older stranger. In these poems, one sees Tanaka’s hallmark combination of youthful playfulness and adult sensitivity.

In 1999, Tanaka published a book with the English title The Wasteless Land, which contains a series of experimental, postmodern, pastiches that draws inspiration and incorporates quotations from an astoundingly wide array of sources, including pop music and R&B, classic Western and Japanese literature, science fiction, and Tanaka’s own conversations with friends late at night in bars. To date, Tanaka has published seven volumes in his The Wasteless Land series. The poem “What’s Going On,” is like many of the poems in series in that it incorporates fragments of memories, voices, and song lyrics. (The title, which is in English in the original, comes of course from the famous song by Martin Gaye.) In this way, Tanaka expands the vocabulary of poetry in ways that might suit the postmodern lifestyles and eclectic culture of people living in the twenty-first century.

Jeffrey Angles is Professor of Japanese Literature and Translation in Department of World Languages and Literatures at Western Michigan University. Recent translations and publications include: The Book of the Dead by Shinobu Orikuchi (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) These Things Here and Now: Poetic Responses to the March 11, 2011 Disasters (Josai University Educational Corporation Press, 2016) Poems of Hiromi Itō, Toshiko Hirata and Takako Arai, trans. Jeffrey Angles (Vagabond Press, 2016) Wild Grass on the Riverbank by Hiromi Itō (Action Books, 2015) him Twitter: @jeffreyangles and
Original artwork by Michael Welsh. He is an artist, writer, and curator living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He is a founding member of GWC Investigators, a paranormal research group and publisher of New World UNLTD. Welsh's work has been exhibited throughout the United States at High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree, CA; American Medium, Brooklyn, NY; Printed Matter, New York, NY; Appendix Project Space, Portland, OR; Bric Arts Media, Brooklyn, NY; GCA, Brooklyn, NY; Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN;  Helper Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; among others. His artists books can be found on the Publication Studio and Social Malpractice Publishing labels.


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