Tuesday, May 22, 2007

the narrow road to Oku

On the Hikari 312 Shinkansen to Tokyo, the seat beside me was vacant, and I read Donald Keene`s introduction to the 1996 Kodansha edition of Oku no Hosomichi. Suddenly I was back in his classroom over thirty years ago, beginning to read Basho in an annotated high school version. The clarity of his English and Japanese prose enchanted me again by its lucidity and simplicity.

Last spring at the centenary celebration of the East Asian Library at Columbia I had talked to Dr. Keene again after all these years. He remembered me as the religious boy who had corrected him about a detail concerning the Amish in a comment he`d made in his Introduction to Japanese Literature class.

Then at Nagoya a hefty businessman sat down beside me. The illusion that I had been travelling with my old teacher was instantly shattered. I closed the book and looked out the window resolved not to miss a good view of Fuji on this cloudless day.

so many gorgeous mountains are a surfeit
rounded, gently sloped, craggy,
et cetera

then Fuji pops out like the magnificent boob
of my pregnant psychiatrist --
firm, erect, perfect

lava flows of infantile longing
make me want to holler for mama

I strain to get a peek of the other one

no luck -- then zap!
we`re in Yokohama

--Ross Bender