Nanao Sakaki: Breaks the Mirror 1923-2008


Poet Nanao Sakaki: 1923-2008–Congratulations, Nanao!

In the morning
After taking cold shower
—–what a mistake—–
I look at the mirror.

There, a funny guy,
Grey hair, white beard, wrinkled skin,
—–what a pity—–
Poor, dirty, old man!
He is not me, absolutely not.

Land and life
Fishing  in the ocean
Sleeping in the desert with stars
Building a shelter in the mountains
Farming the ancient way
Singing with coyotes
Singing against nuclear war–
I’ll never be tired of life.
Now I’m seventeen years old,
Very charming young man.

I sit down quietly in lotus position,
Meditating, meditating for nothing.
Suddenly a voice comes to me:
“To stay young,
To save the world,
Break the mirror.”

I love this poem, “Break the Mirror” by Nanao Sakaki, from his book of the same name published in 1996 and translated by his friend Gary Snyder. This poem inspires me every time I read it, moves me so much I put it on the syllabus of the classes I teach, as much to inspire me daily as for my students. We even read it aloud the first day of class.

I remember hearing Nanao read at the  Taos Poetry Circus. I wasn’t familiar with his work, and looked slightly askance as the older Japanese gentleman took the stage. His poetry immediately wowed me–its simplicity, its vigor, its connectivity of outside to within.

Later that night at an after party, we were cooking up pasta and frying up two trout my friends the Fish Boy Poets Spam and Scott Vetsch had caught for me. Nanao was wandering around, sad faced–the party was full of sweet desserts and he hadn’t wanted to eat dinner before the reading. So I shared one of my two trout which Scott and Spam shared with me and we new friends smiled over them.  He was so gracious and grateful. We quickly ate the fish and we were happy.

This photo of Nanao is from a panel discussion at the Taos Poetry Circus he participated in that year.

Anne MacNaughton long time teacher, poet, and organizer of the Taos Poetry Circus, sent me this email the other day:

Hi all,
Sad news.
Nanao Sakaki passed away in Japan on Monday.
Such a soul will not soon be seen again.
“Congratulations!”to Nanao, as he says should be given to all who
move on; and condolences to those of us who remain.
Please pass the word, and post it.

Nanao Sakaki was born New Year’s Day 1923; he died Monday Dec. 22, 2008 at the age of 85, almost 86. Here are details from his friend Gary Snyder.  He lived a long full life of art, poetry, sculpture, reflection. He had a wonderful smile, full of love. I searched on-line for video but came up short; however, Minor Heron Press has sold copies of Taos Poetry Circus performances and panels and they have something for sale. Here’s Rich Forster’s memories of Nanao at Taos.

In Nanao’s honor, I offer up one of my favorite Ray Carver poems:

Late Fragment by Ray Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.