L/N: August 10-15, 2020


the things i still remember

Daydream・August 10, 2020・Full Text

The piece is a meditation on the things we remember about the people we’ve loved and lost. Memories can be altered, and they can fade away to nearly nothing; their meaning can also change with situation and time. In order to maintain our memories, we often rely on writing – and for many people, this is why we write. It is certainly one of the reasons I write, though not the only reason; but how adequate can writing ever be?


Epilogue (Part V)

Prose-Poetry・August 11, 2020・Full Text

This prose-poem is about metaphors becoming reality. As time passes, this transformation seems to occur more and more often, and sometimes without us realizing it. What happens when figures of speech become fact? They were always true, but truth and fact are different things. More on this theme can be seen in patterns of succession.


hollow men

Tanka・August 12, 2020・Full Text

In some situations, we become hollow and empty – not numb exactly, but there is a sense that our bodies are suddenly just containers with nothing inside them. Both physical and mental health can trigger this effect. Most of the time, we are so full of ourselves that we don’t realize how small and fragile we truly are.


living spirits

Tanka・August 13, 2020・Full Text

Some people are alive without truly living. We float from one day to the next, waiting for something meaningful to us – even death – to come by. After we lose our loved ones, I think it is particularly easy for humans to become living spirits like this.


collection

Tanka・August 14, 2020・Full Text

I think everyday people don’t realize how much power they truly have when they work together. When it comes to politics, for example, a lot of people don’t vote or don’t really follow the politics of their nation or region because they feel that their vote doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. But there is something incredible in collective action, I think, something really powerful and transformative.


patterns of succession

Free Verse・August 15, 2020・Full Text

This piece is a reflection on and reaction to the Arctic fires occurring right now. I think it’s one of my best recent poems; I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. There are a lot of smaller messages and themes contained within it, but if I had to point out only one thing, I would suggest readers to give some thought to the poem’s title and how it relates to the content of the verses. The connection is ambiguous, but it has a lot of meaning.


L/N: August 2-8, 2020


『because we will meet again』

Poetry Compilation・August 3, 2020・Full Text

I think this compilation is one of the more coherent pieces of my recent work. There isn’t anything new in it, since I felt that I had a lot to work with already. The key point in this compilation is the flow – the connections linking each poem to the next. The order was very deliberate, even the choice of placing the title piece at the end, and on the surface, figuring out an overarching theme isn’t hard. The message, maybe, is harder to place, but I’ll leave it up to interpretation. I really enjoyed putting this together and rereading it as a compiled work, and I might revisit it sometime in the future.


firelight in summer

Free Verse・August 4, 2020・Full Text

As noted at the end of the original post, I wrote this piece for a friend’s birthday. It doesn’t immediately read as a stand-alone birthday message, since it’s less a celebration and more a reflection – a recognition that “there won’t ever be another time like this.” The spacing and visual flow are key points, and there are several important, unidentified metaphors – the fire, the bridge, the music, immortality. In a way, you can read it as less a birthday message and more a message of mourning.


timeslip

Tanka・August 5, 2020・Full Text

Why a message about a new year in the middle of summer? Time is highly subjective and socially constructed, I’ve talked about it before in pieces like 『Anniversary』. The sense that another year has passed can happen for different people at different times of our social year, and for a variety of reasons. How do we mark our own time? Is it our own birthdays, or the birthdays of people we’ve lost? Or is it something else altogether?


smoke screens

Tanka・August 6, 2020・Full Text

Sometimes I feel that as barren and unforgiving as our human cities are, some beautiful pattern of life, some non-human fragments of nature, can still be seen under the surface. It depends on where you are, how you live, and whether or not you pay attention. To me, our cities are a mask – and not necessarily the good, effective kind. The question becomes, what exactly are they masking, and why? And what’s with ‘smoke screens’?


flux

Tanka・August 7, 2020・Full Text

There is a deadline coming up for me, and strangely enough, I can’t tell if it’s a deadline I’ve already met, or one I won’t be able to meet. There doesn’t seem to be any other option – either I’ve already done it, or I won’t be able to. Why can’t I tell the difference? Why don’t I have another choice? Everything is self-imposed and self-interpreted – and everything is in flux.


cloud cover

Tanka・August 8, 2020・Full Text

It’s rarely so simple as ‘good times’ and ‘bad times’. You can have clouds without storms, and rain without sadness. Someone might ask you how your day is, or how you’ve been, and it shouldn’t be unacceptable to say “just alright” or “I don’t know”. If unpredictable weather is hard to navigate, how are we supposed to put these unpredictable moments and feelings into two or three short words?


L/N: July 27-August 1, 2020


night visitors

Free Verse・July 27, 2020・Full TextCompiled in 『because we will meet again』

This piece is more or less a meditation on the feelings that come to us within the night. At that time when everything around us takes on a fuzzy grey appearance, it is easier for us to realize that things are not so simple as we think. There are many lines that seem contradictory or paradoxical – “i lay awake, trapped in dreams,” “you ask if it’s night or day, and i say both / but it’s neither,” “our hands / just out of reach of our bodies”. But in the night, when we dream, when we lay beside each other and gaze up at the stars, lines like these become less poetry and more truth. And isn’t that something special, almost magical, something to be treasured and respected?


caught

Tanka・July 28, 2020・Full Text

Try to live without making regrets, I’ve learned – but the problem is that regrets only become regrets in hindsight. In many ways, regrets are unavoidable. There are steps we can take to limit them – by frequently telling our loved ones how much they mean to us, for example, and spending as much time with them as possible – but you can’t do that with everyone all the time and still come out alive. We simply do our best and try to keep moving forward, and that’s all we can ever do.


Epilogue (Part IV)

Prose-Poetry・July 29, 2020・Part IV

This piece revolves around environmental justice. Specifically, intergenerational justice – the fact that the consequences of what we the living do with our planet will rain down unfairly on generations to come, and the younger generations who are already here. Recently, the youth of the world have leapt into a movement to try to bring attention to this injustice. I think it is essential that even if you’re older, you at least try to understand how they must be feeling. “You are borrowing this world from us,” I once wrote – can you not look into the future and try to ensure that the world you leave behind is one in which your children will thrive and be happy?


angels and demons, and goddesses

Tanka・July 30, 2020・Full Text

“We all have our angels and our demons,” I wrote once. Well, I suppose we all have our resident spirits and goddesses too. This tanka is pretty ambiguous and open to interpretation, but I think that even if you don’t come to any definite conclusion as to its meaning, you can certainly still enjoy reading it.


wondering

Tanka・July 31, 2020・Full Text

Our increasingly digital, globalized world has made it possible for us to make connections and all kinds of relationships with people all over. And one aspect of these new relationships that isn’t often spoken about, is the uncertainty that comes with injury, illness, and death. If the person you often communicate with online suddenly stops responding – for months, for years – you don’t know what happened to them. Maybe for some reason they suddenly decided they don’t like you. Maybe they got into a severe car accident. Maybe they have been claimed by the pandemic. Or cancer. Or they were a victim in a mass shooting or random robbery-turned-murder. At heart, you don’t know if they’re alive or dead. And if that person meant a lot to you, if your relationship had gone on for a long time and had been truly meaningful, that uncertainty hurts. Some people might say they prefer the uncertainty, because then at least there is a chance that the other person is still alive and out there – but that uncertainty will dig away at your soul forever. Years from now, will you still be happily hanging on to not knowing?


anesthetized

Free Verse・August 1, 2020・Full TextCompiled in 『because we will meet again』

There was a decently strong earthquake the other day. I ended up writing this poem about it. I was awake when it happened, very, very early in the morning, and I was awake for one of the strong aftershocks a few hours later. But, it was only the aftershock that I felt. My only experience of the main event was hearing the abrupt, violent banging sounds of my closed door rattling back and forth in its frame. Having not felt the shaking, I thought for a moment that someone was banging on my door – but I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t get up or turn on the lights, I didn’t open the door or get my phone or call out to the people I live with. I just lay there, watching, waiting. Out of this experience came this poem, a meditation on moments in which we feel nothing, moments in which we are numb inside and anesthetized, and how we resolve that hollowness by interacting with each other and teaching each other to feel again.


L/N: July 20-25, 2020


singularities

Tanka・July 20, 2020・Full Text

In the aftermath of a severe loss, sometimes even years after, we still find ourselves reminded about the event and brought to tears. It’s the little things, I think, that hurt the most. The sound of a name, the mention of a word or phrase that was once an inside joke, that held some special meaning only for us, and is now meaningless… It hurts, but this is how we live.


distance

Tanka・July 21, 2020・Full Text

In a way, the pain of a severe loss becomes greater the more the event fades into the distance. We hang on to feelings, to emotions, but we lose our memories of specific things – particular words said, conversations held, things that we would love to remember but find ourselves forgetting. It’s simply the passage of time, and time is apathetic to our hurts.


Tchaikovsky

Free Verse・July 22, 2020・Full Text

This poem still feels raw and unpolished in many ways; I struggled with the rhythm and the ending, and didn’t want to publish it. However, I think I’m working through a variety of feelings that I need to get out and in words first of all – and the careful, polished version will come naturally afterward. This poem is unpaired, but in my head it’s easy to think of it as a prequel or ‘rough draft’ to what I’m planning to do for a dear friend’s birthday, which is coming up in a few weeks.

Best lines? “how is it that you can still see? / if death truly means eternity; / I carry what I can and deliver to you what’s next, / and tomorrow I leave to the night.” These are important, and I’ll be carrying them forward for the birthday message.

Some references I will mention/clarify:

  • Tchaikovsky: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a 19th century Russian Romantic composer.
  • “the music notes line themselves up on the staff… numbers spill across the tabs like paint”: For those unfamiliar, the staff (or stave) and tab (tablature) are notations for writing and reading music. Here is an explanation of the grand staff (used especially for piano) and guitar tabs.
  • “like Akana Soemon racing to make good on his promise”: From Ueda Akinaris story collection, Tales of Moonlight and Rain (雨月物語) – specifically the second story, “The Chrysanthemum Pledge”. Akana Soemon is a fictional samurai who pledges to return to his dear friend (and arguably, lover) Hasebe Samon on the day of the Chrysanthemum Festival. When serious circumstances prevent him from delivering on his promise, Akana kills himself and flies to meet Samon as a spirit, before vanishing into the wind. For those interested, I think the translation and annotation by Anthony Chambers is excellent.

Epilogue (Part III)

Prose-Poetry・July 23, 2020・Part III

One of the big rising challenges to climate change work, I feel, is an increase in cynicism – especially in younger folks, but I see it in older people as well. It’s easy for people to feel that “climate change is happening, we aren’t fixing it fast enough, people aren’t doing anything about it, we’re all going to die, and so there’s nothing I can do to stop that”. And that’s fair. Sometimes I feel that way too. But it’s not enough. We can’t just give up. There is hope, there is action happening, and we all need to be ready to be a part of it.


soft reflections in the glass

Tanka・July 24, 2020・Full Text

When we look not at the real thing but at a reflection of that thing – whether it’s ourselves, someone else, or anything – it helps us gain a new perspective. We see ourselves reflected in our loved one’s eyes, and we reflect their image back to them. In this way, we can borrow the eyes of another person, and learn from the experience such that our worldview is transformed.


historical horizons

Tanka・July 25, 2020・Full Text

Our relationships with others, the things we’ve experienced in our pasts, shape and in some ways limit our experiences in the present and future. This is what is meant by ‘historical horizons’. When we look back at history, we recognize that “it could/have gone any other way” – and as such, who we are now is a product of not necessarily an infinite number of coincidences, but certainly an infinite number of actions, events, choices made, that all led down to one thing, which is our understanding of us at this particular moment. As individuals, we look back at our lived histories and wish that things had gone differently, that sadnesses and sufferings and separations had not happened, but those are precisely the things that shape who we are today. It is fair to say, “I wish you were still alive,” “I wish you were still here with me,” “I wish things had not changed,” and so on, but it’s also important to recognize that if those wishes were true, you would be a completely different person today.


L/N: July 13-18, 2020


raw and tender

Tanka・July 13, 2020・Full Text

Sometimes, it is the little things that make us feel the most. These things vary from person to person, of course, but that does not make them all any less significant. In the moments we pay attention to the small things that make us feel, we are sometimes brought to pain and tears – and to others this may seem strange, since the feeling does not reach them, but their opinions should not matter. Looking into the eyes of someone you are close to, someone you care about, someone you love, that intimacy reduces the world in all its beauty and hurt to only two.


i see the light

Free Verse・July 14, 2020・Full Text・B-side: i see the darknessCompiled in 『because we will meet again』

Looking back at our relationships with others, there are often particular moments, particular events or feelings, that stand out in our memories and make those relationships undefinable. We tend to overuse base words like “friend” or “best friend” and “love” and “care”, because our language is limited in this way; I find it more powerful, and more insightful, to describe relationships in terms of those particular moments or feelings that make them what they are. Labels such as “friend” can be useful, but a poem like this says so much more.


i see the darkness

Free Verse・July 15, 2020・Full Text・A-side: i see the light

As with its A-side, this poem seeks to describe a relationship between two people in a way that transcends generic terms like “friend” and “lover”. Because why stop there? What does it really mean to call someone your friend, or your lover, and then to repeat those words when talking about someone else? Your relationships are not the same; art, literary or otherwise, helps us clarify their differences in a way that is not comparative nor additive, but rather respective of simply what they are.


following

Tanka・July 16, 2020・Full Text

I don’t intend to preach, but I still think this particular message is important. When we get to know each other, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and let others see us in all our mistakes and faults and weaknesses, that is when compassion can begin. I think it is incredibly necessary for people to build on this compassion and keep it in their minds. For example, knowing that your friend is depressed, or an alcoholic, or is going through a particularly rough time, and then seeing them walk out and head off to walk and drink alone in the night, compassion can take the form of following them, watching over them from behind to make sure they come out the other side. Being aware of each other’s vulnerabilities, and taking the actions of remembering and caring – these qualities are very important if we want to build a world of peace and love and care, no matter the scope.


typhoon and aftermath

Free Verse・July 17, 2020・Full Text・B-side: preface and afterwordCompiled in 『because we will meet again』

This piece is about meeting – the meeting of different natural disasters, different elements, and different feelings. Caught at the center of all this meeting, the human body seems very fragile and weak, but it is not powerless. Power in this case has to do with meaning, and the experiences, thoughts, feelings, and memories of a person caught up in chaos are highly meaningful. When the world around you seems both real and imaginary, when you can no longer tell, as the narrator says, ‘what the waves are made of anymore,’ you clarify the power found in meaning. Making a choice, deciding to accept death, deciding to accept a world that is not black-and-white in all the ways you thought it used to be, and taking solace in those you love – these kinds of actions are all imbued with meaning, and therefore, power. Importantly, it is not power over, not power in the traditional sense. It is power with and power within.


preface and afterword

Free Verse・July 18, 2020・Full Text・A-side: typhoon and aftermath

When I sat down to write this piece, I thought about an image that had been on the news some time ago – the electric purple sky seen in Tokyo prior to the landfall of Typhoon Hagibis last year. (Here is a CBS news article citing several tweets with pictures of that scene). That image inspired me to begin this poem, building on the themes of its A-side.

What about the title? It’s not just a play on ‘typhoon and aftermath’. The preface and the afterword in a sense begin and end the main part of a book. So in this case, it is what we think before, and what we think after; what we see before, and what we see after. Events are not just limited to the moment in which they temporally occur – their meaning extends far beyond that.


L/N: July 6-11, 2020


fireworks

Tanka・July 6, 2020・Full Text

This piece is about our deep-seated tendency as humans to destroy ourselves. For the short-term effects of experiencing pleasure and masking pain, we do many things that we know are harmful to us – and then we look back at the event afterwards and some of us wonder, “Why did I do that?” while others say, “Let’s go again.” It goes beyond Americans releasing so many Fourth of July fireworks that the air pollution the next day is insane, but this is just one example.


Epilogue

Prose-Poetry・July 7-8, 2020・Part IPart II

This prose-poetry collection will explore human nature and human storytelling in relation to environmental destruction and climate change. With that in mind, much of the text is fairly straightforward. I don’t seek to create anything in these prose-poems that is necessarily new or profound – it is simply an attempt to put into words the feelings I have about this topic that other genres can’t communicate.


lessons of attention

Tanka・July 9, 2020・Full Text

If we pay attention to the natural world around us, there is much we can learn. We often tend to think that we are so smart, so brilliant, so much better than the rest of nature, that we ignore all the intensely significant pieces of wisdom contained within it. With the natural world vanishing nowadays at an incredible rate, I think it would be disappointing and saddening if more people do not start to open their eyes.


wanderers

Tanka・July 10, 2020・Full Text

In seeking out the best way to live, should we try to live as though today is our last day, or should we try to live on the assumption of tomorrow? Sometimes, I think, the answer is both. They are not so contradictory as they seem. As you go about your life, do not make avoidable regrets – you never know when you or someone you love will die, or when something catastrophic may suddenly happen – but part of avoiding avoidable regrets necessitates caring for things in the long-term. Make sure that one, five, ten years from now, you will have a place to go to, you will have people to love, people will want to love you, and your children will have a good and safe world to live in. Sometimes, we feel unmoored in time and space, but for those of us who cannot go back, it is important to keep looking and moving forward.


sky watcher

Free Verse・July 11, 2020・Full Text

This poem is about the memories, the feelings, the space between people who are living and dead. Thinking of friends who are now gone, and “the good old days,” speaking to you at your gravestone, and speaking towards you at the stars… there is so much I want to tell you, and I miss you like you would not believe, and so much has happened and not all of it has been good but I tried, I did my best, you know I did my best, except we both know that I didn’t and now everything is falling to pieces and I just want to gaze into your eyes again, to hear your warm voice again, to be wrapped up in your embrace again so that I’ll forget this stupid heartbreaking mess and just be happy – this is the heart of the story.


L/N: June 29-July 4, 2020


Zuihitsu #39

June 29, 2020・Zuihitsu

This piece is about how easy it can sometimes be to become bitter when researching climate change and working on climate solutions. It’s easy to become bitter because of how we conceive of concepts like responsibility and blame and ignorance – however, “playing the blame game serves us nothing”. I think maybe this line can be misinterpreted, so I’ll try to explain what I mean.

Basically, pointing fingers and calling people hypocrites and ranting against older people will not help mitigate this crisis. Why is that so? Advocating for accountability is important, for sure, but just being bitter and resentful towards an abstract older generation or historic colonial power doesn’t do much and really seems like wasting time. I think it’s more in our interests to focus on the present and on things we can actually do and people we can actually see. We also need to recognize that we are all human and necessarily complex, and we are all influenced to an incredible extent by our sociocultural context. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be angry at an individual person for being ignorant about the climate crisis when their school never taught them about it and their society denies its existence. Rather than being angry, you should try to communicate with them and educate them and work towards positive social transformation. Yes, it’s true that certain people and groups in history have done the most damage to the environment and climate systems compared to everyone else, and the entire field of climate justice is highly essential and valuable, but stopping at pointing blame or stopping at letting abstract bitterness simmer is not helpful to anyone.


A Letter to LGBTQ+ Youth

June 30, 2020・Uncategorized

Because it’s a structured letter, I think this piece is really straightforward and doesn’t need much in the way of explanation. The letter is just essentially trying to convey that it’s okay if your life story as an LGBTQ+ person doesn’t align with the mainstream, publicized, romanticized LGBTQ+ life stories. “As long as you give it some thought and end up in a place where you’re genuinely happy, there shouldn’t be a problem” – this is the main anthem of the piece.

One day a long while ago, I was talking with one of my younger friends, E. She’s a bi-romantic ace, and she’s currently going off to university in the fall. On that day, I had invited her and one of her classmates over to dinner, and during a normal course of conversation I said something about falling in love with my roommate or some such thing – in essence, “coming out” to the both of them really, really casually. A few days later while E and I were texting, that moment was brought back up. She asked me to clarify how I identify, and I asked her in return. I explained why I’d said what I did in such a normal manner, and we talked for a while about how she had also always thought that sitting people down and dramatically coming out to them was a weird thing to do, and how the way I’d normalized it had made her confront some of her own biases and feelings on the subject (i.e. how she’d always assumed I was cis-het).

After thinking that whole affair over, I realized this: for some people, the mainstream stories of LGBTQ+ life just don’t feel quite right. They don’t match up, and in some cases they entirely don’t apply. I started evaluating all the different ways in which my life and my feelings didn’t align with the stories, and extended the mental list over time, pulling from various things I’d read and other conversations I’d had. The end result was this letter.

Now, I don’t really care who reads my work or how many people do. But in the case of this piece, I really hope that it will reach the eyes or ears of a few folks who might benefit from its message.


Collision Course

July 1, 2020・Free Verse・B-side: Prometheus

“Creatures who believe that they are gods are worse than demons,” this piece begins. “Creatures who don’t realize that they are demons are worse than gods.”

Discussing this poem and its B-side really makes me excited. I think that it’s one of the best works I’ve put out recently, and there are a lot of interesting metaphors and other nuances to discover. Collision Course and Prometheus are both in general about climate change and the environment. To start with, here are some of the external references contained in the verse:

  • “you who keeps repeating that ‘the show must go on’”: ‘The show must go on’ is a common English phrase in circuses, theater, other performing arts and general showbiz. Basically, whatever happens, the performers must keep going and the performance must not stop. Here is the short Wiki article on this phrase.
  • “even musicians don’t always realize when the music has stopped”: In the documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto mentions the idea that music requires peace and balance. He says that in the week after 9/11, he didn’t hear any music at all – but it was only when he saw a young musician one day performing in the street for the first time that he suddenly realized the absence of music in all the days prior.
  • “drawn in by the trap of luxury and ease,/you can’t even see you’ve been caged”: In Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harari calls things like fossil fuels and agriculture “luxury traps”. The basic idea is that there’s something that seems so incredibly appealing at the time, and you think it will make your life so much better, but when you adopt it there are a ton of negative side effects. Furthermore, by the time you realize that there’s so many negatives, that thing you adopted has completely taken over society and nobody remembers the past or how to go back. Thinking about it now, you can probably name a lot of luxury traps that we’ve fallen into.

Some environment-related phrases or concepts that maybe might not be clear to everyone:

  • “it was the birds who saw the first ripple”: Many birds are indicator species, like canaries in the coal mine, and their presence or distress can be the first signal of environmental harm and disaster.
  • “drowning in chlorine-rinse as it turned into waves”: Chlorine first refers to the use of chlorinated water in swimming pools, but also to how in the meat industry, a lot of meat is sometimes bathed or rinsed in chemicals such as chlorine bleach and ammonia in order to decontaminate them (from E. coli, salmonella, etc.) This is one potential reason why some people decide to stop eating meat: questions about human health effects and not knowing what has actually been done to your purchased products. Here is an interesting article by the New York Times on one example of the usage of ammonia in meat processing.
  • “blinded by the ash-driven sunset outside your window”: When there are more particulates in the air, sunsets and sunrises are generally brighter and a more brilliant red due to scattering of sunlight by those suspended particles. Here is an article by Scientific American on the subject.

Now I’d like to mention some of the other interesting points of this poem.

  • As in many poems, one of the big unknowns is the identity of the pronouns. Almost all the verses speak to an unnamed “you”, which is also described in verse 2 as a seemingly singular “stranger”. The last two short lines add in the first-person “I” and “me”, and the final line describes the “you” as plural (“who among you would listen to me?”). If we’re talking about usage of voice, then I think you can read this poem in a lot of different ways. Is the writer/narrator of the poem speaking to the same “you” the whole time? Is the “you” abstract or an actual person or group? Is the narrator changing? There are several ways you can divide up the verses and see if perhaps there is actually a conversation going on – but if you hear or read the poem as a conversation, you can also see that that conversation is very stilted, the speakers aren’t even listening to each other.
  • The title, Collision Course, is suggested and clarified by the lines “ignoring the ‘one-way’ and ‘no thru traffic’ signs” and “you who keeps repeating that ‘the show must go on’”.
  • The introduction, “Creatures who believe they are gods…” is suggested by the lines “these billions of gods and the spirits who possess them – / can’t you see? you’re powerless!”. Maybe a large polytheistic religion and the general idea of humans being powerless in the face of the divine, but the use of “billions” and the intro lines also hints at an interpretation of humans as possessed gods. I think the intro lines themselves are quite interesting and deserve some thought.

Additional things that are good to pay attention to that I will leave to your interpretation: synesthesia (overlapping of senses), desire to live, mirrors/reflections of oneself, selective sight.

The discussion of some of the themes in this poem, as well as a clarification of overall intended meaning, will continue in the liner notes for its B-side, two entries below.


betrayal

July 2, 2020・Tanka

Sometimes, because we are eagerly expecting someone, we mistake someone else for them. We might think that somebody in front of us looks like our best friend; your phone might ring with a text or call, and you get excited because you think it’s someone you really want to talk to or haven’t heard from in a long time, but actually it turns out to be someone different. The first three lines of the poem seem very “mournful” and sad and depressing, as though the setting is a funeral, but the final two lines give off a much more mundane feeling – so what exists at the intersection of the two? In what cases is expecting someone and mistaking someone else for them an event that warrants such a mournful tone? And, as in the title, when does it make sense to feel betrayed by your mistake?


Prometheus

July 3, 2020・Free Verse・A-side: Collision Course

Continuing on with the discussion of these paired environment-themed poems.

At the heart of this poem is the reference to Prometheus, a Titan in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind (whom he also created). Here is the Wikipedia page on Prometheus. Some quotes from it that I think are interesting and inform interpretations of this poem:

  • “Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. The immortal was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to eat Prometheus’ liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day (in ancient Greece, the liver was often thought to be the seat of human emotions).”
  • “In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In particular, he was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy”
  • “After Prometheus steals the fire, Zeus sends Pandora in retaliation… Pandora carried a jar with her from which were released mischief and sorrow, plague and diseases (94–100). Pandora shuts the lid of the jar too late to contain all the evil plights that escaped, but Hope is left trapped in the jar because Zeus forces Pandora to seal it up before Hope can escape (96–99).”
  • “According to the German classicist Karl-Martin Dietz, in Hesiod’s scriptures, Prometheus represents the ‘descent of mankind from the communion with the gods into the present troublesome life’.”

In this poem, the speaker, who is implied to be Prometheus himself, says: “and tell me, / why did I give it to you?” He interprets his giving humanity fire (and perhaps also medicine, science, and the other gifts he gives in some stories) as a huge mistake. With this taken into account, most of the lines in the piece are fairly straightforward. He says “I meant it as a present and you turned it into a weapon,” and “you chased after ‘progress’ / turning on the treadmill to your doom”. He describes watching humanity “pour the gas” in a “perfect sphere” around their “globetrotting feet” – ready to light the earth on fire. In the end, he concludes “you / might as well have stolen from me,” because “I didn’t give you the gift / for you to utterly destroy it like this”.

There are some lines that frame well conversations around climate change: “you build your future out of ash – / and put your children in it because it’s just not your problem,” he says. “You meant the best, but intentions don’t matter”. Finally, he declares, “my mistake. I guess I’ll be the bigger man this time.” Prometheus is not even a man, but he acknowledges his responsibility, shoulders the blame, and apologizes first. He analyzes intergenerational inequity, and recognizes that humans did not deliberately create anthropogenic climate change on purpose, but also argues that that doesn’t matter anymore – responsibility and blame still exist in the absence of intention.

Ultimately, both this poem and its A-side Collision Course reflect attitudes toward humanity’s role – including its responsibility and blame – in the current climate crisis. There’s an emphasis on how we talk about it, both to each other and to ourselves, as well as how it might be viewed from an outsider’s (i.e. non-human’s) perspective. Some themes, such as gods and mirrors, can be found in both poems but exist or are presented in different ways. On the one hand, there is a lot that is ambiguous and open to interpretation, but on the other hand, the messages are clear and easy to understand. I hope that these two poems are useful and provoke thought on this most important issue of our time.


being

July 4, 2020・Tanka

“Being” can be a noun or a verb; to this poem, which do you think apply? The narrator says in the last two lines, “trying to put into words / something that just cannot be” – but what, or who, is it that cannot be? There are many things for which we find our languages unsuited to the task of expressing or describing them. In the context of gazing into another person’s eyes and seeing your own reflection, there are a lot of different situations one can imagine.


L/N: June 22-27, 2020


Zuihitsu #37

June 22, 2020・Zuihitsu

“When we believe in absolutes we become blind to reality,” this piece begins. I wonder, will we ever be able to live as one people, as one global humanity, without giving up our absolute universals?

The world is a vast place and every creature living upon it lives differently. There are nearly 7.8 billion humans right this moment, and each one is living their own unique life. People are diverse, cultures are diverse, ways of thinking and feeling and believing are diverse. When we uphold ideals of universal science, universal medicine, universal justice, we often steamroll over this diversity.

Even things we often consider to exist outside of ourselves are to a great extent a product of culture. Mental illnesses are culturally created and experienced (which is not to say that they are not real or serious). The way we do mathematics – and whether or not we do math at all – is also a product of cultural language. It is not simply that some cultures are “more advanced” or “better” than others. Great truths and lies and ways of living exist everywhere around the world – everywhere, including the US, and Mexico, and Tanzania, and Taiwan, and in the lives of our many fellow animals. I think that this is something to be treasured, something to be valued and respected. In particular, this diverse treasure trove is, for me, something to be learned from.

Even if this idea is hard to accept, I think it is important to recognize the flaws in our own ways of living. Western science has flaws. Western medicine has flaws. Sometimes these are hard to see, because we are culturally biased, or because some people work so hard to cover those flaws up. But isn’t everything flawed? Nothing is perfect. It is important to open our eyes to the reality that we have not come close to any spotless universal Truth.

To say that universals do not exist, or that believing in absolutes is wrong – these statements are also in themselves absolute universals. So I’m not saying that Western science is trash, or that we shouldn’t be grateful for Western medicine, or that my way of thinking and living is the one “right” way. But, I still feel that the sentiments contained in this piece are important to consider.


Mayflies ~tombstone notes and funeral jokes~

June 23, 2020・Free Verse

This poem is inspecting how we conceptualize and react to death.

Last week, it was announced that DEAD END’s guitarist and main songwriter, You, had passed away. I have never listened to DEAD END or any of You’s work, so I want to respectfully make clear that this piece is not about him or about anyone in particular. Still, there are references to the deaths of several people in this verse that I will mention and credit, and it was some posts about You that I saw circulating on social media that first inspired me to write this.

References:

  • You’s bandmate, Crazy Cool Joe, tweeted a message to You after his death. In it he mentioned You’s laughter, and the message concluded with the phrase 「またね〜」, which means “see you again” or “see you later”.
  • The lines “and the tears of your countrymen/saying ‘we’re sorry, we could not save you…’” are a reference to the murder of Kazakhstani figure skater Denis Ten two years ago. The phrase “we’re sorry, we could not save you” is a translation of something I saw online at the time. It really stuck with me. I couldn’t find the original article again, but here’s a link to Denis Ten’s Wikipedia page.
  • For the line “and the off-season blooms carry on” – “off-season blooms” translate to 狂い咲く, which is the first word of hide with Spread Beaver’s song “Hurry Go Round”. 狂い咲くis just a word, so in itself it’s not a reference, but that song was what I was thinking of when I wrote it. hide died in 1998, and “Hurry Go Round” was finished and released posthumously.
  • Mayflies are a familiar artistic theme. They are often used as a symbol to represent ephemerality, because once they become adults, they live for only a few hours to a few days. “Mayfly” translates to かげろう (kagerou); the band Kagerou named themselves that to honor their vocalist and lyricist, Daisuke, who had heart problems. Daisuke died in 2010. I’ve never actually listened to the band, but here’s Kagerou’s Wikipedia page, where I first learned about mayflies.

Again, this poem isn’t about any of these people in particular. As you can see, some of them I hardly know anything about. Still, I thought it would be better to mention and credit inspirations.

Rather than concentrating on a specific person, this verse is in general about how we think of and react to death – and it’s about a particular lighthearted, understanding, accepting reaction. The narrator says “laughing at a funeral shouldn’t be taboo… no matter the situation, I’ll find peace and walk away”. In the second half, there’s an emphasis on the cyclical nature of life and death. That cycle isn’t objectively “perfect” – there are “off-season blooms”, for instance – but it’s still a complete cycle. If that’s the case, terms like “eternal sleep” and “never to return” are “old, overused lies”. Why not laugh at a funeral? It’s not meant to slight one’s death, but to celebrate their life and allow the cycle to continue on. The narrator declares that they will “spraypaint 「またね〜」over our hearts” – because although someone they loved died, they’ll meet again, they’ll see each other again. Death is “not a tragedy” anymore. I think that this way of thinking is a wise, healthy reaction to death, and I hope that when death intersects with my life in the future, I will have the wisdom and courage to meet it in this way.


Zuihitsu #38

June 24, 2020・Zuihitsu

This piece has to do with environmentalism.

The other day, I suggested to someone I know that they should conserve water by taking used, clean kitchen water (from rinsing rice, soaking vegetables, etc.) and reusing it to water the plants. A lot of water is used in the kitchen, I felt, so I brought this up during a conversation with them. They responded pretty firmly with, “If there’s an easy way to do it, I will, but there isn’t [so I won’t]”. The statement kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I spent a while thinking about it. That is the background that went into writing this piece.

A lot of people, consciously or unconsciously, hold a similar sentiment with regard to becoming more environmentally friendly in their behavior – “I’ll do it if it’s easy and convenient”. I’m sure that many times in my daily life, I act the same way. But I think that this is a big barrier that is holding us back from addressing environmental issues more proactively. For sure, I understand the feelings that go into this “easy and convenient” mindset. For instance, for a working parent trying to put healthy meals on the table three times a day, or as a student coming home from 7-8 hours of school, or as an office worker commuting back home from a full 9-5 workday – life is tiring, and we are all just trying to get by. So, I’m not blaming anyone or saying that this mindset is necessarily wrong. But, after thinking about it, I feel that with regards to the destruction against the environment that we have wrought, and the current climate crisis, this kind of mindset is not going to cut it.

There are different ways to go about thinking about this, right? For one, we need to change our individual beliefs and feelings and behaviors. A lot of people say they care about the environment and are concerned about climate change, but the majority of those people will still drive cars everywhere and fly on planes for vacation, they will decide not to install solar because it makes the house look ugly and seems expensive, and they won’t take small actions to reduce their resource usage, such as reusing kitchen water and going out to shop less often. To be clear, it’s not about being a hypocrite – but isn’t something about this not quite right? For those of us who care about environmentalism and feel strongly about climate change, I think we need to do an intense reevaluation of every little aspect of our lives, and start making small but broad changes to better align our actions with our beliefs.

On the other hand, we can also think about this from a scaled, systemic point of view. Rather than saying “it’s not easy, but I will try to do it anyway,” we can also try to make larger changes so that it is easy. If something is easy and convenient, people are more likely to do it, especially if they already care in the first place. Social psychology tells us that, but also just common sense. If public transportation is good, if solar is cheap, if rerouting used water from the kitchen to the garden is simple, then we will all take advantage of them. This is where things like business, innovation, and politics come in. Voting for environment-minded politicians, supporting local green businesses and innovators, these things are very important.

I think that for something as big and imminent as environmental destruction and climate change, we need to encourage action on both fronts. Review yourself, your beliefs and your actions, and try to behave green even when it’s difficult – but also look for broader ways to scale that change in your community and the larger social world. What I’m saying here isn’t new, of course. Environmentalists have been saying this for a long time. But it bears repeating, because I think that a lot of people, myself included, don’t always fully understand what it means.


self-maintenance

June 25, 2020・Tanka

Normally, we think of abstract “warmth” in a person as a good thing – it implies empathy, kindness, friendliness. But when these traits are in excess, they can be damaging. Being extremely empathetic, for example, makes it hard to live in a world with so much suffering. Maintaining a relative balance (not necessarily 50:50, but a possession of both) of coldness and warmth therefore seems necessary for us to get by. But how do we even obtain that balance? For someone who is extremely empathetic, tempering that empathy is not easy. It’s another thing we have to struggle to achieve.


狂い咲く

June 26, 2020・Tanka

Mentioned in an earlier piece this week, the title means “off-season blooms,” with an implication that the unexpected timing makes the flowers all the more precious and beautiful. Overall, there aren’t a lot of people who appreciate this kind of thing. In my experience, we tend to think of things like off-season blooms as abnormalities, as something being wrong. But there are still those few who do not overlook them and actually actively seek them out.


sleeping…

June 27, 2020・Free Verse

One of the key points of this poem is the use of ellipses to manipulate the pace of the piece. It’s good to understand it while holding the metaphors of sleeping, dreaming, and steady ocean waves in mind.

Another key point is introduced at the beginning: “the shadows they lay crawling into my dreams/to restore balance and peace”. Normally we would think of shadows in this context as possibly signaling danger, as causing nightmares, but in this case, they are exactly the opposite.

One possible interpretation for the next two verses is that they are examples of dreams. There are many concepts contained in them that could be considered strange or wrong, depending on your sociocultural perspective. For instance, in the first one, a woman athlete runs alone, bare-chested, achieves a new record, yells to voice her pleasure, and is greeted by her wife and her child. In the second one, a dead man and a living man walk side-by-side down the beach, both leaving footprints, both delighting in the new time they have together. But even if these kinds of dreams or scenes could be considered strange or wrong by some, in this verse, they are completely normalized. The pace of the overall poem is not interrupted, the shadows do not come in to change or eliminate the stories in favor of “balance and peace” because there already is balance and peace. In the end, the narrator explains that “the stories that are real must still be written” – because these stories are real, and it’s important to continue writing them. At least, that’s what I think.


L/N: June 15-20, 2020


夕日の滝

June 15, 2020・Free Verse

Published Version (EN/JP):

夕日の滝
in the face of the evening sun,
   今日から夕日の滝へ。。。
which shows itself to no one
   君の涙、僕の夢。。。
I catch glimpses of your eyes
   二人の想い。。。
pastel reflections in a mirror as we fill the space between us with longing
   全部持って行こう、今日も。。。
as we fill the time between us with shame
   諦めないで。。。
it was all I could do to watch you
   鏡をみないで。。。
as you chased after the orange sky
   僕の想いが届きますように。。。
as you chased after your own shadow because now you were living in the future
   この一瞬だけ。。。
and you can’t turn back expiration dates even if they work in reverse, you tried
   この一瞬でも。。。
to carry me across borders that didn’t exist
   君の命を信じてほしい。。。
and in the end we both knew…
   僕の命を忘れてほしい。。。
you weren’t living your life but mine.

English Translation:

Waterfalls of the Setting Sun
in the face of the evening sun,
   from today to the waterfalls of the setting sun…
which shows itself to no one
   your tears, my dreams…
I catch glimpses of your eyes
   our thoughts…
pastel reflections in a mirror as we fill the space between us with longing
   take them all and go, today too…
as we fill the time between us with shame
   don’t give up…
it was all I could do to watch you
   don’t look in the mirror…
as you chased after the orange sky
   so that my thoughts will reach you…
as you chased after your own shadow because now you were living in the future
   just this one moment…
and you can’t turn back expiration dates even if they work in reverse, you tried
   even in this one moment…
to carry me across borders that didn’t exist
   I want you to believe in your life…
and in the end we both knew…
   I want you to forget my life…
you weren’t living your life but mine.

What I was playing with in this mixed-language poem was essentially combining two poems into one – a situation where there is one narrator, and one main poem or story, but also an underlying voice interspersed throughout. That underlying voice is a bit harder to hear – because it is softer, because it is in a different language – but it lends more personality and depth to the main lines. Of course, the full English translation doesn’t read so easily, and even the published version isn’t very polished, but it was an interesting verse to write regardless.


Playlist: A Short Story

June 16, 2020・Short Story

This very brief, simple story was another interesting write. It chronicles one day in the life of an unknown protagonist in a strange and unknown situation. The protagonist makes a short report roughly every hour of their day, and those notes themselves make up the whole story.

In the first half of the day, each hourly report begins with the time. The story starts with the protagonist waking up at 6:32 and failing to remember the contents of their dream. The next reports are made every hour+1 minute, with the next one at 7:33. The strange starting time and hour+1 succession is a key point. In these first reports, the protagonist frequently mentions clocks. As they go about their day, having breakfast, going to work, having free time, there are a lot of negative words or actions – such as not knowing, or non-existence. A cat first appears at 9:35.

The 12:00 report is the turning point of the day and the story. The reported time goes back to a normal round on-the-hour number, rather than the expected 12:38. The protagonist mentions the song “Happy Birthday” and goes to celebrate the birthday of a friend.

In the second half of the day, each hourly report begins with the artist name and title of a song. There are no more time stamps and no mention of clocks. Instead of the unemotional, negative, mechanical notes made in the first half, the protagonist talks about friends, the girl they have a crush on, smiling and joking and laughing, writing a letter to their mother, and so on. They take a nap and then remember what they had been dreaming about in the night. They become companions with the cat. In the final report, they declare that “I’m happy,” and while there was more that they had wanted to get done that day, “in this case, there will always be tomorrow”.

Songs mentioned in the story // the playlist of the protagonist’s day:

  • “Happy Birthday”
  • “First Love” – Joe Hisaishi
  • “Say Anything” – X Japan
  • “Reminiscent” – Yiruma
  • “Otegami” – SID
  • “Intermezzo in A, Op.118 No.2” – Brahms
  • “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” – Sakamoto Ryuichi

All of these songs are available at the time of writing on YouTube and many are on other streaming services such as Spotify.

It would be easy to say that the moral or meaning of this story is just that “music makes life better” – and while I feel that that’s true, I think there’s more to it than that.

In this “modern” world we live in, we are governed by the clock, we are constantly watched and timed, we do so many things to each other and to our environment that would really otherwise be construed as strange or cruel or hurtful. When we become aware of these situations, many of us take solace in art of some kind. Some artists construct their art deliberately to protest things like capitalism and climate change inaction, while others pursue making great art for art’s sake. Whatever the case may be, there will always be people on the other side to consume it. The art itself does not (or should not) destroy anyone or anything, even if it is meant as protest – but it inevitably affects the person who consumes it. The playlists of our lives therefore tell us a lot about who we are, who we were, and who we want to be. They give us meaning when our social situation does not. They inspire us, they give us pleasure, and sometimes they save our lives. It’s something important to pay attention to, I think.


rainy season memories

June 17, 2020・TankaCompiled in 『because we will meet again』

Rain can evoke sadness, calm, desperation, loneliness, even nostalgia. Thinking about it now, what are your “rainy season memories”?

“Though we cannot see the stars,/their light shines through the downpour”… which means there is always hope, there is always something on the other side, even if we do not believe it.


energy

June 18, 2020・Tanka

Feelings are always feelings. We experience the same or similar feeling many times throughout our lives, but in the moment we cannot say that one experience is any different from the next. At least, in words, we label them the same way. I was happy today when you came home, I was happy yesterday when I ate a delicious dinner… it’s all “happy”. The situation is different, but the feeling is the same. For other feelings, too – nostalgia, pain, tiredness…


selective sense

June 19, 2020・Tanka

We talk a lot about “selective memory” – which means remembering only the things that you consciously or subconsciously want to remember, and forgetting the things that you don’t. I think we have a form of “selective sight” when it comes to things like climate change, environmental degradation, and war. We frame them abstractly, and put distance between ourselves and the problem. We highlight certain aspects that can be romanticized and marketed, but cover up and refuse to see other less-appealing parts. And why?


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 18)

June 20, 2020・Serial Prose

This brief final chapter concludes a serial story that has been going on for a long time. Actually, for a while now I haven’t really been happy with this story. It’s flat, so to speak. Maybe that is why I ended it so abruptly. But the story of Katsumi and Tadashi was still something that I wanted to write, and I feel like some good things did come out of it. Even if I’m not itching to reread this work, these characters will still live on in my mind. I hope they will live on in yours, too.


L/N: June 8-13, 2020


『Best Tanka Collection ~Season of Change~』

June 8, 2020 ・Best Of

This collection contains 20 of what I feel are my best tanka since I started writing them last year.

A lot has changed over the past year. Compared to several other poetry genres I’ve worked with, tanka is particularly great for capturing one moment’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions. I think these 20 tanka pieces give a good overview of what this past year has been like – where I came from, where it has taken me. To maintain that chronology, I kept the tanka in the original order in which I wrote them. Usually for compilations I’ll change the order of the parts in order to develop and support an overarching storyline and flow, but that wasn’t the case for this one.

I think one interesting point for tanka is that it’s surprisingly personal. With other types of poetry, such as free verse, pronouns such as “you” and “I” can be interchanged and nothing necessarily refers to the author. The narrator of the poem can easily be ambiguous and there can even be multiple voices or none at all, and all of this possible manipulation is part of poetic and stylistic choice. With tanka, it’s different. Theoretically, the tanka that I write don’t have to be about myself or my immediate life – you can write any kind of poem about basically anything – but I find it so much harder to detach myself from tanka as I write them. Because of this, it makes sense for me to use a series of tanka to tell “the story of my life”.


Inheritance

June 9, 2020・Free Verse

The title of this poem is Inheritance, but that word or concept is never explicitly mentioned. The closest you get, sound-wise, is the line “that aggression is not inherent”. There is a lot that is ambiguous in this poem, I feel – the title, the pronouns, and some lines, “for those who are within us”, “it was never a matter of hope”, “and we did not need to live this way”…

When I was writing this poem, I was thinking about humanity at large and our actions across time. Maybe this will help make the meanings of some of these lines more clear.


Care

June 10, 2020・Daydream

I haven’t written a daydream in a while. In this one, the main character Hanna has depression. Around the time I was writing this, I was finishing up a book I’ve been reading, Ethan Watters’ Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche. This book really changed how I think about mental health, mental illnesses, and how we conceptualize, treat, and create them in the US and abroad. For instance, a lot of the time, when somebody we know is having a depressive episode, a panic attack, schizophrenic hallucinations and delusions, or anything similar, then we become really overbearing in the sense that we are always watching that person, scrutinizing their behaviors, talking to them, trying to ‘fix’ them… and these kinds of reactions to mental illness can sometimes actually have negative effects.

In this daydream, Hanna’s friend doesn’t react like that. He comes by to check on her, but keeps a physical and emotional distance, leaving space for Hanna to react and respond to him but at the same time not demanding anything from her. He remains consciously considerate, he doesn’t try to take her to the doctor or make her take medication, he doesn’t blame her for how she’s feeling or acting. He respects her agency and rationality, and doesn’t stigmatize. I’d love a friend like that…


nature

June 11, 2020・Tanka

The key lines, “loving through her eyes”, “still, we betray her”, “still we do not think to love.” It’s an environmental message.


Painting Dreams and Nightmares

June 12, 2020・Poetry, GeneralCompiled in 『because we will meet again』

This poem also has an environmental message, but it’s less pessimistic, less antagonistic than the tanka from the day before. There is room for hope in this story, and there are still people who care and think to love. The biggest unknown variable in climate science is the future behavior of humanity – which means we still have a chance. Nothing is for certain. Besides, I think that even if there is no hope, you can’t just give up. You can’t live like that. At least I can’t.


the void

June 13, 2020・Tanka

The last two lines, “if words ever had meaning/this time ours are meaningless”. Words and the meanings we attach to them are essentially cultural – for instance, words like “traditional”, “modern”, “civilized”, “normal”, don’t inherently mean anything until we attach our sociocultural and temporal context. So if this time our words are meaningless… they go into the abyss, they go into the void. And we are left with only the context, only the emotions behind your words, “this is not goodbye”. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but that was what I was seeking to express with this poem.