27-year-old Woman Arrested for Infanticide; Tokyo, Japan (A broken and dismembered Tanka from an overheard news report, ca. 2003)

He was dead when he came out—
That blood’s more his than mine.

Then I just put him in the fridge;

It seemed like the thing to do—
To keep his flesh from spoiling.

Francesca Leader

3 Questions for Francesca

What was your process for creating this work?

"The Last Room" was inspired by my grandmother, who suffers from dementia.

"27-Year-Old Woman Arrested for Infanticide" is essentially a found poem, consisting of a retooled statement I took from a Japanese news broadcast in the early 2000s. I was a visiting fellow at Reitaku University in Minami-Kashiwa City from late 2002 to early 2004, and spent a lot of time–when I wasn't in class–watching TV in my dorm room, writing down interesting or useful phrases that I overheard.

What is the significance of the form(s) you chose?

In "The Last Room," I used a house with interconnected rooms as a metaphor for my grandmother's deteriorating mind. Portraying this metaphor in a visual poem, which gives the words shape as well as sound, felt like the only way to give the work the concrete presence I felt it needed.

In "27-Year-Old Woman Arrested for Infanticide," I used a variation on the tanka form in part because I wanted the conciseness of a traditional Japanese poem, and in part to suggest the slight awkwardness of an imperfect English translation.

What is the significance of this work to you?

Writing "The Last Room" helped me to accept the nature of my grandmother's disease which, as I understand it, is more about loss of access than actual loss. I find it comforting, in a strange way, to know that all the parts of my grandmother's wonderful mind are still in there somewhere, complete and intact, even if she can't access them any longer.

I remember wondering, as I jotted the lines that would later become "27-Year-Old Woman Arrested for Infanticide," what kind of awful experiences may have brought a woman to the point of putting her newborn baby in the freezer. I imagined there must have been some deep trauma in her life. I also wondered whether it was the woman's strange behavior or just plain systemic misogyny that made the police doubt that the baby had been stillborn. Both possibilities seemed equally plausible.

Francesca Leader is a writer and artist whose fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the J Journal, CutBank, Coffin Bell, and elsewhere. Her original translation of the iconic Japanese “iroha” poem was awarded first prize in the Society of Classical Poets’ 2021 Poetry Translation Competition. You can find her on IG and Twitter @moon.in.a.bucket.

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