The Flute Ship “Castricum”

by Amy England


“Whether it’s Japan or Chicago, the white rooms of an empty house or the empty walls of monastery, a vivid magical-realist sense of possibility laces these evocative locations together—swiftly. England’s work is a new form of traveling.”
–Cole Swensen

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In these richly-imagined poems, Amy England quite literally recreates the art form, showing us in poem after poem new ways to dazzle. Yet she makes us, somehow, perfectly comfortable, right at home. Endlessly smart, sensuous, funny, these poems make us gasp with recognition and pleasure. They won’t sit still: they perform for us.

“Babelujah” exults the poet, creating one of her worlds within words within worlds, where sound shapes sense, and sense is the future overtaking us, right now, zipping up fast out of nowhere. Amy England’s verse is full-bore polyphonic, textured, touchable, wrenching, celebratory. These bravados thrill with their gymnastic tumbling, their defiance of gravity—the law, and honoring of gravity—the mode. They are, these jewels, new-world brilliant, hauntingly inventive, ultimately transporting.

What falls from the sky? What, exactly, is it crows say when they gather together? Should you trust a snake with a monocle? What does the poet see in her sleep? Read on. On The Flute Ship Castricum, the muse is a library is a man in a white shirt, the mud tablets of the law are still wet (there’s time!), but hurry, the tourists are out in force. In these richly-imagined poems, Amy England quite literally recreates the art form, showing us in poem after poem new ways to dazzle. Yet she makes us, somehow, perfectly comfortable, right at home. Endlessly smart, sensuous, funny, these poems make us gasp with recognition and pleasure. They won’t sit still: they perform for us.

Whether it’s Japan or Chicago, the white rooms of an empty house or the empty walls of monastery, a vivid magical-realist sense of possibility laces these evocative locations together—swiftly. England’s work is a new form of traveling.

Cole Swensen


2001 Foreword Magazine Poetry Book of the Year Finalist

Co-Winner of the 2000 Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize in Poetry

amy englandAmy England received a B.A. in English from Brandeis University, an M.A. in English and creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Ph.D. in English and creative writing from the University of Denver. Her book of collages, For the Reckless Sleeper, was published by American Letters and Commentary in 2011. Her work has appeared in journals such as TriQuarterlyFenceMcSweeney’sField, and Denver Quarterly, and is anthologized in Sites of Insight (University of Colorado Press, edited by James Lough) and Best American Poetry 2001 (Simon and Schuster, edited by Robert Hass). She teaches at the writing program at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Examples of her translations of Japanese poetry, as well as other projects, are available at

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“Can’t See Fuji/Interesting”

Open door
Frame for our
Done labor:

Downrush of slope, slither of dark
Brown scree (whispering
Vesicular basalt), and up
Lumbering cut, path marked with white

Cast down trash. We sat on the floor
Of the seventh station, eating dinner,
And watched the open square

Plaster over
With iris blue
Fog of absolute

Work dimmed away, way
Undone. It was late, and we had just
Escaped erasure.

Bite and then bite
Of steam and rice in the
Warmed throat, eyes fixed
As if on the movie’s most

Exciting moment, Ice or iris wall
Of arriving night.


“The barbarian heart is hard to fathom; the Throne ponders
And dares not relax its armed defense…
Do we not bear ox knives to kill but a chicken,
Trade our most lovely jewels for thorns?”
-Rai Sanyoo

To “The Birth of the Land”

Complete and solidify this drifting land! This commanded the heavenly deities.

Izanagi and Izanami: He-who-invites and She-who-invites

Floating Heavenly Bridge: The six quarters are east west, north south, above below.

They held counsel together: When I met Reiko the first time, the cafeteria around us immediately became ugly. America, illuminated by her exile, was shabby, used, cheap,

saying, Is there not a country beneath? Cf. Coen, “In the observed latitude of 24 deg. 6 minu. saw, shortly after the noon, a large band of foam, mixed with a turbulence of current, wherein we saw many Portuguese Man-of-War and rock-weed, and round jelly-fishes and a piece of wood; which might be sure signs of land; but could see no land.”

Thereupon they thrust down the Jewel Spear of Heaven, and groping about therewith: As the plane descended there were gaps in the clouds, through which a crabbed, various scenery, the brief mirror gleam of drowned fields

found the ocean. A man. Looking out at Nagasaki Bay from the balcony of his study.

They stirred the salt water koworo-koworo “In the Morning at dawning it began to blow stiffly from the S.S.E., so that the sea within a short time became violently hollow, caused by the current which runs against the wind, and the sea which beats against the grounds; and a dense mist set also in… . It is here everywhere high land, what is to be seen in the draught

And the brine from the spear coagulated and became an island which received the name of Ono-goro-jima you find a low-lying bight, bearing North, and the high sand-dune, appearing like Kyckduyn at Huysduynen. This point we gave the name of Santduynige Hoeck, and is from the witte gepleckte hoeck, N.E. by N. about 12 leagues.”

The two deities thereupon descended and dwelt in this island (easier said). A man sitting in a winter house on the mud fan of Deshima. Four years in coming to Japan, he is now twenty paces from it, but cannot get there.

Accordingly they wished to become husband and wife together, and to produce countries. Accordingly I became a professional alien in a small trading company, staring out windows, pretending to compose a business letter.

… made Ono-goro-jima the center of the pillar of the land. I, on the other hand, can’t see any land.

Then the male deity inquired of the female deity, In thy body, is there aught formed? Thunberg faithfully followed the theories of Linnaeus, who insisted that the generative organs were the key to classifying plants,

She replied, saying, My body, formed though it be formed, comparing calyx to labia majora, corolla to labia minora,

has one place which is formed insufficiently. Earth the plant’s belly, vasa chylifera the roots, bones stem, lungs leaves, heart heat

Then Izanagi said, my body… has one place… which is formed to excess. There are sheets of pressed flowers on Thunberg’s table. Aster dubius. Amethystea caerulea. Verbena officialis, common vervain, Juno’s tears. It grows everywhere. He writes:

Therefore, I would like to take that place in which my body is formed to excess and insert it into that place in thy body which is formed insufficiently, and thus give birth to the land. How would that be? “I therefore earnestly desire you to permit me to sojourn on the mainland a sufficient time to accomplish my research, to our two countries’ mutual benefit.”

Now the male deity turning by the left, and the female by the right, Reiko, whose name means the sound of jewels, ultimate debutante, idea of east, married her gardener lover,

they went round the pillar of the land separately and nothing as interesting has happened to her since, to her relief. The world has narrowed to home again, and caught me in its pinch.

When they met together on the other side, the female deity spoke first: In the case of Salvia japonica, the two stamens within the bilabiate corolla meet late in anthesis,

Ana-ni-yasi, I have met with a comely youth! touching their anthers to the forked pistil, and then curl back around the inflexed outer lobes of the lower lip.

Izanagi was displeased: How is it that thou, a woman, shouldst have been the first to speak? “I hope you will not think me unmindful of your profound hospitality in this request…Your obedient servant, Carl Thunberg, physician to the Jan Compangie embassay.”

Nevertheless, they commenced to live as husband and wife. Rei, whose name is an arrow from a point, idea of east, doubtful star.

And gave birth to LEECH-CHILD, who even at the age of three could not stand upright. “At the time 3 glasses of the second watch had passed, saw still the light of our consort, but lost sight of it soon.”

Accordingly, they gave birth to the ROCK-CAMPHOR-REED-BOAT-OF-HEAVEN, in which they placed the leech child, and abandoned it to the winds. “With God’s help, we got clear of the land. Looking around for our consort [that is, the flute-ship Castricum], but could nowhere see her, over which we were sad again, did not know what to think whether she was lost or not.”

Nor did their minds take pleasure in the next birth, which was of the island Ahaji. “The island which will not meet,” i.e., is not satisfactory. May also be interpreted as “my shame.” The characters with which this name is written mean “foam road.” Perhaps the true derivation is “millet-land.”

To “Princess Yamato and Prince Plenty”

After this Yamato-toto-hi-momo-so-bime no Mikoto (Princess Japan; ni, sun, + hon, origin; Idea, that is, of East)

became the wife of Onomochi (also O-mono-nushi, the Great Land-lord God). I work on the tenth floor, in Nihonbashi, not far from that hotel where the Dutch ambassador stayed each year to greet the emperor. The physician was always a great draw, and a hundred scholars of Edo came to question him.

This god, however, was never seen in the daytime. What is unfamiliar one sees utterly, with the staring of an infant (feel the eyes go round and blue),

but then how do I know what I have seen? “As my Lord comes only at night, I am unable to view his August countenance distinctly.” I must study the map all over again. That night is North is old age, winter water, black tortoise. South, the noon where I am now, is phoenix fire, red of weddings.

The spring that Thunberg waited for is a topiary dragon, East, childhood, blue (for blue read green).”I beseech him therefore to delay a while:” The year seems to have stopped at June. Each day the hot concrete drives me in and up, to office to apartment, to any removal no matter how unsatisfactory. “That I may look upon the majesty of his beauty.” The Great God answered and said,

“Tomorrow I will enter thy toilet case and stay there.” Tomorrow, I will enter thy toilet case and stay there.

“I pray thee be not alarmed at my form” which opens to the eye like fire flowers, boom, red, bloom,white… I want the Eden of knowing a thing for the first time, over and over, without end.

Princess East wondered secretly in her heart at this. In the morning windows, all that is ungrounded floats by, a green balloon, a black plastic bag upright as if carried. Waiting until daybreak, she looked. A sheet of blank paper spirals up and out of sight, never reaching the end of its updraft.

There was a beautiful little snake, here a bird, Pterodroma leucoptera, there a vine, Bryonia japonica, of the length and thickness of the cord of a garment. The lungs leaves. The bight like Kyckduyn. This isn’t like anything.

Thereupon she was frightened, and uttered an exclamation-

The Great God… “Thou didst not contain thyself, but has caused me shame:” Night will come pressing, shouldering aside the blue and possible: “I will in my turn put thee to shame.” Will stand in the window, lighted body exposed to the blank dark-

So treading the Great Void: The window washer spiders down, so treading, feet flat against the glass, Great Void,

he ascended to Mount Mimoro. I have a fine view from here of lost possessions on the rooftops, a sodden open Bible, a red plastic shoe. Objects should all be birds the way, muscular and rustling, they have eluded hands.

She looked up and disappeared into the tapestry of trees. I can hear and had remorse the bird-flute of her crying.

Throws herself on the bed, the tears, why did you marry me, when I had thought her dignity would bear anything. She flopped down on a seat and with a chopstick stabbed herself in the pudenda so that she died. Hygrophilia lancea: intimacy, that spear. She was buried at O-chi.

Men called that place the Chopstick Tomb. Thunberg examines the flattened stems of the Erigeron (man early old) which he has men called scadens, creeping. An interpreter gave it in exchange for a diagram of the chambers of the heart heat phoenix tomb.

It was made by men in the daytime, and by the gods at night. Death is a metal, a tiger, West, an autumn slow in coming. It is built of white stones carried from Mount O-saka. Meanwhile, I’m pleading with the houses, streets, the very stones, gods at night, don’t reveal yourselves yet to me.

Now the people standing close to each other “sculler-boat came along-side, was manned with 7 scullers and 5 nothing-doing Japanese; brought us 4 fine red rock-breams aboard, for which standing close we gave them some rice.” Passed the stones from hand to hand and if I had a stone in hand, I’d command it to be a geode that wouldn’t break, a gem no one would trade for.

And thus transported them To spear and fix the living object. I wish, Reiko, I could unlearn your name. To the funeral bell, Salvia, Thunberg added the clapper japonica: from the mountain to the tomb. “The water was here very foul and green.” A man need not fear death who has sage in his garden.

Jericho, Trumpet

A major earthquake in the 6th century C.E. changed the outline for ever. That was the real author of the Ruinenviereck, of the rubble structure, and of and in Chiang Mai, I made a circuit; the top line of the ancient city wall rose and fell, fell down to the foundation. Patches of grass grew on it, even flowers. I thought in approval, ruins flourish here
to let infatuation fuel the thing. Picture the archaeologist picturing the Nike descending to the air above his head. He tells himself he will look up and see her, the beaten air, he will be in the picture. But he has been studying the ground for a long time now and doesn=t look up easily.

Crack, fragment, crumble, erode, sliver, piece, potsherd, Persephone, torrent, break, infatuations.

he was going to do with such paltry fragments? [The painter] answered, “They are the finest things in the world to introduce into our pieces. When I have such a fine parcel as that piece of a column, and this water before me, and a small dark off-scape behind it, they, together, immediately compose a perfect ordonnance. Oh! you cannot imagine, how extraordinary and full of variety these objects are. This is the finest place on earth for a curious artist; all is painter-like; every thing lies so loose, pretty and wild, that few good masters would refuse coming hither to design these wonders; and nothing but the present high wind hinders their being here.

The ruin has been scavenged to build a fort against pirates, and that fort is falling down. Below its walls, attached to them, scavenged from its stones, are the remains of a wall to enclose some sheep. On a block in it there is a procession of maidens walking on their toes, playing the lyre drum and pipes, imitating a style from hundreds of years before the sculptor was born.

Starting with Davenport’s Archilochos

[distracted,] you are busy with [the boat out]
of Imbros [, linen-bound ship that
the wind] repulses [smartly to its dark harbor.
My] well wishing [eye sees you with combs of black honey]

And I hope [smoke luminaries with flames of pitch,
you having learned to] make use of [the bees
that hive basalt,] busy
to drive confusion [out of the cooling
stone,] having [in mind some throne’s measure.]

Ubarian Construction: Building Codes

1. Wear the boots with the separated toes for better gripping.
2. Clear area of ivy and other impediment.
3. Grasp with firmness.
4. When you have the tool, please plane the wood eagerly until planed.
5. When stirring mortar, make clockwise stirs, thinking of the strongest bonds, like those between immediate family members.
6. When you have cleared the area of shavings, you will feel refreshment.
6A. Do not talk to a monkey. Do not touch a monkey.
Do not feed a monkey. Do not scream at a monkey.
7. All ceilings, as of the beginning of the year, must be painted in a shade of lemon green available only at the Central Building Code Center. The price is high; the lines, long