May 29, 2006

Three Years on a Rock

There is a proverb in Japanese that reads "石の上には三年" (ishi no ue ni wa sannen). The appropriate English equivalent would read something like "patience wins the day," but if one were to translate the epigram literally, it would read something like "there are three years on a rock." Today my first contact with a teacher at school brought a vision of the end: my plane ticket out of Japan. Looking at the calendar for days that would fit my busy schedule of moving things out, squaring away my future life, etc., I realized not only how long three years is, but how short it can become. I think it is Samuel in Steinbeck's East of Eden who observes this, 'Lord! How quickly the day passes when we don't look at it, and how slowly it moves when we do.' And so I think to myself: How closely have I looked at these three years? That might be the most important question to ask right now, the only one worth asking. Lately I have come across questions of all sorts, from very practical ones that all adults face every day, "what do I need to get done today, this week, this month, etc?", to moral ones "is it right for me to...and why or why not?", to metaphysical ones, "what is...?" These queries are all great practice for our critical thinking skills, as certainly everyone in this age of commodious thinking and imagining machines doesn't work the brain out in such necessary ways nearly enough. Despite the need for critical, creative thought, there is still an ultimately urgent need for patience, for humility, for us to recognize that however so dearly we cling to the delusions of the ego, of being one's own creator (thus relegating all others to mirrors in which one sees oneself in omnipotent, albeit illusory, splendor), one's life only becomes full, only becomes real among others: yes, we must also come to terms with the ugency of something which no longer makes sense in the present age of questioning it all not for the sake of illumination, but for the sake of rearranging the shadows within the cave. Thus the questions of deconstruction, of severing our ties from the world as it is, only serve to give us a break from our real task. It takes time for the mouse to chew away the ropes that bind our arms and legs, but someday we may be free.

I ask myself often, "What next?" It is understood by most people close to me that I am worried about my life--my future, to be exact. No. This question needs not be made in distress. I often fail in my delivery, thus sounding a little exasperated by the thought of change, of return. But my question is certainly one of hope, a hope that is furnished by enduring patience, a willingness to listen to the call from across the void. It is something within me and outside of me, calling me to live my life to its end. I too often catch myself chasing my tail, or stopping too long on the road to remember in which direction I was facing. But remember, the road of life is always how. Often we think that there is a single destination we are called to reach when one talks of vocation, of a calling. No, it is mere how, the degree to which we live and look at the day--the fact that we are moving and not standing still. It is something to keep in mind throughout all our days on this big rock, something for which we remain in patience, in hope: making ourselves available every day for that which fulfills one's life.

May 18, 2006

A Reminder

With absolutely nothing to do today, I decided to write a poem. It has been a considerably long time. I noticed something today about most of, if not all, my poems. These poems that I pen or type are always of a critical and vatic nature, somehow predicting, indicting some element, some image of the real world (in abstract, uncouth language nonetheless). I seem incapable of writing a poem that can pass as a celebratory encomium of the world's present state, of things "as they are played on the blue guitar." More on all this later, or never...

A Reminder

Only my life could look at me this way,
like an impatient lover whose eyes open mid-kiss.
The fact of being connected, of having a breakable body,
sings above and beyond the din of this blind moment.

At first I couldn’t recognize anything here.
The birds had implausible plumage,
the sun seethed downward toward another life,
dipping darkly into these hills while emerging in a different sky.

Plato says that it is the sun that illuminates our soul,
but I find it hard to befriend the sun.
It is superior, and thus abstract; its unearthly face
shows in all faces, all times, and remains serenely unknown.

The moon, on the other hand, appears every night.
In the empty orchards of this mysterious town,
its silent face looks with patience at the world. With its companion,
the wind--my conciliator--I remain here for the time being.

Nobody is missing in this scene,
all have entered into the stream without looking back.
The dark fish, like words with no meaning,
swim upstream into the mouth of the source.

The sun and moon always remain,
we run into them everywhere, like a memory cherished forever,
they are still real because they don't live
untouched in a lightless closet as silent as dust.

May 17, 2006

Corinna's Going A Maying

I remember reading this poem during the spring semester of my freshman year at Berkeley. If anyone's interested, the author is Robert Herrick (1591-1674), a master English lyric poet.


Get up, get up for shame! the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air:
Get up, sweet-slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept, and bow'd toward the east,
Above an hour since; yet you not drest,
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said,
And sung their thankful hymns: 'tis sin,
Nay, profanation, to keep in,--
When as a thousand virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise; and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown, or hair:
Fear not; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept:
Come, and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
Few beads are best, when once we go a Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and coming, mark
How each field turns a street; each street a park
Made green, and trimm'd with trees: see how
Devotion gives each house a bough
Or branch: each porch, each door, ere this,
An ark, a tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street,
And open fields, and we not see't?
Come, we'll abroad: and let's obey
The proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let's go a Maying.

There's not a budding boy, or girl, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
Some have dispatch'd their cakes and cream,
Before that we have left to dream:
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
Many a green-gown has been given;
Many a kiss, both odd and even:
Many a glance, too, has been sent
From out the eye, love's firmament:
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick'd:--yet we're not a Maying.

--Come, let us go, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmless folly of the time!
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short; and our days run
As fast away as does the sun:--
And as a vapour, or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne'er be found again:
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drown'd with us in endless night.
--Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna! come, let's go a Maying.

May 14, 2006

To Decide

Sometimes when there is not a single flavor that appeals to one's tastebuds, one has to sit on the counter and ruminate at length about the unending decisions looming over the future....

May 07, 2006


Golden Week this year was particularly "golden," or at least it was sunny, warm, and full of memorable experiences. Well, now that it is over and the first humid, rainy day of May has hit Wakayama, I have time to reflect on the experiences of the past few days. On Wednesday, I rode a ferry across the ocean from Wakayama (Honshu) to Tokushima (Shikoku-smallest of the four main islands of Japan tucked in at the southwestern corner of Honshu). I spent three days at Chiiori, a restored thatched roof house dating back to the Edo period (roughly 300 or so years old). Alex Kerr, author of Lost Japan and Dogs and Demons, bought this house many years ago and furnished it with various anitques, wood, and cultural artifacts of a Japan that is slowly fading away. It sits atop a quiet hillside in Iya Valley, a rural farming area specializing in buckwheat soba noodles, a locally made tofu that is quite firm, and old vine bridges that also date back many hundreds of years. While the area of course bears the mark of urban development (the most stark of these being the enormous raised parking lot built at the bottom of the valley, which looks like it is made of Constructs {does anyone remember this toy?} that the government had spare money and time to assemble), it is still one of the most beautiful and natural places I have been to in my travels through Japan. I spent most of the week viewing the hills, reading Mishima's "Confessions of a Mask" and Joseph Cambell's "The Power of Myth," cooking with the folks who run Chiiori, playing with the dog, Jackie Chan, and hiking along the river there. Overall it was a salubrious sanctuary that brought me much needed peace of mind. Now I am back in Wakayama. Lots of classes tomorrow, so I have no more things to say. Here's a few photos of my trip...