tokaido bridge

a distant temple
[a chapbook of nine poems about my japanese adventure]

1. hiroshima unvisited

the japanese are besieged by volcanoes earthquakes typhoons
their nature is volatile as their island yet they pursue calmness
i came searching for the unvarnished beams of polished wood
the patiently grown wisteria that binds a window lattice
for the delicate touch of vulnerable silks and porcelains
to witness the short-lived cherry blossoms in shinjuku garden

2. in an old japanese house

the incredulous taste of foreign experience
eating sweet chagi with fragrant green tea
under the table a heated pit warms my feet
the shoji is open and i can view outside
the rain drizzling into my hostís garden
plum tree petals scattering like snowflakes
and i cannot open my eyes wide enough

3. tokyo

i walked the constricted streets of tokyo
a swirling mess of eclectic buildings
superimposed on an ancient map
thereupon i found what was once a theme
for a woodblock print by hiroshige

it was nihonbashi the bridge of japan
from which all distances were once reckoned
now a slab of cement over a polluted river
in fumes and shadow underneath an expressway

4. tokaido

the bullet train takes me from tokyo to kyoto
one city does not end and another begin
but each city and town between pours into the next
houses squeeze against factories and refineries
busy expressways conceal the coastline
peaks are disrupted by high-tension towers

i suppose the steep pass at hakone
is no longer plagued with bandits
that one no longer awkwardly crosses the abe river
on the backs of half-naked porters

5. a distant temple

in the templeís office an ancient man
is sitting with folded legs on a straw mat
warming his hands and feet
by a primitive charcoal brazier

he wears a devoteeís black robe
his head is shaven and it wrinkles
with surprise at this foreigner
coming from so far to see his temple

he slides open the lattice window
and awards me a large green apple

6. matsuzaki

down the knotty limb that is the izu peninsula
you bring me to the village of matsuzaki
to where it is enclosed against the ocean
between mountains your family once owned
you clean the familyís monument with your sisters
placing flowers burning incense and giving prayers
updating your dead father of personal events

further up the mountain tucked in forest
the gravestones are older and covered in moss
we find many uprooted and leaning on each other
lost names and families now extinct
stones no longer visited and who among them
owned these mountains before your family

7. murouji

statuary set on ledges or tucked in hollows
watch me climb the long staircase of stone
through a cathedral of giant cedars
approaching a mountaintop sanctum in japan
to pay unwitting homage to kobo daishi

so we meet again following ten years
when i first saw you carved in ivory
loaned anonymously to the university
in colorado far from here
you were covered in dragons and demons
that could not distract you from your studies
i clearly remember that image of your discipline
i am still writing poetry sir

8. konpukuji

while alone at your quiet grave
i cleaned your stone with a twig
only knowing you were a poet
and that was enough for me

i am told buson you are famous
were master of painting and haiku
yet you lived under feudal lords
whose swords disallowed disobedience
are these times any less restrictive
with our all-pervading government
and the rigid demands to earn money
i have no other talent than poetry
and with one life no other chance
to achieve my fixed goals

eye and heart of nippon
you had witnessed your land
darkened by torrential rains
its lakes lit only by the moon
the village lanes clouded in mist
and the canyons filled with snow
a traveler and honored guest
playful with the waitresses
sharing sake with artist friends
and poor most of your life

spring rainy season
cocoons in the characters
on busonís gravestone

9. katsura

within the bamboo walls of katsura
the weeks of the year are clocked off
by the comings and goings of birds
in the budding and shedding of blossoms
from the moonís location over an arched bridge
with the invasion of the returning rains
or its early morning transformation into ice

hilly islets on a shallow pond
form a ragged shoreline
the contours of japan in miniature
the way it interrupts the ocean

across the delicate moss lawn
on flat stones set a footstep apart
prince toshihito strolled in this garden
resembling a god strolling his creation

the tourists fade from my attention
a thin rain is shooshing this tea pavilion
following bamboo gutters along thatched eaves
pouring through an hourglass shaped hole
to loudly patter in a pebble lined pit
i feel that i might never wish to leave