Unless stated otherwise, all poetry on Swimming in Lines of Haiku is Copyright Kirsten Cliff and may not be reprinted in any form without written permission from the author. kirsten(DOT)cliff(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Taste on My Tongue

I'd travelled by train to the well-known Harajuku purely for the piercing experience. Tongue piercing, that is. Or a nipple, if you were game and your tongue was already adorned. Sitting upstairs in the studio, I could hear the sounds rising from the busy streets below. Markets overflowed with people and wares. The city had a good vibe. It was a place for the young and trendy. And pierced.

doorstep slices
of white bread, with the Marmite
I brought from home
morning sun strains
through curtains never opened

I was the next in line and watched with interest: a Japanese boy sitting in a raised chair, his tongue protruding with an X marking the spot. A large cork was positioned under his tongue and held firmly in place ready for the thick needle to puncture it. I held my breath as the piercing needle came down and the boy’s tongue curled around it, surprised at the assault. A blur of hands, then a shiny gold bar was poking out from the boy’s mouth as he paid and tried to say arigato.

my cappuccino
with a cinnamon stick
imitation is something

they do well here

Five minutes later I was awkwardly announcing, “It didn’t hurt as much as having my nose done.” The friend I'd come with was lying on a high bed having Xs drawn on her left nipple. Her lengthy black hair looked scruffy against the white pillow. I seemed to be leaning over her in protection, and couldn’t help but watch as her areola changed from a smooth yielding circle into its tight brown peak. This was a welcome distraction from my own discomfort. That is, until I had to avert my eyes from the sharp needle penetrating it.

before work
a quick bite to eat
at the noodle bar
from pictures, we both order

the same meal every time

My tongue didn’t hurt much, but it sure was a strange sensation. Imagine someone’s forearm stuffed in your mouth: the fist pushed hard against your palate and the elbow jutting down forcefully into the soft base of your mouth. Not much room left for your swollen tongue, so enlarged that your teeth have now firmly sunken into the sides. How was I going to eat?

first sip of grappa
sometimes love burns

last sip of grappa—

but he's still on my lips,

the Italian I met in Japan

Skylark: A Tanka Journal 1:1 summer 2013


  1. Harajuku is not a neighborhood I frequent as an over the top antiquarian. I've never had the urge to poke holes in myself or allow others to. Cutting off my own fingers with a table saw was painful enough. But now I have a faint understanding of what happens, if not an increase in the urge to do so. It's not a tanka (haibun??) of beauty, but certainly one of myriad feelings and emotions. I read Ross on haiku and could not believe the number of words spouted about such an anti-wordiness genre of poetry. If we must write myriad words about the meaning of haiku or haibun or tanka or hokku or senryu, is not that defeating the principle of the forms themselves? Hope you are feeling well, Kirsten, and hope you soon have a new roof.