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.

Poet Hayden Carruth 8/3/21-9/29/08

Hayden Carruth 1921-2008

The Impossible Indispensibility of the Ars Poetica
by Hayden Carruth

But of course the poem is not an assertion. Do you see? When I wrote

That all my poems over the long years before I met you made you come true,

And that the poems for you since then have made you in yourself become more true,

I did not mean that the poems created or invented you. How many have foundered

In that sargasso! No, what I have been trying to say

Is that neither of the quaint immemorial views of poetry is adequate for us.

A poem is not an expression, nor is it an object. Yet it somewhat partakes of both. What a poem is

Is never to be known, for which I have learned to be grateful. But the aspect in which I see my own

Is as the act of love. The poem is a gift, a bestowal.

The poem is for us what instinct is for animals, a continuing and chiefly unthought corroboration of essence

(Thought thought, ours and the animals’, is still useful).

Why otherwise is the earliest always the most important, the formative? The Iliad, the Odyssey, the book of Genesis,

These were acts of Love, I mean deeply felt gestures, which continuously bestow upon us

What we are. And if I do not know which poem of mine

Was my earliest gift to you,

Except that it had to have been written about someone else,

Nevertheless it was the gesture accruing value to you, your essence, while you were still a child, and thereafter

Across all these years. And see how much

Has come from that first sonnet after our loving began, the one

That was a kiss, a gift, a bestowal. This is the paradigm of fecundity. I think the poem is not

Transparent, as some have said, nor a looking glass, as some have also said,

Yet it has a quality of disappearance

In its cage of visibility. It disperses among the words. It is a fluidity, a vapor, of love.

This, the instinctual, is what caused me to write, “Do you see?” instead of “Don’t you see?” in the first line

Of this poem, this loving treatise, which is what gives away the poem

And gives it all to you.

BIO: Hayden Carruth according to

The Impossible Indispensibility of the Ars Poetica
by Hayden Carruth

Collected Shorter Poems 1946-1991 page 352
Copper Canyon Press 1992
winner of the National Book Crtiics Circle Award

His lines are so long, so voluptuous–I wonder if he wrote on legal pads sideways. I’ve tried to transcribe the lines accurately but when in doubt, he capitalized each new line.

August 3, 1921-September 29, 2008.

Among the 10 poets and writers he named  in 1991 as having influenced his work and were his close friends, he named Raymond Carver, Wendell Berry, Galway Kinnell, Denise Levertov, Henry Rago, JV Cunningham, George Dennison, David Budbill, Adrienne Rich and Carolyn Kizer. Look for poems by Ray Carver and by Wendell Berry on this blog.

Here’s a poem about Ray Carver by Hayden Carruth read by him in May 2008:

Here he reads one of his most well-known poems, “Emergency Haying” :

He described himself as “A duck blown out to sea and still squawking.” Fortunately, we can still hear him even when he’s flown farther than we can see him.