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I saw an ugly side of you tonight, 友達 (friend). A face I thought you’d keep a little more hidden. One I was shocked you put on so bold, out in the open. One that made me stop and realize why here — ravens, not crows. The careful, plotting methodical. Not the curious and mischievous. Not the jester of the North and West, but the rare spirit of the East. A disaster-tempered bird with black eyes who’ve seen so many murders, they have turned into stories told to one another silent in their tucked-wing sleep to the distant song of birds whose calls have come to sound like human screams.

My moment came in the shape of an overheard fight. It was one hundred percent unexpected and one hundred percent lost in translation. Enacted on a stage I could not see with players who I could not free-associate. Cultural regelia of the moment clamped my teeth, bit my tongue till it bled, and caged my heart against my chest. Both panic then and panic now, I cannot avoid. I shudder like a building quake to help. But help …what?

I have no clue what transpired. Only that words were exchanged without hardly a raise in tone. It was a scene of violence turned down and twisted under polyester covers. One brimming with expectation, roles and placement, shame and guilt. A hierarchy of meanings I have no means to read. I only saw the dominance-struggle of abuser to abused. But here, the whole space bent at the edges to accommodate it.

I felt a gaping lack of a conduit to the moment. I left knowing full well I could not defend what I do not understand. And to think otherwise would be painfully American of me.

Instead, I closed my door and closed my eyes. And in the darkness there, I saw the ghost of a samurai pass bloody before my eyes. I heard an echo like the decay of a call lost to mist and starlight:

“A hand is rarely raised not from lack of want, but lack of need. Fear already precedes me.”

This surprises me, for it is an ugliness my blood knows far too well. One generations before me spent enough time bowed down underneath. I think it is due time we come clean, look one another in the eye, and breathe. But first I need to find your eyes because they do not look like mine.

Hunting for the unknown in the dark just takes more time than I first thought. If you look at me first, I am sure to learn. My short term memory is a slough, but I remember what I want. A defence mechanism built up from my own childhood in a world made of violence-implied. I’ll find you eventually, if I try.

And I want you more than anything, 烏 (raven).
始めましょう. (Let’s begin.)

Honu = かめ but my protector is raven now.

As I walk the streets in an unexpected snow, I think of the concept of home.

My eyes arch up into the precipitation as I recall the winters I’ve spent in different places. In each place, I was called by a different name. And by each name, I found a new place. But in each place, still the same me. A constant pulse of the same heart with the same uneven beat. The same feet rooted in the same things. The earth itself is my grounding wire, and I am nothing but a magnet pulled forward in concentric circles.

At a corner, I hear the caw of a raven. It is deeper and darker than the small crows I used to know. It echoes, bounding off the sides of buildings. I look up to place it and see watchful eyes from a balcony, from a tree branch, from a ledge in my dream. Eyes so black they are blue, shimmering. In them glints my reflection back at me. I am momentarily distracted from the ashes of the past. And instead, see the depth of possibility.

When night comes I find myself bound, again, for the streets. But this time, I do not go alone. We travel through a slight mist in a pack of three. It is a number comfortable and familiar to me. I find myself in a place between. Both here and there.

I test my mettle, my tinsel, my grade by dipping and ducking from light icy snow into cafes. When I can order things without looks of confusion on the world’s face — I’ve accomplished something. Upstairs in a room moonlit by a blinking blue sign, our eyes met unexpectedly. Black to blue. I bow my head; nothing but observer here. You bear the blood of this land, breath of this sky. And you — for unknown reasons —  smiled at me. I only ever expect to be ignored, passed over.

How can I thank you for the momentary warmth?
I can only bow again and leave through the door.

The bracing walk home brings thoughts of moments from the home I left behind. There, it is winter in the same kind. And in either place, I would be bundled for protection. This wrapping up and shivering is familiar and safe. I’ve gathered straw around my ground and packed my roots in. The blood in my veins sinks low into my belly and my hands go numb.

Wind whips across the city, belting through alleyways like channels of a river. I am caught in a flurry, a hailstorm, a downpour. I am drenched to the bone. Out of necessity, I duck my head, tuck my chin into my collar, pull extremities to my middle. I walk these streets in a necessary, isolated hibernation.

For the first flush, the green bud, the taste of life — I am waiting.

ロービ 2.00

In the rain and the dark, I was nipped by a sudden car. Hit would be far too strong a word. Bumped into isn’t the right image, either. Condemned is how it felt in the blurry, headlight lit moment. Rejected, tossed aside, discarded to a gutter filled with brackish water.

Later, magic happens and you are in the room with me. I’m shaking and sweating, trying to drink tea. Oh, but for the first time, everything is funny. And it doesn’t matter what we say or do or can’t say or mistake. I like everything about you.

あなたは日本。あなたは東京。
You are an unseen hawk tucked in trees of a land I have never known.
And you, without trying, have captured me.

But your eyes like ebony opals turn other places, and I am afraid I am only outsider, outlier, stranger. Words — my token skill — elude me, slip through my lips and fingers. Breath escapes into a vapor and drifts right past you. I become a hollow shape in a full room.

The world talks past, above, and beyond me. Too fast to comprehend.

Magician, will you fail me? Have I not tested this chemistry? Do these reactions not amount to the proportions I calculated alone in my rooms? Have I done the wrong math? Have I failed the test?

I have to master my tongue in a new way. In a way that is no longer universal, but specific. No longer artistic, but scientific. No longer fluid, but rigid. And as the ruler comes down on my knuckles, I will bleed out my ignorance.

I am all I need to be but fear is a wall stronger than anything. Without fear, I can master anything.

Tomorrow, we will be in the park. I don’t know what comes next, but I will learn.

いけぶくろ (Ikebukuro) is a pond in a bag?

The moon was honey colored over the buildings of 東京 [Tokyo] tonight. As it rose, the honey dripped in between buildings and flowed down streets. It made some inhabitants happy; made others sick. For myself, it was sticky sweet all over me. But with no lips to lick it off, I only spread my arms to get  covered in confused bees. Humming their tired wings toward the wintry cold sea.

A wind blows that is neither bracing nor warm. I tie ear flaps together to get them from snapping against my neck, cheek, eyelids and lashes. So I can see the way into another wandering night.

But the moon last night, bright white and full, was a perfect guide. And tonight, it came again to hold my hand when I blew out the candle of my phone. Though that burning little box has saved my neck more than once. I can’t complain — but it was nice to be guided like a moth again.

I did not wander but came straight home, bag full of vegetables and noodles I’ve been needing for what feels like 6 days (has only been 2) to buy. 610円 buys me plenty of food to feed myself with. I am pleased to have smaller things. I always needed less, anyway. The carrots and peppers are just two more tangible reminders that the size of this city, this world feels made for me.

As I pick my route back alone from the station, time both slows down and speeds up around me. The blood of 西東京 flows, gathers, ebbs, and moves around me. But the steady pace of the moon’s rise and fall; the earth turning toward or away from the sun — these are guides I know how, at this latitude, to follow. It is dark by the time I find my door. The days were in golden light by the time I left the 学院 [school] with a crowd of others I wasn’t sure I could communicate with.

あの。。。私は幸せです。すごい。

I learn slow and careful, reading lines at home that I missed at school. I sit in my chair and count…

一二三四五六八七球十。

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.

And so on.

くろしいです。This is difficult.

No, but: I am being strangled to death by numbers.
(Note: This is not grammatical, but a mistake I made in class.)

I spend the night half-studying, half with new faces and possible friends. The barrier is strong between us, but will it break? It can — but the question is, when? Or if.

I prepare for sleep with numbers and 円 (yen) ratting around in my head. Loose change for my dream-state to arrange. And tomorrow, I continue wandering, getting lost, and finding a grounding in things I have before touched. A spark of fire building…but to light what?

わかれません。(I don’t understand)

In the goldening of tomorrow’s trees, I will hopefully have sealed my name. If all goes as planned, which is rarely does. But then, when I turn about, I find myself in temples and shrines I did not expect with faces who find my ignorance something to be forgiven, not detested.I am eager to apologize and bow.

I know. This is not my home.

Though, I must echo so many others and admit: I wish it could be. But that is a dream to big to process in one night’s sleep. A dream to big, even for me. Instead, I set it on a ledge before wind tunnels and storm towers, and I do not look back. For what the spirits do with wishes and dreams is their own business. Mine is of the physical, temporal realm, and a conduit somewhere between it. A filament, if you will.A bulb glowing from the inside out.

I wonder who, if anyone, can feel the warmth or see the light from it.

And if: はい (yes) — then what am I lighting?

More discovery another day.
For now: おやすみなさい。(Oyasumi’nasai; goodnight.)

四 / 死 2015

Right now, it is seven in the morning on the next day. I forgot to adjust the timezone, so it would appear that I am posting from the future these days. That might have to change.

I realized it isn’t so much about the future and the past as it is about who is facing the sun and who is standing in shadow, facing the outside of our galaxy. Odd, that we think in terms of time in respects to our own globe, but not when we consider the stars as their light reaches us from millions of years ago.

Yesterday, I wandered in 新宿 [Shinjuku]。I mistakenly got in line for a temple where the people were making wishes for the new year. I stepped aside, thinking at first to leave. But when I turned the corner on my departure, found I was facing the adjacent gate.

I slipped in under the pretense of looking at wares out on display. I didn’t see a single one, my mind curiously trying to assimilate the situation and what — exactly — I thought I was doing there. This was not my temple, not my rituals, not my line of people.

I am constantly aware of being an outsider, gaijin. My blue eyes glow like crystals underneath my Japanese wool hood.

I wandered on, anyway, trying to understand and observe, instead of partake. People washed their hands together, hung paper strings together, lined up and waited together. There was no rudeness, no haste about them. But a slow steady motion forward toward the ultimate destination.

I passed by a pair of ghosts like myself. Two gaijin from where? I don’t know. Only that they, like I, are observers. Nothing more. We pass through the air like a breeze brushing the tails of our neighbors coats.

I come around and exit through the gate I initially passed. As I do, my fingers play nervously with my talisman of death. I am concretely aware of the new year. A new time. A new self that is ephemeral, not grounded in anything. I am painfully aware of my physical self, of my body, of its possibility to both survive and die.

I found myself warned about bad luck this morning. But with more experience, it seems to balance out. Can I outgrow my misfortune of boundless misunderstandings? Can I gain experiences that can, over time, equal better chances? Better luck?

Above my head, a raven sits and calls out the death of those who pass. I look up and we meet, eye to eye. Glittering black to glowing grey-blue. The spirit of death studies my face silently, then nods as I pass underneath.

I have been passed over for the year.

As I step out, relieved, I remember that today is the fourth.

The day of death.

And the spirit of death nodded me through the gate, wishing me passage back into the physical world.

It is going to be a good year.

Welcome to 2015!

すみません日本語あまり話せなくてあの。。。新宿どこですか?
[Sumimasen, Nihongo amari hanasenakute ano… Shinjuku doko desuka?]{Excuse me, I don’t speak much Japanese, but umm… where is the Shinjuku line?}

This is about how complex my world feels. Two days in with no-one to hold my hand. I’m grateful for the chance to muddle around at my own snail’s pace. Today, I wandered through the barely busy streets of 池袋 {Ikebukuro}. On a single street with three-quarters of the shops open, a tiny crowd gathered. A crowd that, in Bellingham, would have been a hoard. Here, however, it felt as if the city was slowly opening its eyes after a brief hibernation. After two days, its heart is still not up to pace. There are fleets of bikes, rows of shop windows, alleyways packed full of lights and hanging flags. There are wide walkways with “up” and “down” clearly marked. Cars stickered with dark pink signs that read: “Women Only”. A whole world just laying in wait to be crammed full to the brim. I can feel it like a yawn slowly building.

By the fifth, the city will be alive and I will find my way into its bloodstream. I am learning all sorts of things in a very tight space. Cramming in as much as I can take so I am a blood cell instead of a virus in that rushing flow.

I have learned that if I’m lost, stand off to the side while I stare about helplessly. No-one will bother me; I feel eyes averted more than on my face, my back, my lost confusion staring up with a blank face at a sign I cannot read. The sheer number of lines contained in such a small space puts my processor into overdrive. Then, most of the time — it just burns out and I stand there, looking at my phone that doesn’t download maps and even if it did — they are no help.

The flow of bodies ebbs around me as I find a corner to tuck away and hide in. And if I need help: I have to ask. But, you know what? Something about that just feels right. Like I have been waiting my whole life to hide in these corners while others let me sort it out until I am ready to come and ask.

Today, when I logged on to wordpress, I saw I had accessed the 日本語 [Nihongo] {Japanese} site. I got excited and decided to convert my interface. There wasn’t enough confusion, apparently.

Ah, but any little bit helps. I have memorized:

田=da or ta
目=me
大=long o
西=nishi = west
日=ni, except when it doesn’t. (I still have yet to figure out this kanji’s other readings)

Sometimes instead of kanji, the katakana 三 [mi] and ハ [ha] is used. (No idea why yet.)
And “shin” has at least five kanji I know about.

It’s slow going and I am finding more and more that roumaji is not an efficient way to learn anything. Perfect example: Tokyo has two long o’s. In roumaji, one could put a line over both o’s, spell with two of them (looks like “moo”) or with ou (which looks like “you”). Sometimes, any indication of the long o is left out completely. The kanji is: 東京 (and gives no hints).

Also. I hope all of my readers have sorted out now that they will need to download Japanese fonts to their computer. It isn’t that I will be typing exclusively in Japanese after this. And it isn’t that I won’t translate — as I have above. But it’s a way of parsing the immense confusion I feel. A way of exorcising it into thin air. Into ghosts. 妖怪 [youkai]{ghosts}.

I have to face full the things I don’t understand. I have to sit on trains and get lost a hundred times. I have to stand in the flow, gaping blank-minded at signs I have no hope of reading. I have to stare into the rising sun. I have to take destruction head-on.

I have always believed that burning hot and fast is the way to go. If I never stuck my hand in the fire, on the stove, scaled it with boiling water — I would never know. Better to experience what comes to my feet than live a life running afraid.

I am tired of being a child brought up on the taste of fear, unbounded. With punishments that ended in threats. Always stated in terms of “or more” instead of “or less”. Always beaten to blood first and then told, “Do it again and just see what happens.” Always living in the gap between the desire to find solutions and the inability to problem-solve. Always trapped in purgatory for sins not yet committed.

I find action beats sitting on my hands. And study beats wondering. And trying something I’ve never done beats always thinking: “I just can’t.”

So here’s a new year’s toast to doing most things wrong, but doing them at all. To not being afraid to say “I’m sorry.” ごめんなさい [gomen’nasai].

乾杯![kanpai] Cheers!