Bruce in the Packet

A Note to the Reader:
Whenever there has been a theme issue of Snakeskin, it has never been required of me to join my essay to the theme. The essay has been allowed to stand alone. Despite this privilege being afforded me, I have always tried to comply of my own free will. On this particular occasion, not so much. My experience with cryptids has been limited. Indeed, the one occasion when – well, that essay has already been written and published in the March 2014 Snakeskin, issue 205, and you can return to it and read it here:
But for my latest essay, I will delve into the mythological.

106. Baku

Nightmares abound. Most immediate are the political nightmare in the United States and the pandemic worldwide, but especially in the United States, which has the most COVID-19 cases and deaths of any nation. These issues are merely temporary distractions from climate change. After that there are the Earth’s existential threats from asteroids impacting the planet or the thin crust of our planet buckling with earthquakes and volcanoes. Then too there is the burgeoning population of humans consuming resources and generating pollution while devouring land, nightmares of premonition that should cause any thinking person sleepless nights.

There are also the personal nightmares that come with old age creeping up on us, befouling our bodies and impairing our senses. We contrast the present with memories of what we once were and could do. We suffer as survivors with our memories, the misfortune of outliving those we loved dearly. Must we be in denial of these nightmares to remain sane?

It helps to concentrate one’s focus on the things that render pleasure. There are sweet dreams that console. While we sleep, we can live in halcyon worlds crafted from pieces of memory. While we’re awake, we can daydream, imagining Elysian Fields or lottery wins. I like to imagine owning this apartment I can only afford to rent and touring Wales in a Morgan Plus Four. At least while we sleep, we should be spared the nightmares that cause us stress.

When awake, I can encourage myself to concentrate attention on experiencing the good qualities of my surroundings. As I compose this essay in my cozy monastic cell surrounded by objects I hold precious, it does not alarm me that Cardiff is in lockdown. There is a backlog of books to be read. There are etchings and paintings on the wall that I never tire of seeing. A friend has loaned me three Sergei Eisenstein films on DVD to watch. There is the music of Gershwin, not too loud, yet filling the space and conditioning my mood. But I have less control of my dreams.

In dreams, at least, I want to be spared from dreadful obsessions. Nightmares are unwanted trespassers invading our most personal and private estates. What is needed is Baku, eater of nightmares.

Baku, drawn by Mr Bentzman's 12-year-old friend, Hara Naoki.

I learned of Baku from my first wife, and still friend, Matsui-san. Baku is a Japanese mythological creature, probably inherited from China. It was made by the gods from leftover parts after every other creature was created. Baku possesses a trunk and tusks like an elephant, the eyes of a rhinoceros, which is curious as the rhinoceros is known to have bad eyesight, the tail of an ox, I guess because there was one left over, and the useful paws of a tiger. Baku is not a monster to be feared, unless you are an evil entity. It is in fact shy.

Japanese children used to have prints of Baku hanging by their bedside as talismans. A Japanese child waking from a nightmare could call out to Baku three times to come and eat their bad dream. Baku is also to be found carved into many ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, peeking out from under the eaves, too readily mistaken for an angry elephant.

Baku is nearly forgotten today. This worthy monster has been conflated with the Malayan tapir, a pig-like animal with a long, prehensile snout. There is a superficial resemblance.

I am in need of Baku’s services, perhaps in the form of a woodblock print or carved in a small netsuke. To have such a device at the bedside might encourage one’s subconscious to regulate their dreams and keep them pleasurable. Are we the only creatures that can derive comfort from fiction?

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
he would be pleased to hear from you. 

You can find his several books at Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.