Honshū Bees, Dorothy Yamamoto

Templar Poetry, 2018   £6.00

The beauty of familial memories

There are many attractive aspects to Honshū Bees, starting with the quirkiness of the opener ‘Cows in the Ashmolean’:

I want them hitching
the vast easels of their hips
along the gold-framed corridors.

Yamamoto’s focus on domesticity is deeply enjoyable too. You see it in ‘The Button Box’ (‘There’s a skill to sewing buttons, / making them sit right, the cloth // not puckering’), and in ‘Autumn Wasps’ (‘I brush them into the bin, noting / their polished studs of eyes’).

There’s more atmospheric gardening detail in ‘Sweeping Leaves’:

When I have finished, of course I have not finished
because leaves are still drifting down
and starring the paving. But mist is rising,
and the light is almost gone.
I tweak a last few from the broom’s bristles,
then go in and make tea.

But the poems which chime with me most are those which describe Yamamoto’s English mother and, more often, her Japanese father:

When my parents moved to Suffolk
my father went to the village pub
every day for a whole month
until he was no longer exotic.
Then they talked to him.

Yamamoto’s depiction of surreal memory is wondrous, particularly in the title poem:

When my father went to bed, and stayed there
the bees arrived
to do all the things he could not do.

With their jointed legs they lifted
shreds of tobacco from his pouch
and turned round and round in the bowls of his pipes
till carbon clung to their fur.

Fine poems about the Japanese artist Katsuchika Hokusai (and other subjects) continue the paternal theme:

There they spread mulberry fibres
on bleaching fields for the ultraviolet
and ozone of snowmelt,
harvesting the weather’s gift
so that what blanks out thought
(the sliding doors my father opened
upon a pure wall of white)
can be overwritten
with what we can speak of
    [‘Cranes in the Snow Country’]

Above all, there’s the second-hand memory recreated in ‘My Father Remembers Aijiro’s Horse’:

There were many horses in the village
but only one beautiful one.
It belonged to Aijiro, the cavalry officer,
who groomed it lovingly, never worked it hard,
fretted when it stepped on ice.

Matthew Paul