Stepping into the hotel, it was like being dropped into a truly alien world. Nothing shiny, no excess of glass and marble. A simple dark wooden reception desk, a clerk in black with a white vest. A bow upon approaching. Your room is simple, no internet, a single light on a small desk. A tatami mat in the corner. A hard wired phone. And you know, in the distance, the Daibutsu awaits you in the morning. Here there is no CNN International, nothing that isn’t Japanese. Your computer is essentially useless, a fax machine in the office for emergencies. And the nearest business center, sorry closed, is in the city. The Internet is coming soon, they promise . But on your morning run, as you catch your breath on the step outside the Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, a deer comes up to you and licks your face and you know this morning Daibutsu is smiling.
Now that I have discovered
my Catholic and Protestant ancestors
I know it is time to consider
what hell must be like.
I know it is not fire and brimstone,
that went the way of old lore
when the Impressionists came along.
So I imagine Hell must be
very much like getting caught
looking at the new cars
in the showroom while you wait
for your car to be serviced,
having already figured out how
you will raise the money to buy it back.
The devil is defnitely the nice
young salesman who knows just
what you want in a new car even
though you have no idea, what
options you obviously need,
and before you know it he
has you at his desk discussing
how you can finance the car
that you did not want
and cannot afford after
buying your old car back.
It was probably that moment
just after we sat down
at our new, huge or so
they seemed, desks
and the large person
in the front of the room
smiled at us and said
“I will teach you all
that you need to learn
this year so pay attention.”
Perhaps we stopped
thinking the year before
but I do think the first
day of first grade
truly marked the moment
of our mental subjugation.
He should have known
that the day was doomed
from the moment he woke
to see his alarm clock in pieces
on the floor by his bed, the cat
grinning at him from the place
where the clock had always sat.
Finally arriving at the office,
he was no sooner at his desk
when the fire alarm bell rang.
Within moments of reentering
after the all clear, it rang again,
and his own, very private
Chinese fire drill was under way.
The day calmed until, after lunch,
the Regional Manager arrived,
gathered everyone at the great
round conference table, and
demanded to know who
had made a simple error,
and watched as the inevitable
circular firing squad began.
He stares at the collection
of pens crammed tightly into
a coffee mug whose handle
had long since broken away.
He knows some are dead,
awaiting a proper burial,
following a brief memorial
service paying homage
to their illustrious past.
He is certain that one
or more is secretly harboring
the poem or story that he
has been meaning to write,
the one that the journal
on the desk has been waiting
its entire lifetime to receive.
(Instructions for Mourning a Marriage)
It didn’t come with an instruction manual,
no simple, poorly translated diagrams
telling me to “be inserting Tab A
into the Slot B,” none anywhere to be found.
But I was young, and didn’t worry,
despite entreaties to get help first
before beginning the intricate task of assembly.
I laid out all of the parts carefully
until it looked about right, and made
my own checklist, noting each part in detail,
smug when I found that all were present
including a couple that had no discernable purpose.
I cobbled together a small toolkit,
things that looked like they might work
and set about the laborious task of building it.
It went together fairly easily, logical connections
made, wires twisted and wrapped in small bits
of duct tape, until it took shape and function.
I reached out gingerly for the starter switch
and depressed it with great trepidation.
It began to hum, its gears crawled to life,
almost meshing seamlessly, with only
the occasional groan, shake and click
from some dark corner of the machine.
For some time it worked reasonably well,
with occasional starts and stops,
but nothing a little oil didn’t correct.
Every now and again I would find the odd part
left in its wake, and for a while
I would put them in a drawer in my desk.
But they grew too numerous, and since it
kept sputtering along, I slowly discarded them.
Now I can’t tell when it happened, since
I long ago stopped checking it each morning,
but one morning recently I turned to it
and it sat, refusing to move, static.
I pushed and prodded it. It sat.
I changed its battery. It shuddered and sat.
I took it to the repair shop and they stared
until one of them laughed and said,
“There is absolutely nothing we can do, we have
no idea how it worked this long, all we can say
is give it a proper burial, and next time
do yourself a favor and read the fuckin’ manual.”
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).