“In Front of Me the Pot and Rice Pot and Burning Flames”
There have been for ages
objects always placed
in front of us women,
a pot of sufficient size
to match our strength and
a rice pot designed especially for fat
simmering shiny rice and
in front of the glow from the fire that we have inherited from the
beginning of history
were always our mothers and grandmothers and their mothers also.
What amount of love and faithfulness
did they pour into these objects?
At times it was red carrots
In the kitchen
there always occurred the correct preparations for breakfast and lunch and dinner
before the preparations there were always rows of
warm hands and knees.
Ah were it not for these rows of people
how could the women have so cheerfully
done the cooking time and time again?
This is the face of an indefatigable love
This is the face of service performed day after day so that it becomes a matter of routine.
The mysterious irony that made cooking
the task of women
was not ill-fortune I believe.
Because of it learning and worldly status
may lag behind but
it is not too late.
What is in front of us is
the pot and rice pot and burning flames and
in front of these beloved objects
just like we cook meat and potatoes
with a deep love
let us study politics and economics and literature. Not for the sake of pride or worldly fame but
in order for these things
to be offered to all humanity
to work toward these things with humanity itself as the object of our love.
Ishigaki Rin was born in downtown Tokyo in 1920. She worked as a bank clerk for over 40 years. During those forty years, she published four collections of poetry. She became known as the “bank clerk poet,” and she has won numerous awards for her poetry.
I love this particular poem of hers for a number or reasons. I can almost imagine her grinning at readers as she writes, “the mysterious irony that made cooking/ The task of women” in the fifth stanza.
It seems, according to the poem, that the unique perspective of women (manufactured by this mysterious irony) and played out through history, a perspective gained by generations of service to the family, is a perspective that will enhance the pursuits of women as they join men in endeavors traditionally denied to them.
She doesn’t seem to turn away from the mysteriously assigned role of women in the home, which I think is interesting. I generally tend to think of the world of work within the home and the world of work outside the home as mutually exclusive, and have believed I would have to choose one or the other. Rin seems to suggest that the world of domestic work traditionally given to women could round out, deepen, and provide an extra dimension to work outside the home.
So often, because domestic work is viewed as lesser, I try to ignore that, as a woman, I am still sort of pegged to it according to popular opinion. Rin turns this insecurity of mine on its head by suggesting that I am better equipped and better prepared because of the legacy of my mother and grandmothers and so on to enter the world of work outside the home, with a perspective that is fuller and more attuned to what should be the nature of all work, regardless of where it happens: service to our fellow human beings.
What do you think about the poem? Do women have something extra to bring to the table because of traditionally assigned roles? Do you agree with my interpretation of the poem?