I had never hoped to convince you
of my place as a giant in this world.
I appear as a dumpy man, a man of spent substance,
and I hide in plain sight amongst Tokyo’s Sunday multitudes.
There is a kangaroo on my head, and I’ve never even fucking been to Australia.
I pass as so many gods do, looking down at the pavements of man.
Humans have built a crust encasing the earth
and they think I can’t punch through it
and swim like an effortless dolphin through the mantle
down to the planet’s core where I was incubated and born.
And that’s okay, really, it’s fine.
You took Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad for granted,
and they actually told you all who they were.
I am, at the very least, a god of all Tokyo’s streets
but I won’t make the mistake of revealing myself.
You wouldn’t believe me anyway.
There are more of us in the Tokyo city limits than you might think.
Men seemingly of little actuality and no style
wearing Western baseball caps and Velcro Nike shoes,
sparring with their wives over pension money
and how much shōchū they can drink before izakaya curfew at midnight.
Anyway, that’s enough about me, but you asked.
I’m standing here smoking because I like it.
It won’t kill me.
In fact, the smoke I suck in, process, and exhale
is more pure and sweet than the delivery room air you first breathed
inside whatever hospital in which you were born.
All the wide happy and the scattering crowds,
these are which I watch over.
For I am police, I am law.
It is good I do this,
for there is no better humble god of justice
than me when I am on duty.
In Tokyo we have guns,
for we are police and
they are subtle extensions of sword
and I see them as
metals from repurposed katana
beaten into tiny rocket-spitting machines.
Musashi used guns.
I read this once in torn manga-page literature.
To me this brings honor to the idea,
and grinds nothingness into fine subtlety.
For if you can kill disbelief,
you can kill injustice.
When this is done
my work will be over,
I will no longer need to be police.
I would like to put myself out of a job,
I would like to always go fishing
in the Sumida River
and hook all the gold rings the yakuza ever dropped into it.
It would be a good thing to be with my son every day,
to know I will never need a gun to protect him.
To never need updated training
on the best American ways to shoot people in the head.
But these times are not here yet.
So I will guard you,
and you will love me for it,
and I will love you back because you give me purpose and honor.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
In passing, quiet moments, when tobacco takes you its lover….
…maybe you think about all the furrows in fields you’ve never sown, all the gorgeous richness you’ll never see…
…and you puff on a tube of leaf, it is good Tokyo leaf and came at great cost…
…but it jackhammers into you that it won’t fill your belly, and maybe that’s okay because it is hard to care anyway.
(Pictures taken in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo in September, 2013)
The edge of your seat
Is where my property line begins.
It’s crowded here in Tokyo,
A year in ghost time is one second to us.
Since my husband retired,
And my children grew and moved away,
I don’t have anywhere to go really now.
So some days I come down here to the crosswalk.
I shuffle back and forth over it a few times,
The wide expanse of asphalt,
Just to feel how spacious this city can be.
(Picture taken at Nakano Station, Tokyo in September, 2013)
You’re a street ghost
reflected in glass eyeballs and mundane mirrors.
I see your gasps of benevolent color…
…and I am drawn in.
I can’t help myself.
I want to love you and have with you
a festival as I am swimming
in your tubs of warm sweet-broth oden.
(Pictures taken in at the Mini Stop Nakanoekikitaguchi, Tokyo in September, 2013)
I walked from Nakano to Shinjuku alone
I was never really alone or ever am.
The city was with me.
A god-pigeon was with me.
We watched hanami pass into hanafubuki,
as the city shook the petals loose.
I took them from the ground,
petals like silken snow
falling on harsh pavements and concrete.
It can be just as beautiful as hanami.
There are patterns to all of it,
everything has a place randomly assigned.
As I stood there at Kandagawa,
my hand full of Tokyo’s grace,
I looked nearby to the street,
the post-hanami trash had it’s own kind of beautiful pattern too.
(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in April, 2012)
After 14 years of marriage
I wish I could say
that we made each other breakfast in bed
or that she bought me a fob chain and I bought her a set of combs.
But it is, on the raining surface, just another day,
and in the forthcoming movie
she gets ready for work
while I edit photographs and
dream of making love to her in Tokyo
under this cherry tree I know in Ueno Park.
The loving endurance is the thing, the gift,
the brilliant flawed red ruby
that shines in the eyes and makes all tears
things of value, grit, beauty.
It is the sunshine the gods weren’t smart enough to invent,
It’s taking out the garbage when the corpses are stacked like cord wood.
It’s laundry in an abattoir where your heart will always beat on a wood table
because you trust her never to cut nor damage it.
It is eggs in a silver cup
and ramen in a bowl of the finest paper-thin jade.
It is not a technological turn-key solution,
where you put on the rings
and suddenly stop growing together
and there are children and babies and
every in-law loves you and
you are suddenly serious contenders for a Nobel Prize.
There are fewer integrated circuits to the thing than that.
And really I wish
we could talk about this more but
I have to go make her a cup of coffee right now
and give her a hug
and kiss her goodbye.
Because you don’t just send the greatest person you’ve ever known
out into the world
without some love
and the power it gives them
to be immortal for just one more day.
(Pictures taken at the San Mateo County Fair, sometime in the 1990s. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
Behind this glass
you look at us.
And we look at you.
But to you
we are just
some scenery you chew.
Pass by, pass by
we are now done with you.
I come for the soju,
I stay for the pictures.
The entire fucking history of Japan,
and of Tokyo,
is in the eyes, the skins, the frosty cocktail glasses
in these pictures of the lives of the
people on these walls.
I like it here.
(Picture taken in Seoul Bar, Sanya (Nihonzutsumi), Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
This is the seriously-no-bullshit soup plate,
Where it all falls asunder into metal,
and I don’t mean angry white men playing guitars.
It’s peaceful, the undying here,
and I’m trying to figure out how to make some art out of this monstrous tranquility.
I throw compassionate grenades,
and perform brutally humane triage.
I’ve crushed my skull for genius
and I’ve banished my excellent demons for you.
There is no distance I would not
throw my combat liver over the Sea of Japan for you.
I will become a great ape for the sight of you,
and holler my guttural mating call
down into Tokyo’s darkest gutters to summon you.
There is dark growth here in my muddy extremes,
and the old Edo gods who once bore you you bear,
and I still think I’ll start drinking before noon today.
It is raining today in Brisbane, California.
I like to call it a fine Tokyo rain.
Because Tokyo taught me
to love the space between the drops and
to love the dirt-city vistas beyond the falling curtains and
to love the rain like it was my mother
who would never dissolve me like sugars to run down
the gutters to sweeten the trash for the sewer rats.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
She passed me.
She didn’t see me.
I remained still.
I didn’t see her.
in the grotesque way
of all the crowded heavens in Tokyo,
I saw her delicate passing
non-substance downloaded on
my tengu-blue digital screen.
(Picture taken in Nakano Broadway, Tokyo in September, 2013)
I sizzle strange orbs unto you
I fillet your brain with my electric aura surround
I am the secret agent blurring your vision
I am the God of Tokyo
And you can’t capture me on film.
(Picture taken in Nakano Sun Mall, Tokyo on September 11th, 2013)
I am no owner of clandestine property,
I take my leisure in ancient streets
that have been paved for centuries
with blood, stone, and alcohol.
All of Tokyo belongs to me
except where I happen to be sitting
every minute of every day in every place of my life.
I can’t imagine how it got this way.
But I live with it,
and I often imagine that it is winter
and I am dreaming of summer, and
I often imagine that it is summer
and I am dreaming of winter.
(Picture taken in Sanya, Minami-senju, Tokyo on October 4th, 2013)
It’s quiet here
at the galaxy’s core.
I don’t suppose the stars would stop moving
even if we asked them to.
I have considered doing so.
Night after night we bathe in ever-moving light,
some of it from the sun we abandoned
so many birthdays ago
surely it must have extinguished by now.
If you had never been born
I would have found you anyway,
used the machines we have spun
from neutrinos and platinum and DNA
to go back in time and find a way to make you exist.
The centuries, they are mere miles for us,
and the best ones we lived, we lived on Earth.
No, I don’t miss it, I would rather be here with you,
even though it amazes me that we still have to change cat litter.
And other corporeal things, this ring.
I shall always wear it.
Remember when I lost the stone that Christmas in the 21st century?
I’ve beat the hell out of this ring, but I shall always wear it.
The circle of it remains perfect,
the nicks in it are the hieroglyphs of our history.
And on your birthday, like it is today,
I look where the stone was
and remember that the love which first set the stone remains,
after all this time it remains.
And that, as ever,
is always good enough for me.
—Love, Dan, January 9th, 2013
(Dedicated to my wife Michele…)
It is good to be here with you,
in this utterly corrupt and beautiful place.
The touch of your hand reminds me
we are links in a chain forged in blood and love,
corrupted by god, or whoever does his marketing.
The greatest gift I got this past Christmas day
was another day of life,
a chance to let my eyes frown unguarded at the bright sun
and marvel at the softness of the belly of the cat you held in your hands.
I have lain my fingers upon the beating pulse of the world,
and felt in each moment of its flow the death and rebirth
of hope and joy and murder and disdain.
These things are all of us
and I have to celebrate the bad along with the good
until the bad is no longer part of life,
but a long-gone memory of the lesser beings we used to be.
It will be a different year soon,
we get so easily tired of the old one,
and every day of it that I have with you
will be a horrendous mess of loveliness
and a sequel to every movie never made
about the lives we live every day.
You can’t buy that kind of quality;
It must be woven into your DNA,
the very living stuff that floated down here from space,
and decided to make itself into our eyeballs and lies and dreams.
So let’s have a drink to that, or more,
as many as we can hold.
There’s no reason to hate the fact
that we have many more Christmases to come
we will never get nearly as many as we want.
(Picture taken in a small park in Nakano-ku, Tokyo in April, 2012)
I was recently digging through some old papers in my basement, and found a couple of poetry journals that published my work back in 1989. So I scanned the pages and decided to publish my old words here for you to (hopefully) enjoy. Oh, and the pages look wrinkled because they got water damaged from rain that leaked into a plastic storage bin with an unsecured lid. Sorry.
This is from the Spring, 1989 issue of Poet Lore, which The Writer’s Center still publishes…
The following two poems are from the Summer, 1989 issue of Poetry Nippon, which is no longer published as far as I can tell…
And as an added bonus, this is the poster which promoted an exhibition of my Tokyo in the Underbrush work at my alma mater, Lehigh University, in 1989. The picture of the old woman in the box is now in the Lehigh University Art Galleries permanent collection. Yay for me!!
Thanks for looking around. Hope you had fun.
“The smoke in the sky from you
or something to that effect.”
Damn, I’ve got nothing on this.
As I used to say in Roppongi in the 1980’s,
the “smoke” thing just seemed like some cool shit to say to gaijin girls
who were never gonna take me home to bed.
There was a burger joint there
where you could nosh drunk at 2 a.m. any night of the week.
It was near Roppongi Crossing,
and the jukebox had “The Way It Is”,
that Bruce Hornsby song.
I played that song with burgers
every time I was in the joint.
Maybe some of you remember it.
The burger place, I mean.
I used to play that song
and think I was the only drunk American
who left his country because of racism
the need to be in a place so different
that you had to let it rewrite your DNA.
Because it was going to happen anyway.
It was better to be drunk in Roppongi in 1987
than it was to be sober in America.
I have been back to Roppongi, Tokyo since then.
And, you know, I still feel the same way.
(Picture taken in the Roppongi Hobgoblin, Tokyo in May, 2012)
I am to embark upon a journey soon. To another planet, a planet I have visited before.
A planet where I once lived,
and felt comfortable.
I left under a cloud of things which can only be described
by fanatical men in bowties made of glass.
They reflect the things they observe, therefore they see very little.
This is the way of things where I live.
I see people I know in the streets of my town.
I know their names and ailments and favorite types of heart bypasses.
And I have grown tired of caring about their problems. I need a break from them.
I want to go someplace else and misunderstand another culture’s problems.
It’s easier that way.
I have to go pack my bags, for I always take part of my world to another.
So while I get ready to leave my world, I will listen to what I assume will one day be
considered classical music much as Brahms and Scott Joplin are today.
And I will wonder what it would sound like if
Elton John had sung “Rocket Man” in Japanese.
More words and pictures forthcoming from
There’s a map of everything to everywhere…..
….on my front porch.
There’s nothing deeper here than that
a lesson I may have learned while I was out past my porch running some errands for my in-laws.
needed me to dispose of a stiff, dead opossum she had found in her yard.
needed me to buy him some Duracell 312 hearing aid batteries and three packs of True menthol 100 cigarettes.
So, the opossum ended up in a bag which I tossed into a dumpster behind our local grocery market here in Brisbane,
ended up in a run-down CVS pharmacy just off the El Camino Real in South San Francisco, California.
Cigarettes and hearing aid batteries for the elderly are always in such places. It is the joy of these places.
And they have El Jimador tequila, which I have never tried.
But I have smelled it because of the weaving-drunk man who was behind me, even though I didn’t ask.
We were both in line, and I had
my cigarettes and batteries.
He had his fifth of El Jimador tequila, and a copy of Maxim magazine
(which I found pleasing because it had a picture of a lovely woman with enormous tits on the cover.)
And this guy looked rough, and he was Latino, and that didn’t matter
because he looked my age
and it was Friday night
and the only thing he could weave about to plan and do was to buy El Jimador tequila and Maxim magazine
and go off wherever he had to go in the rain.
My birthday is upon me.
I’ll be 48.
And I don’t pray but I did make a sort of vow to myself that,
for the rest of my life,
I will never be the kind of man who swerves into a run-down CVS pharmacy in South San Francisco, California on a Friday night
a bottle of cheap tequila and a big-titty-girl magazine
and then shuffle off into the rain and the night.
In Las Vegas
A high school reunion!!
People I don’t know anymore, people I never knew. Cold appetizers. Pricey drinks. Vegas at its finest.
People I knew and never liked. High school nostalgia at its finest.
(The girl who almost took my virginity didn’t show. Probably has kids and a disaffected husband by now.)
So I leave, not saying goodbye.
Goodbye was a long time ago, only no one told my classmates.
My flight is in fifteen hours, but I need some beer and sleep.
I leave the reunion casino.
I leave the Vegas strip.
There’s a world, mere yards away, covered with broken liquor glass and little flyers strewn about like leaves from a porno tree.
It makes me feel better. It’s dirty and ugly and more human than a cane attached to an old lady attached to a Wheel of Fortune slot machine.
I find the last hotel room in the western United States.
And I am overcharged for it. So what.
7-11 is nearby. The beer is cheap. The ice is free. The air conditioner works. There is cable TV.
I am a free man.
I don’t have to pretend the people in high school were the best time of my life. The girl who almost took my virginity almost was.
I am alone in Vegas, and I have taken the time to make myself a free man. I have learned a life lesson here.
But the cable TV only gets 10 channels.
My flight is in thirteen hours.
In September, 2003, I flew from San Francisco to Las Vegas to attend a reunion for people in the United States who had graduated from, or merely attended, the Singapore American School (SAS) in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s. I ‘merely attended’ SAS for my freshman, sophomore and half my junior years of high school. My adventures in Singapore would make up a good-sized chunk of anyone’s memoirs; but suffice it to say I made friends at SAS with whom I kept in touch long after I probably should have. I felt like I had evolved beyond my need for them.
But my beloved wife convinced me it would be a good idea to attend the 2003 Vegas reunion. And so I did, and the results are stated pretty clearly in the poem-narrative above. High school in Singapore was not a bad experience for me. In most ways it was the opposite of a bad experience.
But high school there did not construct within me a deep well of nostalgia from which I felt I frequently had to draw the waters of happy, loving memory. It was what it was, and I have never felt contempt for anything related to my high school or anyone else’s, with the exception of people who cling relentlessly to their high school memories and behold them as the best times of their lives.
I wrote the poem for an assignment in a 600-level English class at San Francisco State University, and presented it on September 23, 2003. Can’t remember what grade I got. It doesn’t matter anyway. I didn’t finish what I started at SF State any more than I graduated from SAS.
So there you have it. The people I knew at SAS are long removed from me in distance and time, and I have not seen or spoken to any of them since Las Vegas.
Gone, just gone.
The bubblegum kids no one is ever going to know, rotting out their lives in the cold of Mishima’s boiling sea.
There’s grace in the truncheons of justice they may have become.
There’s iron will in the blood they will never spill on land.
There’s a permanent school of candyfloss and diamond textbooks waiting to teach them about the ghosts of great emperors.
It’s the time when they died that will never forgive, and will ever hate itself for taking them walking to the undersea graves of lost civilizations.
There’s teeny shoes floating in the sea that had warm, happy feet in them.
There’s a TV somewhere that always shows cartoons only Japanese children can understand.
There’s a tear we cry for strangers who will never grow up to be our friends.
Or invent new light.
Or cure the gangrene in our hateful bones.
There is soil that will never be disturbed, for there is no reason to displace it for graves.
It is fine soil, still, and we should honor it by planting flowers that taste like rice candy.
We should remember that sometimes the bubblegum kids see with both a living and a dead set of eyes.
And we should love them, and we should remember them,
And we should hold what we know of them with a warmth that radiates down into the deepest chasm at the bottom of the sea.
(—For the lost children of Japan after March 11th, 2011. This poem was published on Scholars and Rogues on March 11th, 2014.)
No one is complaining.
The twelfth of today is never.
The mind suffers
From winsome gout.
I wish I had my friends all about.
There is something
In the nothing I say.
I will return to
The movie I see
And see if it says something of me.
And, I suppose,
I will try to forget this day.