Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Garden Shukkei-En (Carolyn Forché)

Memorial to MH-17, Dutch Embassy, Kiev

Photo courtesy of this source.

The Garden Shukkei-En

By way of a vanished bridge we cross this river
as a cloud of lifted snow would ascend a mountain.

She has always been afraid to come here.

It is the river she most 
remembers, the living
and the dead both crying for help.

A world that allowed neither tears nor lamentation.

The matsu trees brush her hair as she passes
beneath them, as do the shining strands of barbed wire.

Where this lake is, there was a lake,
where these black pine grow, there grew black pine.

Where there is no teahouse I see a wooden teahouse
and the corpses of those who slept in it.

On the opposite bank of the Ota, a weeping willow
etches its memory of their faces into the water.

Where light touches the face, the character for heart is written.

She strokes a burnt trunk wrapped in straw:
I was weak and my skin hung from my fingertips like cloth

Do you think for a moment we were human beings to them?

She comes to the stone angel holding paper cranes.
Not an angel, but a woman where she once had been,
who walks through the garden Shukkei-en
calling the carp to the surface by clapping her hands.

Do Americans think of us?

So she began as we squatted over the toilets:
If you want, I'll tell you, but nothing I say will be enough.

We tried to dress our burns with vegetable oil.

Her hair is the white froth of rice rising up kettlesides, her mind also.
In the postwar years she thought deeply about how to live.

The common greeting dozo-yiroshku is please take care of me.
All hibakusha still alive were children then.

A cemetery seen from the air is a child's city.

I don't like this particular red flower because
it reminds me of a woman's brain crushed under a roof.

Perhaps my language is too precise, and therefore difficult to understand?

We have not, all these years, felt what you call happiness.
But at times, with good fortune, we experience something close.
As our life resembles life, and this garden the garden.
And in the silence surrounding what happened to us

it is the bell to awaken God that we've heard ringing. 

--Carolyn Forché

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In its darkest reaches, the mind harbors inexplicable phenomena, those we have trained ourselves not to think about. I'm searching for the words of a song for them to find their way out. The soul, creeping, seeping back into its vase, senses the world's blindness and deafness, and dissipates; it stretches out as a banner streaming behind the elektrichka's antennae, peering in at the windows of the passenger cars at me now and then, flicker, flicker, clickety-clack. Does she love me, does she not? I cling to my ticket. I bought it, it is all mine. I will not give it up. Let no one possibly guess that I might be a fraud.

I see it in your eyes now; they have turned to stone, they are in the dead zone. Let them steep in the warmth of a steaming glass of Ceylon, brewed from the carefully rationed boiling water, the only creature comfort on the cramped train. A deck of cards appears. Is anyone up for a match of duraka?

Half-way from the capital to the Crimea, a plastic green bucket of matte black plums, held up to half-door of the train, costs only eight rubles. We buy them, bucket and all, and gorge ourselves, making a later trip to antiquated and filthy facilities an inevitable necessity.

A shiny black Volga hums away on the sidewalk near the green electric train, which regurgitates a group of wilted travelers. A middle-aged man clad in a loosely buttoned, sweat-stained light blue apparatchik blouse beckons to the passenger with reddish-sandy hair, who carries the only passport without a crimson cover. He introduces himself as the mayor of Kerch, and shrugs dramatically, as if to hint, "I would have ordered a marching band to welcome the first foreigner to this closed city since the war, but none were available." "Come this way, I'll take you there," he says, instead.

I lift my crinkly brown broomstick skirt and slide into the well-worn, yet immaculate salon of the classic Volga. We bump along the same dusty road, behind an aging bus packed with the other train passengers, which winds through eccentric groupings of buildings, hills, corn fields, sand and trees. Huge red capital letters announce on an archway far off in the distance: EVERY DAY IS A PRODUCTIVE DAY! I touch the green lizard stickers on my black leather Keds for good luck.

The mayor of Kerch does not realize that my visa is a clever forgery. While one government ministry was punching new metal tacks onto their map and announcing Kerch was an open city, the resolute chinovniki at OVIR had not budged, refusing to comply with a request for a visa. A friend, undeterred, insisted on penciling in the visa himself, duplicating so faithfully the tiny points of a dot matrix printer, that now it has quite easily fooled the passport inspectors. The familiar pang of sharp anxiety passes, yet is soon replaced by hunger, a less complicated sensation.

Where, I wonder, has this party apparatchik managed to obtain cheese. Not having seen actual cheese in months, my eyes are wide when the mayor hands me a mushy bundle of bread, cheese and sausage wrapped in a crepe-like napkin. "Hamburger," he announces proudly. Wittily, even. I smile and thank him, flattered and touched by the gesture, and then attack the soggy, lukewarm sandwich with gusto.

Ivan Aivozovsky, Kerch, 1839

We stumble through the gates of a Sanatorium designated for Productive Workers. You fraud, you. Who said that? What have you accomplished recently? I have learned to stand in a long line of supplicants. I have learned to wait my turn. I sniff the salt air expectantly, and thank the mayor, no doubt leaving him unimpressed at the skimpiness of my limp luggage. The Volga disappears in a yellow cloud of dust.

Is it only now that I am wooing you, O my soul, weeping of a dark candle, melted at this moment by various forces approximating fear, friendship and fixed determination in the Crimean sun? Return to me, forgive the force I exerted over you to compress you, when you were more fragile than the tears of a rose at dawn in midsummer. Please say it is not too late to befriend you, that I have not lost you to the waves and the mists. No? then there exists hope, a chemical reaction which rearranges molecules inevitably.

Hope: through just such a beveled lens, ground from a shard of ancient blue sea-glass, one might glimpse even a flask from Atlantis, or a vessel as ancient and classically defined as a graceful amphora from Pantikapaion, or a body venturing out to the sea to be washed, while a soul wanders afar, and a spirit-flame flickers briefly above a white stone menorah, then blows a kiss at the Byzantine basilica before rushing to join the song of the dolphins in the cimmerian waters of Chernoye Morye, near the gateway to the Azov.


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