OLD HOTEL, NARA

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.

AUDITIONS DAILY

It should be easy, my friend said,
to imagine yourself a character
in a novel you particularly like,
like I’ve found myself in any number
of Tom Clancy novels, since I can
easily become a CIA agent, it fits me.

I know I’d shoot myself in the foot
or worse, and I’d keep no secrets
if you even threatened to torture me,
and the odds of me finding my own
Doctor Watson are slim, harder still
since I abhor even the thought
of opium, and I gave up my pipe
years ago when the girls found it
odd or disgusting, not the cool I sought.

So I’m left with being a young Japanese
woman negotiating life in modern
Tokyo, or the countryside, but I’m
nit sure Banana Yoshimoto would
buy me as her protagonist, so I suppose
I could do a quick deep dive into
ballet and try and pass for Shimamura,
but I know I’d opt for Yoko and that
wouldn’t suit Kawabata at all

Come to think of it, I have a hard
enough time being myself, and even
as my own author, I find that I
would never accept myself as my
protagonist, so that role is still
available if you would care to audition.

GENDER?

So why, pray tell, does my gender
even matter, it isn’t like we will ever.
meet, and let’s face it, there is
a fluidity now which calls binary
thinking absurd, so we’ll go with
whatever you choose, so long
as you realize I am all about
compassion and relieving
the world’s suffering – thought
that might color your opinion
a bit, good you got the yin of it

And let’s talk about the whole
name thing, I mean, sure, it changes
when you change languages, I’m
okay with that, I guess but if
you are going to use me in Japan
why not use my Japanese name,
I am particularly fond of Kannon,
I’m down with Guanyin, used
that one all over Asia, but seriously
do you really think I want to go
around these days as Avalokiteśvara,
I’m centuries old, so show me
A bit more compassion than that.


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D’ACCORD

There is a reason for this
as there is is a reason for most things
whether we like it or not, I tell my son.
He gives me that smile that says
“I do not agree at all with that,
but you are my father, and so
I won’t disagree,” but I know
he means this only as
a Japanese hai, yes, I understand,
but I will take it as hai, I agree.
I don’t speak Japanese,
neither does my son, but we
both know that if we
were right now in France
the one thing he wouldn’t
be saying is d’accord, father or no.

THIS TIME AROUND

He says that in his prior life,
this being second he knows of,
he was Japanese, although he did
have a cousin in China, but he
doesn’t know his name anymore.
He wasn’t there for the war
with Okinawa, but he knows
that karate was developed then,
and it’s why, in this life
he studies karate, because
it’s part of his heritage.
He says he has many more stories
to tell of his prior life, he
remembers it quite well,
but that’s all he will tell us
today, for a six-year-old
needs to dole out stories slowly.

PAPAL EDICT

She said “now what they’ve taken away limbo”
sounding a bit depressed,
“not that you proceed express
to the ferry dock, but
that was a snap, all
you were carefully taught
is suddenly wrong or irrelevant.
“It would be like Isaac,”
I say, “climbing Mount Moriah
with Abraham finding a ram
tethered to a waiting altar.”
My mother wants to know
how I can claim to be once Jewish
as though the moyel
also took my freedom of religion.
“We have no hell” she reminds me
“at least after death.”
I silently respond
and try to tell her that
I still don’t have a hell,
at least not as she conceives it.
“But I read,” she says, “the Tibetan
Book of the Dead, and hell
is very, very real.”
I tell her my Buddhism is Chinese
through a fine Japanese filter
and it is the next life
in which I will pay for this one.
She says “I wouldn’t want
to come back again,” and
on that point we find
the beginnings of common ground.

A SMALL GARDEN (HAIKU)

sitting, time biding
leaf floats down from branch
trampled under foot

 

road salt crusts over
etched into a chrome bumper
the heron returns

 

pine needles a bed
for the deer and the hunter
tall pines cry leaden tears

 

tangled broken branch
dangling from a barren oak
awaiting spring rain

 

giant cranes are perched
on thin spindly legs, necks bowed
steel beams scratch the clouds