And in that moment I decided not to tell my story to anyone

Read ten days ago in a tea room on the Tokyo University of Arts campus in Ueno Park. Ten days ago already! With the poet Dot Devota (who read poems from her forthcoming book, And the Girls Worried Terribly) and the artist James Jack (who screened a film documenting an installation-in-progress on the island of Shodoshima). I read poems. Mostly poems I’m still working on, though some barely even written. I had been, for eighteen nights prior to the reading, writing poems in bed before sleep—lights out, glasses off, face in the pillow—in a tiny, unlined sketchbook I bought on a narrow street in Tainan, Taiwan. I read from these. And because I wrote late at night, in the dark, every night without fail I passed out, pen in hand, making much of the writing unintelligible, so that while reading, I had to improvise the ink stains. I also read, without preface or explanation, testimony from five hibakusha—survivors of the atomic bomb—we met a year earlier, in Hiroshima: Isao Aratani (13 years old at the time of the bombing), Shoso Hirai (16 years old at the time), Sumiko Hirosawa (17 years old), Keiko Ogura (8 years), Keijiro Matsushima (16). In fact, it was a year ago today: August 6, 2011. Lisa and I were in Hiroshima for the 66th anniversary of the bombing. We had been there a week. It was our last day in the city, and our last night in Japan. It was also my birthday. I was turning 33. We spent an hour, in the early afternoon, with Isao, Shoso, Sumiko, Keiko and Keijiro, listening to their stories of that day, 66 years earlier. Their stories were fragmented, yet clear, and made of themselves an unfolding motion in the present. Listening to their stories, thinking about their stories and the experience of listening to them, I thought, These are not stories of the past, of August 6, 1945, but of today, this moment now. These are stories in the present tense. August 6 has not yet ended—in the way that a moment—catastrophic or otherwise arrested—releases itself across time, often through some kind of ritual space, imprinting an impression, or cloud—a shadow—by which the minds of the subsequent generations circumscribe that moment within a field of tremendous neglect, where it resides, against general thinking, which thinks otherwise, if at all. August 6 has not yet ended. Some of the hibakusha had shared their stories many times before. Some had only recently begun to share. They told their stories relatively straight, both in and out of time. I felt compelled to write down as much as I could, without taking my eyes off each of them. When their stories ended, we gathered in the front of the room. We moved our chairs close. We were invited to speak and ask questions. Whereas the hibakusha had told their stories in English, they answered our questions in Japanese. Having broke with the act of story-telling, their emotions became more evident. They each became more pensive, uncertain, and even more generous. Shoso Hirai began talking freely about his anger, something he did not express in his story. He talked about his hatred for the United States. In a room in the basement of the Peace Memorial Museum, we were listening. These were no longer stories, but responses within the unending day. Shoso came up to us later and shook both our hands, three times each. He apologized for his English, which we understood perfectly. His voice was majestic, wizened, drawn from the back of an ancient yet well-preserved instrumentthe ribs of a bird, the neck of an insect. His vowels were pulled long. Know what has happened, do not forget, and at the same time never will you know. (Maurice Blanchot). Shoso’s face was taut, his arms were thin, he was a gentleman. Before the reading in Tokyo, I started to become nervous about reading the hibakusha testimonies I had transcribed. Three years earlier, in a small restaurant in Beirut, I read two poems to a small audience of Lebanese poets, including also a man who introduced himself as the “mayor” of southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel. The poems were made of, among other things, violence and death. Reading them in Beirut felt like putting them to the test, though I realized how reductive the thought was, how little I knew of the people there with me, the country around them, and, in fact, the inherent qualifications of the poems I had written. After the reading, one of the poets took us to a Communist bar in West Beirut. On our way, he pointed to an apartment building and said, I had a girlfriend who lived there. She died. When we asked how, he said, She was killed by a bomb. The Communist bar was unmarked, and had only two tables. When we entered, the bartender threatened to kill us—he had a rifle behind the bar—but loosened when he was assured we were poets. We stayed until morning, drinking and eating fruit the bartender pulled from a freezer. I turned 31 in Beirut. We swam in the Mediterranean. I was particularly conscious of the audience while reading the hibakusha testimonies in the tea room in Tokyo—which is to say, particularly conscious of myself, my body, my consciousness, vulnerably felt there before them. But, attempting to remain faithful to the impulse and the (ideally, hopefully) organic emergence of voices in the particular moment, as simultaneous with my own thoughts about them, used that self-consciousness as part of the truth and honesty of my nerves, frayed down the length of each line. It was a putting to the test. I have written often about the bombing of Hiroshima, sometimes explicitly, sometimes subliminally, and throughout have often wondered why, and how and whether it is going. There are stories, then we step outside the stories to address what and how it is we feel. We are not nations, after all, but curious and hungry, and as interested in what’s happening elsewhere. I turned 34 today. We are now in Tucson, Arizona. The desert. On the day my father turned 34, I was 3 years old. On the day my mother turned 34, I was 6. A few years ago, I asked my mom to write down everything she could remember about the day I was born. Her remembrance was fragmented, full of energy, and ended with the following lines: I don’t remember seeing you. I don’t even remember when I first saw you. When I read this I thought, That’s good, right? That means I’m still possible.

Moon and sun are passing figures of countless generations, and years coming or going wanderers too

Not long after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami—March 11, 2011—Shotaro Yoshino went on a driving tour up the Tohoku coast. Shotaro is an artist. One of his installations—a small stretch of lifted earth—is pictured above. He was visiting the Tohoku region as a curious and impassioned person, and as an artist. His impulses as both motivated him to film the drive. He mounted a video camera on the dash of his car, and captured, widely and without inflection, the spring landscape in Tohoku. The night we first met Shotaro—his friends call him Sho—he screened for us his video. He had just picked us up from the port at Tonosho, on the island of Shodoshima, where we had arrived by ferry from Okayama. He brought us back to his place, a defunct elementary school in the small town of Kamano, on the Mito Peninsula. Us: Lisa, me, our friend James, Sho’s dog Beck. As we ate fish and drank Suntory beer, we asked Sho about his artwork. He showed images of site-specific installations, and then, full-screen across a long white wall, projected his drive up the coast of Tohoku. The video is of the landscape through the windshield of Sho’s car, fairly head-on, trained slightly to the left. The landscape is a wasteland, resembling, variously, on both sides of the road, a landfill, a transfer station, a war-ravaged city, a militarized zone, a clear-cut, a desert. Only detritus remained of towns completely removed from the earth. Piles of brush, gutted buildings, crushed cars, enormous boats heaved onto pedestals of rooftops and trash, the imprints of houses, massive entanglements of color and wire and wooden and rotten and undifferentiated mass—materials with and by which lives had been built and based, constituted of elements momentarily arranged, as though to be binding, and at the present limit of what the human mind was able to make practical of imagination and necessity, and the barreling efficiency with which everything taken for granted could be—and was—dispensed back into the base, implacable earth. The camera documented Sho’s drive through Ofunato (Iwate Prefecture) and Kesennuma (Miyagi Prefecture), among other towns, leading him—and us, over a year later—through destruction that was impossible to fathom, perforating, slowly, image-by-image, the seams of consciousness to which we normally hold something of a physically and mentally quantifiable relationship, until the tenuous connection has been fully bitten through. I asked Sho what he was thinking as he drove. He was fully three kilometers from shore. He said at first he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and that as he continued to drive, he started to view the damage as a kind of attraction. He detached. Dead bodies were everywhere beneath mountainous piles of refuse, and yet, Sho said he didn’t feel the presence of ghosts. Death was the rule. Ghosts are an anomaly to—a rupturing of—the rule of life, however part of it. If death is the rule, ghosts become the living, and the living become the anomaly—the rupture. Sho didn’t feel the presence of ghosts because they were the majority; he, and all who moved about the ruins, were the ghosts. In the spring of 1689, the poet Matsuo Basho left the city of Edo (Tokyo) to travel north to the Tokohu region of Honshu. He traveled primarily on foot. He recorded his travels in poetry and prose in a journal that came to be known as Oku no Hosomichi, The Narrow Road to Oku. Detached imagination often takes a bird’s-eye view, as, for example, informed by introductory documents of disasters, made from above, as if through an objective regard of humanity and its demesne. Horror—and, inversely, appreciation—begins when one’s feet not only touch earth for the first, but sink into it. In Ofunato, waves from the tsunami reached heights of over 75 feet. Envision a seven-story building. But also envision the horizontal reach of the waves of a tsunami, moving with terrifying insistence across a landscape from the ocean, gathering everything it touches, the waves becoming the things touched and gathered, leaving the unobstructed color of the ocean in the ocean and becoming black with the earth and the things now being carried. The waves were entire towns. There were, of course, people everywhere within, but like the first official photographs that came out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the landscape seemed without human presence. Or rather, humans. Their presence made the landscape a ruin. I don’t mean humans ruined the landscape, but that the ruins of the landscape were theirs; lifetimes’ accumulations were massed in the aftermath. I asked Sho if there was looting. He said a small number of locals of the decimated towns were spreading rumors of looting by Chinese and Korean inhabitants of the region. Driving north, Sho passed from one flattened town to another, though occasionally passing entire towns or sections of towns that looked completely untouched—areas slightly elevated above where the waves reached—so a road or small rise or hill separated annihilation and death from another day. Among the photographs Sho took while walking around—out of the car, meeting and talking with the people that were there—was a series of a woman in her 70’s, planting something small and green in a rectangular clearing of soil surrounded by piles of garbage. The woman had returned to her house after a couple months away to find it gone and had begun cleaning up her property, organizing the unidentifiable scraps into piles. In the imprint of where her house once stood, she was planting spinach. She gave each plant a generous spot of earth. The photographs show her crouched in the dirt, tamping it down, watering the plants. During the month of March 2011, I was living in a cabin in the woods of western Maine. I had been living there since October. I was then collaborating with six other poets on a one-month project of documenting the weather. We were each assigned days on which to write our reports and post them to a blog. Each day we wrote at 5 o’clock in the evening. I was assigned March 11th. The Tohoku Region of Japan was then a half a day ahead of us in the States, so the news of the earthquake and tsunami, and ensuing nuclear disaster at the power plant in Fukushima, was just then coming in. At 5 o’clock, in the woods of New England, across from a lake and surrounded by snow, this is what I wrote.

Meet your fellow travellers with a more sovereign freedom

Sit in a train, forget the fact, and live as if you were at home; but suddenly recollect where you are, feel the onward-rushing power of the train, change into a traveller, take a cap out of your bag, meet your fellow travellers with a more sovereign freedom, with more insistence, let yourself be carried towards your destination by no effort of your own, enjoy it like a child, become a darling of the women, feel the perpetual attraction of the window, always have at least one hand extended on the window sill. Same situation, more precisely stated: Forget that you forget, change in an instant into a child travelling by itself on an express train around whom the speeding, trembling car materializes in its every fascinating detail as if out of a magician’s hand. FRANZ KAFKA, from his diary, July 31, 1917; read while riding the train from Nippori Station (Arakawa) in Tokyo to the end of the line at Narita Airport, Narita, July 29, 2012

She was standing in a snow-covered field before a procession of white animals

Walking to the train station after dinner last night, down the narrow, quiet, winding streets of the Yanaka neighborhood of Bunkyo-ku—one of the twenty-three boroughs of central Tokyo—eating cones of tofu ice cream, James, Mihoko, Lisa and I stopped in at a small, neighborhood bathhouse. When Mihoko lived in this neighborhood, eight years ago, she visited this bathhouse nearly every day. Mihoko is her given name; everyone calls her Gugu. Her apartment didn’t have a bath, so her bath became the bathhouse. She visited early in the morning or late at night, often cutting visits short with friends so she could make it to the bathhouse before closing. She spent many evenings with the woman who runs the bathhouse—Masako. They became good friends. When Gugu moved to Hawaii, Masako visited three times. She attended Gugu and James’s wedding. Masako is in her late 50s. She sits in a small leather chair behind a tiny desk inside the entrance to the bathhouse—the actual entrance, after the women and men are divided by a short wall and sent to their respective sides of the building—her chair and desk straddling both sides of the bathhouse, slightly elevated, so she can oversee what is happening on both. Perched like a life-guard, also the cashier, an attendant, Masako is most importantly someone to converse with, a confidante, a patron saint of the community. A neighborhood bathhouse is a communal space. The city of Tokyo apparently subsidizes public bathhouses, to keep them afloat, so to speak. Masako’s family owns the bathhouse. It used to be her father’s. It is called Tsurunoyu—roughly, “crane hot water.” James introduced me to Masako, told her I was a poet. I gave her a copy of O Bon, which I had with me. I had read from it earlier in the day, in a tea room on the campus of Tokyo University of the Arts, in Ueno Park. I read with the poet Dot Devota; James projected a film documenting a public installation in the small town of Kounoura, on Shodoshima Island. One of the poems I read—”Nagasaki,” which begins, Asses of old men / Coming out of the bathI wrote after spending an evening in a bathhouse in the hills north of Nagasaki City. There, the tubs, many of which were outside, faced directly the neighborhood of Nagasaki where the world’s second plutonium bomb was detonated (August 9, 1945; the first was detonated a month earlier in New Mexico). I spent the time soaking in the outdoor tubs, gazing out over northern Nagasaki, while contemplating the asses of old men—their shape and their bearing, the fascinating color of the skin along and into the cracks: gray, blue, green, even purple, occasionally white. The asses of old men seemed the opposite of the origins of the world, perhaps its finale, in all its humility. While contemplating these things, an attendant approached me and told me, rousing me from reverie, that I would have to leave the bathhouse. They did not allow tattoos. I have three: one on each forearm, one on my left shoulder—a bride in a long, flowing robe, with a hood covering her head. I tried to plead my ignorance, but humbly resigned myself back into my clothes. I had been naked for nearly an hour, but only then began to feel shame, my tattoos releasing a deeper vulnerability, my body become conspicuous, heavy. At Tsurunoyu in Tokyo, Masako asked us, Would you like to look at Mt. Fuji tonight? James asked her if, because of my tattoos, it would be okay. She said she often allowed people with tattoos to bathe in her bathhouse. On facing walls of the arched-ceiling bath room are painted two depictions of Mt. Fuji—one appearing to be Fuji in summer—brown slopes, a clear blue sky, palm trees rising from small green islands in a darker blue sea—the other Fuji in winter, covered in snow. The winter Fuji can only be seen from inside the baths, best viewed while sitting in the tubs themselves. After taking a shower, I sat in a tub of scalding hot water, and looked at Mt. Fuji. It was enormous, stretching across the entirety of the wall. It seemed proud, magnanimous, though also slumberous, impenetrable. It had been painted only recently, on December 24, 2011. Before that, the wall had been painted a light blue. I moved from the tub of scalding water to a smaller tub flavored with mint, then rinsed with cold water and left the bath room to dry off and get dressed. Standing at my small locker, staring at a picture of Tokyo’s Skytree—another massive projection which seemed to embody an entirely different set of complex aspirations—I started to feel light-headed. Still naked, I made my way to a wooden bench. An old man came up to me and asked repeatedly, in Japanese, if I was okay. My face had gone white. All I could say was, Sumimasen, sumimasen. Words had escaped me. The last time that happened, I was on the side of a small mountain in Maine. It was winter; the mountain was thick with snow. Some friends and I were snow-shoeing up the side of the mountain. Fifteen minutes into it, I started to feel light-headed. I couldn’t form a proper thought. I had to lie down in a drift of snow. Once revived, I did not write poetry for seven straight months. The old man in the bathhouse was concerned I was fading away. I sat too long in the scalding hot water and had, he explained, submerged my heart. I should not have done that; my heart was in shock. Gugu told us about a dream she had back when she was living nearby the bathhouse. She was standing in a snow-covered field. It was daytime, though cloudy. The sky was white. As she stood in the snow, a procession of white animals passed before her. A white bear, a white pelican, a white rabbit, another white bear, slowly, in single-file, like the army, she said. Soundlessly. And yet, she was not afraid. She was standing a safe distance away from the white animals. Telling us her dream, she said also, I wish I could go back there. We thought at first she meant her old apartment, that neighborhood, that time in her life. No, she said, that dream.

Eye Tail Like Freedom

Coming out of a used bookstore on a small street in Nara—I was running my finger idly across the spines of the small paperbacks; Lisa was flipping through a small box of old postcards—we were accosted by a man in his mid-60s, Japanese, drunk, drinking from a can of Asahi. He was talking to us as though he’d been talking to us for hours, though we had only just then entered the conversation. His English was perfect. Among a battery of questions he didn’t give us the chance to answer, he asked, looking at me, How do you feel about being a half-breed? Good question. It was noon on a Wednesday. We had traveled to Nara by local train from Kyoto. Four poets from the States—Farrah Field, Steven Karl, Jared White and Hitomi Yoshio—were having lunch at a restaurant in Nara. We were going to try to meet them. Steven forwarded me the email the restaurant sent, confirming their reservation. It was in Japanese. I put it through Google Translate, to get the restaurant’s address. Google Translate is a cheap trick, but some things yielded in the English translation caught my eye: Eye tail like freedom; English-like tail is giving you reason to be talking in English; The way meat is bad, that come with; My name is, but the selfishness. The email seemed, in translation, surprisingly chatty and revealing, even vulnerable. It included also a menu of, I’m guessing, what they would be eating, including—again, verbatim from the translation: octopus and cucumber tossed with plum, Dengaku Gyoho of yam bean paste, soft-boiled egg, “Su” ancient cheese and pickles seasoned in sake lees of sweet and sour ginger, assorted summer vegetables, rice, Yamato meat chicken served with Negisosu, soup of winter melon and minced fish, Yamato ice tea. I have no idea whether or not this is what they ate. We never found the restaurant. Nor did we find them. We spent the day walking around Nara Park, through the trees, around small ponds, past the congregations of wild deer—deer gathered in shoals of cloud passing over green fields, deer eating “megadeer” crackers out of the hands of tourists. The photo above is by Matthew Kovacs, who keeps a blog called Leave Me Here… Thanks to Matthew for letting me use it. Todaiji Temple was particularly impressive. Two massive guardians held down the gate. They were covered in dust. The drunk man seemed genuinely interested in my answer to his question about being a half-breed. Good question, I said, though really because the question seemed surprising—that is, for a drunk on a small street in Nara at noon. They deserve better. Half-breeds deserve better. We all deserve better. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, I said, though this wasn’t true. I’m not a “half-breed”—whatever that is—though I’ve been called one before. Responding to the question seemed less a way to engage what he was asking than to direct it toward a more complex and interesting place, because I knew, or thought I knew, what he was actually asking, which was: How do you feel being half-Japanese in Japan? This is a reduced version of a question I was already asking myself, in the form of being here, though the question takes on more or less meaning depending upon the situation, my mood, the day, or how much I care, which is occasionally a lot, though often not at all. I was surprised, anyway, that he could tell I was half-Japanese. Once, while sitting on a stone wall across the street from a cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I was then living (2002), a group of American tourists approached me and, with their phrase books open before them, asked me, in broken Spanish, if I knew how to find a particular hotel. I answered in English. They were shocked, though I in that moment had no idea why. The man in Nara was in the process of writing a book on globalization, cross-cultural relationships, white hegemony. It sounded like, by his description, a sprawling, vaguely coherent manifesto. Though he was Japanese, he referred to being of Korean ancestry. Perhaps he had changed his name. He didn’t seem particularly enamored of Japan. He told us he was living in a boarding house for ¥1,000/night, in a room the size of a toilet. He told us that Japanese people are incapable of maintaining true friendships—that there is not a single Japanese person who has true friend or is true friends with anybody. Of the toilet-sized room, he mentioned the walls, and how, because the room was so small, the only thing you could do was stare at the walls, and that he hated it, because staring at the walls makes you crazy. When we asked about his book, how we might be able to read it, he gave us a slip of paper on which had been printed his web address. His name is Hideo Asano. According to his website, he’s a poet and writer living in Tokyo; educated in Southern California; bilingual in Japanese and English; has traveled all over the world—Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, the USA. There are a few poems on his website, including one titled, “Unselfish Love,” which reads, in its entirety: I don’t care about me. / But I care about you. / I care for you now. / I will care for you forever. / That will take care of me. / That will take care of both. / That will take care of both now. / That will take care of both forever. / I really don’t care about me. / But I really care about you. I met a man once in Sedona, Arizona (1997), named Tommy, who claimed to have traveled to 154 countries. He was a rank and weathered white man, with sun-purpled skin, and a dilapidated backpack. There are approximately 196 countries on this planet. There is no specific sense of what “travel” means in such a situation, or within such an assertion, to one or any person. Neither is there any specific sense of what “to” means, or even “I.” Over 1,300 hundred years ago, Nara City became the capital of Japan, commencing the Nara Period. The Nara Period lasted for 70 years. Poetry became a more prevalent art form during the Nara Period; one of my favorite anthologies of poetry, the Man’yoshu, was compiled during the Nara Period, so it is to that Period that I owe some part of my poetic life. The Man’yoshu is comprised of poems written between the 4th and 8th centuries. I’ve been working on a book of poems—titled, Evening Oracle—for the past year that currently ends with a poem from the Man’yoshu—written by Prince Niu, date unknown. The poem includes these lines, which I particularly love: My greatest sorrow under heaven / My wildest grief in the world / Is that I failed to travel / With my staff or without it / Far as the clouds of heaven wander / Far as the ends of heaven and earth / To consult the evening oracle / To consult the oracle of stones. I was thinking that for all Hideo had traveled the world, he had not spent enough time in his toilet-sized room, staring at the wall. To abuse, momentarily, Samuel Beckett—Keep staring at the wall, Hideo … You have perhaps not gone crazy enough! Keep staring at the wall. Stare again. Stare better! 

Interlude: Two Dreams In Which I Moved Rapidly Through a Landscape With My Friend Zach

Very early yesterday morning—2 or 3 a.m.—while riding the night bus from Okayama to Shinjuku Station, Tokyo, grazing the surface of a thin skin of sleep, I had a dream: My friend Zach was visiting us here in Japan. We were meeting him at the airport. The airport was located atop a very high, precipitously tapered mountain: a wizard’s hat. Zach had never been to Japan. After meeting him in the terminal, we walked outside through an enormous sliding glass door, which let us onto a tremendous and terrifying view of a never-ending valley, unraveling from and fully encircling the mountain. The way back down the mountain was along a wide, terraced path, which spiraled and spilled away into hundreds of thousands of acres of immaculately maintained tea fields, divided by stone stairways that rose and fell in every direction. It was an undulating maze of earth in disarmingly clear and infinite conceptions of green. Hundreds of people, mostly old men and women, were walking up and down the path to and from the airport and the valley below. The smile on Zach’s face was so wide it lifted his body off the ground. He threw himself headlong into a mad flight down the path into the valley of the nation. With my eyes on the valley, I took off down the side of the mountain with him. Six nights ago, while staying in a guest house near downtown Kyoto, I had a dream: My friend Zach and I were rollerskating at tremendous speeds through the outskirts of some anonymous town—past chain-link fence-enclosed parking lots, waste areas, single-story office buildings with blackened windows, piles of weedy dirt. We shouted to each other through the wind how amazing it was we could rollerskate so fast without killing ourselves—like we were borne on invulnerable drafts of lightning. We rollerskated into a block party, where we stopped, and found ourselves talking to a teenage boy who had just returned from a Who concert. As Zach and I were taking our rollerskates off and putting our street shoes on, the teenage boy told us about the concert. He said, I used to have the biggest crush on Roger Daltrey until tonight. I was standing at the foot of the stage. At one point, late in the concert, Roger Daltrey came right up to the edge of the stage where I was standing and lifted up his shirt. When he did, I noticed he had a goat nipple on the side of his stomach. Zach and I were now standing on somebody’s lawn, listening to the boy, while staring absentmindedly into the street. The street was covered in small mounds of brown hair that seemed to be moving, however slowly, like faceless, limbless beetle-mammals, and from off the wood of the houses on the block and their low, gray-painted fences, rose the smell of burning hot dogs. When I awoke from the first dream, we were passing, in the dark, a small town curved around a body of water. On the west edge of town was a small, abrupt mountain, and above it, a blue, quietus sky.

To Our Friends and Neighbors

I’m sitting on the hardwood floor of an elementary school classroom. It’s midnight. We’re in the tiny town of Kamano on the island of Shodoshima in the Inland Sea. I’m sitting beneath a chalkboard. There is on the chalkboard a crude chalk sketch of a boat. A canoe. We have spent the last four nights beneath this canoe, sleeping on tatami mats pushed up against the classroom’s cubbyholes. The cubbyholes are empty. The elementary school is defunct. It has been converted into the living quarters of an artist residency program. The current resident is an installation artist named Shotaro Yoshino. Shotaro is originally from Tokyo. He’s a close friend of a friend, James Jack. James and I went to undergraduate school together. We met on a train heading into New York City from Yonkers, New York; we were both headed to the Japan Society, in midtown Manhattan, and, by chance, sat next to each other on the train. When we discovered we were both headed to the same place, we started talking. This was 1999 or 2000. Now, James is living in Japan, in west Tokyo. He is an artist. He used to live in this elementary school, when he also was artist-in-residence. He and Shotaro were born on the same day, January 19, 1979. Outside the elementary school is a playground overgrown with weeds. Also, basil and parsley. Immediately to the east of the elementary school are greenhouses. All but two of them are falling apart, their frames rusted, the ground within them either desiccated or overgrowing with weeds. A man named Sasami-san tends the functioning greenhouses. We saw him yesterday tilling the soil. It seems everyone on Shodoshima tends a vegetable garden. At least, on this side of the island. Or rather, here on the Mito Peninsula. Two days ago, while walking around the tinier town of Kounoura, a woman in her 80s spotted us walking, called to us, and insisted we take some of the tomatoes from her garden, which she was in that moment tending. She gave us twenty tomatoes. We ate three of them that night, with basil picked from the elementary school playground. Today, while driving around Kounoura, we spotted another woman, in her 70s, standing on the side of the road. We pulled over to say Hello. She offered us glasses of red shiso juice. Red shiso is in the mint family. It’s commonly used for providing color to the umeboshi plum. The woman, Etsuko Kawamaki, was soaking leaves of the red shiso plant in two buckets in front of her house. We stood in the middle of the road and drank red shiso juice with ice cubes. The sun was going down. A small crab was crossing the road. Etsuko also gave us two kabocha squashes, which we boiled and ate for dinner. Gifts of fruit and vegetables. The rule is: if an old lady offers you either fruit, vegetables, or juice, you must always say Yes, even if you are in a hurry—if you think you do not have the time. You have the time. The old lady is giving it to you. Last week, we visited our friend Keiko in the Kansai Rehabilitation Center, in the suburbs of Osaka City. Three months ago she suffered a stroke, and has since been recovering at the hospital. She told us she did not know the symptoms of a stroke, so that when it happened, she didn’t know that’s what was happening. Her left arm and leg started tingling then went numb, so she laid down on the couch and waited for her husband to come home. He came home seven hours later. During those seven hours, she thought of many things. She thought of how Whitney Houston had recently collapsed, and died, and wondered if the same thing was happening to her. Later, Keiko’s doctor told her that if she had gotten herself to the hospital within three hours, she likely would have been fine. When we arrived at the hospital, we found Keiko watching Justin Bieber videos on YouTube. Keiko is in her early 60s. She is a family friend. She was one of my mom’s ESL students in the early 1990s. They published a book together. For a gift, we brought Keiko an apple. The connection between women named Keiko and apples given as gifts is, oddly, something I’ve been thinking about. A gift of fruit, or a vegetable, or vegetables, or a glass of juice, is something special. The fruit, or vegetable, or glass of juice, is something to be taken as something special and to care for—to regard, appreciate, therefore wonder about: What kind of fruit is this? Where did it come from? Who grew it? Did you grow it? Is it good? The same could be said of people: What kind of person are you? Where did you come from? Who grew you? Are you good? Standing in the middle of the road of a small town on the inlet of a peninsula on an island in the Inland Sea, drinking red shiso juice with three friends as the sun is going down behind a wall of cloud, a small crab scuttling sideways across the road. Before we left, Etsuko gave us each a rock on which she had painted a face. Then she pointed across the road to a small vegetable garden she had planted in the middle of a crescent-shaped gravel driveway. Look at my tomatoes, she said.

He makes you a radiant gift of the place.

Finished reading D.H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent yesterday on the local express train from Kyoto to Himeji. I was sitting knee-to-knee with a woman in her late-50’s. We were in facing seats. She was wearing a black skirt and stockings. I was wearing the same pair of jeans I’ve been wearing for over a month. I don’t know why I brought D.H. Lawrence with me, and The Plumed Serpent no less. Mexico. And it begins with a bull fight. The first time I attended a bull fight (Mexico City, 2002), I cried. I cried when the first bull was killed, then I gradually hardened, immunized, with each successive bull. One bull threw the toreador from his horse. The toreador had to be carried away on a stretcher. He was waving to the crowd while being carried away, making a show of his bravery. By the 400th page of The Plumed Serpent, I wanted out—(the 1959 Vintage edition is 486 pages). In that, Lawrence had done a thorough job of creating kinship and sympathy between me and the protagonist, an Irish woman named Kate, who also wanted out, but couldn’t summon the reason and finally, therefore, the will. I hated her. I can’t yet fully articulate why, or why I wanted out—I’m still thinking about it—though in that I also possessed kinship and sympathy with Kate; she had become spiritually perplexed, torn between worlds. This was how I was feeling within the book, the country it made. After I finished it, I flipped back through to see what I had underlined. I had dog-eared numerous pages and marked paragraphs and passages to reread, but I had only underlined three sentences. The three sentences were: The great mango trees were most sumptuous in the morning, like cliffs. (Chapter XVI); She sat looking past the thick mango-trees, whose fruit was changing colour like something gradually growing hot, to the ruffled, pale-brown lake. (Chapter XIX); and, They were all just individuals, like leaves in the dark, making a noise. (Chapter XX). All three related to trees, two to mango trees. No other sentences were underlined. About Lawrence and The Plumed Serpent, Katherine Anne Porter wrote, He makes you a radiant gift of the place. Anyway, I threw the book away when we got to Okayama Station, before boarding the bus that took us to the ferry that took us into the Inland Sea to Shodoshima, an island where we are now. The morning is rising with the sound of birds, crickets and thunder. There is a pennant of fog moving slowly past a tall, tree-covered hill. We’re staying in an old elementary school, which has been converted into a residence for artists of a local residency program. I know very little about D.H. Lawrence. I’ve always counted Pansies among my favorite collections of poetry. It includes the poem, “The Risen Lord,” which Will Oldham covered on his album, Guarapero: Lost Blues 2. The opening of Lawrence’s The Rainbow is among my favorite openings of any novel. I included excerpts from his letters in a book of my own. There is a D.H. Lawrence Society here in Japan. It was founded in 1969. They are currently accepting proposals for research presentations and workshops for their 44th Annual Meeting, to be held next year. There are currently 153 members. He makes you a radiant gift of the place. I never throw books away. I most often give them away. My library is constantly decreasing in size, despite that the number of books I accumulate continues to grow. But I felt I needed to throw away The Plumed Serpent—it was a paperback I bought in Tucson, Arizona, and both the front and back covers had fallen off—saving only the three sentences I had underlined, which I transcribed into my notebook. While riding the train from Aioi to Okayama, we passed through a long stretch of countryside. I wrote in my notebook, beneath Lawrence’s three sentences, The small, spacious towns between the hills, root vegetables hanging from the eaves of houses, ladders leaning animatedly against the walls. From a distance, the hills appear to bear no relief, but there is a coolness within, and from the viewfinder of this passing train, I can make out the rising and falling of insects’ muscles with the afternoon. There are such ceaseless reels of green that one might forget that people are living long in any given moment of it. While passing through the small town of Mitsuishi I wrote, The train platform is overgrowing with grass and weeds and gravel unraked so there is a softness, people being pulled away elsewhere and wise. Mitsuishi is the kind of place I fantasize stepping off a train into, that when the train doors open, a soundlessness greets me. Yet, no one boards or gets off, and this maybe is why. The doors linger open as if permitting ghost passengers through …

Where are you in the characters?

When I was ten—or maybe I was twelve—I visited Kyoto for the first time. I was visiting with my family. My mother was then a Master’s student in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, so the visit was largely hers; my father, sister and I were along in her shadow. In addition to visiting Tokyo, Ise, Himeji, Hiroshima and Shimoda, we visited Kyoto. Two of the most indelible experiences from the visit took place in Kyoto. The two were related, and both to the Bon Festival: standing with thousands of people on a bridge spanning the Kamo River, packed so tightly that if anyone moved, we all moved, and staring at an enormous fire in the shape of a character (大, dai) burning in a black sky. This was the Daimonji Festival, and the 大 was not burning in the sky, but on the side of Mt. Daimonji, on the eastern edge of the city. It was one of five bonfires burning on one of five hills surrounding the city. I was small, so could not see much, though the fires, floating as they seemed in the ink of night, were casting after-images simultaneous to themselves in the air above, which I could see, and through the bodies and heads of the people tightly packed, swaying as though into a single, unstoppable wave, and could feel as though they were dancing in celebration of being, together, my final vision on earth. Last year—over twenty years later—I visited Kyoto again. Our first full day, Lisa and I walked for fifteen miles throughout the city. Toward the end of the day, we hiked to the top of Daimonji. It was late-July. O Bon was weeks away. The side of Daimonji had been cleared in preparation. A foundation in the shape of 大 and in the form of dozens of stone pedestals on which individual bonfires would be lit, was set into the precipitous side of the mountain, surrounded by flattened grass. By the time we reached the top, the sun was setting. The view of Kyoto was mesmerizing. We sat for awhile, drained and in awe like a humble draft rising off the incipient flames. When we started to walk back down the mountain, it was dark. Another few minutes and it was completely black. And then we were in the woods below the cleared slope. And instantly, we had lost the trail. The woods were blackness intensified. The only things that cast any light were mounds of dull whiteness, which we discovered, by running into them, were stacks of wood beneath white cloth—hundreds of stacks of ghost-wood, hovering among the black trees, awaiting their sacrifice. We eventually found ourselves in a ditch, crossed with blown down trees and mud-cold. When we travel, we do so—or as we have been—without much of a plan besides walking. No guidebook, no particular destination, the occasional landmark, some general ideas. This year in Kyoto, we’ve been using a map that a Japanese couple accidentally dropped while sitting in Ukimido Pavilion, in Nara Park. They had circled a couple of spots on the map—Kiyomizu Temple, Nanzenji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple. By the time I picked their map up off the floor of the pavilion, the couple was gone—away from the pond—over which the pavilion floated—and into the surrounding woods. Last night, we walked a similar path as last year, though when we reached the base of Daimonji, we turned back down into the city. From there, it was four miles to the guest house where we were staying. We walked toward the setting sun. The sun went down. The illuminated city was with us the entire way, though thinning as we went, until we were down the dimly lit and soundless, narrow street where we were staying, beside a graveyard overgrown with weeds. In the graveyard, tucked into the side of a slumbering bush, was a pile of waterlogged porn. Womens’ thighs seemed simply hopeless in the abandoned graveyard. When I was ten—or again, maybe twelve—I felt, while packed tightly into the thousands of bodies on the bridge spanning the Kamo, that my life was very near not being my own. I was simply a body, at the mercy of the fires wheeling the sky, Kyoto itself a reflection of the fires, all the way back to their roots in a moment of lightning. Though the lightning there and then was life-giving. Beneath the bridge on which I became simply a body, and barely even my own, the Kamo flowed. It too was black. I’ve written about the fires of Daimonji and the Kamo before and since, and will, I imagine, again, without end.

Patron Saints, Hungry Ghosts, Eels and Catfish

Last night—or rather, early this morning—I was awoken from sleep by an elderly woman. She had grabbed the futon I was wrapped in, and was wordlessly, and very lightly, shaking it. I was sleeping on an elevated tatami platform, on the same tatami mat where I had the previous evening been sitting zazen. My head was on a small, flat pillow, resting on the edge of the elevated mat. My feet were near the paper screen window. It was hot. The futon was thin, yet heavy, folded once over, with me in the center of the fold, like a piece of food, or the only page in a book with a thick, lumpy cover. It must have been 4 or 4:30 in the morning. It was raining heavily. There was lightning. Otherwise—and despite the fact that I was sharing the zendo with fifteen other men—it was perfectly quiet. The women were sleeping in a smaller room one floor above. The fifteen other men were asleep. I thought I was too. But then, I felt the presence of a body behind my head, in the stone-floor aisle between elevated platforms. It was neither warm nor cold. It was gentle, though commanding. Then the body grabbed my futon and started shaking it, lightly, as if to air it out or shake loose the crumbs and hair. I lifted my head and looked around to see a woman of seventy or eighty years of age standing at the edge of my mat. She gestured for me to put my head back down. To close my eyes and fall back asleep. I did so, without question, automatically. Then she continued to shake the futon with a fluidity that belied the fact that I was inside it. I weigh 155 pounds. She shook the entire futon like a bed sheet out a window. And then, in one final and—I later thought—violent motion, she took the entire futon in her hands and thrust it—again, with me inside—into the wall beneath the window, as though ramming a drawer back into a chest. Whereas I should have felt my body crumple completely into the wall, I felt like I had been fit inside a new incarnation of myself, one only slightly—if vaguely—removed from the old one, though one still tired, surrounded by heavy rain, flashes of lightning and fifteen sleeping men. The woman had thrust me into the wall, but I was still in my futon, as of yet unaware of what difference the woman had made, but sure of it. Then she was gone. She had disappeared. Shortly after the woman disappeared, and with the sensation of being thrust into the wall still vibrating dully throughout my body, one of the monks was ringing the morning bell, signaling for us to get up and get ready for morning meditation. The woman was short, no more than 5 feet, 2 inches tall. She had gray hair tied back in a bun. She was wearing a fog-blue yukata decorated with small white flowers. She must have been there, though I had not seen her the day before and did not see her again that morning. Lisa and I spent an evening, night and following morning sitting zazen at Myoshinji Temple, here in Kyoto, where we’ve been since Thursday. (It is Sunday). Out of twenty people total, we were the only foreigners, and because the entire session was conducted in Japanese, we got along by watching everyone else, obeying their movements, most of which were strictly performed, particularly between periods of seated meditation. For example, during breakfast, two hours after being thrust into the wall by the elderly woman, I was scolded by one of the monks for not offering part of my rice porridge to the hungry ghosts. I fumbled with my chopsticks to fish out and place the proscribed six or seven grains of rice on the edge of my place at the table. I dropped a glob of twenty wet grains on the wood in front of my bowl. I wasn’t sure if I would feel more the wrath of the hungry ghosts or of the monks scrutinizing me in my ignorance. Surely the hungry ghosts would forgive me and seek food directly from my bowl? One month after my grandfather passed away—I was eighteen at the time—my grandfather visited me. He was not a ghost, but corporeal, despite that his entire body was black, as if constituted of ash. My friend Zach recently wondered aloud to me whether what I had seen was my grandfather’s hungry ghost. My grandfather had been battling Alzheimer’s for nearly two decades, and in the time immediately preceding his death, he was not exactly eating, but being more functionally dosed with nutrients. Around this time last year, the poet Hiromi Ito—who spends part of each year in Kumamoto Prefecture, taking care of her elderly father—drove Lisa and I to the now non-existent village of Nakanose, in Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu, where my grandfather spent the first eight years of his life. What we found were fields of rice and in the middle, a small graveyard. On the eastern edge of the small graveyard were two grave markers each inscribed with the family name, 下田 (Shimoda). Hiromi, who happens to be one of my poetic patron saints, wrote a poem about the day she drove us to Nakanose. I remember standing in the small graveyard with Lisa and Hiromi’s daughter Zana, and Hiromi excusing herself to write something down. Her translator, Jeffrey Angles, recently sent me a rough version of his translation of the poem, and asked that I not share it yet with anyone. And so I haven’t. But let me share with you the title. It is: “Eels and Catfish.”

Coming From a Distant Place and Becoming Presently the Place We Are In

Spent an evening in the Emergency Room of the hospital around the corner. Not the entire evening—just a few hours. Shortly after arriving in Kaohsiung—one of the first few nights—there was an earthquake. It was around 4 or 5 in the morning. We were in bed, asleep. The earthquake was minor, but still, it was felt—I felt it. We woke up. It started as a vibration in our bodies, remote, as if coming from the threshing of a distant machine. But then it was outside our bodies, in the room. The room seized twice. Audibly. Then it was outside the room. The seizure and vibration: they became the building. They were the city, Formosa Island. And yet, it felt also internal. When I was 10, I was eating a donut—from Mister Donut—in Tokyo, when an earthquake came over—came up through—the city. I was walking down a narrow street, eating a donut, when I looked up into the narrow sky and saw that the buildings were moving. Audibly. I ran back to the hotel at the end of the street where my parents and sister were waiting for me. Whereas before all of the hotel guests’ shoes had been neatly arranged on a shelf inside the front door, they were now scattered on the floor of the hotel’s entryway. I’m not sure what I did with the donut. I ate it. Or I dropped it. Or I pulverized it in my fist. Once, while sitting at my desk in Missoula, Montana, 2005 or 2006, I felt a large dog brush by my legs. My desk lifted a little. I looked down, but there was no dog. An hour or so later everyone was talking about the small earthquake that had come over—come up through—the city. The earthquake had felt to me like the body of a large dog brushing by my legs. I thought then that an earthquake is both external and internal, that it is in fact a form of communication between the external and the internal, the outside and in, coming from a distant place and becoming presently the place we are in. In the days before my time spent in the Emergency Room, I had eaten, among other things: dragon whiskers, white radish cakes, crab rolls, roasted pork, roasted duck, bamboo shoots, pork buns, seafood-stuffed rice balls, shrimp and mushroom dumplings, scallops, taro root, mango custard, bean cakes, gummy fried eggs, a milk pineapple, a bacon and cheese sandwich, nabeyaki udon, cold udon, hard-boiled eggs, a salad, crackers, jelly, fried rice, chicken broth, rice and river weeds; and had drank, among other things, Taiwan Beer, Pocari Sweat, oolong tea and coffee. The evening of my visit to the Emergency Room, I was lying in bed when I started shaking and could not stop. Something was being communicated between the external and the internal. The threshing machine was coming through. Lisa called my student Shu-Ping—who had given me the milk pineapple. She was watching TV at home with her son. She was at our door in five minutes, helped me to the elevator, then drove Lisa, Molly and me around the corner to the Emergency Room. She translated the doctor for us, and us for the doctor. I was given Bed #2 in a room with ten beds, and was administered painkillers, muscle relaxants and was hooked up to an IV. I spent the evening watching the bottle drain out into my arm, and listening to the sounds of the Emergency Room. The most indelible: a young girl, maybe five years old, crying, screaming, for thirty, maybe forty minutes. I don’t know why she was screaming. I couldn’t see her (my glasses were off). Listening to the young girl cry, however, I thought that if you were to record the sound of her crying, slow down the recording and smooth out—or eliminate—all of the cadence and punctuation, you would have exactly the moan of a hungry ghost. 

I raise my cup to entice the moon

"When the umbrella is closed, does that mean the book is closed?" This is one of the questions that was asked of the poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson after he read a few poems—including an excerpt from "The Book of the Umbrella,” which inspired the question above—via Skype to our students at Kaohsiung American School. The question was asked by Claire. Claire will be entering 6th grade this August. She recently paid a visit to Japan. Many of the students here have visited Japan, or want to. One student—Wei-Wen, an 11th grader—recently spent time in Japan learning Japanese so that he could read his favorite “light novel” in its original language. He felt something missing in the Mandarin translation. Even if only a handful of words per page are recovered in their original state, then the effort will have been immeasurably just; it is that handful that generates the occasion for love, whereas and wherefore we are eternally circling, through what we have been handed down. It flows out from appreciation. This is not hyperbolic to say; to want to know what is meant by what was on the writer’s mind—to want to know the writer’s mind—implies deep interest and concern, the first encirclements of, in fact, love. Josh’s poems are also translations. It is in some senses the original language we are after, the students traversing the spaces in between for the land of the original language. My students and I discussed synesthesia, preconsciousness, and sense memory in relation to Josh’s poems. Fragments from his poems brought us back to the T’ang Dynasty poets, and what they were witnessing of the world and themselves in the rivers and streams. Claire requested Josh read the poem “Deer & Salt Block.” After Josh read it, Claire asked first if the poem was about one boy or many. Then she asked about the final line—”The last boy casts a purple stone to the bottom of a pond & follows it down with his church clothes on”—”Did he commit suicide?” Many of the students had the same question. To which poet was attached the myth that he drowned trying to embrace the reflection of the moon in a river? Li Bai, also known as Li Po, born at the dawn of the 8th century in Central Asia. Once, at a panel in discussion and celebration of the work of the poet Frank Stanford, Josh enumerated the uses of the word “moon” in Stanford’s epic long poem, The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. Again about “The Book of the Umbrella,” Claire asked, “When you say, ‘Watching the sheep / move through / the hole in this nap’ … What is the hole?” That is Claire in the photograph above, standing in front of the camera/microphone that I am holding in my hand. You can see her also in the bottom right corner of the screen projection. Josh is answering, smiling. He was in Tucson, Arizona, where it was 8:00 on a Tuesday night. For us, it was 11:00 on a Wednesday morning. Josh was sitting at his desk, in his study, dark wooden beams striping the white ceiling overhead where he works. I wrote previously about Josh and his home for the Academy of American Poets blog. In Li Po’s poem, “Drinking Alone,” he states, “I take my wine jug out among the flowers / to drink alone, without friends. // I raise my cup to entice the moon. / That, and my shadow, makes us three. // But the moon doesn’t drink, / and my shadow silently follows.” Outside every storefront in Kaohsiung is a rack or receptacle where people leave and take umbrellas. Yesterday, on the way back from Foguangshan Temple, about an hour east of the city, Molly forgot her umbrella on the bus. No worries, there will be others. My students and I spent part of one morning talking about Josh’s “A Moth in the Projector Light.” This is when the T’ang Dynasty poets were evoked. The poem reads, in part, “Memory opens a little door: / the dark & you listen / with your eyes” …

Corrections

Yesterday I wrote that my student Shu-Ping had made an omelet with guava for breakfast. I asked her about it today—still curious and excited about the combination—and she said, “Guava? I said that? I’ve never eaten guava in an omelet!” So I asked her what it was she had made, and she said, “The other green thing … Avocado!” That made more sense to me, of course, though I was fully prepared to attempt a guava omelet, and so was slightly disappointed that it was not something passed down from Shu-Ping herself. Yes, omelets with avocados. I enjoy omelets with avocados, Swiss cheese and bacon. Shu-Ping doesn’t like bacon. Once, when I was teaching a poetry workshop at the University of Montana (2005), one of my students, a woman in her 40s, gave me a pound of bacon as an end-of-the-semester gift. The bacon was from a pig she and her family had raised. I ate the pound of bacon that weekend, and the next day, a Sunday—for reasons that may or may not have been related—I was admitted to the Emergency Room at St. Patrick’s Hospital. I had spent most of the day throwing up, and had eventually passed out on the floor of my bedroom. Earlier that day I had eaten breakfast at a diner in downtown Missoula with the poet Michael Earl Craig. We had potatoes and eggs. We then went to a coffee shop to write poems together. I was feeling suspicious about the eggs. And the potatoes. Neither tasted the way they should have. Earl Craig and I were slated to read later that night at a bowling alley in town. This morning in Kaohsiung, on our way to teach, we gestured for the taxi driver to take us past the school to a bakery—Donutes—about a half mile away. When we got there, we discovered the bakery was closed. The taxi driver laughed and slapped my thigh. For some reason he thought it hilarious that the bakery was closed, and that we had gestured for him to take us there. When I was in the Emergency Room in Missoula, I told the nurses that I had eaten a pound of bacon the day before, and that the bacon had been given to me by a student. I told them also that my student had raised the pig herself. They didn’t seem to think it was related to my having gotten sick. I missed the reading. My friend John Niekrasz read in my place. He read poems that he had found scattered about the floor of my bedroom, where I had passed out. Michael Earl Craig read after him. Today Shu-Ping gave me another pineapple, also already peeled and wrapped in plastic. This pineapple is more yellow, though looks and smells just as delicious as the milk pineapple. I asked what kind it was, and another student of mine, Claudia, said, “The normal one.” Shu-Ping said that her husband once ate a pineapple in Hawaii and that he was disappointed. In the late 1800s, my great-grandfather, Geiichi Shimoda, immigrated from Kumamoto, Japan to Honolulu, Hawaii, to work as a contract laborer in the pineapple fields. It was there that he married and there where his first three children, all sons, were born. I have never been to Hawaii, though I hear that it’s nice.

True Love Will Find You In The End

Shu-Ping gave me a milk pineapple. It was a Tuesday. Yesterday. It had already been peeled and was wrapped in clear plastic. I thought of a small, white mountain, rising out of a sea of milk. I waited one day to eat it. Wednesday, today. I am eating it now. It is the most delicious pineapple I’ve ever tasted. The color of milk. The sweetness of milk. I am eating it off a plate with wooden chopsticks. Imagine milk growing from a plant and in the fields as far as the eye. Cream. What makes the milk pineapple’s eyes? Shu-Ping woke up at 5:30 this morning to prepare breakfast for her husband and sons. She made omelets with guava. I had never heard of, or thought of, that combination: guava and eggs. She buys the guava pre-cut. She also recommended putting durian fruit in the freezer, and eating it like ice cream. Yesterday, Lisa asked me to surprise her with a treat from 7-11. There are 7-11’s everywhere here in Kaohsiung—seemingly one on every other block. I bought a bag of plum-flavored potato chips and a guava drink. We ate umeboshi plums in Dazaifu in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, with Kensuke Matsueda and his mom. They were perched on top of rice. The first time I ate a papaya I was standing in a shallow stretch of a river in Costa Rica, leaning against the side of a raft. The flesh of the pitaya, or dragon fruit, is a mesmerizing blood purple. It is one of those colors that can possess you, swallow you whole, as like certain types of blue when turned on in the dark of night. I have written already about wax apples and lychees. At the moment, Lisa’s favorite fruit is the guava. Zach has been liking tangelos a lot, but at the moment, and in this country, he has been liking wax apples. Molly’s favorite fruit—also at the moment—is the milk pineapple. Also, red-skinned mangoes. Or guava. She can’t decide. “Everything tastes like a revelation,” she says. Pineapple cakes are very popular in Taiwan. Last year we brought pineapple cakes to our friends in Japan. The gift of fruit or a piece of fruit is the most sincere. And you have to eat it immediately. Every day you put off eating the gift of fruit or piece of fruit shortens your life by that day—a day in which you have fooled existence, or rather, in which you think that you have. Existence knows, and cannot be fooled. I cut the milk pineapple into chunks and am sharing it with Lisa, Molly and Zach. If you share the gift of fruit with one, or two, or three other friends, you are then lengthening the quality of your life by one, or two, or three other lives. I just wrote to Shu-Ping to tell her how delicious the milk pineapple is. Shu-Ping is my student. She is the nurse at Kaohsiung American School. One of her favorite bands is Air Supply. She just wrote back to say, “I am glad you like the pineapple. That is why I don’t think about moving anywhere else.”

The Splendor

From 1999 to 2002, my friend Molly McDonald worked in the mail room at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Her responsibilities included sorting mail, putting people’s mail in their boxes and fetching for them packages and oversized pieces of mail. Once, while working in the mail room, Molly was told that she looked like Katie Holmes, the American actress formerly known as Katie Holmes. She was fetching a piece of mail for a classmate, her friend Grace Han. Grace had just handed Molly a claim slip and Molly was turning to find Grace’s package among the pile of sorted packages when Grace told Molly that she looked like Katie Holmes. That was the first time Molly was told that she looked like Katie Holmes. The most recent time was tonight, at the Buffet Brasserie, a restaurant on the 39th floor of the Splendor Hotel in downtown Kaohsiung. We had all just gotten our first round of food from the buffet when one of the women we were dining with—a woman named Mindy—said to Molly across the table that she looked like Katie Holmes. Cindy is Taiwanese. Grace Han is Korean-American. Molly has also been told by non-Asians that she looks like Katie Holmes—people in Eastport, Maine, where she lives—other people. At Oberlin, Grace Han was a History and Political Science major. She was active in the Asian-American Association on campus. When I first arrived at undergraduate school, in late-August of 1996, the first piece of mail I received—sorted and put into my newly assigned box by someone, I imagine, just like my friend Molly McDonald—was an invitation to the campus Asian-American Association. At the time I pretended that I did not know why I was being invited, though I knew—I just wished that I hadn’t, though I didn’t know why, which in that instance was true. I threw the invitation away right there. When Molly and Grace first hung out, they drank really sweet cocktails at a bar near campus. Molly was the only one of Grace’s friends who was not an activist of some kind. She was an English and Creative Writing major. She wrote poems. She was born on November 26, 1979. She’s a Sagittarius. She shares this with Katie Holmes, who was born on December 18, 1978, in Toledo, Ohio, which is ninety miles west of Oberlin. Yesterday, for the first time, Molly ate a lychee. Lychees are native to Taiwan. We were standing on the sixth story of a pagoda on Lotus Lake in the northern part of the city. We bought a bunch of lychees from a woman selling fruit outside a Buddhist temple on the edge of the lake and brought them with us to the sixth story of the pagoda. Upon eating the lychee Molly said, “This is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.” Though a television and movie actress, Katie Holmes is most famous for being married to the American actor Tom Cruise. He proposed to Katie Holmes in 2005 on the top of the Eiffel Tower. As for Grace Han, she has a baby now.