"How Do You Like America?" by Keiko Matsui Gibson

   ~~~    HOW DO YOU LIKE AMERICA?     
   ~~~        AND OTHER POEMS          
   ~~~              BY                 
   ~~~      KEIKO MATSUI GIBSON        


   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.



   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 (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.


   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)					


   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
   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 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.


   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
   clipped short your 
   burning red hair and
   ridiculed my marriage.
   How could I  
   so new from Japan
   Was it my fault
   perplexed, overwhelmed
   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 
   of humanity.



   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.

   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
   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.



   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.

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