by Mary Turzillo
Taro finds a sea turtle
belly-up, helpless, tormented by thugs:
he rights it, cradles, gives it back to the sea.
Another sea turtle, immense
as from woodcuts of monsters devouring Kyoto,
walks out of the tide, finds Taro
But Fisherman Taro, doused with sea-spittle
Come, come with me. The huge turtle
named Ryujin, sea kami,
tows him to ocean's root:
a palace refulgen
with kanju, chrysoberyls that make the tide fall.
and manju, alexandrine plates that make the tide rise.
The kanju are scales
the manju also
The palace is a dragon.
In its deepest coil, Ryujin presents
Princess Otohime. My daughter.
the turtle you returned to the sea.
Otohime's beauty sponges away Taro's recall
of fishing and Miyagi, his home.
Taro, Otohime's consort now,
lives in a palace. It stirs now and then,
scales as chrysoprase, corundum, coils serpentine.
Ryugoju, seabed, origin, center,
coils jealous around princess and fisher.
Taro yearns to see his mother.
Otohime (salt tears) agrees, gives him a box. Do not open.
He forgets to ask why.
ready to sleep years, centuries, aeons,
Taro walks inland,
finds Miyagi's streets
buzz with cars, light-blaze, women in brief skirts.
have you heard of Taro, the fisherman?
Urashima Taro? Yes.
A legend. Walked into the sea
to rescue a turtle. Never returned
but his footprints on the beach were lined with jewels.
Taro asks of his mother.
That was long ago, they say.
She has been dead three centuries.
He sinks down.
All he knew is the dust of burnt offerings;
he is wayfarer in an arid, metallic land.
Bereft on a city curb,
he remembers the box
It will bring back my world.
an echoing dragon sea-heart opens
The dragon's jewel-scales flex. First the kanju,
call the sea back to the dragon
so the tide sinks,
and folk wonder has the sea abandoned us?
The dragon flexes again
and his belly-scale manju rippl
and the water rushes inland.
All is awash, lights put out,
temples cars people crushed
as an anthill engulfed
until finally the vat opens
where the folk grow electricity,
with billion-jellyfish poison
and, not having sea turtle shells,
folk tumble, sicken, and die.
The sea washes Taro back
to the palace-dragon,
which coils, then yawns.
The princess closes the box.
But no man
can live three hundred years
Taro ages and fails, blood staining salt water. He dies.
The princess weeps.
The dragon, flood-weary, sleeps.
"Tohoku Tsunami" first appeared in Lovers & Killers, Dark Regions, 2012