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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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!

Now it’s more affordable than ever to support great writers and find out what’s new at Monkey Puzzle Press headquarters.

. . .

Jack : a Portrait

(This is an excerpt from my collection Better Handshakes.)

Jack is a statue of Y-chromosome Australia. I’ve known him for thirty-seven minutes give or take a few long breaths of controlled silence.  The untrue fact is I’ve known Jack since I was knee high to a grasshopper—him blowing smoke rings for us kids to jump through because tobacco still cured cancer then. Our meeting was a fluke and his handshake was as sincere as nails.

I was helping a nice Japanese couple move into his home around the corner.  They spoke under twenty words of English and Jack much less of Japanese.  I was the translator.  I wasn’t there to ease the heavy lifting (two backpacks, five groceries bags, and a case of beer) but rather to explain how to use the toilet, lights and oven.  Once my duties were finished I struck up a conversation with Jack and we wasted no time being old friends.

Yeah, it’s a real nice thing you are doing helping travelers like ourselves settle into your home, your country, hell, your backyard, I said.

He offered a smile then lost no time looking about the house beginning a tour of his ongoing renovations.

What commenced was a ten minute expedition through a huge house with new cement, fresh pipes, cleaned floors, waiting lumber and cinder, seven surf boards, a finished bathroom, two unfinished bathrooms, a few ship wheels and an endless array of ship debris and beach artifacts. When we finally made it to the backyard I was taken aback by the huge palm trees, tepid rainforest growth, spiders bigger than my hand and a hundred tropical birds straight out of National Geographic.  Every square inch, inside and out, had a story.

Jack’s been pouring his own cement and plumbing new bathrooms into his home for just under five years, and like most Australian men, he’s in no rush.

Yeah, I take my time, he said. The house will be here tomorrow. The surf, my friends, my youth… they    may not.

He’s the kind of man that wears a shirt only if he absolutely needs to and heads to the ocean whenever there are waves.  He’s fit because he never sits down, smart because he listens and unworldly cheerful because he grew up five minutes from the beach and helped others build their lives for a living.

Our conversation didn’t last long and didn’t need to. Tomorrow he is stopping over at 8AM to take a good look at my broken radiator. It’s on my way to the beach, he said.

Sensai

Sensai

An old church choir finds me in a damp alley hiding from the concrete everywhere of Tokyo. For the first time in three hours my anxieties subside.

For a small second I do not breathe, do not move, am only a set of ears and a heart hung amongst a clean,
sharp C harmony.

An ambulance siren fades into the choir. Overtakes it. Fades out and into the sound of an airplane pulsating a quiet roar with the wind. As the plane clears, I notice the church choir has stopped. Chairs shift and a loud voice, made foreign by the thick pane glass, shuffles the holy group back into the world.

An old lady emerges with a dark blue dress garnished with white lace ruffled about her hands and neck. She is wearing pearls. Today is a Friday. She walks slowly toward me, eyes locked on her simple black shoes. I notice her smile. Eighty years of practice have perfected each muscle. She moves closer with a small handbag with a thin bamboo handle. The bag is quiet upon her arm.

She finally sees me and allows her smile to widen and her head to bow. A welcoming. She, unlike myself, is not worried about why I am here, instead she accepts that I am and continues past me. I quickly ask her in Japanese how she is feeling today, “genki desu ka?” And she, more quiet, stretching her smile to accommodate language, says yes. “Hai,” she whispers, and continues east through the alley.