Thursday, August 27, 2009


One thing I am always grateful for is the wisdom of my friends. They see things invisible to me in my writing, holes mostly, places where I need do a little work.

I had a little talk with Bill last night and he raised a few points about my story--places where it was difficult to follow. I thought about these narrative weaknesses and added a couple of stanzas to the poem today, by way of clarification. I would also like to thank John and Paul for their scholarly advice and encouragement on the subject of the
Kobayashi Maru which is quickly turning into the presiding conceit of this piece.

There may be a few more stanzas added in the future, but I think the general outlines of this section of the poem are becoming clearer in my imagination. I began composing the opening lines of Part III while I was on the treadmill at Equinox this evening. I had to turn my music (Dropkick Murphys) up very loud to drown the poetry out of my head and concentrate on my quads. Will the Muses ever forgive me?

Anyway, at this late hour, here is my contribution for today. I hope it's okay.

[In case it still isn't, I have included some bonus video, as a footnote,  at the end.]

Takaaki, Part II

Around a core of elevators set
Twelve tall windows in a concrete sheet
As crumbly as the Parthenon; let
Your panorama start in Brooklyn, greet
The Empire State behind a candle (where
I sit swiveling in a leather chair),
While your eye continues traveling
Along gray glass, skyscrapers unraveling,
Until the pointy tip of the Chrysler Buil-
-ding gently lifts Lexington Avenue,
Piercing a silver nitrate mist. Now you
Must have this scintillating picture fill
The space before your eyes: that is New York.
Here, I transfix a carrot with a fork.

“Introibo ad altare,” I will say,
While blowing on my steaming vegetable,
Adding, “Totemo oishikatta ne,”
Hoping that I finally am able
To tell Takaaki I enjoy his curry
Without entangling my tongue in worry.
“It’s okay,” he shrugs, quietly deferring
My compliments—as usual preferring
A tilted head, a seated bow, the leaner
Show of manners honored in Japan,
Which can seem strange to an American
Inclined to linger too much over dinner,
Allowing food to cool and candles run.
Before I’d started, Takaaki was done—

Done, so quickly, like those Japanese
Cartoons I used to watch in Buffalo.
Star Blazers was my favorite one of these.
Five days a week, at 3:30, or so,
On rusty orange carpet I would sit
Watching an Imperial Navy ship,
Resurrected and retooled for space,
Leave planet Earth to save the human race.
At 6:00pm, plate balanced on my knee,
I’d see Toyota windshields being battered
By men from Chevrolet, lives shattered
By something known as, “The Economy.”
One guy would wear this map t-shirt: above
Japan it read, “Two bombs were not enough.”

Now, the two malignant mushrooms which
Sprouted from the belly of that guy
Returned as two shitakes in my dish
Of curried chicken and vegetables. Why
Was that? From a Doraemon candy tin
Takaaki took a cigarette. A thin
Wisp of smoke and hiss rose from his plate,
Typical for your twenty-seventh date.
“What do you want to do,” I inquired,
“Go bowling? I’ll do anything you like:
Get drunk? Get naked?” [Silence.] “Steal a bike?”
“I swam forty laps tonight. I’m wired.”
He exhaled, emitting a little laugh,
“Shall we play Scrabble then and then have bath?”

The carrot on my fork released a drop
Of curry—with a thick and oily splash.
The precise second my utensil stopped
I discerned, across the table, a flash—
Something which I hadn’t seen before—
Metallic—worth investigating?—or
Maybe not: a passenger aircraft
Hovering above New Jersey, as it passed
Behind Takaaki’s silhouette, gliding in
To Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark—
Nothing I need necessarily report.
A zero: no aluminium hiding in
Those pink cotton puffs above his head—
Those thunderclouds. That’s what I should have said.

“Have bath sounds good. But Scrabble, I will pass:
You always win, you creep. You clearly cheat,”
I said, “It’s obvious. You won the last
Nine times. And you’re not going to defeat
Me for time number ten tonight.” I put
My foot down firmly. There. Takaaki’s butt
He then extinguished in the drop of sauce
Which recently had claimed his match. “You lost
Because you play without strategy:
There is no need for me to cheat,” he sighed,
As if I were an insect on his thigh
Too insignificant to crush. “You see,
You always want to find interesting word—
Not the word that wins.” My mouth conferred

A moment with a chunk of chicken dyed
Cadmium by cumin in the curry—
Before I swallowed. “I have always tried
To think of Scrabble with you as purely
Educational. It is my wish
To help you in enlarging your English
Vocabulary. And defeating you—
Too easily—as surely I must do—
Would only be embarrassing. I know
How sensitive to that Nihon-jin are:
Destruction on a Scrabble board would mar
Our beautiful relationship.” “Honto?
It sounds like Maru-chan’s afraid to play.”
“Well, if you want to play with words, okay.”

(Maru-chan, or Little Maru, is
The new diminutive by which I’m known
In Japanese. I really don’t exist
In English anymore—except at home.
Think of Maru as a marine suffix—
A damaged freighter out of Altair Six—
The bane of all Starfleet cadets, but one—
Who counts impossible rescues among
His greatest triumphs. Though Kirk’s victory
Pales before my own: I am the first
To work the Kobayashi into verse—
In a surprising twist of History.
Present me a no-win scenario,
I read the rules. Then change the game. So,

The Kobayashi Maru is a test
Of character. You’re not supposed to win.
It’s chess. There is no ship in distress,
Hull breached, an icy vacuum pouring in;
The ship’s a simulation, and you lose
Whatever course of action you should choose.
The Kobayashi test presumes that death
Is built into our programming—like breath-
Ing—it is part of human DNA.
Live long and prosper? No, cadet: goodbye.
Don’t bother asking for a reason why:
Logic has the final, fatal say.

I wonder if our friend, Spock—over there—
Knows love is logic’s great nightmare?)

Takaaki taps a second cigarette
On Dora-chan’s bountiful blue tin;
I go on eating, watching the sun set
Like some enormous, obvious omen.
A hush descends across the dinner table,
Until a tulip petal that’s incapable
Of hanging on lands on my placemat
With a soft thud. Five minutes pass like that—
So slowly that they feel more like twenty.
I trace circles in my curry sauce
While he establishes just who is boss.
Takaaki asks, “More?” “No, I’ve had plenty,
Thanks.” I roll the tulip petal from
The mat between forefinger and thumb

Contemplatively as Takaaki takes
Dishes to the kitchen. In florescent glass—
Bisected cleanly by the Empire State—
I watch Takaaki work—efficient as
A robot—feeding things to Tupperware
Containers, fridge, and freezer—aware
I should be helping to put things away.
I am lazy—what else can I say?
When I see him stationed at the sink
I swallow the pale dregs of my iced-tea,
Then saunter to the bathroom for a pee,
Leaving the door open while I tink-
Le, asking, “Hey, would you like me to help?
Or do you plan to do it all yourself?”

Before we get to Scrabble we must first
Prepare the space for battle. Clean dishes
Rest in a rack, while bubbles rise and burst
Around Takaaki as he calmly swishes
Cutlery though the hot suds. Each plate
I plan to dry I first inspect. I scrape
A shred of gross organic matter loose
From the light, lilac pattern. I peruse
Both back and front, then add it to the stack
Of china in the cabinet above—
Easing my stiletto in with love.
This underhanded method of attack
Earns my palm a pair of scalding forks
Falling from the sky with deadly force.

“Jesus Christ! What’s got into you?”
I thundered to a non-existent jury,
“You stab me with steel forks out of the blue—
I promise to play Scrabble and—” And fury,
Rage crystallizing in Takaaki’s eye,
“I know when you’re mocking me.” I try
Not to reply—permit my mask to slip—
Given how I’ve destabilized his lip:
It quivers like red jello, in a mold,
Before the gelatin’s had time to set
Sufficiently. Our eyeballs briefly met
While calculating how long we could hold
Some dark profanity from bursting out.
He placed his boiled hands beneath the spout

Allowing a cascade of cold to run,
So his temper had a chance to cool.
These Vulcans have a funny sense of fun.
Letters at sunset. If this is a duel,
Shall I tease my way into his tiles—
Turn phrases on him, tiny lighted dials,
Listening for that peculiar ping
That tells me what’s inside my sonar ring
Is not a whale or school of silver fish
Darting down into the icy depths—
It is his anger, slowly sliding west,
Enveloped in the velvet dark? I wish
He hadn’t tried to lecture me before
About my Scrabble game. I abhor

Violence, like any veteran
Who knows what horrors in his soul may lurk.
But I’m American, and human, and,
Against a submarine, depth-charges work
Well—like words—if you deploy them right.
But using double-meanings in a fight
Is regulated largely by extent
Of your technology. Intelligent
Tacticians will grade every syllable
Carefully, according to its power—
Testing terrors, safely, in the shower,
Walking, waking, working—if capable—
When stepping from their skivvies to make love.
I draw the line at—this is getting rough.

Love’s not a game for gentlemen, like cricket.
It’s more like dominoes with rubble. War
May be our best analogy. I pick it
Because war has no ceiling, now, no floor:
It’s waged like love—no limits. Not the sky,
The stars, the earth, the sea. The tear-filled eye—
So useful in the service of romance—
Is like the language—wine and cheese—of France:
A luxury. Like poetry. Like pity—
Demoted to superfluous emotion
When Eve and Adam lost their second son
To murder. Individuals, each city
Destroyed since Genesis—Troy, Nagasaki—
Goes back to one, Cain-raising kiss. Takaaki

Slowly shut the water off. He dried
His wrinkled fingertips on a fresh towel
With November printed on one side,
A turkey, goose—some kind of brown, cooked fowl—
Emblazoned on the other. He withdrew
Another cigarette. (There were just two,
I noticed, left inside Doraemon.)
I wish I could capture his expression.
I left when he invited me to go—
Which is
not to say that I objected:
I understood. In fact, I expected
This. Takaaki let his feelings show.
I added his heart to my victory arch
When he called months later. Back in March.

No comments: