To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, October 17, 2011

James C. Hopkins & Yoko Danno: From Scrolls, an experimental work in progress

Scrolls is a new 'experimental' collaboration in progress by James C. Hopkins and Yoko Danno.  One of us writes the first half of a sentence and the other follows up with the rest of the sentence. The latter begins the next sentence and drops it halfway, which is taken over by the former. Writing thus in turn we draw 'picture scrolls' with words. There is no rule except that a scroll should consist of five paragraphs. When we start a scroll we never know how it will develop and end. We have set out for adventures in an unknown land without a map or a compass.


After all the lights have been turned off I watch shafts of moonlight shooting in through the blinds. The bare room starts to reverberate with film-noir certainty. Tonight the moving is finished. All the pictures and photos have been removed from the walls and all the drawers and closets emptied, and only the laptop on the table remains to remind me of what I had formerly considered important. No more ordering the world, and no more maps and calculations. Only some strawberries are left in the empty refrigerator, and tomorrow waiting in a car across the street.

When will I ever learn why I must keep on moving? The road ahead seems like the only real thing. The rearview mirror scrolls out like a dream behind me, and a long train of cars is closing in like a persistent malady. Looking for a bypath is like looking for a cure. The next time I take this road I hope to see again the deer's family I glimpsed in the bush by the roadside. The mother and her fawn disappeared into the woods as the car approached - I could see only their white tails bounding through the trees, long after the other shapes had merged. Without nature the road ahead is a fleeting mirage.

The moment the car reaches the bridge the moon appears behind the pine trees. Is there ever a moment when, upon meeting the moon, white cranes take wing one by one and fly across her luminous face? I wish I could forget the possibility of forgiveness - it would make distance and asphalt and night easier than watching the edges of wings. Where is it that I hid my yearning - in the backseat there is only a dog-eared atlas of the USA and an expensive bottle of wine. It is easy to get lost when you have a wrong map. Especially after midnight when the road is in complete darkness and the cats are out hunting. Their eyes shine like alarms set off.

I hear a siren wailing in the distance and ignore it - disaster comes and goes and has nothing to do with this world. When I was young even a pimple on my face was a disaster. Let alone this. Call it calm after the storm, but the combination of tires and lives turning on the road at night is like a flight from ever-chasing hunters. No sanctuary ahead unless you count the all-night diners. But even there is only pie and stale beer. When will I ever be able to sit in an outdoor cafe again, spreading thick butter on crunchy baguette, in the middle of the afternoon? These images only drive me to blissful distraction.

I can't get off the highway now if I wanted to. I drive until I know my destination. I have a plenty of time, and even space, and as long as there is a radio station I will keep moving towards the desert heat. In heat there is a castle wavering, towers flickering, loopholes blinking in the walls. And I can hear the guard dogs barking already. Soon there will be only animal instinct and cunning left anyway, when the engine stops and the machine comes to a halt. The moon shines over the dune of clouds as if waiting for me to arrive. I flick on the turning signal, slow down, and look around. She is chasing me as ever.

As always, I ordered a glass of Bordeaux, a small pot of black tea, and a slice of anything chocolate. It was still too early for the pageant to start. The sun was still far above the horizon, and yet I could sense the day winding down as the afternoon descent began. A car passed by with the radio on, and the song took me back to the highest plateau of the world. Suddenly my chair began to wobble and I wished I had something to hold on to besides memory. When you've heard too much music, only the sound of waves can still surge over you. Before my eyes the wine disappeared, and the glass refilled itself. How these things happen is still a mystery, but here I am on the stage.

I don't know why I am among these actors and actresses with masks of ordinary citizens. A waiter passes by, a businessman, a thin teenage girl - but they all are gods and demons in disguise, I know. In fact they are testing me for a new role in a new play, but one that hasn't been written yet. Another car goes by, and then another, until finally only a distant barking of dogs is monitored on the back screen. I am obliged to speak my lines unknown to me, but that too is becoming easier. The thing that I can't get out of my head these days is a stray dog I find lying at my doorway every night when I come home. I try to turn her away, giving her some food, but every morning when I wake up she is lying by the door.

There is something comforting in that, but I am wondering what she really wants to get from me. I know she is also disguised with a mask, and that she barks when she sees blue cars -- but other than that we don't know each other well. Tomorrow I will bring her a gift, and perhaps she will leave her post. The trouble is I don't know what kind of gift she likes most, or if she can read the book I'm thinking of buying her. Once you teach an animal to stand on her own, you never know what she will be up to. But one thing is clear - she can easily smell intruders without learning from detective stories, and protecting my home is her only concern. I have never had a companion who is so persistent.

Tomorrow I will set out on a long journey, and she may know better how to read when I return. In the meantime, I'm wondering how much it costs for the rescue of a stray woman trapped in a swamp. Some say it may destroy my songs yet to be born, but if I don't save her she will haunt me for the rest of my already-haunted life. Some things sink and some things rise, but the thing that matters is to know the bottom line. All creation has two aspects, smiling and angry, like the moon that we see and the one that we don't see. The trick is to know what we see is also what we don't see. Ghosts are real and the real doesn't exist, say some people. As for me, both are true as long as there's a breeze blowing through the trees.

Coming back to the half-emptied glass of Bordeaux was like rising back to the surface of the ocean. Cars were still passing like waves on the beach, the sun had ripened in the sky, and the pedestrians got flurried by a honk. Someone was shouting but I couldn't understand what they were saying -- I was alone on the stage in a foreign land. The best thing about being a stranger is I can recognize birds' songs and crickets' chirps much better than I do when I am surrounded by my mother tongue. I can even see the faces behind masks that everyone wears. But what if everyone is without his or her persona? We would never know what to say, how to act on the stage or even when the show was over. This show will be over when the eyes of the sky blink.

[NOTE. The full series of Scrolls, still in progress, can be found on the Ikuta Press web site, from Kobe, Japan, at  About Yoko Danno’s equally experimental move from writing in Japanese to writing in English, Gary Snyder has written in his “Introduction” to a projected collection of her poems, Heading for A Futher Center: “Yoko Danno has chosen to write poetry in English rather than Japanese. She has been doing this for more than 20 years. It is not that she has lived a long time out of Japan. Although she herself might not say so, I think that her choice of English is part of a strategy toward the solution of contemporary dichotomies and unearthing of the deepest roots. If she wrote these poems in Japanese she would run the risk of sounding precious or archaic. The bluntness of English is an excellent foil for her subtleties.”  Excerpts from her translation of the ancient Japanese Kojiki can be found elsewhere on Poems and Poetics.]

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