I am a dreamer: What could be more antithetical in a materialistic society than a dreamer, a poet, who would much rather sit on a stone bench in the mild sun and write words no one will ever read? Once again I have purchased a small Japanese notebook at the Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift Shop in Japantown. Two years ago I bought a similar notebook, on a dreary, rainy day and sat in the Tan-Tan coffee shop and wrote. But there is now a no smoking policy at the Tan-Tan, so I am outside, under this warm, blessing sun smoking and writing. The poet is ever the fool because he is impractical. Being unemployed, I should be out looking for a job. But I prefer to sit and pretend I am a rich man, a man of leisure, a man of letters, a man freed from the mundane cares of the work-a-day world. Why not? Working is a curse for one such as myself. I deserve the beauty and freedom of this March day, St. Patrick's Day. It is said that St. Patrick drove out all of the snakes in Ireland. I don't know if that's so; so much about St. Patrick is legend. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the saint, I now drive out all snakes, devils, demons, unwholesome spirits, which would keep this poet in the shackles of the humdrum world of eight to five.
Blessed St. Patrick, save me from jobs, bosses and the serfdom of work. Amen. I like Japantown because it is as close to Japan proper as I can get. Of all the countries I've been to, Japan left the deepest impression on me. It is unfortunate that I have not the means to travel thither and sit under the spring sun in, say, Ueno Park and write in this note book. I always remember my first morning in Japan, twenty years or so ago, I was staying at a tourist hotel by Ueno Park; I had arrived at Haneda airport sometime after midnight. By the time I cleared customs and immigration agents and got on the train to Tokyo, it was well after three a.m. Once at my hotel, I took a soothing Japanese bath. So there I was at last in bed but I could not sleep. I rolled over first on one side then the other. Jet lag. No matter how many sheep I counted, I could not sleep. I got out of bed, dressed and went for a walk; that's when I discovered Ueno Park. I remembered reading that a battle had once been fought at Ueno, a rather bloody one at that; but that particular morning there was nothing to remind one of that battle of long ago.
A mist hung in the air. I didn't mind. Mists and poets are compatible. As I walked in the park with no particular thought on my mind, I heard music! I stopped and listened: It was the sound of a solo shakuhachi, a bamboo flute. I stood in place enchanted by the music of the unseen flautist. I walked in the direction of the dulcet sound. A wind sprang up and parted the mist; and there by a lake, on a large, rounded stone, sat the shakuhachi master, an old man. He turned at my approach; our eyes met; he nodded his head in recognition of my presence; I bowed my first Japanese bow to him. I always felt that the first time I participated in Japanese culture was my bow to the old shakuhachi master. That simple act of courtesy meant a great deal to me. That first bow to the flute master meant something more than merely a learned social gesture, for I truly was giving homage to the man who unknowingly gave me, a stranger, a great gift of welcome. He played on for a few minutes more, then he stopped. I remember him putting his flute in a case, then he stepped down to the ground. He looked at me. I said to him in English, "Thank you." He smiled, said something to me in Japanese, then together we bowed a deep bow to each other. He went his way; I stayed. I sat on the rock. It was still warm from his body. I smoked a cigarette and watched the mist dissipate. Soon people were about. The magic was gone. I made my way back to my hotel and had breakfast.
I am sitting in front of a store called "Genji," I imagine named after Lady Murasaki's "Tale of Genji," which I read in English while in Japan. Although I am a fool, I'm not so much a fool to think that the atmosphere that Lady Murasaki recorded in her book is still alive and well in contemporary Japan. But there are remnants of it and I think that is why Japan has always been for me a place of reserve, respect and politeness--although I'm sure they have their share of phonies and pretentious and rude people. My own country, alas, truly lacks in social courtesies at every social level. Americans can be polite, but over all, we are a rude, loud, foul-mouthed people who have lost social grace and good manners.
This day, however, is not condusive to a diatribe against my ill-mannered compatriots; no; the sun is warm, nearby a Japanese woman is feeding her sweet baby, perhaps nine months old or so; except for noise from passing cars and buses, it is relatively quiet, and I am at peace in my psuedo day trip to a far country. My economic position is such that I can live this care-free life for about a month. Alas, the monster of materialism will force me back into job slavery, the bane of every poet, every artist. Quite bluntly, I am unfit to work. I have had jobs and have fulfilled my duties; but my heart was never in any job, for I always wanted to be away, in all kinds of weather, writing poems about the wind or the rain, spring flowers and blossoms, summer fogs (in San Francisco) and autumn's changing scenes. Most unpractical. I am a most unpractical man. I often marvel that I have reached fifty-three years. A Poet should live in a land full of other poets because only in such a place is a poet understood.***Palm Sunday morning and I find myself back in Japantown, not far from where I sat and made my first entry into this little book. All over the Christian world this particular Sunday is being celebrated as Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
The people greeted him; they thought he was going to save them from all their miserys; but a week later He was crucified. I'm on my way to my own church. I've only stopped here to smoke a cigarette and, as is my habit, write. I am not on my way to a Christian church. Although I accept the wisdom of the Christ in Jesus, I am not a member of any Christin church. The first and only "Christian," unfortunately, was crucified and the rest is history. Last night I sat at my desk for over three hours and continued writing a long short story about a dog who has a superior intellect: he can speak six languages, can discourse on philosophy and has a high sense of dignity and integrity. Although I do not speak six languages, I identify very much with the dog in my story. How odd, this. A fictional dog who is, almost an alter ego. I conceived the idea for this story as I was riding on a city bus, a grey, rainy day. A single sentence sped through my mind saying, "I am a dog," etc. When I got hom, I wrote the first paragraph of the story and left it on my desk and did not return to it until five or so hours later. So from the time of its conception to the time I sat down in ernest to continue the opening paragraph, eight hours or so had lapsed. I picked up my pen and started writing and I write every day now and the story is almost finished. The story is writing itself. I am only holding the pencil. I switched over to a pencil after I had recopied the first thirty or so pages written in ink. I often do that. I prefer to use a pencil and simple three hole lined binder paper, the kind school children use , for in spite of my years, when I write, I am like a child and just go with the flow of the inspiration. I rarely reread what I've written after I've finished for the night; and I simply grab a fresh piece of paper when I next begin and take up from where I left off the night before.
***A beautifully warm Easter Monday. I sit at a favorite table at the Caffe Puccini. I am a rich man, a man of leisure, at least that is my fantasy; and it is a good fantasy. Eventually, however, I must apply myself in earnest to seek some kind of employment. But at bottom, I don't care to have a boss; working is too medieval for my democratic spirit and outlook; afterall, my country trained me to be this way. Isn't this the 'Land of the free and the home of the brave?" Alas, that is only myth. We are not free in America, for if one tells one's boss that said boss is an economic exploiter--well, one will soon be out of a job. The relationship between employee and employer corresponds exactly to that of slave and master without chains, whips and the right to sell the slave. Bosses no longer can whip or sell his slaves, but he can most certainly fire the slave, thereby cuting off the slave's means of livelihood. Means of livelihood: the magic words. Because the boss-master has the power to fire, lay-off, dismiss, "resturcture," the emplyee-slaves, the employee-slave has no means to control the continuity of his means of livelihood. When the employee-slave controls that situation, then our medieval slave-master employment system will end and American workers will truly be free. Until that happens, however, every man, woman and child who gets a paycheck is a wage slave and so ends my catechism***When a man feels trapped by his society then that man (myself) is a victim of society. I don't like the government and I don't trust the government; I don't like the conditions of employment and I don't trust employers. I can do nothing to change either of these. When a citizen has no power to change conditions, then the citizen is nothing more than a serf. Large quantities of money gives a citizen the means to change conditions; having no access to large sums of maney makes a citizen a victim of those who have money. It's really a vicious circle. Most of my adult life has been spent in the struggle to make money. Not large sums of money, but enough to pay rent, buy food, pay utilities and the like.
At most I have been able to save only four-thousand dolars and that quickly disappeared when I was out of work; so the bosses "won" again. And now I have reached a point where I don't want to have to sturggle for a few dollars so I can continue my marginal existence; but circumstances will force me to when my nature is just the opposite. What chance, then, does a man have against society?***Her eyes were as beautiful as a beautiful dream one remembers after a long time. I didn't know her name; and because I had seen her a long time ago, I barely remember her face. I was a student at the time. I was at the university library and I had been reading a heavy tome and my eyes were tired; I lifted my head, removed my glasses and gently massaged my eyes. When I put my glasses back on I noticed a woman sitting across from me. For an instant our eyes met and instantly I was taken by the beauty of her eyes. But just as suddenly, she lowered her eyes and picking up her things, left. I wanted to run after her--not her--but her eyes, her eyes, which I have never forgotten. Never since have I seen such eyes. For days after, I kept looking at women's eyes hoping to see similar ones; but never again. I gave up my quest. Only the memory of her eyes remains. That was many years ago. She must be very old (if she is still alive). But are her eyes old, too? I shall never know, never know.*** The fgace was scratched and caked with thin dried rivers of blod, and covered with an overlay smeared green and brown
wee ping the earth with open palms.
She had finished her initial rituals; it was only for her to wait for dusk to cremate Kwa-a.
She did not eat, she did not drink, she did not reclothe herself, but sat hunched next to the fire as if in contemplation of the fire.
Arturo felt hungry. He ate. He made himself as comfor