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A Hundred Gourds 5:1 December 2015

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Joan Zimmerman – USA


Ballad of the Sumo Mice


[Adapted from the traditional Japanese folk tale Nezumi no sumou]

A poor man chopping firewood in the mountains above his house
hears a strange voice calling that might be from a mouse.
Searching the man finds wrestlers inside a sumo ring
in a forest clearing where he sees a plump mouse fling
a skinny one to left and right while the old man sighs
recognizing it’s his own home’s mouse who is tossed and flies

and he knows the fat mouse who sends the thin one through the air --
the winning mouse lives in the mansion of the village millionaire.
The old man laden with firewood returns home in evening rain
tells his wife how their own mouse was beaten again and again.
He wants to give their mouse strength but weeps because he’s sure
they’ve nothing to offer their fighting mouse because they are so poor.

The old woman says ~ oh do not grieve this one time I can take
half of the rice I’ve saved for New Year; I’ll make some fresh rice cake ~.
She cooks the rice and pounds it soft shapes dumplings plump and tight,
lines them upon the narrow shelf where the mouse walks every night.
The folks smile the next morning for the shelf now carries none
of the cakes. The old man follows where the mouse must have gone.

Again while cutting firewood the man hears a mouse’s call.
He follows the sound to the sumo ring where one mouse plump and tall
raises a leg and stamps hard shouting for warrior power
while the man’s skinny mouse does the same and does not flinch or cower.
The two mice grapple ruggedly but victory goes to the thinner
who throws the heavier from the ring and becomes the sumo winner!

The fat mouse clambers back in the ring and demands ~ once more once more ~
and each time he does the skinny mouse throws him to the forest floor.
Catching his breath the fat mouse queries ~ tell me how
you oh pathetic skinny one are so mighty now ~.

~ last night I ate rice cakes and today my muscles are strong ~
says the skinny mouse as if he could toss the fat mouse all day long.
The fat mouse dusts his shoulders off and says ~ if you are the winner
you must let me come to your house tonight and eat your delicious dinner;
my house is wealthy but stingy; their manners are very rude;
they never take the care to make powerful Japanese food ~.

The thin mouse says ~ you can come OK ~ and once more the fat mouse is rolled
to fall far out of the ring ~ but bring a morsel of gold! ~
~ No problem ~ pants the plump mouse ~ lots of money lies around
so I’ll see you later this evening and bring what I have found ~.
The old man goes back home to his wife. They boil the last of the rice.
They shape it into rice cakes to feed the sumo mice.

The woman has one more treasure so the mice will not be nude:
she sews red sumo loin cloths and lays them with the food.
Next morning the shelf is empty but where the sidewall joins
to the floor in the corner lie three gold coins.
The man takes the hand of the woman and leads her high in the hills
where they gather wood until they hear the blast of the clash of wills.

The lively voices call and yell each mouse is a dynamo.
They wrestle and part and grapple again to practice and vie at sumo
Both mice are striving equally their fight is not lopsided.
Each contends as hard as he can skills evenly divided.
The mice will play sumo every day with growing strength and agility.
The old folks will live the rest of their lives in peaceful joy and tranquility.

snow day
mother confesses she bumped off
my imaginary friend

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