OH MY GOD

On the subway there was a placard
telling me and all of the other riders
where we could find God, promising
salvation if we made the search.

Someone had scrawled beneath it
“God is ded.” I was left to wonder
if the writer also thought that God
was now somehow deceased,

and how you would know
if that were really the case, since
you’d be struck deaf, dumb
and blind if you were in His presence,

unless, of course, you were
an evangelical preacher, in which
case you talked to the man upstairs
with great regularity, making

certain you never, ever disclosed
how much you were taking in
in collections each Sunday, lest
God claim his portion of the take.

SENSO-JI

By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”

TOKYO MEMORIES

1.
An older, silver-haired woman
in neon green pants, a brown blouse
and black shop apron stoops
and carefully scrubs
the alleyway outside her small shop.

2.
Salarymen fill the tunnels
of Kokkai-gijidomae station
at 6 P.M., 7, 8, and in fewer numbers, 9,
shuffling down the long corridors
to the Chiyoda or Marunouchi Line trains,
where they will sit stiffly, faces in books
or papers, or they will hang from the straps
another day complete, ticked off the schedule.
They will dream of trading polyester suits
for wool, and a desk not pressed
against half-height cubicle walls.

3.
Akasaka-mitsuke Station:
the electronic sign marks
the next train for Shibuya at 17:52.
It is 17:54 and the face
of the stationmaster is a mix
of anger and frustration for
such tardiness cannot be accepted.