TAKING FLIGHT

Origami cranes lumber into flight
and lift into the sky
over the small, back street Temple
somewhere on the periphery of Shinjuku.
They know their flight will be
only temporary, that their wings
will grow quickly tired, that
the rustling sound
of two thousand wings
will soon fall silent
as the breeze bids them
a peaceful night,
and the Temple bell
announces the evening zazen.

ARRIGATO, GAZAIMUS

The old man walks slowly
through the opulent lobby
the light of the triple chandeliers
refracted into a thousand spectra
that dance on mirrored walls.
The guard gently touches his elbow
steering him as though he is blind
drunk, while the bellman walks
a step behind, like Charlton Heston
through an invisible sea.
The man wears a shabby sport coat
that was a ghastly green
on the day it was sold
years ago, his sneakers
are from different pairs, linked
only by their once whiteness.
The bellman dashes in front
of the pair, raising his arm
to part the sea of glass encasing
the lobby in a constant chill
from the July furnace of Tokyo.
They exit, pause, a hundred
feet from the doors, and bow gently
one to each other, so many chickens
pecking over seeds of civility.
The guard stands by the door
watching intently as the man
retreats to the welcoming  streets.

TEINEI-SA 丁寧さ

He crawls out from under the blue tarp
strung between two trees and a park bench
with the first light of morning breaking
over Shinjuku Chuo park, slowly erasing
the shadows cast by the Metropolitan Government Building.
He neatens the surrounding concrete,
ready for the soon to be arriving crowd
that appear each morning for Tai Chi.
As the elderly men and women pass,
he bows slightly to each and each
gently returns the bow with a smile.
He goes off to visit friends by the
Kumano Shrine, knowing that when he returns
he will likely find the empty covered tin
that sits on the stone that marks his
blue plastic home replaced with another
with sticky rice and bits of dried fish
or pickled vegetables, for in this
always teeming city, there is
even a great civility to homelessness.

NIGHTWAY TOKYO

It is well into
the Season When Thunder Sleeps
and the crowds no longer
snaked through  Shinjuku Park
where even the stones were
in quiet hibernation.
The sun fell quickly
sucking away the light
bringing the sleep of dreams
and nightmares, of love
and terror and despair.
The night chant began
for yet another night
the intonation of the dancers
flitting around
the ceremonial pit
dug into the street,
all wearing the badge
of the clan, the uniform
and helmet of a true
army of the road.
They wore the tribal masks
to ward off the dust and diesel.
and performed the Yeibichaiy
as their gods had directed,
struggling to excise the demons
and return harmony to the city.

TENT CITY

From my window
on the twenty-sixth floor
they appear as so many
blue roofs, arranged
in small villages in
Shinjuku-Chuo Park below.

At 6:30 in the morning
many older Japanese gather
in sweater vests and hats
despite the humidity to
perform the tai chi ritual.

Nearby hands and feet
emerge from blue tarp
tents crammed with all
manner of belongings.
From a nearby tree a young
man reaches for a shirt left to
dry overnight, a young women
crouches by the fountain
brushing her teeth, another
older man carefully shaving
to bare the last vestige of pride.
They go about lives, one
cutting hair, an old office chair
his salon, another stands over
a pot on a steel drum stove
scooping tea for those who want.
He pauses, as I bow slightly
and he returns the gesture
with a smile.

TOKYO SCENES (PART 2)

Scene 1

From atop the Century Hyatt
Shinjuku Chuo Park
is a desolate maze
of asphalt, its fountains
stilled by winter.
The horizon is dotted
by the cranes,
great and small,
perched precariously
engaged in their manic dance
bending and swooping
in defiance of the gods.

Scene 2

Shinjuku Station
is washed by the waves
of riders who flow along
its corridors, as though
pulled by some hidden tide.
Tokyo, the orderly, tidy city
recalls that it is home
to 10 million, and the soul
of a nation.

TOKYO SCENES (PART 1)

Scene I

Garish neon blazes
its siren call, Lucky 7777,
Vegas Land, Anima Parlor,
countless others, and inside
the Pachinko machines
scream out their riotous
cacophony, drowning thought
as the balls dance in their maze
indifferent to the intent stares
of the player, and the smoke
which covers the room
with its acrid pall.
Scene II

In Rappongi, night
brings rebirth, the neon
jungle is lustful, and
the animals stir in response.
They line up outside
of the clubs dancing
to unheard music
captured by the ghosts
that yield the day
with a struggle.
The music pours out
over the streets,
an atonal sedoka
written in the sand.

AWAKENING

He could not hope to remember
how he got there, he had wandered
in search of nothing in particular,
save dinner as his hunger grew,
but in Shinjuku you needn’t read
Japanese since the menus sat
molded in plastic in the window
of even the smallest restaurants.
He began to look more intently
when he saw the path off the street,
a calico cat beckoning him,
so he entered, knew instantly
he was at a small Buddhist temple,
and bowed to the statue of Kannon
hidden amid the flock of cranes.
He felt the touch of the young monk,
followed him into the small zendo,
sat seiza at the monk’s nodding,
and as evening washed over them both,
time and hunger ceased to matter.
Interminably later, over a cup of tea,
the monk said in broken English, “you
carry me with you to home place,” pointing
to his heart, “and I keep you in Japan,”
repeating the gesture, and as he
regained his bearings, saw
the Metropolitan Center which
was his pole star for the hotel
he walked lightly back, forgetting
he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

SHINJUKU

The sun rises slowly
painfully, stiff from the cold
night air, creeping upward,
barely warming the streets.
In Shinjuku Central Park
the trees are still
despite the cold breeze.
The small group gathers
for morning stretches
and Tai Chi, smiling
toward the fountain
and the ten foot waterfall
they call Niagara.
The siren cuts through the dawn
and the morning is shattered
by a car horn.
The Akita stops
at the wizened  bush
as his master sits calmly
on his bicycle.
In the distance
the lights on the Tokyo
tower blink off
and in the Imperial Palace
the Emperor arises
from a night of fitful sleep.

THREE TOKYO SCENES

Scene I

Just off Shinjukuchuokoen North,
nestled in the courtyard
of the Green Tower, hides
Jyoufuji Temple, serene
in the first light of morning,
the sun dancing off the ceremonial
bell its striker poised, as if
waiting to catch the wind
and to it sing its resonant song.
Inside, the prayer mats await
the first supplicants of the day
below the sandalwood alter
and above it all, behind
the gossamer curtain, sitting lotus
Buddha smiles at the oneness.

Scene IV

In the small yard
of the matchbox house
the lone Ginkgo,
twisted by time,
feels the barrenness
of winter’s tongue
and mourns
its solitude.

Scene X

The ancient trees are twisted
and gnarled, clinging
to the small band of soil.
They lean as if to hear
some whispered word,
held in place by the braces
fashioned carefully,
their trunks wrapped in bark
tied neatly with twice,
to sooth against the chafe
of the brace, of the
unrelenting wind.