A Walk in Kyoto
The streets flutter and twist through the old city,
trailing past papered doors like geisha’s sleeves,
and upon that fabric what a pattern!
It is neither the Heian print
nor the stamp of the Meiji,
but a design of a newer age that paints its name
over the rhythmic lines of railways,
the broad strokes of air travel,
and the steady paths that draw
the gaijin world closer—this pattern of faces
is the sketch of Heisei, peace everywhere.
People from around this circled globe
walk these ancient roads as travelers
from distant lands beside other explorers
from much closer lands.
For gilded moments they come closer
as they see wonders together for the first time.
For now, the hearts of East and West remain
their own mysteries, but the eyes have learned
to see the same beauty without translation.
Heroic Lessons at Fushimi Inari
Watch now, how in the gloaming the gates glow
red above the torchlike lights scattered
beside the trailing path to the hilltop.
These torii are painted with the gradients of age,
smooth or cracked on one face, inscribed on the other.
And see at the shrine’s entrance, how the stone foxes wait,
ready to scamper to the unseen peak with messages
from our human realm to one beyond.
Walk further along the path sheltered by the gates
and feel the bands of shadows stripe your face
to paint you the night’s warrior and then slip away.
But mind how you go, for adventures can be dangerous!
The lights shine upon your wondering face
and through the gossamer webs of thousands
thickly draped between the crimson posts,
and millions of pinpoint eyes watch you pass.
They creep silently, sharply closer,
waiting for you
to stumble, fall, or stray from the path.
Look straight ahead and see that the way is still clear,
a sloping trail marked by strides and memory.
Only an irresolute side look puts the monsters into view.
So continue on to the top, but don’t be afraid to look back,
for from that perspective you can see who’s come before,
and perhaps you, too, will leave your name
where others will find it.
Like a leaf spun on the stream,
I swirled in to catch on a rock.
Stuck there at Shinjuku Station, my ticket lost,
I ruined the beauty of a world serene
in composed, ceaseless motion.
Even my panic was awkward and unlovely.
I wished to disappear.
I wasn’t one of those commute-swept flowers
or one of those well-placed stones of industry,
just the leaf ruining the otherwise pristine pond.
There’s a beauty in things out of place
another kind of beauty in putting things right again.
You were the careful gardener
when you picked me up and sent me on my way
down that busy gray stream,
and for a moment, we were both beautiful—
a frazzled student and an elderly man.
Did you know I was heading home?
Did you see your daughter in me,
imagining her alone in a crowd?
Did you see your granddaughter in me,
hearing her small voice ask for help?
I don’t remember your face,
Only your voice and the blue coat you wore.
When I looked up, you had gone,
Perhaps to meet your own little girl.
How can I thank you?
I’ll put my words on the river,
so that they can find your bright garden
where I hope we meet again.
Thank you, my guardian angel.
I should use words
like the ones you used to help me.