In Asakusa amid the stalls of trinkets and swords why do the gaijin all speak German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish and English is reserved to a couple if Nisei.
In a small laundromat in Akasaka an old woman clucks and shuffles on wooden sandals pulling kimonos from the dryer. My t-shirts are still damp.
In Shibuya there is a small storefront pet shop, its windows full of cat ryokan some with beds others replete with toys, balls. In the largest a tiger striped Persian sleeps, her back to the passing crowds.
At Meiji Jingu I toss my coin and bow in prayer hopeful that the gods speak English.
On the Ginza line a young woman all in black carries a carefully wrapped poster of John Lennon. In thirty years she will look like Yoko Ono.
First published in Around the World: Landscapes & Cityscapes, Sweetycat Press, 2021
The most interesting thing about visiting websites from foreign news services is that so many offer content in English and how deaths that occur locally seem to invoke the same sadness, horror, belated honor, and that local disasters take precedence over our own disasters not merely because it happened there and not here, but because the losses are greater, the damage far worse, the faces far less white. We hold the world up to the mirror often, but is only our face we see, and those like us standing behind, and we are blind to so much of what goes on around us, because this color blindness is of the sort that disables seeing at all rather than seeing all in monochrome.
He had planned the exercise for weeks, certain this one would allow them to break through the wall that had imprisoned the metaphors within them. It was simple, and that was its beauty, too many attempts had become bogged down, mired in the fear that words could do the greatest harm. The exercise is simple, he said, and they put pens to paper. Later, toward the end of class, “would one of you be kind enough to read to the class your description of a young woman’s lips?” One boy meekly rose and through half clenched teeth said, “Her lips were precisely shaped to barely cover her teeth.”
First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).
My grandmother lapsed into Yiddish only on special occasions “where other words won’t fit” she said, where there is no English to describe the indescribable, blessed be He, but we knew that it was merely a convenient way to keep us out of the conversation, while they clucked. Mah Johng is a game that can only be played in Yiddish, she said, to hell with thousands of years of Chinese history.
She remembers the Golem she met him once on Fourteenth Street when she still had the liquor store. She thought it strange that he wanted gin and not Slivovitz but Golem can be strange under the right circumstances, and he did speak Yiddish.
Then, in a moment, it stopped without warning or obvious cause and it was suddenly dark. I thought of prying open the doors, stepping out into the tunnel, proceeding slowly down the narrow walkway eventually into morning. In the dark, the few bulbs remaining cast a faint glow. It was easy, I knew, to slip from the path onto the rails where a misstep is fatal. When I told her all of this she clucked and said I have these problems because I dreamed only in English with its minefield grammar, where a misstep would blow up the ghosts of the day which had waited so patiently for the exorcism of sleep. She said she could dream in five languages, but to avoid confusion limited herself to English and Mandarin so when she sensed she was drifting toward the dam, she could take up pictograms and ride them across the river of night.