“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

black kelp

diced fish.

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?