There Are Moments Like This

Cross-legged and eating rice, a single grain drops upon my lap. I acknowledge the morning obstacle and, slow and intentional, rescue the fallen god from certain peril.
monkey and rice
Quiet and consumed with understanding the incident, I move on to the miso soup, careful to stir before drinking.

For a moment my thoughts stray from the fallen and rescued god and drift to the smooth blend of miso, seaweed, tofu, and green onions. I continue stirring until the seaweed is only a phantom in the soup appearing in a brief rhythmic scene as the mix settles. I miss the opportunity to drink the perfect blend as I watched the tofu chase the green onions dodging the phantom seaweed.

I stir again. Drink. Am quiet.

I look up to see Momoko who always appears more comfortable sitting on the floor for breakfast. She’s the one who never allows me to leave a single grain of rice on a plate or in my bowl. Her mother taught her each grain is a small god with a purpose the same as ourselves.

I consider, again, the morning’s rescue mission and my ability to perform the extraction with fully extended chopsticks. Unfettered and calm, I ingested the god with dignity. For some silly reason, this amuses me to no end and I chuckle to myself.

There is nothing better than an uncontrolled laugh to a secret joke or realization. It usually procures another to laugh as well.

In this case, Momoko joins me out of sheer curiosity elevating from a smile, to a giggle, to a head shake with eyes closed, then eyes opened to the left, then right, and to a pinnacle where eyes connect and where, for a brief instant, there is no future, no self, no anxiety, no pressure, no world but the one existing between two innocent humans caught being happy with no idea or concern why.

The moment leaves faster than it arrived and we are left in a comfortable silence digesting our gods and drinking instant coffee.

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Weiss Horn

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I usually don’t ski the backcountry alone. The last time I did was in Osawa with ten inches of fresh heavy snow above a frost layer when I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. I was the only person silly enough to hike Annupuri Peak from the west but it was sure to be untouched.

The snow was unstable, which I noticed on the first turn, and I started to traverse to a safe rock and wind affected ridge counting on my memory to guide. Half-way there I found myself floating sideways downslope in the middle of a shallow, wet-concrete like, avalanche and pointed it until I skied out into the ridge line. Finally in the ‘safe-zone’, my next turn was waste deep into a crack that could have easily broken away into a deeper avalanche or sunk away nine feet down. Softly, I rolled out with as much surface area as possible and straight lined it until I was out of the clouds and cranking through an open untouched bowl of freshies.

In other words, tentative and stoked to skin the ancient and retired ski resort Weiss Horn, I set out today alone in a quiet spring low front. It is a mild 1,800 feet ascent and only takes an hour or two to climb. Within ten minutes on trail, I was down to a t-shirt and sweating my nuts off.

Skinning up Weiss was definitely on the agenda, but the real reason I headed out today, and alone, was to clear the fog growing in my head. In two weeks I’m moving back to the US after essentially four years abroad and will be starting another new life and where, and how, and if I can afford it I have no idea. There is that, and then there is the sometimes overwhelming pressure of being a human with choice, and the anxiety about choices, and the general apprehension to conclude there is meaning to life. The privileged concerns of living with little responsibility on the verge of broke every few months.

Keeping a reckless pace without rest, my heart raced faster with every step. I was ‘sweating out the demons’ as my coach put it in college. After an hour my eyes, also, were soaked in sweat and blurred with each wipe. Every blink sent tracers and floating stars across my gaze as I slowly slipped into what I can only describe as a dream trance.

I started to rapidly remember my most recent dreams of other women, of drinking water, of smoking cigarettes, of walking a tight rope in the cool and transparent web of the universe, and dreams of taming snakes, of being terrified by snakes, and of other dreams of conversations, and anxieties and ghosts and gods, and of dream palpitations, and real ones and etcetera, etcetera until I remembered the dream in which I screamed so loud I melted away with the ecstasy of feeling exhaled and empty.

Prompted by this memory I yelled a soft a-koo-wee. A bird sound I picked up long ago to shout when lost in the woods. Not content, I yelled it again, louder, with my eyes closed, but that too did not satisfy and so I opened them wide, my eyes, and screamed an excruciating roar of A-KOO-WEEEEE loud enough to wake the resting bamboo beneath ten feet of snow. My body instantly stopped and the quietness of nature and her emptiness overwhelmed the mountain with whom I was a temporary resident. I sat down for some water, a snack, and for some time to take in the silence before continuing to the peak.

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Before my descent I bowed to the most beautiful array of spring peaks and shoots glossed over with a light but present fog. I attempted to scream once more but there was no sound. There were only waves echoing toward a far off distant end I’ll never know.

Happy and calm I set off for 1,800 feet of pristine spring corn to the nearest onsen. I’ve been practicing my Tai Chi in these natural hot springs as of recent. Making the awkward-naked-bath-sharing moment even more awkward for the other Japanese patrons.

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Catching the Train to Wai-ao

love hotel photo
We take a left from the love hotel and find Taipai station without a glitch. Now comes the challenge of making it to the other side of the country, to Wai-ao, to a cheeky surf beach with ice cold beer.

First thing we do is find a map with both cities. Two trains. The first heads toward Quidu, and the second to Jioxi. We’ll need to get off three stops before Jioxi. Now for tickets.

The ticket machine is a waste of time because the language is in Chinese characters. And since there are five different tones to every sound in Mandarin, there are twenty-four wrong ways to say Wai-ao to an attendant. Momo takes the initiative and writes Wai-ao in Chinese characters REALLY BIG and shows it to the lady at the ticket window. Without saying a word (or smiling) she takes our $226 Taiwan dollars and prints out two paper magnetic strips.

Tickets in hand, the next obstacle is finding which train out of two-hundred, in a four tier main station, would get us to Wai-ao.

Walking away from the window, I see a monitor with English writing and catch “Quidu” and, before it changes to Chinese characters, I read “Platform 4A” and “Leaving in Six Minutes.” Unaware of the monitor, Momo nonchalantly asks what I want to do next, but I don’t hear a word because I fall into a Zen trance looking at every sign in the hall simultaneously. The signs read MRT, HSR, TRA, MS, MT, A4-16, and M4-16. Ummm….

Catching site of a 7Eleven leading to a ramp in a different direction than everyone else in the hall, I remember the police officer who threated to fine us for eating in this area and also on the MRT we caught the day before. Without saying a word I grab Momo’s hand and head toward the 7Eleven ramp because there’s a good chance you can eat on a cross country train.

As we pass the ramp the signs narrow down to TRA, HSR and A4-16, M4-16. I suddenly notice a symbol on the wall panels heading toward the TRA, HSR that is exactly like the one on the ticket window. We follow the symbols right and, after three-hundred meters, find ourselves on tier three from four. Three minutes to go. Momo is starting to look confused because I haven’t said a word since we bought the tickets.**

The signs break off and I lead her toward the TRA on a hunch and shortly after the signs start to say “Platform” and I remember the monitor and head toward 4A.

As eager as a school boys first hand job, I jump up and down and point to the sign that does nothing to cure Momo’s confusion. Quickly we insert our tickets and the turnstile swings us in. The train is waiting and we hop through the door to take a seat out of breath and excited. The door closes behind us with a kayash-ka! and the train starts moving. With a big silly grin I kiss Momo and snap my fingers to say that’s how you catch a fucking train.

Ten satisfied minutes pass as we make our way on a express train toward Quidu. Ten minutes before Momo leans over and asks if this train takes us all the way to the beach. I say no and that we need to transfer. Calmly, she asks, where is that?

Slowly the taste of accomplishment fades as I realize I know where this train ends but have no idea where to transfer. For some reason this amuses us and we’re swept away into a small cloud of childish amazement realizing we ran and jumped onto a random train taking us some place we’ve never been in a rare and foreign country reeking of dumplings and salt water.

At the height of our contentment, a Taiwanese lady beside us can’t help but offer her help. She speaks good English and finds our stop on her phone as we pull into a quiet platform. The silence is interrupted by her concerned look as she almost yells, get off now! This is your changing place. Shocked and already running, we offer our best shay- shays (mandarin for thank you) and don’t think twice whether or not she is right. As the train pulls away we go to the window to say goodbye, and she rushes over to tell us one last thing, maybe the departure time, but we can’t hear or understand and instead choose to bow and smile harmoniously.

Off the train we are greeted by a small tropical town in the mountains with thick green peaks, steep tea gardens, and well-crafted rice patties. The kind of picture you see titled, “Fall in Love with Asia” in an airplane magazine. A quiet breath ensues, and another, and another until some mark of time disappears….

After a few minutes we look at each other and agree it is definitely time for coffee. We are allowed to leave the station and come back by showing the ladies our tickets. Meaning, we hope, we have time to spare. We find a coffee stand and watch the young girl spend five minutes making our coffee like a dog watches every kibble and bit fall into its food bowl. The coffee is… interesting, definitely missing the mark of a caramel latte, but it does the trick none the less.

Coming back through the gate we point to our tickets again and a lady walks us to a bench and sits us down looking at the correct platform. She begins pointing with a big smile at the track, as if we hadn’t put one and two and three and four together, she bows slowly and leaves. Quiet and once again content, we drink our coffee with the sun outlining the tropical green landscape.

Another minute passes and we are tapped on the shoulder by a young Taiwanese girl who speaks no English. She hands us the last piece of the puzzle.

It was a small cut of recycled paper and read, 10:53 Yes.
1053 yes

** I found out an hour later the symbol I was looking at was the general icon used on all public transportation systems across the entire country. It was on every bus, every train, every ticket window, and every bus and train stop sign. In other words, it was a lucky guess.

Momiji

Mt. Yotei
Momiji

Momiji is a tight street
         dressed with red paper lanterns
               wood paneled windows
                     and clay awnings.

It is the sandalwood
         lit
               to guide the dead,
                        a scent for safe passage.

It is Mt Yotei
         the volcano,
               mostly dormant,
                     that doesn’t let you think
                           when you look at it.

It is a warm thermal spring
         with mineral laden
         wooden boards
                  reflecting upon themselves.

 It is the Japanese maple leaf
         who falls off with the wind,
                     sometimes,
               or it folds up and over and into itself
               like soft leaves do.

Momiji is a laugh
         to itself

         and is the Mirror Lake,
               frozen,
                     under four meters of snow
                     with bright thick daisies
                     along each edge.

Momiji

No. 38

No. 38

My legs are crossed on the floor.
I haven’t sat at a table or desk in three months.

It is , simply , not a Japanese thing .

With a bored set of eyes , I examine a large ashtray with thirty-seven cigarettes .

that is ,
two hundred and twenty-two minutes ,
that is ,
twenty-two of which
I spent thinking I shouldn’t smoke cigarettes.

I have charcoal filters in my back pocket ,
soiled teeth to kiss with &
a rotten scent on clean clothes :

This is the extended price of fitting in.

POETRY ON KINDLE !!

A Slow Curve, an excellent chapbook collection (27 short poems) from Barbara Henning with fantastic illustrations from Laurie Price, is now available on Kindle. Click here to find out more!

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