Cleveland State University Poetry Center

The Fat Sheep Everyone Wants poems by Bern Mulvey

“Bern Mulvey’s The Fat Sheep Everyone Wants is a study in intimacy—an intimacy conspiring across cultures, languages, families, and landscapes despite histories of wars, racism, and difference. In our time of global connections, Mulvey has created a poetry of negotiation, of tender but insistent communication. This is a poetry of witness without the distance of the spectator. Complicated because implicated, the voice in these poems speaks with profound precision because where it stands just happens to be where we are standing.”
—Claudia Rankine, author of Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

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Butsuma
Time to meet the relatives, only they’re dead. It’s like a World War II newsreel, all the black-and-white, the marugari and fukurasuzume hairstyles, the montsuki, the formal death kimonos, even a sword or two. Why am I here? My mother-in-law-to-be narrates causes of death. This one, stomach cancer, that one, cerebral hemorrhage. She fast-forwards to her brother, machine-gunned then left in a ditch to die. By Americans, she says. I look up at his picture, more handsome than I’ll ever be, a dark-haired Emilio Estevez—this was no monster I am being told. She wants an explanation, they all do—I know it’s trite, but I feel them, all twenty or so, they want an apology. And I can’t do it, and I can’t explain, not here, not before the dead, how I have my own dead, my great-uncle sodomized by bayonet until he too died in a place called Bataan. Senso wa hidoi koto da—War is a horrible thing. I say this, and she starts to cry. After a while, she says to me, We will need your picture too, just in case.

 


 

Tamura-cho (a small village in Fukui Prefecture) is the setting for The Fat Sheep Everyone Wants, poems that touch on identity, assimilation, conflict, death, forgiveness and redemption. The title refers to the original ideographs (fat and sheep) that make up the modern Japanese character for beauty. This is not a tourist travelogue—the author writes from the perspective of someone both fluent in the language and conversant in the modern literature. Indeed, these poems can be seen as a challenge to the traditional representations of Japan in Western creative literature, participating instead in the flux of Japan’s modern literary styles and themes (e.g., the work of Ibaraki Noriko, Itou Hiromi, Takamura Koutarou, Asada Saho, Tawara Machi, etc.), the evolving and often critical dialectic among them.

 


 

“Bern Mulvey, an American living in Japan for many years, has absorbed much of that great culture, particulary its literature. The Fat Sheep Everyone Wants is a beautiful and powerful book that is at the same time restrained and yawping over the rooftops of the world, that is both as compressed as diamonds and expansive and full of life as a vast ocean. Godspeed this wonderful book!”
—Thomas Lux, author of The Cradle Place

“Bern Mulvey’s The Fat Sheep Everyone Wants is a study in intimacy—an intimacy conspiring across cultures, languages, families, and landscapes despite histories of wars, racism, and difference. In our time of global connections, Mulvey has created a poetry of negotiation, of tender but insistent communication. This is a poetry of witness without the distance of the spectator. Complicated because implicated, the voice in these poems speaks with profound precision because where it stands just happens to be where we are standing.”
—Claudia Rankine author of Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

About the Author:
Bern Mulvey has written poems, articles and essays in English and in Japanese, with recent work in Poetry, Agni, Hokuriku Shijin Shishuu, the London Times, Poetry East, Runes, Fine Madness, River City and the American Language Review. He is the former poetry editor of The Missouri Review and served as faculty advisor/editor of Black Rock & Sage (Idaho State University’s literary journal) for several years. Currently, he is Dean of Faculty at Miyazaki International College in Japan, the youngest dean in Japan and one of just three non-Japanese to hold this rank at a Japanese university.