in this issue are:
Bongos of the Lord
is printed in Sendai, Japan
for Bookgirl Press
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poems by Ric Caddel
by moonlight in
wander in drains : his
cult is his
cargo, his pondering
foot, brains : how
far can he go?
note writ on
night's paving -
uncertain sound -
poems by Ed Baker
for Cid & Shizumi
f in d
l ad y's
J us t
a b out
p l un ges
f in s
cr um bs
drif t in g
los in g
T em ple
FOR A WALK
When you put your body in the mother nature,
you sure feel the greatness of the god creation.
It embrace you tenderly and wash your agony
you picked up in yourself off by the grand view
and the connoted wisdom.
--Appears on the outward face of my cheap-o backpack.
Athletes, models, those socially self-conscious of their bodies (is my gut sticking out?), and still others for health reasons ((is my gut sticking out? (a health confined to a social awareness))--are already to some degree body conscious, but their concerns, worthy as those who think them, are areas already mapped out by others inside our heads and have as their impetus always something in a world, something professional, financial, something social and cultural.
Walking was not mentioned on any tourist pamphlet I saw. But for a few chopped phrases in small print informing a reader that someplace is a five-minute walk from a train station or a bus stop, there was no information for a person on foot. A journey by foot is pretty much a lost art, a lost way of life, a lost experience, a forgotten subject. Some who journey by foot now are out to prove something, to do something for the record, as a feat. There's nothing wrong with that, but there is more, much more, beyond.
Gone is a sense of things arrived at on foot, of things encountered only by walking, and gone is a dimension of spirit-heart that can grow only around a people who transport themselves by their own legs. We can't tell how life is by walking, unless we walk. Walking, makes a world new though some ants no doubt came to an end under my feet.
A grandma proprietress of an inn, which I walked some hours to get to, recommended a spot for me to visit that was only another twenty minutes up the road, she said. I'd arrived well before check-in time, so I followed her advice and continued on into the settling nor'easter that had brought flooding all along the coast, bringing rail service to a halt. After twenty minutes the site was nowhere to be seen. Thirty minutes, still nothing. After an hour I stopped at a farmhouse to ask: "it's still farther along this road." Two-and-a-half hours it took to reach a mountain's peak. Michinoku's Hakone. And the city-run, folk-heritage site the obaa-san had sent me off to was closed that day.
to see the earth through feet is altogether
a different scene than pretty.
ugly AND beautiful
raindrops on a road.
everywhere is everywhere.
* * * * *
Close to a sea, waves inhale, exhale. Close to a body.
Keeping myself company. I read somewhere that those who've lost an arm or a leg still sense its presence. A phantom limb. I go on as if there's still a someone in a world that's me.
Another, more vivid me, a walking me in a walking life, a life fulfilling and emptying with each step. A presence with an absence. Two for one.
* * * * *
From a bus the postcard scenery calls, calls. On foot it is us; the land holds us, nameless entities with no destinations or purposes. We are there, here, it.
* * * * *
The things kids find to do on a beach. For me this time it's an afternoon nap, repairing a house. It needs it. Redleaf clover growing next to evening primrose.
* * * * *
I'm hungry so find a place to eat. A stray cat come to a door unable to hunt on its own. What's it want but a meal, and to be left alone, and then be off.
Human society, a menu opened, here are the confrontations once again. A world of propositions we confront ourselves with. That's what happens when we stop. One big stop sign world. The tribes settled, come to a stop, things subsiding, a sediment, sedimentary, a world to work in, a past--left with nothing to do but proposition ourselves. buku-buku, bubbling like something stewing.
Not that there is anything disgraceful or disdainful in sediment. These little farmhouses that have been with earth a while, faded, softly, soulfully nestled into and held near by the surrounding forested hills, bit by bit crumbling, inside weeping into soil--so much clay dried and cracking, wood pitted, rotting--who we are. Wherever the land is not under cultivation things are being overrun by kudzu and many forms of mostly green out-of-the-ground renewal so it makes me wonder if there's such a thing as stoppage or if it's our wanting to bring things to a halt, a permanence, that makes us see such a thing as stillness or a smooth surface. Culturally predisposed. How long have we been alive?
* * * * *
Up into mountains towards another village. A place to stay is so important; until moving on of course. Seasons come, seasons go. Receding scene, approaching scene. A forested upheaval that makes me aware of skin. Mountains breathe too, just as the sea does, only breathing here is so slow and deep it will not translate into something sensible to us, not unless we are attuned to such a slow, slow movement such as something going on ever so deeply within us. There is a pulse.
Stripping into a stream's coolness, or even just sit naked alongside, eyeing the flow, feeling breeze on my skin .
* * * * *
This particular mountain is sacred to a religion. The religion owns the mountain? It makes a tribe's propagation into divinity and lets nature do its propaganda. Makes sense. Someone told me once Shinto is the only religion through which you can speak to god directly in such a thing as a tree or a rock. I'd never even wondered about that.
* * * * *
He turns out, this man I ask directions from in Japanese, to have a disability in English, which, the English, he doesn't need with me but which he mispronounces just the same, distorts in many ways, which makes him incomprehensible, and gradually he moves into mixing English with his locally spoken Japanese. A good man I guess, trying to be helpful. Sent into a dither by a world of reasons. Trying to play gracious host perhaps and speak my language while it would be much simpler to tell me in Japanese. He ends up driving me there in his van, a couple hundred yards down the road. "Japan is safe," he calls out to me finally in Japanese as I'm leaving. "Not like America!" Was he afraid of me?
Into the hills again. Abu, horseflies, swarm around me, stirred by my presence as well. As the trail descends towards a stream they disappear and as it goes up into the hills again they're there. Into their territory and out. In and out. They didn't bite me though. Because of my movement?
Along fields up in the hills, down to a ravine, along and crossing streams, then up again. Lost my way by misreading a sign. How long did it take along a path into a mountain that became unintelligible as it went deeper into that mountain? Dangerous--earth underfoot unstable from the heavy rains, and a place to get footing narrowing into nowhere. Well, this can't be the trail, so have to go back to find the last marker. Not very clear which way it's pointing.
Come to an opening, take a breather, sweat dripping onto a rock (it's August and, though comparatively cool this year and overcast often, humidity is still high). Here newly again as always with earth and sky. Is this love's? No hierarchy. What's to compare but worldly and yackety-yack? Is there a territory to it or even a possessive? Or how could there even be a question in a mind, a quest, or a desire?
Sweat, sweat, this forest air is putrid sweet.
* * * * *
Although this part of the journey is along a highway and now in the world it is the Obon holidays when Buddhists welcome the return of their ancestors from the land of the dead, this particular stretch of asphalt today is only lightly travelled. It's late afternoon; the sun is just on the mountains to the west. This is Yamagata land. Mountains and mountains. Green, green.
Along the road dead worms, dead bees, dead dragonflies, dead cicada, dead grasses. Festive.
Tires on asphalt: how they howl. Engines roar. Can't hear myself listen. Grasshoppers don't seem to mind. They keep hopping. It's surprising what we learn to live with as we compliment ourselves about how wonderful is our quality of life. We can't hear. Which is why I guess our pediatrician advised my parents to play a radio near where I slept: to get me used to noise.
* * * * *
This is an inn which lies within this Shinto shrine's compound. Having returned from a hot bath and sprawled out, my skin sticky on the tatami flooring, thoughts of "naked" festivals I've seen or heard of come to a joyfully tired mind--the place I live, Sendai, has one, but no one goes totally naked. There's one up in Aomori where the male participants, at least, are said to be fully in the buff. They proceed in their nudity through a deeply snowed town's streets. Still, they have to have god to legitimize this event's spirit.
Back in college one fine May evening many of us streaked for the seemingly ungodly purpose of having been born. The police were called out by the mayor. The mayor had been telephoned by the university president who was called by a campus security guard. We ran over the campus grounds, across its sunken gardens, into and out of the Christopher Wren building, stark naked boarded a campus shuttle bus, ran through the halls of girls' dormitories, circled the president's house three times, whooping as we'd been taught Indians did and calling for the president and his wife to join us. They did not. Entered the college radio station and were interviewed in the raw.
The police surrounded the campus so our streaking wouldn't spill out onto the Duke of Gloucester Street and disturb the tourist-shoppers and diners being waited on by college kids in tricornered colonial hats. Troopers in a phalanx awaited us, nightsticks braced across their bellies. We retreated, though a few were for trying to break through. No thanks.
The following morning I was surprised to find that the Haguro innkeeper had arranged for me to go along with two middle-aged ladies here by train and bus to climb the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa. She was no doubt trying to be helpful, though I should have been firm in saying I wanted to go it alone. It was my mistake, my weakness. Just say no. But if I were truly firm, what is there in the world I would do for any long stretch? Maybe nothing. Write when I feel like it, wander when I feel like. No "profession" to make of it . Well, anyway, try to be flexible, try to make the best of my disability, my inability to be firm.
As it turned out these two ladies had a schedule to keep, a bus to board late that afternoon and train to catch that evening. Not that we pressed or hurried. We did stop for necessary breaks. Had a leisurely hot lunch--it's cold up there, still snow in places. They talked throughout most of the climb--"look at this, look at that . . . let's take a picture here . . . Mr. Watson, could you stand here please." Comes with the territory. Towards the end the talk wound down. There is grace in exhaustion.
* * * * *
This night's inn was in another shrine's compound. A family across the hall from my room had an infant that cried and cried well into the night (if not the whole night through). Even that wouldn't bother me, wouldn't keep me awake, I thought; not after that day's trek. Nor would the heat even--we had to keep our windows closed to keep insects out, and there was no air-conditioning: only something that looked like an air-conditioner that sat on the floor and was set into a wall, but was only a fan, and more than anything cool it was warmth from the machine itself came out.
Overly tired; I needed to calm myself. I tried various relaxation techniques. Deep breathing was one; solar plexus massage another. It felt as though I were still moving. In my mind there was nothing going on all through the night but motion, empty, purposeless motion, like I imagined this earth's movement through space might be. It was like being on this planet, being here where we actually are. I felt a universe, one universe, out here within.
On my stomach upon this small, thin futon bedding, arms, legs stretched out over its sides onto a tatami floor trying to absorb some coolness, from what's below trying to suck coolness through my pores. Hugging the floor like this it occurred to me--I don't know why--that this planet is taking me for a ride and the thought came to me too that there is a connection between our bodies moving around on this planet, a motion our bodies moving, flowing, themselves create from no consciously worked up will of our own--and the planet's movement through space. And I thought how everything is moving, is flowing, even mountains. And it was as if these feelings, these flowings, were running through my body instead of existing in my head. Hmm. If I hadn't walked, if I hadn't had the experience, if I hadn't lived even for a short period a life on foot, if I hadn't done what I did would these thoughts have come to me? And of course I'll never fully know what all I did. I dunno. Sleep on it.
On the back of a small bookmarksize piece of calligraphy by Shinichi Hisamatsu he has stamped his mark Postmodernist. The calligraphy--and the word is misleading--was sent me at my request. I had asked for something related to poetry. The words MU KO TOKU that arrived mean: NO SUCCESS VIRTU. There is--I feel--a mutual message involved: both of us have chosen to give our lives to an art of spirit whose traditions go beyond history.
The octogenarian master--living out his life now in the family home in Gifu*--handles brush and ink with so secure a center (emptiness) that even the natural trembling of his hand constitutes decisiveness. His mark tells us something we have--most of us--yet to learn or recognize: that the limits we use to designate ourselves or others are arbitrary and yield us only limits. In point of simple fact--all our dates are forms of questions that can be fed into our mental machinery and machinations. All answers are variations of what the questions imply.
For example. If someone asks (and for the sake of argument we may take the question at its face-value--though that is always an unlikely enough case): What is the meaning of life?--we are faced at the very least with the implication that there is such a thing as life and such a thing as meaning and that life must have a meaning.
The issue is--if faced honestly--likely to be as tragically embarrassing as Lear's question to Cordelia. The irony is that whatever meaning we might draw from life must be found within it and lost there too. So that there is no question--as Gertrude** seems to have at long lost realized--just as there is no answer. Life writes through us the signature of a dying fellow.
When a person offers all and whatever he or she is in a form that we can apprehend--we need not evaluate what is provided. We can only measure its worth in terms of what worth it elicits from us.
If we are skimpy of feeling's intelligence and have held back from what life has been given us--for whatever reason or reasons--we may not be able to appreciate much of another's all.
Hisamatsu-sensei's writing is not pretty. Words like beautiful or elegant simply dont come to mind. What he has written for me--and it is specifically written with me in mind--reflects relation sensed and fully met. I feel in his hand--the mark of the brush and ink on this prepared (patterned) ground--the strength of a lifetime. He is not telling me something: he is living me something. What he offers is his life. With all the risk of being misunderstood--mistaken--thrown away.
He says--in the letter that accompanied the piece--to use the slip of paper as a bookmark. He means something more than humility. Or is it less? He means to tell me that the same self-effacement and fullness ought to be entered at whatever text I find myself at. Marked by those reminding words. Reverberating.
It is almost as though his hand reinvented the words. At least--renewed them. He breathes with each stroke of the one dip in ink. Of a small brush. Of the blackest most indelible ink. He brings me to where he remains--where I must linger too.
This is an art that is not meant for display. It is an art that moves beyond art through art. It cuts through hierarchy. It is the oldest latest work of a postmodernist. An offering.
* He died a year or so after this was written.
** Hamlet's mother.
from A DREAM BOOK
It could have been my grandfather, dead when I was four, came to me by dream when I was forty-four. We were in his living room, this old man's, he was sitting on a couch. At the other end of the couch was me. He was having trouble breathing, but his eyes were looking straight at me. He was dreaming too; that was apparent. He was aware he was dreaming me as I was aware I was dreaming him.
From that scene directly to a bus, a special line that leaves from downtown Sendai and goes directly to the airport. The streets are empty. It's around four a.m. Just a smudge of light. It's early December.
Somehow it's discovered that this is a stolen bus we're zooming around in, still downtown, up and down streets, me holding onto a metal pole so as not to be tossed all over the empty-seated bus, for there's only me as passenger, holding on for dear life, and trying to find, it occurs to me, life dear. My grandpop is at the wheel; he stole the bus. We're moving at breakneck speed trying to break through.
We're somehow out of the downtown labyrinth and to the airport just as the sun's rays begin peeking around over this part of the earth, just as our plane's ready to take off. We board the plane without going through check-in or passing through security. Still too early for any of that? We take off, flying away from the sun back into darkness. A flight attendant asks to see our boarding passes, which we don't have. She invites us into a cabin up towards the cockpit where there is a telephone. One of us gets on and talks with a clerk back at the check-in counter. After that the manager gets on the line, and then the other of us gets on, and then our flight attendant, and then the first manager's manager. We talk on and on and after that talk some more. No one knows what to do. How many times did grandpop and I explain what had happened, and was any of it true, or they were simply not believing? We talk for hours and hours. We talk for the flight's duration. We land. We get off the plane. We're free.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
We are with the Nakajima's. We know them because our eldest son and their eldest daughter went to kindergarten together. That's how we became friendly. Mrs. Nakajima and I are sitting next to each other on a tatami mat floor, on cushions. It's hard to tell whose home we're at or if indeed it is a private residence or if it's an inn. Maybe some hotspring resort. We're enjoying our chat over some Japanese green tea and rice crackers, but from another room we hear someone crying. I get up to see what's the matter. Sliding open a door, there's my father in bed crying.
What's the matter, I ask him. Sobbing, he tells me my cousin, my mother's sister's boy, is dead. Yeah, I say, I know; he committed suicide almost twenty years ago.
Dad says yes, he is aware of that, but for some reason they had his body here in a closet where they keep the folded futon bedding, and they had it frozen. Just now they are coming to get his body. Perhaps from for some strange lack of ingenuity they couldn't get it through the door--or had this corpse grown over the years?--so they had to come in with a chain saw. They sawed him in half at the waist and carried him out in halves.
From another room I here a woman singing a classical Japanese ballad. It sounds quite soulful, like a dog howling at the moon. It's a lament for Yoshitsune, the great underdog warrior in Japanese history. I slide open its paper door. It's another cousin, Sara Lee, who lives near Philadelphia. She's related through my father's side. I wonder how she learned to sing in Japanese, and what's she doing sitting in a Japanese-style room in a kimono, strumming a biwa, which is something like a mandolin?
OUT FOR A RIDE
On my motor scooter, going the wrong way on a one-way street, which is in fact permitted in this city, provided for by a codicil called Sendai Rule which holds for bicycles as well as motorbikes no larger than 50ccs.
There was a building blocking passage, or actually a portion of a building which I soon discover is a prefab job that can be dismantled, its walls disconnected, set on rollers and pushed off the scene, out of the way.
So there was no getting through, until all of a sudden several people take apart this wing of the building and roll it off somewhere. I have no idea who they are. As I pass I see them bring the walls back again to reassemble. Looking ahead there are two policemen waiting; one is waving a nightstick, signaling me to pull over.
Both these officers resemble stooges. Some comics I'd seen on t.v. maybe. They are preparing to cite me for violating this street's one-way traffic rule. They are not even aware that the city they work for exempts bicycles and small scooters from the one-way designation. We are permitted to go the wrong way down a one-way street.
But I ask them to show me a one-way sign on the street. Bewildered, they look around and look around some more. It must be back on the other side of the building, they tell me, the walls of which by now have been replaced, blocking passage once again. The officers order the bearers to carry the section away again. The three of us go to the other side and look for road signs. There are none. The police are flabbergasted; they cannot comprehend it. Why is there no sign?
If they insist on giving me a ticket I will go to court. That's what I tell them.
((Had someone removed the signs?))
poems by MIYAZAWA Kenji
[English done by the editor]
one of the Seven Forest Hills here
is more brilliant than in water even
and so gigantic a compilation
I tread this road's rugged freeze
over this snowed bumpiness
towards those shriveled zinc clouds
like an obscure postman
(or Aladdin, in possession of the lamp)
do I have to hurry?
MT. KURAKAKE'S SNOW
what you can count on is only
snow covering Kurakake.
fields and woods,
blotchy with blackness,
are not in the least reliable.
all there is, yeast-like
and but a snowstorm's haze,
with a faint hope to give
is Mount Kurakake's snow.
(an old ways' faith)
LOVE AND FEVER
today I'm sick in spirit;
can't even look a crow in the eye.
a sister, even now
devoured, a transparent rose's
fire in a sickroom's cold bronze.
it's so. O, sister, in agony I too,
powerless to pluck
a willow's flower.
[English done by the editor]
About An Idea of Autumn
Before words of parting were spoken
at length it was autumn.
turning out aroma
a young woman, cheeks ripe,
puffed, stands at a corner
a T-shirted fellow, green pants,
with some notion of autumn
on a bicycle,
happily reek all over,
its leaves rustling memory autumn
another woman, young too, to pick
suguri** from its vine
(though this is my own after-image.)
(Oh autumn, turn it slowly.)
a reverberation to send you,
distant and faint.
* sukanpo: a member of the rhubarb family.--ed.
**suguri: like a gooseberry.--ed.
poems by Scott Watson
if you don't walk at
night you don't get to be
with bats batting or light
lighting a moon.
people are willing to call who they are American
Japanese . . . as we have no choice what names
or genes we are assigned but through these
feed ourselves back enough,
go on to serve more fiction with a life and a death but you,
are you the broken taboo with no need to pretend
to be true?
the informed one.
you can see through his eyes
the tree behind him.
I look at what goes on
in a world we can make
in our delusions
so dutifully ugly
and wonder why
some think it fake
to see a UFO, word of life we are
like something written on a page that is here
to help us out.
what goes into
what comes out.
I hope to listen
to all I am.
can it be I am,
trapped--so I thought--here
in a house with us
in a living room a fly buzzes,
at a glass door butts, which even
opened for it to go out, no, no.
fascinating it must be
to see no difference
or hear a fly's buzz, its taps
at a glass when we die.
--for Ric Caddel
hawk ox-tongue, narrow-leaf vetch,
red and least hope clover,
chickweed daisy. fleabane.
to tread through to never get over.
to go into to never come out.
to not get the message our lives
most food we eat is dead
yet we're afraid to speak of
all the death we have inside.
something like a word
I don't know or if it's a
language it's from
something written on a
leaf a tree
nowhere in sight
all that is
all that listens and floats
how immense within am I
what I am with/in
can't grasp all it is to be
touched by being
body is bud.