January 31, 2006


Someone is hiding something.
I don't know who. I don't know what.
If I knew that I'd know everything.
I hold my breath and cock my ear.
Rain patters on the ground.
It must be hiding something.
It falls to let us know its secret
but I can't decipher the code.
I sneak into the kitchen, peer around
and see my mother's back.
She's hiding something, too,
minding her own business while grating a radish.
I'm really curious about secrets
but no one tells me about anything.
When I look at the hole in my heart
all I see is the cloudy night sky.

from Naked byTanikawa Shuntaro

January 29, 2006

Imaginig Yesterday

Yesterday I woke up around 10:30, took a shower, and went to Mr. Donuts for coffee, doughnuts, and reading. There I spent two hours reading Yukio Mishima's The Decay of the Angel. Like the other four parts of Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy, The Decay broods and swells like a unnerved, restless, ecstatic ocean of myths, thoughts, images, things, words, places, sounds, and, most intensely, visions. Mishima's visual descriptions, in particular his chapter long ruminations on how the sea lives and grows into darkness at dusk, startle and subdue at the same time. Its always a strange mix of the transcendent and the physical world in Mishima, and then the single swoop, like that of the sword, that cuts one off from the other.

Anyways, after getting bored with books and sweets, I went home, did some laundry and went to the gym. I had a nice long workout, doing some exercise for every part of the body, and then went home. I took a shower, I ate a bit of natto, I continued Mishima's book. At night, I had the wonderful idea to go out for yaki tori (for all you Japanese neophytes out there still not in the know, yaki tori simply means "grilled chicken" and is probably the best cuisine on earth). Waiting to meet up with some Wakayaman friends, I went to get a drink at the cafe across the street from me while I read The Oxford History of Christianity. Yes, I know what you are saying now. My reading tastes vary quite a bit. I wasn't able to focus on my book, for their was a young woman, sitting with two of her friends at the table adjacent to mine, who stole my attention. There is an unsettling element when first encountering beauty. It is not necessarily bad, but it can be. I was attracted to this girl tremendously, but couldn't manage to say a word. She started to talk to her friend about San Francisco, my cue to initiate some form of verbal contact. My book, my mouth, remained shut.

This morning I woke up sweating with my electric blanket on full blast. I realize how sudden my thoughts shift from the metaphysical sublime to the the utterly puerile. I wrote some poems today that are not particularly noteworthy. I will share them here, for they are humiliating and they are true, no matter what I think of them. They are honest. Following these childish poems is a poem that seems to be a lyrical crystallization of my state of being in the last few years, written by the late Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco poet, Robert Duncan. It is from his book "Roots and Branches," originally published by New Directions in 1964.

I Remember

The young woman in the blue skirt
with her hot legs
makes me shiver,
as though my life, as is,
is cold.

Never again will I know
this pressure felt from a body
and a mind not my own,
that willed a succession of words
and found itself nothing.

Yes, she will be tomorrow's someday,
a recurrent dream,
a hope for consciousness raised,
reflected in visions seen and not heard,
life making this perfect sense.


I imagine a light different from the sun
and a world other than this one--
imagine your life, a new life, and waiting here
I imagine what I would say were I there.
As you talk, I imagine your silence,
your hand running across your leg sends
a part of the world to me, imagining.
I imagine you with a ring and imagine
you imagining in an imagined world
what we would we say were it the truth.
This speaking being too real for words,
I cannot imagine this world.


Come, Let Me Free Myself

Come, let me free myself from all that I love.
Let me free what I love from me, let it go free.
For I would obey without bound,
serve only as I serve.

Come, let me be free of this master I set over me
so that I must exact rectitude
upon rectitude,
right over right. Today

I am on the road, by the road,
hitch-hiking. And how, from one side,
how glad I am no one has come along.
For I am at a station. I am at home
in the sun. Not waiting, but standing here.

And, on the other, I am waiting,
to be on my way, that it be my way.
I am impatient.

O let me be free now of my way, for all that I bind to me
--and I bind what I love to me,
comforting chains and surroundings--
let these loved things go and let me go with them.
For I stand in the way, my destination stands in the way!

From Roots and Branches by Robert Duncan

January 25, 2006

Multiple Choice

Did it just happen,
this life and its sudden disclosure?
Or was it raised
in ages, a glacier filling the entire valley?
Or perhaps a third choice,
an unimaginable vision past one's furthest dream?

If not two, then one.
If the one we have chosen appears true
but later we have forgotten this choice,
forgotten those first unequivocal mornings,
racing to the television with cereal and cinnamon toast,
the sound of mother's voice calling one inside
--it's too dark outside--
forgotten too that we were taught the opposite--
that light is something external,
not to be seen in others,
but by which to see them,
then this life can no longer be just one,
and it will continue to follow the road
that splits three ways.

The first word I ever spoke
must have borne a truth
and must bear it still.
From where I now stand
it is a long way back.

January 16, 2006

Symbols and Real Things

Just past halfway through the month of January, I have caught myself in the act of division. January--a month whose name comes from the two-faced, backward and onward-looking god Janus--has entered upon the world bearing such strange gifts. There is the mystery of my visit to Viet Nam--the fact that it is beginning to recede from the lucidity of the present to an ambiguous, longed-for memory of the past. Like a dream, the two weeks I spent there passed by like a single frame of a film whose length is undetermined. Being back here in Japan in the chill of a more conventional winter climate, I have reached out to words in order to not lose what I feel is gradually moving away.

In truth, I have only one face. That face is my life, my orientation to the world (however disoriented it may be), a vector which cannot be isolated or stopped like a movie frame and analyzed to such intricate, piously scientific depths that it no longer seems to be one anymore. There are no mythological figures of which I spoke of that can claim hold on my being. Moving along, I carry with me everything that I have brought and leave only my footprints behind. There is a figure of me now, different every day, carrying these images through time with the hope of sharing them with other people. Though I admit an irresistable nostalgia, I resist the temptation to let that nostalgia fester into an aimless and blinded search for that which has been changed long ago or recently. I feel that no one should be what Kenneth Burke called "a hippopotamus feeding in the miasmal swamps of time." In Burke's book, Permanence and Change, written in the early years of the Great Depression, the "True Church" incurs this stark analogy. I think now of the difference between "progess" and "progression"--between the orientation or our movement in time to a single fixed ideal and the orientation of our movement in time to the reorientation of our orientations.

Is it more appropriate to say that morality is letting oneself be open to constant revision or to judging the world and oneself (often there tends to be an unconscious generosity here) to one's fixed understanding of what "being moral" is? I did not mean to let this reflection end up in the realm of morals, or a debate of permancence vs. change, which I realize is problematic and inconclusive.

Today I have a runny nose. There is one class today at the end of the day. I think about what the class will be on and have decided to make a "New Year's Resolutions" theme class. Most likely the students will be unenthusiastic about anything in which they have to express whatever they are thinking at the time. There is a balance somewhere between this reversion towards expressing onself and what I have groomed in myself as a reliance on expression (to the point of being handicapped in often subjective, abstract, and rhetorically flat language).

I think about my life--where it has been and where it will be--and sit here blowing my nose every minute or so.

January 15, 2006

Vietnam (Part two: Images)

In a Restaraunt with Friends of the Foundation. I don't know why I look so stoic with my warm Tiger Beer.

Next is a picture of the rural countryside of Vietnam, near the border of Cambodia. My face, unshaven, you may see in the foreground.

Tuyet is a friend I made at the mother of the program director's house. Here we are on Christmas Day talking about life, with the aid of Lonely Planet's Vietnamese Phrasebook, of course. There is also a giant grapefruit keeping us company.

The sunrise on the morning after Christmas illuminated the neighborhood in a beatific light. It was difficult for me to part with this place and the people I met here. However, the day went on, as so do we all.

The landscape of Tay Ninh as see from the Black Lady Mountain, or something like that. I wasn't paying close enough attention during some of the history lessons we received.

Thinking of this place, the world, on the beach at Nha Trang--the last stop on our journey.

January 04, 2006

Viet Nam (Part One-Initial Reflection)

Today marks my second day back from Viet Nam. A mixed emotion in me persists upon my returning to Japan--of both immense, humbling gratitude for this recent experience and of unappeasable longing to stay where I just was. Two weeks were not enough and yet more than enough. Many of the people I met in Viet Nam seemed to have mastered the art in which these two ends are balanced--they have very little, but so much shows in their smile. Today as I bike around the cold, quiet streets of Wakayama City, an endless procession of images resonates within me like the perpetual stream of motor scooters on the streets of Saigon.

The question that confronts me now: "What next?" When subsumed by such a strong yearning for something past and gone, is it appropriate or wise to direct all of one's energy toward the act of forgetting? In many ways, that is what the modern world has taught us--to repress sentimentality, nostalgia, sincerity and affection; to replace it with a constant urge for the new, the 'cutting edge,' the 'key to success'--which is aligned with an ambiguous and destructive desire for that which is not myself. The desire to not be myself is despair, as Kierkegaard once wrote in The Sickness Unto Death. If one word would surface from the many that are apt to describe the spiritual condition of our present age, I would most likely choose despair. When life "ceases to be a joy and becomes an affliction," it is a sign that we have "renounced the act of being" for something that is always disappearing. Throughout my trip in Viet Nam, I participated in the life of a society, seeing everywhere signs of a hidden wholeness. Though our world now is indeed a broken world, everywhere in it are people who are trying to mend the fissures caused by war, ignorance, and poverty. In a similar manner, I am responsible for the same rehabilitation in my own life. My heart, my will, and my effort at living for truth has atrophied for some years now. Regardless of whether it involves Viet Nam, a country I hope to go back to and work in someday, it is unavoidable that I must change my life, must return to me. We make ourselves real by telling the truth.