A Poet's Kiss

Albuquerque poet Mary Oishi puts poems, pictures, and thoughts here for her family and friends, and for lovers of poetry everywhere.

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

a few fragments from my trip to Japan

waiting for the flight to tokyo

BART is crawling along the hem of the hills
a raven takes off straight and unflinching
across the rooftop from the airport cafe window
everything is pointed east far east moving
i am reading ruth ozeki's my year of meats
trying to understand like the protagonist
my mixed heritages my disparate
cultural inheritance me ingredients
i am practicing my japanese phrases
practicing the speech i will deliver in english
a language of none of my ancestors
but the first one i learned
the only one i know without thinking
the sun has yet to set on that empire i think
on and on goes the conquest
the colonizing and i am the product
of a johnnny-come-lately wouldbe colonizer
getting smacked down by the empire's
ruthless child lawless child
my father naive young farmer's son
believing in the story told to the poor
to the ones who lay down their lives
who take lives viciously to keep it marching
{god save the queen}
my mother charming daughter
charming damaged daughter of the upstart empire
witness to war crimes too horrible
to speak for decades
both with kindness still
holding outpost in their hearts
passed on to their children
along with the anger the violence
the clenched fists
and here i am trying to end world war II at last
trying to halt the marching
heal the wounds
traverse the distance between
san francisco and tokyo
plant seeds in the fading footprints of
mac arthur's men of truman's treachery
planting gentle seeds in the soft rend
of my own heart

mary oishi
29 may 2006

my first morning in japan i am wakened
by the call of a bird unlike any i ever heard
ahl arrrr arrrr it calls midflight
like it is heralding the dawn through a bamboo tube
another bird answers in less dreamlike shrill chirps
happy acknowledgements
my daughter stirs slightly
smiling in her sleep
happy on this futon in this
pleasant stark room
shoes arranged neatly outside the door
bless her for coming here in the first place
for giving me this extra incentive
so i would finally go back to my rice patties
as the schoolkids once demanded

i saw my first rice patties
in their neat little flooded rows
yesterday from the train window
last night i saw my first rows of lanterns
over the night streets
just like the ones in that mysterious
old photograph my mother left behind
the one with a dot pencilled
over one head in the crowd
but nobody knows who it is
and she's not here to tell anymore

i thought i would be overcome with emotion
thought my heart would pound
at the first sight of its shoreline
thought i would want to kiss its ground
as soon as i landed
but the trip was grueling
the immigration line long long long
too much hassle to allow the sentimental
romantic homecoming i imagined

yet as i walked the back streets of
tokyo's working class neighborhoods last night
encountered a festival with its food and
games of chance tubs of aquarium fish
smiling children bonzai trees
stunning white flowers
as i walked among faces so varied
in features and skintone yet all japanese
i felt at ease in a strange way
like i was among relatives
people who smiled at me broadly

i thought of mom running
down such corridors of fire
when everything safely familiar turned
furnace by the american planes overhead
i wondered if the old ones in their kimonos
tried not to remember
if it was so much trying
that put a sober kind of sadness
in their aging eyes

mary oishi
30 may 2006

was this a dream of unfamiliar birdsongs
cloud-haloed mountains
of pagoda-pierced cityscapes
pachinko and neon
five-story tv screens
five-way crosswalks thronging at two o'clock
tuesday afternoon
was it a dream of forty foot bronze buddhas
of fuzzy-antlered buck bowing to
yellow-capped school children
of westerners waiting like hunters with cameras
for geisha to emerge for
a fleeting twenty seconds
on a kyoto street
was it a dream of glimmers of great grandparents
given names, a few dates
at long last
was it a dream of artfully prepared foods
of a kind old japanese couple
elegant and loving
hosting us in their home
was it a dream of narrow
yamanashi alleys
and bicycle bells
of sunsets on ricefields
of sunsets on rivers
dotted with cranes and lovers
was it a dream of high speed trains
with ample legroom
filled with men in suits reading
comic books newspapers and porn
was it a dream of gourmet bento lunches
in train stations
ubiquitous vending machines
with peace and hope cigarettes
canned lattes and fresh cucumbers
was it a dream of upper middle class women
and their well-groomed children
wearing shirts with nonsensical
english sayings
if the sky (or heaven) falls
we will catch (the lark)
of twinkle stars
lily poem
casual dog style
string along with organizer
don't come home alone
when darkening
i want to see the change in the world
with this eye
engrish engrish everywhere
ninety-eight dollar shirts at the mall
twenty-three dollar chopsticks
curtained photo booths
packed with young girls
eager to put their faces
in a field of cartoon flowers
or sparkling stars
then draw or write and decorate
all over the shot to create
stamp-sized works of pop art
they will save and trade
was this a dream of a kabuki actor
in a grand white and gold kimono
floating across a tokyo stage
of the kodo troupe of taiko drummers
and rivers of blue silk
enhancing his performance
was it a dream of
a series of nine escalators
going up and up and up
in a kyoto rail station
twenty-first century echo
of the steep seven stone flights
to enlightenment at the
eighth century minobu temple
this morning, my last morning in japan
it feels like i am about to wake
from a strange and beautiful dream
a dream from deep in my
disciplined and chaotic
ancient and high tech
kind and distant
green and glass
mystic and corporate
now with ancestral memory
revived contemporary
i must return to my daily life
in america, my mother's adopted
post-war home
where she made sure life would go on
just as they have done
in the land she left behind
where they have outlasted
every nightmare
where they have steadfastly refused
to give up
just like her
just like me

mary oishi
9 june 2006

it was a time for flying a time for birds
a raven whisked me off from san francisco
a raven greeted me in tokyo
a flock were waiting in the trees of nara
each one a mystic shade of black

back at the base of the sacred mountain
a single swallow binked his beak
into the window near my bed
bink bink
bink bink
calling me into the dawn dreams
of japan at five a.m.
softer than a mother's heartbeat
consistent like taiko
bink bink
bink bink
wake up to ancestral memory
wake up to the history you were never told
welcome to it
another cultural reality
so different from our own
so long survived
so civilized
yet they too know so much pain
many still go out the old way with honor
out of courage or just being overwhelmed
with the weight of life

but those birds
those birds
those spirit birds they told me some things
i never would have known without them

i never would have known
how hearts can follow each other
across oceans and mountains and
hurts of the past
how we can fly and soar
so many different ways
how all our varied songs come from
the same place of longing
how there's so much beauty
even in the saddest call

mary oishi
6 & 7 july 2006


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