“Shinjuku, Tokyo” by Kevin Dooley

Translated by Jeffrey Angles


A twenty-year-old two thousand five hundred years ago and

An eighty-year-old two thousand five hundred years later

Loved one another—who are you to call this couple unbecoming? 

The eighty-year-old’s love for the twenty-year-old,

No matter how you look at it, is pure gold, no exaggeration

The twenty-year-old’s feelings for the eighty-year-old

Are not just gold-plate, or so I’d like to believe

The author of this miraculous tale of erotic love is chance

Or perhaps inevitability wearing the mask of chance as disguise

Whichever it might be, with the greatest of ease

Encounters transcend the bonds of both time and space



Long ago, the Greeks built cities and colonies

Dotting mountainsides and coastal shores

Sparks flew from there to this city in what is now the Far East

But these tiny colonies grow full with just ten people

Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinbashi, Ueno, Asakusa—each night hopping

From place to place, I drifted through my youth

Tethering my line to the bar’s footrest, I encountered

Many eyes, lips, thighs before setting off again

I learned many aspects of Greek love before I forgot

Now decades later, the bow of desire’s boat

Rarely points to such pleasure-filled harbors

But when I close my eyes, they come alive again

Countless burning gazes, feverishly whispered words

After so much time, I find that I’ve become

The distorted ruin left by those colonies of love



This morning, decades later, I heard a rumor about you

A rumor you died completely, utterly alone—

You with whom I exchanged such warm whispers and embraces

You who, even so, betrayed me in such a cruel, calculated way

(Wasn’t, however, the backstabbing entirely mutual?)

Those delirious nights and youthful afternoons

Decades later, have suddenly drawn close

Near me are not just those hours from long ago

The underworld, once so unknown, has suddenly drawn close

(Now that I notice, I have descended into it too)

There, you and I are just as young as before

What differs is that we haven’t yet loved one another

Therefore, we have not yet betrayed one another

And when we collide, we merely pass right through

Mutsuo TAKAHASHI (1937–) is one of Japan’s most prominent living poets, rising to prominence in the 1960s with his bold poetic evocations of homoerotic desire. Takahashi has published several dozens of books of poetry and countless volumes of poetry, essays, and literary criticism. The 2018 book Tsui kinō no koto (Only Yesterday), from which these translations come, is a retrospective in which Takahashi reflects back on his own life with special focus on his great love for ancient Greece and the ways that it inspired and shaped his own love for men.

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