Asakusa near Sensō-ji on a warm and dry Sunday afternoon in October is one of the best places to be in the world. On this day, after a long and often furious rainy season, so many relaxed and smiling people were in Asakusa’s streets they seemed as uncountable as the stars.
And there were plenty of street performers, like this fellow, who kept the passing crowds continuously entertained while earning a bit of cash on the cuff. This guy’s shtick was plastic road cones, a fairly ubiquitous symbol of construction, progress, and inconvenience in Tokyo. As he chatted up the crowd, he prepared the cones…
And he kept talking as he positioned the cones above his face and established his balance…
Then it was done. It was, as most of the folks in the crowd probably knew, a foregone conclusion that he’d succeed. There’s no point in trying to make money this way if you aren’t quite good at it.
Still, it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch…
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
So I have compiled a book of the short stories I have written in the last four years. It is available as Kindle book from Amazon. Here’s is how I have described it:
These eight very short stories, written between January, 2010 and October, 2013, run the gamut from a simple tale of friendship in a Tokyo bar (“Kamiya Bar”) to the horrors in the mind of a warped Japanese family man (“The Water and Plum Dream”). In between are tales of detective work, teleportation, alcoholism, Wyatt Earp, and a sequel to the movie classic “Blade Runner”. Short but bittersweet, “Kamiya Bar and other stories” won’t take long to read, but will have you thinking for some time afterward.
Interested? Okay, then click on the image of the cover below, and get yourself a quick but thought-provoking read….
It’s no great revelation to state that one doesn’t even need to enter Kamiya Bar to see interesting people…
The intrepid barkeep manning his post and watching passersby in Kamiya Bar’s outdoor liquor sales counter. I photographed him previously in 2012.
Just some ordinary guy captured in an interesting pose after he crossed the street. I can’t remember why he was gesturing in this manner.
An old fellow who was wandering around in front of Kamiya Bar. He seemed as if he was waiting for someone, but he also acted confused and disoriented. He may have been intoxicated, and might also have been homeless. I am not entirely sure. But I felt sympathy for him, and I hope he either found his people or had a safe place to stay.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013)
In between what he had been doing and what he had planned for the rest of the day, a lone fellow on an empty side street spent some moments of a crowded Asakusa Sunday afternoon chewing roasted corn and sipping canned chūhai. His clothes were neat enough, but his exposed feet were rough and battered and his bulging backpack indicated he had a more of his life within it than the typical snacks and happy snap supplies carried by regular day trippers.
A lone man enjoying a quiet moment, and it looked to me like he had probably well earned it.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
There seem to be a hell of a lot more dogs in Tokyo now than when I lived there in the late ‘80s. A friend of mine explained the recent surge in dog ownership occurred because it was the Year of the Dog in Japan and the rest of east Asia in 2006. This made sense to me, as it was easy to absorb without being intellectually complex. But whatever the reason, it was obvious that these dogs I saw in Asakusa one October Sunday were taking pretty good care of their humans.
A fellow shouting to some nearby friends in front of Kamiya Bar. His dog ignored basically everything.
The lady was having a meal. The man had a cocktail. The dog had pretty obvious desires.
Man and dog at peace. The beer from the empty mug may have helped the man with that some. The dog got treats from the man’s plate.
The same gent and pooch from Kamiya Bar, strolling through Asakusa’s Sunday crowds.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
Kamiya Bar in Asakusa is one of my favorite places in Tokyo, and has been since the late ‘80s. I have written about it and photographed it numerous times in the last five and a half years. During my most recent trip to Tokyo, I was delighted to have a last-minute chance to visit the place one more time to have a quick drink with a friend.
But something had changed.
Oh, the strangers you meet and sit with are still very colorful and very friendly. That has not changed and probably never will.
But the first floor, which is always where I meet people for drinks and snacks, is now partially obstructed by a white-walled structure.
Kamiya Bar management must be remodeling the place. To be honest, I was surprised by the walls right in the middle of the first floor drinking areas.
It was a bit like having a white version of the “2001: A Space Odyssey” monolith in the middle of the room.
But even though the white walls have diminished available space for customer seating, the loud and happy ebb and flow of Kamiya Bar seems the same as ever.
This white tunnel near the front and the lavatories seemed particularly odd. I have no idea when the changes behind these walls will be completed.
Thankfully, Kamiya Bar is still Kamiya Bar, and the connection it provides between me and some of my happiest days in Tokyo is still as strong as ever.
(Pictures taken in Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
There was joy in Asakusa today, but someone wasn’t feeling it completely…
(Picture taken Asakusa, Tokyo (near the Sensō-ji) on October 6th, 2013)
It’s a simple thing and a piece of genius, watching people at Kamiya Bar. And I’ve had the most wonderful conversations in English there, with people who only spoke Japanese.
I didn’t speak to these gents, sad to say; I was mostly too busy swimming in a hootenanny nocturne with my American friends. But if these guys were watching me watching them, they didn’t mention it nor act as if they minded.
Kamiya Bar is good like that, as good as the people, who will love you like a lost family member for an hour, and then forget you after one of you leaves. I didn’t know if these men were brothers, or co-workers, or on a first date of some kind. I’ll never know.
But it didn’t matter. The beer was cold and the “denki bran” (electric brandy) was dangerous. Everyone at the table we shared was having a good time, not a hint of regret showing on anyone’s face. Well, maybe a little bit of regret. Denki bran has a bite. Beer helps with that.
The important thing is to enjoy the moment, enjoy the place. And if you’re at Kamiya Bar with professionals, they’ll know how to help you get far enough into the night to hate yourself a little the next morning.
(Pictures taken in Kamiya Bar, Tokyo, on May 3rd, 2012. A good time was had by all.)
There are so many
different planets on Earth.
I’ve seen a few and liked them.
I just read about them in the paper.
Because there is no reason
You can’t get good ramen
on every planet on Earth.
I am looking away from you
and I am looking right at you.
That is the Japanese way.
There is no reason to stare.
I see what you do and are.
You can keep staring at me
My wife will be out shopping
with her friends,
and I may again
be wandering these streets,
like I often do,
dressed as a floating-world geisha.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
It is a cliché of great truth: In Tokyo, one of the most crowded and kinetically frenzied cities on Earth, it is easy to be alone. I spent a lot of time alone in Tokyo in 2012—in my apartment, in restaurants, and in seedier parts of the city—during the five weeks in April and May when I was there working on a forthcoming book of photographs and prose. Fortunately, on a handful of occasions I accepted invitations to eat and drink with “gaijin”, mostly Americans, who knew me through Twitter and my heavy involvement with the 2011 Quakebook project.
I don’t make friends easily. I never have. I’m a natural, almost pathological, loner. But I was lucky enough to meet the good people in these pictures and click with each of them in some way. And I have stayed in touch with all these folks through social networks since I got back from Tokyo. I hope that continues for a long, long time. And to the people in my pictures I say: Thanks for making my 2012 trip to Tokyo such a splendid thing.
@loveartblues, an elegant guy wisely taking a break from the ocean of beer at Kamiya Bar.
@kuripyon, the smartest punk-rock-and-roll-engineering chick I’ve ever met. Kamiya Bar.
I met five other people in Tokyo, including this dear friend, but didn’t take their individual pictures. I’m sorry for that, and I hope to correct that mistake the next time we meet in Japan.
What the hell, shoes are boring. Looking at shoes is boring. But they can suggest to you who the person wearing them is, or wants to be. And sometimes pictures of shoes make for interesting photographs. Perhaps not great photographs, as my examples below show, but interesting. Because, basically, taking pictures of shoes is boring.
A girl and a guy, who looked to be on a date. It wasn’t going to work out, because I think he was too hip and urban cool for her, who seemed too much the Loli-girl type.
I have written about these golden beauties before. I wish I had a pair. All that’s missing are little wings flaring out from the upper sides of each shoe. A cloud dancer, this guy…
I figure she upon the left could have at least painted her toenails. She upon the right was some goth high school girl. High school or perhaps college…
The shoes and stockings of a very reserved but not entirely wealthy woman….
The owner of this foot was drunk and passed out, so the cockeyed angle of this is rather perfect…
And that’s pretty much the best of Tokyo shoes from my last trip.
(Pictures taken on various days on the Ginza Line and the Tōzai Line in April and May, 2012)
You find me charming?
I am charming.
Since there’s no more money in my pockets
all I have is this smile to share with the world.
I figure there’s no point in fucking around
I may as well make it a good one.
I bet the boats today,
but tomorrow maybe the ponies.
In Japan, race horses can be considered fast food.
Heh, heh, do you get that joke?
Good, good for you.
For a foreigner you’re not as dumb as you look.
I have to go home now, sorry.
I have to go home and tell my wife
that my pension is still safe,
but I need more of her household cash to gamble.
She won’t mind.
It keeps me out of the house.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Tonight I stepped out of the Kamiya Bar
Into rain a thousand feet deep.
The Sumida River was, oddly, a cinder
Dry and glowing like a beacon to our colony on Mars.
I saved a month’s pension to come here,
To drink with normal people,
To love the smell of them hating the smell of me.
It’s the price I pay fishing for loan sharks.
It’s the love I have for my fellow man.
It’s the way, I’m told, of the Western Christ,
Creeping up my spine and telling me life is good.
The grasp of genius ever eludes me;
The depth of hatred always deludes me.
I drank, once more, electric laser-sharp brandy
And thanked the deep rain for at least trying to wash me clean.
It never worked when I was alive.
Maybe it will work when I’m dead.
I’ll let you know.
So, shall we meet here again next month?
(Pictures taken at Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo in May, 2012)
The range of comfort found on the seats of the many subway lines in Tokyo is pretty consistent.
Most people, even if they nod off, prefer to sit upright. However, that doesn’t work for everyone.
In the end, comfort is a matter of what seems to work best. Fortunately, being left alone in Tokyo often works best.
(Pictures taken on the Ginza Line near Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Trying to love you in Tokyo
is like three ladies crossing the street,
or waiting for a cab.
And yet with the timing of the lights and the passing of the cars…
it is still a possibly hazardous adventure.
(Pictures taken across from Kamiya Bar in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Days in Asakusa, Tokyo are marvelousness, the people watching is genius. The surroundings are frequently sensory feasts of color, glory, and majesty. And sometimes the people you watch are the ones watching you (make sure you click on the photo to get a close look).
But that’s okay when you understand the irony sometimes in Japan is it’s the foreigners moving with blurry speed while the Japanese relax waiting on line and looking on. Well, at least I think it’s ironic, considering all the unusable pictures I’ve taken of frenetic, kinetic, fast-moving Tokyo folks during my two trips there in the last four years.
(Picture, featuring @tokyotimes, taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April 2012)
In Kamiya Bar, things move fast…
And that’s just the way it is.
(Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo, May 03 2012. Post updated on March 24, 2013)
In Asakusa two days ago, I just paused long enough to take the picture. The boy behind the plastic filled my head with memories of that horrible TV movie from the ‘70s starring John Travolta. I didn’t realize until I’d seen the image on my computer that the women, like the boy, were watching me too, like I was an odd sight to them.
And I am, of course, totally cool with the idea that they are on the protected inside, looking out at me, the zoo creature.
This superhero is just the four- or five-year-old neighbor boy who likes to play in the street next to our apartment building in the afternoons. I took his picture just a few minutes ago. Since it was raining, he was quieter than usual. I was thankful for that, since I had quite a bit of thinking to do.
Some of the deepest thoughts I have ever had have been in Japan.
One of those thoughts today was that I wished I had a cool Japanese superhero mask instead of plastic Superman when I was five years old. Okay, not a deep thought. But I take what I can get.
At Kamiya Bar you just never know…
…who will share a table with you from one moment to the next.
Updated on January 28th, 2014
I fondly remember, mostly, the 1988 Super Bowl. I called in sick to my office in Shibuya, and secured a 750ml bottle of white tequila and a two-liter jug of Diet Coke. I don’t remember what teams played that day, but I had the game on my TV with the SAP decoder giving me the American color commentary. So, for hours that morning my little apartment in Yushima was a haven of boozed up football stupidness.
(▲I lived at AD. Homes, #402, 3-28-18 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 113. Note the H.R. Giger poster on the wall. I still have it.)
(As of September, 2013, my old building ▲ was still there, right next to Yushima Tenjin.)
I was an American, damn it, watching an American thing, getting pissed on imported booze and American soda pop. It almost made me homesick. I had one of those TV magnifiers back then. I remember zooming in on the instant replays until the TV screen looked like housefly vision. I mixed the whole 2 liters of Diet Coke with almost all of the tequila that morning. I was a chemical disgrace. When the game was over, I watched a Japanese tape of R.E.M. videos for awhile (I still own the tape). And then the booze was gone, and that’s when I decided to go out. I planned to only go to the beer machines nearby to buy some Asahi Super Dry. Maybe a jug of Kirin with the plastic dragon head spout. I loved those things.
(▲The TV magnifier was a Fresnel lens. I loved mine. It made “Blade Runner” look very interesting.)
Somehow, though, I ended up in Shinjuku, in a bar near Golden Gai. Or maybe it was in Kabukichō. I think it was a retired salaryman bar, actually. A tout led me there. It might have been a gay bar as well, because all the men in the place were definitely looking me over. I was the only gaijin there. Anyway, after awhile I grew tired being there, even though I was at a table with old salarymen who were buying me beers. To this day I remember how they gave me the creeps. So, I politely said thanks and goodbye to these men and left. But of course I was more pissed off my ass then ever. And so I did the next logical thing: I went shopping for a CD player at Marui. I didn’t need a CD player, but I went shopping anyway. By this time it was two in the afternoon.
This was all happening on a Monday. I was so drunk I knew I wouldn’t be able to show up for work the next day. Anyway, with my drunken, broken Japanese I ended up buying a $600 Nakamichi CD changer from a nice salesgirl. Hope her commission was good. I vaguely recall it was to be delivered from new stock on Tuesday of the following week. I put the CD player on my American credit card.
Somehow, I don’t know how, I ended up back in Yushima by about 5 that evening. I think I made a side trip to Kamiya Bar in Asakusa. I think. But if I did I have no clear memories of it.
(▲Kamiya Bar in Asakusa in October, 2013. My 1988 memories of the bar’s exterior are a lot more fuzzy than the clear image you see here.)
I stocked up on cold two-liter jugs of Asahi and Sapporo from the beer machines near my Yushima Station exit before I finally went home. When I got there, I had maybe three small glasses of beer before passing out around eight. I didn’t wake up until ten the next morning. As expected, I had a massive hangover. I also had no idea who won the Super Bowl. But I had lots of yummy beer and was too much of a mess to go to work. So I called my American boss to tell him I was still sick, then I packed the beer into a cloth bag and wandered over to Ueno Park around lunch time. I had cold beers in the winter sun that afternoon.
I remember loving that Tuesday. I was free and a single man and starting the second year of my great Japanese adventure. I was pure joy. That was one of my best afternoons in Tokyo.
The next day, Wednesday, I went back to work in pretty good shape. And I realized I didn’t need the Nakamichi CD player, that I had bought it in a stupid drunken fugue state. The exchange rate on the purchase with my American credit card would be insane!! So, I asked one of the Japanese secretaries to call Marui and cancel the purchase. She did it, and there was no problem.
From what I remember now, that Super Bowl Monday and the Tuesday that followed had been pretty good days. And although I still think the Shinjuku bar I ended up in was a gay bar, I was, for whatever ulterior reasons may have existed, treated with kindness and free beer.
And really, when you’re drunk off your ass in Tokyo there really isn’t anything better for which to ask.
Author’s Note: I published this old work of mine as an Amazon Kindle eBook in May, 2012. If you like the photos and poems you are about to see and read, well now you can own a copy. Just click here. –Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, February 2014
If I had read the instructions more clearly, these photographs would have gotten me into the photography program at the Yale University School of Art. But, like an idiot, I submitted this portfolio in print form rather than on 35mm slides as was required. Anyway, long story short: I didn’t get into Yale, though I did come close. Damned instructions.
Anyway, what you are about to read and view are poems and photographs I created while living in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. The words were not specifically written for the images, but I paired each piece of text with each photo as a kind of experiment which I thought ended up working. You will note that all the photos are of Japanese drunks and homeless people. I was not on a social crusade, as I might be today. I was merely out to document an aspect of Japanese society which I could not believe existed. And it still exists, as my wife and I discovered during our trip to Tokyo in 2008. There are still tons of dispossessed in Ueno Park, for example.
The words and images are presented pretty much the same as they were 22 years ago. I have formatted the poems to flow more like straight prose, as they seem to read pretty well that way and it saves me some space here on the internet. And please keep in mind that while I make no apologies for the quality of the poetry (I am actually still quite pleased with some of it), these words were written by a man less than half the age of his current 47 years.
So there it is. Please take your time and enjoy. (And please note that each photo is paired with the text beneath it, and the location and date for each photo is directly beneath the image.)
—Dan Ryan, Brisbane, CA, January, 2011
Bagman-san—Except from a diary….
Last evening, I saw the first “crazy-dude-shouting-at-the–top-of-his-voice-to-no-one” that I’ve seen in Japan. It was while I was walking through Roppongi. I have only been here for a week and some days. If it had been New York, this guy probably would have been my average cabbie. Or a Druze militiaman. The Japanese businessman I was walking near laughed at the guy, who was indeed shouting like Renfield with a razor. I smiled, wishing I new enough Japanese to grin and say “Yeah, we have crazy people in America too.” The moment was funny.
I saw my first Japanese bagman the next day. He had chest-length hair uniformly around his head. I could not see his eyes. He sported a dirty coat and some trendily-labeled shopping bags full of trash, or what I thought was trash. His long, glistening hair was eminently noticeable in the early work-day commuting crowd.
The sight of these two men shattered my view of Japan as the ultimate socially-restrained society, one which keeps all members within prescribed societal behavior parameters. I never thought I’d see a bagperson in, Japan. Even the most finely woven silk has a frayed edge somewhere.
Maybe being a bagman is a form of rebellion. Or an honorable profession.
Humor of the ‘surd
When you stare straight ahead, people love you. They use that stare as a guide rope to the smooth underside of a city. Then they talk to the loops of themselves, whipping about their hair to combine, crashing, at the bus stop.
And they can fill their cold capsules with beer. Large beer capsules, to claim they are no longer the child who loved Star Wars.
People who seem to breathe when they should not. They exhale and breathe more, and soon the mixture is not air. One can see through it, yet it blocks the pores like a bad handshake.
Some say there are valleys because mountains trip and fall. Or, proportionately, there are potholes.
Ueno Station—May, 1988▲
A bruised and side-tracked equinox
My body is hot, though my brain won’t feel it. Hot nerve flashes scale like firemen up my neck gathering to swim where my jellied thoughts collect.
I trip the crust of the curb. A fine Goodyear necklace forms the halo for the ghosts of my hands, I dream. In the way my toes wriggle, there is the hint of the prehensile, of the old way of walking.
I think of all those grimy seasons, the sun singing “I am the Queen of Anonymity” to me. Hard luck pressed to bad. The cowboys are weeping tonight between some snowflakes and the blue Ueno fog.
These manholes are the holes in the lute of Earth. My heat, xenophobes killing xenomorphs. There is a tangible future; I know others will be born.
And for them, heaven should be renamed.
Ueno Station—May, 1988▲
Cool metal. Bent metal aluminum siding. Shiny, warped, and reflecting the street beacon in the shape of a 6. Metal warped with head impressions; perhaps the heads were Cambodian. The Cambodians of Rio, where I have lived for many years. They learned from Pol Pot to take small bites, as people do on T.V.
So come those crushed in my crackers, denting my house, those green in the salad of the Earth. I pray to some monochrome muddy that I do not go to the moon and marry.
Akihabara Station—June, 1988▲
When one feels low, go where the low go
At times, I must lean against the refrigerator and think. That is all, and whether boiling bleach makes chlorine gas, I wonder. I have too many bugs, too much video tape. And a mass in my mean body that takes a protectorate form. For once, this grunt of a wicked rainbow makes you laugh.
What else; the clock and what it represents do not impress me. Just as time is rubber, so are intentions. The way today’s rain falls sounds as if the earth was frying.
And it makes some think the lives we make are fit sculpture for some men’s lavatory. Weeks of wood can not build this, or centuries of fire burn it. So I disagree, but not so hot, or feeble, to faze a sternly casual method. I should leave them, perhaps you, to “When something wants to eat something, What does it do?”
An eye drifting from the TV to the wallpaper told me about this. And more, of your earth-son domus and shamed elastic, and changing the channel with a brick.
Mikimoto Rat (Keiseiueno)—June, 1988▲
You call me dear. Is this because you love me? Or, have I misspelled it? Do you view me just really as meat? A 6-point prize to be hunted?
Shot? Skinned? Bonnet-slung?
Dressed up and….eaten?
Ueno Park—June, 1988▲
“Organic lifelessness refracts light” to an old man coughing lovely luminous vapor trails in the park. He tells this to a pretty woman, who, in the process of describing trousers as “pyants,” does not listen to him.
He coughs up the nervous laugh of the aged, dumps his head upon his duffle and sleeps. Distantly, there ring slide guitar chords made using a finger inserted in a hip-flask bottle.
Ueno Park—August, 1988▲
If there were cocaine in the Bisquick, do you think we’d live better lives? Really? Let us be intelligent about this; let’s pretend we’ve read Newton’s Principia. Sometimes, you, well, maybe not, however, you know, I feel like crying.
I’ll run my fingers through my hair and wish it was yours. Yet you wonder if the sun will be brilliant tonight. You wonder if your gun is loaded. And you wonder if the cat’s water dish is full.
I haven’t read much since college. Yet, I’ve read enough prostitute cards in smog-coffin Tokyo phone booths to know: love’s harbinger, lust, is alive and welcome if you’ve an 80-minute coffee break. But, there are certain things you care nothing about. There are certain things I object to. Why are they the same things?
Tomorrow, if my love hits you between the eyes, don’t say “Love hit me between the eyes.” It’s a terrible cliché.
Quietly sinking with the Japanese sun (written in Kamiya Bar, Asakusa)
Some electrolytic brandy, and the brain’s synapses change and lose voltage, like a battery, sparking of its own chemical volition. We change this way, and we squeak.
Remember, John Wayne proclaimed some liquids unfit for the young. Here, an older crowd; here, a louder loud. Boot tips, and teeth grinding the edge of some brandy glass.
When poured, brandy has its own inertia. This is a fact. This is a physical law. Yet, why need the real be basis for delusions? Or impressions? Like ball-point lines. Or bad Polaroids, fading in the street, matching road shade, road texture. Yet, sitting in this pit any room you climb up into seems infinite, no matter its size.
Here, cigarettes burn down, strand by strand, their flames scorching lengths of RNA. I could be other places, to be warm and alone; perhaps the street.
I am cold, reading utopian literature, in a long, cylindrical chamber A cold chamber, heating slowly. I think it is the barrel of a gun. Once more, I sip brandy.
The grade-Z cast of thousands
Pride, diplomacy; they are not wasted in empty wheat fields. Out there. It’s where the bearded winds sing the slalom music, the careening scherzo of life. Upon such music: a spirit.
The Melancholy Marabou Stork. He airlifts sadness so sweet, it leaves sugar burns with the tongue. From the tongue it takes words, leaving them scattered at the toes to dry with other empty wheat husks.
With each monolog a husk pyre forms, until the night. Then, a match applied warms the cool, hard soul ‘til next morning.
On an Alabama road in the dead of 10 a.m.
The sun bakes the wetness in my eyes into a sugary dome that I saw Julia Child put upon a dessert once. It is a natural contact lens I peel off with a paring knife when I am not dodging meteors.
I look at the backs of my hands; they contain charred fleshy nexuses, like I was Christ-vampire-incarnate crucified with spikes of sunlight. At the tip of my tongue, some velcro, which I use to strip the petals from a bluebonnet.
It is the free slope of the morning; the point from which the day’s time curves down Einstein’s extended index. The point from which discreet time quanta will add up to the point of the next morning on a hill several miles from here.
Far. In a county named after a dog, where each blade of grass is registered in the county seat, as the officials have precious little else to do.
Sanya Market—July, 1988▲
The Unpublished Poets of Tokyo
The unpublished poets bend in the breeze; reeds in a pond. Ducks eat them. Bigger things eat the ducks. The poets mildew in the canyons of Tokyo, where crows bleached in soot whitewash dying brambles.
Is brambles the correct word? The unpublished poets take the dictionaries from beneath their oily heads, street pillows, and page … xenophobia, autodidact, ah, here … yes. The poets eat the bones of their procrustean kin.
Others, too, have stopped by. Poets toothpick their pens, flicking bones, and write sloppy words to Japan’s shoeleather orchestra. It is no symphony; it’s a water ballet.
The unpublished poets tread water all day.
Drunk in Sanya—August, 1988▲
Alleys are homes to our greatest unknowns
My flesh is parched and broken from the cigarette I put out in my palm. It was curious to’ve done such a thing, I know; but for agony, alleys are best. To scream in, to sit in, and chew the bubble-gum bits before gangrene sets in.
This, then, is concrete, polished with dust. A banquet of oil and rubber beneath my shoes. Fitting food for my king of the feast, who can afford to die slowly as cancer’s camp ground yet cannot afford an ashtray.
A creamy socket of lymph stares at me like an eyeball in the bishop’s stigmata. Twenty meters from the curb. There, walk-and-pass women walk and pass, themselves nude in the eyes of the men with the rabbit-skull cuff links
There, sun. Rising, spreading Sunday’s hungover glow. From school, I remember the plane preposition test as a jet passes above. flying from that cloud to another. Planes jot the sky’s water vapor island.
Day #8576. Wakeup. I wonder if I can step on every crack when I walk downtown home.
A strange, provocative solution (excerpt from a diary)
If more people lived in the street, there would be fewer street people; because an increased number of persons inhabiting the street would create a climate in which street residence would be more acceptable, by virtue of its prevalence.
Therefore, there would be less of a stigma attached to being a street person. Gradually, it would become acceptable; gradually, there would be fewer ‘street people’ in the negative, social commentary sense because living in the street would be no more objectionable than living in the suburbs.
People will always be a mélange of jerks, geniuses and slick pederasts; but if more of us live in the street, we can, by virtue of making an unacceptable situation acceptable, solve a great social malaise.
Shinjuku Sidewalk—September, 1988▲
The discreet rainbow lady
Teeth, and beige silk, molded into fine oriental dentures. Such things are worn by women who snore. She’s one; my Bencliffia. A saltpeter heiress. Controller, mixer of disconcerted realities, she’ll say “The beginning and end product’re cheap; it’s their transition that’s expensive.”
Silver eyed; onyx irised. She moves the way liquid in a shaking bottle sounds. “They are a noise, they are one life,” She says, as she moves. She says and she moves a lot.
Almost never in unison, though.
Edgar Allen Poe is dead and I don’t have the energy to danse like the bones of Christ along the power lines at dawn. Not like I used to.
No one could plant a bullet, as I have, only to see roots of red attack squirrels as the plant matured. Seems Mars is for rent. I’m going. I’d like a room with a view for once. All that …. red soil.
No need to cover the wounds of the dead. So, there are no cheaper imitations of plastic, are there? Let it speak for itself. I can’t; I have splinters on my tongue from talking to trees too long.
This breeze is good. So good. It penetrates every molecule, for there is no blood to block it.
Ueno Park—October, 1988▲
We can chew on the bread of a Yakuza wife and become parodies of our own physiognomy. Like prisoners at Corsica we may spend our leisure converting rural tools for urban wilderness.
Perhaps you’ve found waters of coveted rivers refreshing. Such liquids make us ill. We prefer whiskey, for a spinal block. We are the phantoms of language who spurn the dance of the affected poseurs in subway clothing ads.
To wit, we are greasy freedom in tune with the beagle years. We spew walrus, and we use you and that makes us feel ok.
Blade Runner Tuesday
The sweet fibers of the beer that ails me. The mask of the face that kills me. At war with god, the tequila oak leaves kiss me. Biting a macaroon, the tight fangs who know I goad next week’s hounds smile in the weeds with the intelligence of those who don’t comprehend stupidity. I grip the hands of the Sanskrit poets who wrote me.
To ask god for greatness is to blame another for failure. The woof of the flame, it taunts me. I smile there, through the library of the dead. Mozart’s skull, I…. a brouhaha and a homily.
The cold cotton pits that jail me. I attend the three-fold mass for the gods of the rainy bus-stop. I wear those cellophane clothes; they never fit me. On these frequent days, I sip bombast cocktails and elude great ideas.
Asakusa (near Kamiya Bar)—September, 1988▲
There is a ring on my hand. It is made of Strontium 90 because I am anti-social.
Most people do not interest me, most contacts do not arouse me. But, for you, the ring is tragic; it dissolves my hands, the ones I once did, and still long to, touch you with.
It is a price, the glow, that is too high for me to stop paying now.
King Subway (Tokyo Station)—October, 1988▲
Walk. Walk amongst the people. Make no sound as you walk.
Walk light, step bright and ghostly kiss the passers-by. Here. Hear the sounds of their step. Pound their hearts with the aura of your love. Watch the waves of ochre sound.
They love you and they need you and they don’t know you exist.
You walk through them. Your blood cells and theirs shake hands. You kiss every forehead. You own ever fiber of their suits and their jewelry. You own every crowd. You are a harvester of chaste souls, of buttery blood vessels.
You are what you need them to think you to be. You are something I see without you seeing me.
Ueno Park Son—October, 1988▲
Rudy went to the gas station
bought three gallons
lit a match
These poems and photographs were originally exhibited at Lehigh University in the Spring of 1989. More recently, the photographs were published in 2008 in issue 57 of Giant Robot magazine and on Scholars and Rogues in August, 2011.
She loved the things placed about Tokyo, like the figures outside the shops that beckon you almost irresistibly inside, even if the place doesn’t sell anything of particular interest to you. She reveled in the presence of these playful things.
When she stood by these figures, like the Milky girl in Nakano Broadway, they became enveloped in her space. It was like she gave some of her light and energy to these inanimate things when she touched them. It seemed like some part of her wanted the advertising figures to come alive so she could play with them with her little girl’s spirit and sense of wonder.
I tell you, it was the weirdest thing. It really was as if she was trying to bring these things to life. The marshmallow-candy girl in Harajuku actually did move. It might have been the human inside, I’m not sure.
But the best part was that when she looked at me, well, that’s when I came to life.