Monday, April 11, 2011

Takaaki, Part IV

I had a nice conversation with Takaaki this morning in Tokyo. There is more food in the shops now, less hoarding. Eggs can be hard to find. And local calls at night seem to be restricted by the power cuts (due to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster) affecting cellphone service.

Still, he is adapting to these new circumstances and his new surroundings, a slightly smaller apartment near Shinjuku, having just moved. He mentioned that he has been reading his poem. (It really is his. All I am is his typist. The poem itself could not exist without him.) He mentioned that waking up one morning last week and finding himself an epic hero made him feel ticklish, as it probably would anyone.

Since it is National Poetry Month, and since there is a scene in the poem where I actually do tickle him, I thought I would publish an excerpt where we have a little fun. Maybe you will be tickled reading it, too. And don't forget, the whole poem is now available from The Raintown Review, one of the finest poetry journals around.

From, Takaaki: A Romance

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
we ought to add some flesh: tatami mats,
seat cushions, delicate shoji—that’s
a pair of screens (with paper windows) which
separates the rooms. We’ll open rich
teak closets where folded futons wait while
not needed for a nap or other use.
Before you enter, though, remove your shoes.
Removal’s 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 cluttered corkboard two small keys
jingle if you pin a note. These
keys may unlock a mailbox, a padlock,
a fair or frightening future. (You can go
ask. I’ve got an aunt Pandora, so
I’d rather not.) Taka-chan will talk,
turning them around, when on the phone.
He is entitled to. It is his home.

I do not pry or criticize. I lack
those scholarly instincts. Where 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 small 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, 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 crazy eight
I kiss, his double vaccination mark,
gradually start glowing in the dark.

Infinity is tough to represent—
with confidence—in the imagination.
You have to draw a diagram or rent
space inside a calculus equation.
‘We see that A means ASS and B means BUTT—
but double vaccination marks mean what?’
That depends. Some see a mad physician.
Some see nations exercising caution.
I see a boy unbuttoning his shirt
at school, as I once did, as a long line
of kids advanced. Most cry. A few grind
teeth. One estimates how much hurt
he can endure before his eyes or knees
collapse. Some cures look worse than the disease.

Takaaki closed his contact case. *Snap*
His irises were human once again,
not hard and blue, so Aryan. Adapt-
ing quickly to the future—the Martian
invasion postponed—he suggested we
play Scrabble. I 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:
pine 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

for me to make when compared with love.
“Chutto samui ne?” his lengthy ‘ne’
sought confirmation from my hands above
all. “It seems everyone is cold today,”
I said, rotating the hot water tap.
His right foot trickled down into my lap,
thanking me. “Knock it off, you maniac,
that tickles.” “Turn then. I will wash your back.”
Takaaki pulled his knees toward his chest,
so I could circumnavigate the tub.
He lubricated me with Dove. I sub-
mitted to a scrubbing. But I guess
he felt I needed polishing—and bad.
He dropped the Dove act for a Brillo Pad.

My revenge came following a rinse.
I gripped Takaaki by his shoulder as
I worked. Although I left no fingerprints
or black and blue marks on his skin, each pass,
each soapy circle that the loofah turned,
his back grew darker—redder—like it burned.
“I hope you’ll tell me if I’m hurting you,”
I urged. He merely muttered, “Continue,”
to his patella, where his cheek reposed
until the buttons of his vertebrae
sank into his back like melting clay—
he thought that I was finished. Once I closed
the final circle, I drew a thin line—
a parallel—down the channel his spine

presented when he sat erect again.
He shivered like a town under assault.
Each muscle from his coccyx to his brain
twitched. It tingled. Instantly, I felt
a thrill of glee, pure reflexive pleasure—
an elbow in my ribs I may treasure
more than the Milky Way. “Dame dayo!
I hate it when you tickle!” “Yes, I know.
That’s why I tickle you,” I confessed—
I coughed—my lungs absorbing half the jolt
of that swift, thoracic thunderbolt.
The bath was thrown in chaos. What a mess:
the rug, the candle bobbing in the tub,
flame out, love drowning, glug, glug, glug...

‘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 rolling down his legs, joining clouds
of other bubbles in the bath. Doused
light retrieved, he stood. 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 his 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 words, defend
the ones that mean the most to us. For me
that 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, just oscillations in the air
which might belong to anyone, anywhere.

Tail waving more triumphantly, our flame
burned brighter, elevated to a shelf
above the tub—a tiger cub—a tame-
er creature than Takaaki or myself.
“Do all descendants of the samurai
have fannies of such fearful symmetry
as yours?” His torso twisted and a face
erupted so demonic in the place
of his beloved features, it would take
more malice than I can muster—Milton’s art—
half of the true horror to impart.
I sank some inches deeper in our lake
of fire, seeking shelter from his grin,
pulling a sheet of suds up to my chin.

Around the corner of Takaaki’s hip
I saw a serpent peep, then disappear.
“Hey, Lucifer, hand me a Q-tip,
would you?” I asked, moving to bite his rear.
Dicks are fickle things—they come, they go—
the ass eternal. Michelangelo
chipped thus, at marble, sensing in his block
a boy resided, not a piece of rock.
The slab of dictionary I work with
may not be stone, it’s certainly not flesh,
the B-O-Y a word, three letters. Less
promising materials do not exist
to build a world around. I don’t mind.
We poets have to work with what we find.

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