Soy Sauce


Standing on a stepladder
            up under hot ceiling
tacking on wire net for plaster,
a day's work helping Bruce and Holly on their house,
I catch a sour salt smell and come back
            down the ladder.

"Deer lick it nights" she says,
and shows me the frame of the window she's planing,
clear redwood, but dark, with a smell.

"Scored a broken-up, two-thousand-gallon redwood
soy sauce tank from a company went out of business
down near San Jose."

Out in the yard the staves are stacked:
I lean over, sniff them, ah! it's like Shinshu miso,
the darker saltier miso paste of the Nagano
uplands, central main island, Japan–
it's like Shinshu pickles!

I see in mind my friend Shimizu Yasushi and me,
one October years ago, trudging through days of snow
crossing the Japan Alps and descending
the last night, to a farmhouse,
taking a late hot bath in the dark–and eating
            a bowl of chill miso radish pickles,
            nothing ever so good!

Back here, hot summer sunshine in dusty yard,
            hammer in hand.
But I know how it tastes
            to lick those window frames
            in the dark,
                                          the deer.


Gary Snyder, No Nature: New and Selected Poems, Pantheon Books, 1992.