A Broken Sun

You must understand
That it is easier than you think
To commit acts of evil.

Take myself for instance.
In medical school I dreamed of
Becoming a doctor
Among villagers in the remote mountains

Of Japan,
Such simple folk who
Lacked adequate access to
The marvels of modern medicine.

But then the war,
And China.
How can I put it?
I lost this ability
To imagine a softer world.

The strict, enforced obedience
To the leviathan of flame,
The soul-rotting acceptance
That this world was alight,
And life was the fuel.

And then, my own chosen profession,
As one who deals with the body
Like an instrument to be fixed,

Somehow this too inured me
To the obscenity of pulling
Apart humans for the sake of
My nation’s science.

The rot had set into the living,
Into those of us charged with
Ameliorating ancient suffering.
We told ourselves,

In dissecting our enemies
We were completing a noble quest,
To cure the bodies that mattered,
Our own, of tragic diseases.

At first, I will admit,
I felt squeamish,
Hands trembling as I cut open
Some poor soul, un-anesthetized,

His pleading, pitiful cries
That turned guttural at the sight
Of his own insides.
Who wouldn’t be shaken?
I was still human then,
Even after all I had seen.

But after two, then three, then four
Vivisections,
My hand became steady,
As cold and precise as the instruments

It clasped.
Had I gained some new plane of
Existence,
Was I beyond good and evil?

What, after all, was life
But the fuel for something
Incomprehensible, mysterious,
Beyond all individual pain,

Propelling us all
Into a future vaster and more
Terrible than a devouring sun?
Was I not merely an instrument
Of this god?

But then suddenly,
With blinding violence
That sun arrived,
And the grandeur was gone in an instant.

No longer a surgeon to the
Imperial Army of Japan,
To the men of steel and death,
I returned to Japan.

I set up a quiet and humble
Practice in the remote
Mountains among the villagers.
I specialised in treating the

Children of farmers,
Tuberculosis cases,
Whooping cough,
Sprained ankles.

I had a normal kind of life.
But I was no longer human,
And when I placed my stethoscope
To the chest of one of my simple hearted patients,

Even without a word,
They recoiled instinctively from my touch.

The Tonsure

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The nun’s beguiling hands brush my skin,
the distant touch of desire.
Before the many folded silences of his statue,
she cuts away the strands that were my life.
Now the razor is like a riot of river stones
rolling across my scalp,
the collision of bleached skulls in the infinite eaves.

With each falling strand,
I am losing my way.
How strange this feeling of heedlessness,
as though I find a kind of ecstasy
in these outspread jet-black blades,
like a cold and irretrievable lacquer folding fan.

And amidst all this loss,
the beautiful core of my desolation,
a white blossom held in the statue’s hand.
When I emerge from my tonsure,
to the cloister’s waiting mountain,
you will not recall me,
and the bald snow will caress my head
like a memory of life.

The Adulterers

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Three days you lay sick from what I had done,
with the knowledge of our nights inside you.
Like spilled ink that flows into atrocious purples,
they cannot be taken back.

Your maid tried to kill herself,
the shame had become like an unbearable child.
Kneeling before her confession,
she wore that thick and ugly whiteness
that spurred us both on to seize our forfeit paradise.

This world of doll-like beauty,
the weight of a thousand-year-old paper folding fans,
which we dared to destroy with our bodies’ provocations,
ranges against us now with measured ferocities.

It is now, when at last I have lost you to them
that the vision of your soiled cloaks sears me.

Through layer after layer the ink comes, irrevocable,
mixing our dark bloom of love with
finely sutured lotuses, sullen tigers, impossible cranes.

Were those robes not like exquisite chambers
which this century had meticulously prepared for you?
When the ink breached them, we both wept with joy,
for they became the one pristine debasement I could offer you.

The Reply

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You who see me and say
she is this and this,
and I can contain her within my day,

I am not for you.
Even in my softest moments I am not like that.

I demand atrocious summers,
the glistening throats of youth,
darkened by my heat, and a pyre of impossibilities.

You are like the one who,
on seeing an empress with her dazzling entourage,
bends down on one knee,

and promises conquests in her name.
You lover of lights, of worlds, my suitors are few.

I disdain your hunger for victories,
for to conquer is to set limits,
to choose just one, cruelty or tenderness.

But what if both were to contradict
your wounded mouth?
What would love be to you then,
a black-blue devouring moth?

Do you really want its desolation
as much as its laughter?

The Friend’s Counsel

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For you, the shadows are a dark tongued language,
and you find in them, all the tones
of that foreign land that echoes you.
I have always thrived in the dazzle
of this light that casts away the
dank and furtive promise.

I want the world to speak in the clear
voice of shapes,
I want an immaculate music of pillars
rising from the ruined flowerbeds.
But in this divested light, only
the outward dares speak.

You, who listen, who abide
the crimson banners of your dawn temple,
why do you understand
that which you cannot translate,
your cherished melancholy,
your contraband life?

I will have my order,
clean, sterile and magnificent.
But still, I envy your assiduous preparation
for euphoric desolation,
this prowess I have discovered
in your sensitivity.

The Suitor

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We fly through these streets
as though the snow bid us on
deeper into its white and pure
desolation.

And now and then it touches you,
and you look away.
Do you sense the ruthlessness
of my coarse blood?

On your skin like porcelain,
on which the snow leaves no imprint,
your family has placed
a veneer of dazzling centuries,

and with boreal opulence,
your silence communicates
the burden of their dreams,
which were never yours.

You press yourself tighter to me
so as not to see where it has
finally cracked,
and in your sudden lips
I taste the young and violent
spring blossoms.

Do you now see what passes
at the open window of our swift rickshaw?
A whirling city already modern
and confident in its horrors.

And only now and then the
faint perfume of that other
lost world, from which you came.

I will be the end of your illustrious line.
I relish this,
the way, without even knowing it,
you sink into my arms like a beautiful ruin,
the way I have attained this sentence
over your young life.

The Tourist

You are not a part of this
garden of rock paths
and moon viewing huts
that once thronged with the
drama of an afternoon,
and is now locked tight-shut
as a collector’s shell.

Stand here, by the papered screen,
or over there, next to the
ivy-choked lantern,
try to hear the envoys’
hushed gossip in the moss,
or the faint call of the
courtesan’s treasonous steps
over these smooth boards.

Ah, the spell is broken
by the fall of a shutter
somewhere off out of view.
But it was not only this
which locked you out forever.
For this place of long concealed dreams

once revolved around the
smallest of continents,
no bigger than a pomegranate,
and though it looked eternal,
succumbed as soon as we
came near to touch it.