Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Soapy Circles

It has been over a week since I posted any additions to "Takaaki." I have not been on hiatus again. I have been trying to figure something out.

I am not sure how other writers work, but in the course of my own poetic peregrinations, I sometimes stumble across images or ideas that I don't quite know how to understand. Just such a thing happened last week. I had set a scene in a tub where Takaaki and I are taking a bath together. We take turns scrubbing each other's back. I observed that when I was washing Takaaki's back:

I gripped Takaaki by his shoulder as
I scrubbed. Although I left no fingerprints
Or black and blue marks on his skin, each pass,
Each soapy circle that the loofah turned,
His skin grew darker—redder—like it burned.

I felt there was something lingering in the image of those 'soapy circles' that I couldn't quite put my finger on, but which was vital that I understood before I could continue further. Yesterday I sorted it out.

Perhaps you have noticed how the poem contains veiled and not-so-veiled allusions to World War II. These are of part of the structure of the poem--part of its foundations, in a sense. In part II of the poem, I re-stage Pearl Harbor as a violent domestic quarrel over dirty dishes--one battle in a larger encounter between Takaaki and myself, between different civilizations:

Before we get to Scrabble we must first
Prepare our 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 gray 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—
Enraging him with all my heart, my love.
This underhanded method of attack
Earns my palm a pair of scalding forks
Falling from the sky with deadly force.

“God damn it! What is wrong with 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 glances briefly met
While calculating how long we could hold
Some fresh profanity from breaking out...

Perhaps these elements, these readings exist more visibly in my own imagination than they do in the actual text I set before the reader. It is hard for me to tip the top off of my skull, peer out into your eyes and say for certain. But these are the metaphors around which the poem has coalesced, I think.

How does this relate to soapy circles?

I think it was when I was in the Edo Museum in Tokyo, with Takaaki, where I first saw a description of how Japanese cities were firebombed during the war. The American bombers, if I remember, used to fly to the Home Islands from bases in the Pacific, at night, and drop their incendiaries in a cork-screw pattern of ever tighter circles to encourage the kind of conflagration we call a
fire-storm. Hence the pattern of the loofah on Takaaki's back.

This was done intentionally during the war, up and down the spine of Japan, from South to North. Japanese dwellings (where war industries had been relocated by the Imperial Government) were built mainly of wood and paper. 16 square miles of Tokyo, 270,000 houses, were burned to the ground on March 9th, 1945 using conventional incendiary bombs. 120,000 people were killed. Nagasaki and the end of the war were still 5 months away.


What amazes me, after all of that horror, that History, is that, 60 years later, Takaaki and I wind up trying to tickle each other in the bath.

The phrase, "Chutto samui ne," means, "It's a little cold, isn't it?" "Dame dayo!" (pronounced 'da may die yo') means, "Knock it off!"

He endeth our Japanese lesson, but not our poem.

Today's contributions follow at the end.

Part IV

The crude compartment I created when
I focused on the concrete, glass and steel
Elements of Takaaki place, I meant
Merely as a skeleton. I feel
I ought to add some flesh: tatami mats
Surrounded by delicate shoji—that’s
The painted screen (with paper windows) which
Separates our rooms; we’ll open rich
Closets, where futons are found folded, while
Not needed for sleeping, or some other use.
Before you enter, though, remove your shoes.
It is customary. On the tile,
Out front, a pair of Muji slippers rest,
Quietly, for comfort of the guest.

The kitchen lies left of his bolted door.
It’s small, but serviceable, black and bright;
It’s the best room in the apartment for
Stage managing a brief, pre-emptive strike,
Or eating egg salad at night—egg
And bread crumbs are more visible. Pegged
To a corkboard above the phone, two keys
Jingle if you pin a note. These
Keys may unlock a mailbox, a padlock,
A fair or frightening future. All I know
Is that I have an aunt Pandora, so
I don’t touch them. Taka-chan will talk
And turn them round, when he is on the phone.
But he’s entitled to. It is his home.

I do not pry or criticize. I lack
Those scholarly instincts. If I may,
I study coffee tables. Here’s a snack:
A bowl of crackers on a bamboo tray
Beside The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Does Azkaban share crackers with nude man
Gyrating on the cover of HX
Or dangle them in front of him for sex?
It’s not clear. Maybe Agatha Christie—
This book—a Japanese translation of
The Body in the Library—would prove
Helpful in solving this—our mystery.
If only I could read it. But I can’t.
This Japanese is hard to understand.

Takaaki must provide the weirdest clues:
A leather sofa, color of burnt butter,
A TV tuned to Will & Grace, not news,
Chilly cha, a coaster, and another
Agatha Christie, A Pocket full of Rye.
These are the blackbirds baked into the pye
We set before the reader—who is king.
Don’t let these details fly away, but sing,
Caw, croak, somehow illuminate
The mystery of love in ways which men
With tight abdominals, tight asses, ten
Inches don’t: let that sideways figure eight
I kiss, his double vaccination mark,
Slowly begin glowing in the dark.

A lot of information, I suppose,
To keep track of in the imagination—
Especially when the list of variables grows
Exponentially in the equation:
We know that A means Ass and B means Butt
But Double Vaccination Marks mean what?
Do you see a crossed-eyed pediatrician
Or a nation exercising caution?
I see a boy unbuttoning his shirt
At school, as I once did, as a long line
Of kids advanced, some crying, and some grind-
Ing teeth, one estimating how much hurt
He could endure, before his eyes or knees
Collapsed. All are possibilities.

Takaaki closed his contact case. *Snap*
His irises were human once again
Instead of vaguely Aryan. Adapt-
Ing to the fact the Martian invasion
Would be postponed, I suggested we
Play Scrabble. He agreed. He beat me.
The gap between our scores I can’t recall—
Except that I was slaughtered. That is all.
My masterstroke, the word SYZYGIA—
Conjunction of three bodies in a plane—
Did not impress him much. I should explain:
He nodded, “Huh.” The word he won with: THE.
I hoisted myself higher, in the bath,
With half a mind to go and check his math.

I let it go, happy where I was:
This paneled room, his holy of holies,
Floating in a cloud of bath salts—suds—
Slight variation in the Japanese
Clean, uncontaminated evening soak.
Steam drifted off the water, scented smoke:
Inhaling orange blossoms and hot wood,
I felt divine. And it felt very good
To be a god—if for a moment. Time
Itself slowed to a complete standstill.
Not a single bubble burst until
Takaaki’s body settled in with mine,
His feet supported by my upper thighs.
Heaven is an easy sacrifice

To make, in comparison with love.
“Chutto samui ne?” his lengthy ‘ne’
Seeking confirmation above
All. “I guess everyone is cold today,”
I said, rotating the hot water tap.
His right foot trickled down into my lap
To thank me. “Knock it off, you maniac,
That tickles.” “Turn then. I will scrub your back.”
Takaaki pulled his knees toward his chest,
So I could circumnavigate the tub.
Skin lubricated with white Dove, I sub-
Mitted to his hands. It seemed the wisest
Course of action, though there was—there is—
Brutal determination clutched in his fist.

My revenge came following a rinse.
I gripped Takaaki by his shoulder as
I scrubbed. Although I left no fingerprints
Or black and blue marks on his skin, each pass,
Each soapy circle that the loofah turned,
His skin grew darker—redder—like it burned.
“I hope you’ll tell me if I’m hurting you,”
I urged. He merely muttered, “Please, continue,”
To his patella, where his cheek reposed
Until the buttons of his vertebrae
Began to disappear. Which is to say,
He thought that I was finished. Once I closed
The last circle, I drew a parallel line
Down the channel in his back his spine

Created when he sat erect again.
He shivered, like a town, under assault:
Each muscle, from his coccyx to his brain,
Shook reflexively. Instantly, I felt
A rush of sharp, sadistic pleasure—
An elbow in my ribs I treasure
More than the Milky Way. “Dame dayo!
I hate when you do that.” “Yes, I know.
That’s why I like to do it,” I confessed—
I coughed—my lungs absorbing half the jolt
Of his swift, thoracic thunderbolt.
The surrounding world endured the rest:
Wet rug, dead candle bobbing in the tub,
Each wave of emotion worth the rub...

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