~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~ ~~~ HOW DO YOU LIKE AMERICA? ~~~ ~~~ AND OTHER POEMS ~~~ ~~~ BY ~~~ ~~~ KEIKO MATSUI GIBSON ~~~ ~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ MY BEAUTIFUL HIROSHIMA TEACHER Crimson sunset in Lake Michigan. I think of a beautiful woman in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. Was she fortunate not to be killed with the 200,000 others? Was she unfortunate to stay alive? Bright light crushed her breath windows burst she went out she woke far off stuck all over with broken glass she couldn't scream in blood and pain no word would do or will ever do she felt the end of the world. Fujiko is more beautiful because of her scars Fujiko is more beautiful because many men and women have loved her Fujiko is more beautiful because she has lived alone Fujiko is more beautiful because she has taught many students Fujiko is more beautiful because she has always loved Hiroshima Fujiko is more beautiful because she plans to live in a tiny farmhouse there Fujiko is more beautiful because she does not fear the inevitable cancer Fujiko is more beautiful because of her peace. The wormy scar on her neck tells the folly of history. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ REXROTH REXROTH'S EPIPHANY: JUNE 6, 1982 You disappeared too modestly like an autumn leaf falling invisibly. Your powerful torso and pink face composed a Matisse painting. Your ramen tasted as if Marichiko had boiled it. The womb Mandala--red and red and red-- symbol of the organic universe was your natural place. You were a fiery Buddha, a raging Fudō-myō loving tangled Japanese hair. I felt small beside you, your beaming power quieted me, you soulfully called me _Keiko-san._ Your eloquence was a sword piercing masks of snobbery cracking the ice of authority along the winter lakeshore. When your moon was waning you changed from Giant to Dwarf. Constant pain, wires taped to your stomach, choking up phlegm-- everything about you saddened me overwhelmingly. But your eyes were more eloquent than ever. You did not let me blink. I held your thin hands and gazed at you. I saw Carol-san kissing your lips so sacredly that time and space were frozen. I forgot how to breathe and move my feet. You became a star on June 6 in Orion, your constellation. Hope you take a long bath in eternally consoling moonlight. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ RAKAN'S STILL WATERS Rakan (Japanese for Sanskrit _Arhat_), the original Indian followers of Shakyamuni Buddha, have often been portrayed by Chinese and Japanese artists. Candidates for Buddhahood striving for no approval live in easy retirement. Bodhidharma and Lao Tzu sometimes visit them speaking soft nothings over cupped hands of water and overdone smoky mushrooms. Confucius and Mencius never join this ridiculous meeting because they are too busy teaching morality and crafty wisdom. Rakan don't have anything to teach. Animals rather than people plants rather than animals rocks rather than plants are better friends for Rakan. Waves are lapping the beach. Trees are rustling in breezes. Birds are resting on fences. People are sick in bed. Raccoons wash fish. Rakan are everywhere. When you recognize them they are no longer strangers. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ FOR YOU Climbing the frozen hill told I was pregnant I watched my breath melt icicles the cells of my body were dancing toward the sky blood throbbed blue in my hardening breasts I could not help but talk to you knowing you were growing ears, eyes, and mouth imagining the day you would talk to me and see the sky with me you were surely living in me your only home was my womb now you are homeless I feel you everywhere I will always be your mother you did not get to see. (Summer, 1985 Crystal Lake, Michigan) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ AN EXISTENCE SO NEAR SO FAR You started growing in my womb a miracle of the universe. You made me throw up for six weeks. But I could not be sure you were you till you first knocked on my tummy at 6:22 in the evening just after tofu and rice on the 10th of May 1986. You were gentle but sure telling your existence to your mother. I screamed for your father! He rushed in caressed my tummy. I felt like dying for joy. My love for you soared. Now you bump me inside turning somersaults rippling my skin. Is it dark in there? How does my voice sound to you? Are you suffering when you hiccup? You are so near I can almost hold you in my arms and yet you are too far away for me to see. I wish you would crawl out of my navel and say "Hello!" I want you to suck my nipples in peace. I want to kiss you until my saliva all dries out. In this overwhelming joy I forget that you are mortal. Don't come out too soon! I wish you could stay in me forever so I could believe in Eternity. Am I living with the secret of the universe? Pregnancy is not simply preparation for birth. Pregnancy is the birth of myself. As long as we are born we grow we suffer from sickness, we age, and pass away. During this long but too short journey we glimpse eternal life flickering light which makes life endurable. The pain of creation the joy of creation. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NAME AND BABY Name and baby are born. Name lives longer than baby. Climbing up a small hill always I find a graveyard surrounded by thick green woods. Flowers modestly but proudly console the dead. Approaching the tomb my joints ache. Fear gushes from my forehead. After all, I may need a religion. In the grass, inscriptions of the dead seem more real than the dead. Henry Miller, Muriel Rukeyser, Alfred Hitchcock Peter Sellers, Prime Minister Ohira and my father-in-law George Gibson left our world last year. Where did they go? Where are they? Late Sunday morning black Chinese shoes scatter on the Persian carpet. Looking at an amber teapot I remember an old woman in a white dress who gave it to me-- the widow of the man who groaned lion-like in the war and died from ennui of citizenship in a so-called comfortable basement. Her theatrical talk and her skeleton of dreams which failed to be pink cast sad, appealing shadows. She definitely existed before me and she knew me. What is her name? I did not even ask. Is she still alive? Drinking tea from her teapot my stomach assumes life and death-- nurturing milk with morbid tea. My hands wobble, pulling in the image of a baby that can be Cloud or Flower, Bird or Lion-- names for a blank sheet of paper as dazzling as the marble of the tomb. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ BELATED LETTER My old friend raped at 17 how can we toast your life? Your ski instructor taught you suspicion of men. Your comrades were pain and hatred till you met B... proletarian wit compassionate lover. Connective tissues spread through your body and world. But after his infidelity you detested men turned lesbian separatist clipped short your burning red hair and ridiculed my marriage. How could I so new from Japan understand? Was it my fault perplexed, overwhelmed recoiling? I needed you a heart-friend to share horizons of solitude. But you said "Having children's a sin in this patriarchal age." Your green almond eyes sparkled. To awaken as women you wanted us to show our vaginas. Undressing you watched me timid, reluctant till I said, "I'm not ready to be exposed." To what? Exposed to the feminine world? When you said, "I'm wet!" what could I feel? Is my suffering just mine? Is the sky vast? I kept searching for myself any self at all beyond language beyond meaning beyond senses beyond symbols. 1986, Chernobyl assailing the earth I gave birth to a son feeling death in life. Seasons change with the wind. We are aging like everything else. I have not yet heard from you. Bright orange maple leaves flirt with cold air as if restlessly desperate for a damp lover. Do you hear the rustling of pearl shells their murmurings of grief? Misty daybreak brings a message from the moon: stop distinguishing accept devotedly. Men and women fall in love make love leave love and will love mysteriously so long as rivers wash away residues of humanity. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I AM IN AMERICA AND AM NOT I can't seem to sleep forever disgusted with this black jacket loved so much for years-- Damn it!--laughing at me on the white sheet like the cast-off skin of Satan. Throw it away--hero of hell-- frigidity piercing my skin. I am a comb without teeth. When I was a boy in Japan expecting to be a salaryman I imagined nothing like this. Seducing me is Japan far-off in steam from a bowl of nabe-- the country of mothers whose hands are yellow from eating too many oranges and fathers who sip sake with decreasing tolerance worrying about nagging. Time is really strange. People like Proust and Woolf (who are like Proust and Woolf?) were great after all spraying Bergsonian streams of consciousness. I hear out of season temple gongs of New Year's Eve and I don't. Where am I? Shrill Canton dialect of the Chinese couple upstairs and the sound of the shower of the Republican businessman next door have gone elsewhere. Are they dead? Am I? I might as well drink courageously brandy and cognac to shake this ridiculous obsession called self-consciousness. It is reasonably said that Japan is a fragile flower. But I surely do not like a flower-arranging wife devoted to children a boring boss to bow to and sleeping away my life on subways with empty men. In the mirror I find my face covered with bloody tears. Spreading my arms, I hold the torso of night tight then see that what in front of me is you. I was just thinking of killing myself from loneliness. I know you are awfully busy but would you talk to me awhile? I will fix strong green tea smelling of the Japan Sea. Removing the top of the tea can I see grotesque Caucasian faces filling it saying, "This tea stinks like filthy Oriental breath!" I push them back under the lid. Those guys just don't take us seriously. I can't conceal their words that crush my brain. Life hits the bottom. I will never forget them like nightmares after turning over on a stinking mattress. Goddamn it! Am I that yellow that ugly that inhuman? You would never understand back in the bureaucracy where there are no surprises -- after graduating from a National University counting on a beautiful, intelligent wife who still loves to shop with her mother ecstatic in a department store-- you would never understand the reason why I came this far to America a vagabond ripping my hair crying and struggling over existence and identity -- no problems in Japan. You cannot understand why I cannot be you: how I detest the Japan of sentimental folk-songs. The other day watching "Seven Samurai" in Urbana the rain on the battle at the end was my rain my flood of resignation. I almost lost my mind. My life is still damp. It will never dry out even back in Japan-- that eternally damp country. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ HOW DO YOU LIKE AMERICA? Taking off from Osaka I saw my mother standing with a handkerchief over her eyes and my father trying to hide a hole in his heart-mind. Then my country blurred. For seven years I have heard: "Where do you come from? China? Korea? Japan? How long have you been in America? Is your family still in Japan? I sure bet they miss you! Did you meet your husband there? Does he speak Japanese? You speak English very well! Where did you learn to speak it? How do you like America?" I pity, fear, and love it. America is huge and sick optimistic and terrifying immature but lovable. Americans' friendly questions dislocated my Japanese bones. I automatically answered like a dog watering its mouth: "I was born in Kyoto, Japan. It is a modern ancient city. I've been in America since Jimmy Carter was President. My parents are still in Osaka. Because I'm an only child we miss each other a lot. I met my husband at a bus stop near Osaka University where he taught. He has been learning Japanese ever since. I have studied English since I was 14. Though I am working on a Ph.D. English is still very strange." "How do I like America? I like America very much! It's a beautiful country! People are kind and friendly! Life is so comfortable here! Furnaces keep us warm! Public places are clean! Not so many people smoke here as in Japan." "So you are from Japan! My son married a Korean who eats kim chi on pancakes. It's unbelievably hot! Do you like it too? My husband was in Japan after the War and loved it! I used to know a Japanese girl in Hawaii. She invited me for sushi and tea-ceremony. Her name was Keeko too. Her hair was so straight and black. Such a cute little thing. Japan is one of the places I'd love to visit some time. It must be very beautiful. My mother does flower-arranging in Traverse City. How do you like America?" How do I like America? These cheerful Americans much better at talking than listening throw balls persistently without receiving any and flash commercials of their lives. Life goes on in many entangling circles. Americans are hectic and confusing. When do they calm down? The land is airy, spacious, masculine. No canes to hold to here, to stick to: you can draw your own road where you wish. It's a country of gushing power uncontrollable. Suspended between Japan and America a stranger in both lands alienating every being I have stayed awake all night hearing drips of Japan America Japan America Japan America I have lost myself many times eroded by changing dogmas. My friend A, becoming a separatist-lesbian left me like an old towel under the sink. My friend B, a conservative pro-family housewife insists only womanly virtues are pleasing to her husband producing many children. My friend C cannot find a steady job because he has long hair, like a little girl and really believes in his poetry. My friend D, always frustrated about her health and family, worries in a suffocating room with no windows. My friend E, embittered by the political impasse arrogantly retires to nature to be a weekend hermit. My friend F, still plays like a kid, dreaming of making money to buy perpetual comfort. Divorce has forced many children to fly through the air helpless and resentful their hearts beating in vain. The word _Marriage_ rings hollow The family is replaced by therapists. As more people consume their energy in jogging, aerobics, and health clubs where is the food where it's needed on the other side of the world? People dread fat more than nuclear bombs. In Japan I was suffocated panting for sheer freedom but there I suffer from too much air too chaotic to feel free. My honeymoon with America has ended something has ended I am ready for a separation. America is blurring. Just as we cannot count snowflakes my karma piles up across the Pacific Ocean. My parents are opening their eyes. They see me winging to them. In Japan I will speak again transparently, as I wish to mother, father, and strangers. I simply want warmth of hands I want tears turning me into a river. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ SHORTS Train whistle pierces the opaque night: where does the sound go? * * * "Marry me," he said to the bald woman from chemotherapy vomiting sorrow and joy. * * * You and dog. Dog and you. Which is which? You bark too. Dog saddens too. * * * "I still don't trust people in suits and ties," said he. "I don't trust people," said the chipmunk: period. * * * Dreaming the present recollecting the future I float in air looking for an island. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The poems in this collection were written after the publication of STIR UP THE PRECIPIBLE WORLD (in Japanese and English, Milwaukee: the Burtons' Morgan Press, 1983). I am grateful for publication of some of these poems in the following:
U. S. A.:
Other Side of the River: POETRY BY CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE WOMEN, edited by Leza Lowitz. INTERNATIONAL SHADOWS PROJECT - MILWAUKEE 1990 CATALOGUE, edited by Karl Young, Kenosha, Wisconsin: Light and Dust Books, 1990. KOKORO: HEART-MIND, poems and prose with Morgan Gibson, Frankfort, Michigan: Kokoro, 1981. NEXUS, edited by Bob Moore.
KYOTO REVIEW, edited by Katagiri Yuzuru. PRINTED MATTER, poetry edited by Daniel Webster, Tom Dow, and Denis Doyle. THE PLAZA, edited by Nishida Shunji, Taylor Mignon, and Joel Baral.
Copyright &169 1994 by Keiko Matsui Gibson.
Light and Dust @ Grist Mobile Anthology of Poetry.