The Fukushima Insomniac Chronicles

The seabed throws its voice screaming onto land

like a ventriloquist, a sleight of hand artist on speed.

— street poet Stiletto


When her breathing slows, and then turns ever so erratic,
I break into my lover’s dreams to steal whatever sleep I can …. See
how her belly begins to show! My arms barely encircle her from behind
as she banks her Yamaha 450 through the radioactive wasteland of our town.
After 3 days on the road, we return to find everything we’ve ever built or grown—
the people we loved—piled into mountains of debris they’ll say equal 40 years of trash.
Women unaware that their nipples and areolas glow faintly green in the half-dark
kneel in mud giving suck to babies who retch up everything they swallow.
Countless times her rear tire blows, and she swerves into the path
of the same oncoming relief truck, always empty of supplies,
but not once have we tried to make each other wake up.


After making love on the futon, I notice faint scars
starting at her underarms and running down her sides
like an old map of tides surrounding the island of her flesh,
and ask if what she let slip about having been abused is really true.
She squeaks out a high-pitched laugh, says Only by you! and closes her eyes again,
Truth be told, I often see dreams like that inside her troubled dreams, but in them
I take the shape of an advancing wall of water, and despite her cries, I cannot stop!


It’s not hard to imagine her as a child, for I know we must have drunk from similar cups
in kindergarten, hanging from a string by the sink, or upturned on a faucet. We shared
every disease with the others in the school, for if nothing else, at least we learned that
we are one. And as we grew, you can bet everyone at her dinner table stuck chopsticks
into a common nabe pot of whatever fit her mother’s daily budget: vegetables and fish,
chicken, the cheaper sorts of meat, boiled together in a broth made of kombu seaweed,
katsuobushi dried bonito flakes, shoyu, mirin, miso, sake; and of course, fat udon noodles
we kids fought over at the end. Now we breathe radiation escaping from the incinerated
wreckage with everybody else. What they burn in the air burns in our bones, yet they cart
debris away to prefectural landfills throughout Japan. The government simply will not let us
suffer alone. But still we don’t sleep well. And if truth be told, our dreams should not be told.

Stephen Toskar, a long-time resident of Hokkaido, Japan, is a university professor in Eniwa. His poetry has been anthologized, published in journals, and online. He co-translated a bilingual selection of the poems of WWII poet Soh Sakon, which was published as a book in 2011, and is currently working on editing the English translation of an anthology of mostly Japanese anti-nuclear poems protesting the Japanese government’s handling of events following the March 11, 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami disasters. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Stephen.