One of my readers (Thanks Shah) pointed me to some of my old posts that I hadn’t read in a long time. One of the them, “Waking to”, which I wrote on February 2, 2004, surprised me with the way I used the language. I had always thought of myself as a terrible poetry writer, but this was something I felt I could actually be happy with. Some of you may have read it before, but for some of you it might be new. Tell me what you think.
Here, let me murmur a bit about the light today, the falling of heat
like a rain of down from some passing flock. The passage from sleep to
that soft transfer of thought didn’t stop at the window. I stepped out
and showered in peace, wings of stillness rising and falling about me,
where only yesterday the air shook with trepidation. I waited in the
bated morning, expecting a voice to shatter the emergence of it all,
but the interval lasted, pregnant with silence. For a time it was just
as I imagined, me and clouds scratching by overhead, heading
north-northwest. Speed or a trendy displacement had no place in that
brief perfection, as if I was given a reprieve. But I dared not blink,
lest, in that eternity of blindness, time forsook me, and the slow
ghosts of change failed the quickness of my eyes, too slow for
remembrance. Even to mouth the news turns the encounter to dust, so,
as I speak, the light is lost, sifting through wire, long, powdery,
and loved into absence.
Fast becoming one of my favorite blogs Journal of a Writing Man, there is something disarming and undeniably charming about Old Grey Poet’s daily stories. The fact that he focuses on the details of his daily life, peppering the anecdotes with bytes of such treasures as an annoyance with the residue left over on the back of a notebook after peeling away the price sticker, or the joy of riding a bicycle again after years of neglect, or the wonder of watching a water spout, brings me back for more every day.
I can relate to what he is writing and can fit inside the boundaries of such a world. It has made me think hard about what I want to write here, and though my last post was the usual weltschmertz griping, I intend to focus more, from now on, on this little ring of influence that I can manage by myself. The blog will undergo some changes, including new blogging software (WordPress), a facelift, and some added and rearranged categories. It will take a little while, but I hope it will streamline the site and focus the voice here.
It’s been a harrowing month, what with having been cheated in my payment for the spring hotel brochure design project (the cover of the main brochure is to the left. The colors are definitely not right online… the reddish brown on top is actually a lot deeper brown and the blue below is actually more violet) and having to deal with it all in some very convoluted Japanese negotiations (my Japanese is very good, but I just can’t keep up in such jargon-rich sparring, especially when there are two Japanese, thirty-year design veterans against one of me… and believe me, the Japanese know how to be convoluted and vague… their whole language revolves around saying things through innuendo! And no, I never was able to rectify my losses) without resources, without anyone to turn to for professional advice. It’s left me discouraged and not a little angry. I don’t think I will ever do design work in Japan again. This is the main reason I haven’t been blogging for quite some time.
But on the bright side, it’s become clear that design work is not my cup of tea (after having been cheated five times already… you’d think I would have learned by now!). Now, with all other possible career roads taken eliminated, like salt evaporated out of the bucket, I have no more excuses not to put all my effort into making it as a writer. I’ve tried every combination of vocation (except working as a field biologist) that I’ve ever imagined myself doing, and one by one eliminated them. Only writing holds fast and only writing fulfills all the criteria I’ve asked of my life. It’s hard, lonely, low paying work and I can get cheated in this field, too, but at least it’s in my language and at least I have resources and people to turn to. And most important, at least I love doing it as I do it, even when I’m struggling.
Here, let me murmur a bit about the light today, the falling of heat like a rain of down from some passing flock. The passage from sleep to that soft transfer of thought didn’t stop at the window. I stepped out and showered in peace, wings of stillness rising and falling about me, where only yesterday the air shook with trepidation. I waited in the bated morning, expecting a voice to shatter the emergence of it all, but the interval lasted, pregnant with silence. For a time it was just as I imagined, me and clouds scratching by overhead, heading north-northwest. Speed or a trendy displacement had no place in that brief perfection, as if I was given a reprieve. But I dared not blink, lest, in that eternity of blindness, time forsook me, and the slow ghosts of change failed the quickness of my eyes, too slow for remembrance. Even to mouth the news turns the encounter to dust, so, as I speak, the light is lost, sifting through wire, long, powdery, and loved into absence.
Here is my version: ( “Nature Boy” was the nickname that I was given in elementary school and that stuck with me until I graduated from high school. I hated it in the beginning, but have come to feel that it describes me very well )
I am from cobblestone streets wet with oak leaves,
from the tantivy of pigeons circling.
From Tante Luise’s soft fingers grasping a worn potato knife
and Oma tiptoeing by the window sill, watching pedestrians.
I am from terra cotta roof tiles and forests of chimneys,
from a grandfather clock chiming at midnight.
From cherries and plums and dewey blueberries in bowls,
from echoing stairwells and the acrid bite of coal and potatoes in sacks.
I am from Opa’s tar-stained fingers grasping a hazenut stick,
from stock still hares and barking roe deer.
From an open top Morgan purring down the Autobahn,
from clanking trains pulling into iron framed halls.
I am from Mama’s worn diary and sepias of country lanes,
from Papa’s white lab coat and Vespa touring the tarmac.
From ship smokestacks gliding atop a levee,
from a first kiss in the westering sun.
I am from brick walls laced in ivy,
from mantis nymphs spilling down a papery shell.
From smashing a neighbor’s igloo and squirrels clattering along eaves,
from a blue blizzard toppling my friend, a weeping willow.
I am from the tales Joseph told of elephants in Rhodesia,
from the Planet of the Apes and a bone tossed into space.
From hoola hoops and Hot Wheels,
from pansit served with yams and cranberry sauce.
I am from candle balloons filling the air and cherry bombs in toilets,
from Auntie Soli dancing the tiniklit, between bamboo poles.
From Josh’s sister abducted and never seen again,
from Tatsuro’s Egyptian cartoons and Bitsy’s flying tackle with a kiss.
I am from a short-eared owl staring from a barn roof,
from the white teeth of children in a black Brooklyn school, streets shouting, “Integration!”
From horseshoe crabs washed up on Jones Beach,
from hoary firs standing silent as I land.
I am from limestone walls bulging from muscling zelkova trunks,
from sweet straw mats and shoes kicked off by the door.
From cicadas electrifying the summer haze, making trees speak,
from wooden sandals clip-clopping along train platforms.
I am from helmeted students shouting, “No war!”,
from pantomiming five comedians on black and white TV.
From shaved ice with melon syrup and glass balls punched into bottle necks,
from the girl down the street who never said hello.
I am from Jonathan shouting, “Jumbo Jet!”, everyone rushing to the window,
from Peter’s water pipe and my bloody nose.
From a family of foxes pausing on the dirt road up north,
from rhinoceros beetles and luna moths and azure-winged magpies.
I am from hitting tennis balls at a wall, sobbing and wishing for friends,
from jam-packed commutes and girls in sailor uniforms.
From lying beside the Okhotsk Sea with my brother, watching Perseid meteorites streak the wide ink sphere,
from clouds drifting across the face of Fuji, crowning her in white.
I am from the North,
I am from the West,
I am from the East.
In 1991, while attending a writer’s gathering I was invited to in Glenbrook, New Hampshire, Walter Clark recited this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets, and favorite poems:
Es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
Befiehl den letzten Fruechten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei suedlicher Tage,
draenge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Suesse in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein is, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin and her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blaetter treiben.
It is difficult to translate into English the inherently melancholy voice of the German language and even more difficult to ascribe the longer rhythms and consonant rich sound of German words that Rilke uses so masterfully in his poems. It is simply impossible to bring across the full beauty of Rilke’s poems in English. For the sake of most of the readers of this weblog, I’ve made my own attempt:
Lord: it is time. The Summer was so grand.
Lay thy shadows upon the sundials,
and upon the fields let the winds loose.
Allow the last fruit to grow full;
give them yet two southerly days,
press them through completion and throw
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Who now has no house, builds none more.
Who now is alone, will so long remain,
will wake, read, write long letters
and in the alleyways two and fro
restlessly wander, as the leaves drift down.
German books are still published in small formats that are easy to carry in pockets. Japanese books, too. When I introduced a Japanese friend to The Lord of the Rings series last year, at first she recoiled when she saw the huge paperback volume in the English section of Kinokuniya, the giant six story bookstore in downtown Tokyo. “It’s too heavy!” she protested. “Who’s going to carry around a lump like that?” She was reassured, however, when she went downstairs and discovered that the Japanese versions had been split into seven volumes, each small enough to slip into her purse’s side pocket.
I’m puzzled why western book companies now issue most of their books in these huge bricks that barely fit into your bag and add up to the equivalent of a weightlifter’s barbell when stuffing a bag for school or work. During the Second World War publishers distributed the newly designed “pocket books” so that soldiers might carry a volume in their back pockets, but the mobility of these books still holds true today. Not only would carrying the latest edition of the Harry Potter series while walking the mountains make my pack a lot lighter (no I don’t bring such big books into the mountains!), but it would certainly make having books shipped from Amazon.com in the States here to Japan a lot cheaper.