Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Hair of the Dog

As we approach the close of "Takaaki" the writing becomes more difficult.

So many loose ends to tie up, so many duplicate rhymes to be avoided, so many technical problems to be corrected, so many things alluded to in previous portions of the poem that need to be accounted for and explained. I am trying to be patient, but I have been working on this piece since May, almost to the exclusion of everything else, and I am getting worn down. I can see the conclusion, the mountaintop poking through the mist, but there remains the mist to be traveled through, and no smiling
sherpa to guide me.

By my internal calculations, I think we have about 6 or 7 more sonnets to go in the poem, until the first draft is finished. After that, come the visions and revisions which a moment will reverse.

Today, I have two new sonnets to offer. These I have been tinkering with since Thursday.

The only notes I have about the additions to the text are that a "calumet" is a peace pipe, not just a can of baking powder. And "American Spirit" is a brand of cigarette primarily known for offering un-doctored tobacco to the health-conscious smoker.

Today's additions occur at the end.

Part IV

The crude compartment I created when
I focused on the concrete, glass and steel
Elements of Takaaki’s 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
The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Azkaban share crackers with nude man
Gyrating on the cover of
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.
These characters are 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
Double Vaccination Marks mean what?
Do you see a crossed-eyed physician
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 suspects—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
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—for that one 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 tan 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 final circle, I drew a line—
A parallel—down the channel his spine

Created when he sat erect again.
He shivered, like a town, under assault:
Each muscle, from his coccyx to his brain,
Twitched and tingled. Instantly, I felt
The thrill of pure, 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 area around enjoyed the rest:
The rug, the candle bobbing in the tub,
Flame out, its dim hiss worth the pain—the rub.

Man has no more faithless friend than fire,
I thought, as he retreated through the ripples
Leaving me, on my side, to admire
The swirling loofah, chocolate nipples,
Suds, from his breastbone, joining clouds
Of other bubbles in the bath. Soused
Candlestick retrieved, he pinched the wick
On a dry cotton washcloth. One flick,
One moment later, he ignited it—
The wick—with a free lighter from a brand
Of cigarettes we stopped to buy in Grand
Central once: American Spirit—
Whose roasted Indian, Chief Silhouette,
Adorns a yellow background, calumet

In hand, smoking passively, for peace.
His shadow decorates a shield, a sun,
A red one—rising, setting—as you please—
The symbolism of it weighs a ton.
I wash my hands of symbols. In the end,
We assign values to our words, defend
The ones that mean the most to us. For me
The one word is Takaaki—actually—
The individual, not the poem:
The hand which animates those sliding doors
Made of paper. All my metaphors
Amount to nothing, really, minus him:
Just words, oscillations in the air
Which might belong to anyone, anywhere...

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