"We Must Overcome" our ignorance of otherness; our cocksure, credulous belief that what we know is true, though what we know is marginal and stranger to the truth; our inbred heritage of hate; our ingrown condescension of a pale, performing love; our privilege, that makes us weak and willing masters of the world, and which we grip both-handed while we censure or deny it with a cock-crow vehemence and without shame; our blame; our parrying of blame; our sheep and common shame; our tendency to shun the same; our difference, left lovely on display but given no more heft than iris-colour or a taste for salt or other spice; our Christ- kill terror of our sibling souls. We must overcome (we must!) the farthing fear in all of us.
Translated by Jiro Numano and Vince Lawlor.
Read in the original Japanese here.
In the sky above the Peace Statue, fall has come,
Fall which descended upon the mountain of offered flowers.
When the wind blew,
We felt the smell of that day.
Every time we smell the air,
The wound opened up its red sore.
Two minutes past eleven in the morning of August 9th
Comes around every year anew,
And makes us grow old.
Oh, a dove
Perched on the finger of the statue extended toward heaven.
The baby a couple had longed for,
Whom they’d named ‘Kazuyo’ with great expectation,
Had no eyes.
Two orbits came in our sights as blue shadows.
She was a child with clear pale skin,
A deep, silent color.
The glossy skin as if wax drawn over
Brought out the silence still more.
For a short while in the world,
She cried gently.
Soon, while unseen and barely lasting,
Her crying faded away.
She could only cry.
They could only listen to
Her lonely voice.
Between crying and listening
There was no gap as wide as a hair.
Both crying and listening
Were indescribably hard to do.
Yet the mother and child
Were one, tangled up and embracing each other. The scene of this oneness, so close that breathing could be felt, Forces people to intensely awake and face history every year.
At the fingertip of the meditating Peace Statue, The dove was motionless like a sculpture,
With its deep blue eyes
Spread open like bright pupils.
Read the English translation here.
平和像の上空に 秋は来ていた 献花の山に降りてきた秋が 風を起こすと
8 月 9 日午前 11 時 2 分は 毎年新しくやってきて
名付け 待っていた赤子には 両眼がなかった
眼窩は蒼い影をつくっていた 透きとおる白い肌の子だった 深い沈黙の色であった
蠟をひいたような艶やかな肌は 一層 沈黙を引き立てた 彼女はこの世で暫くの間 やさしく 泣いた
やがて 糸を引くように 細く泣き止んだ
毛すじ一本も隙間はなかった 泣くことと 聴くことは 組んず念ずして
絡まり 抱き ひとつであった 息さえかかるひとつというのは 毎年激しく人を生き返らせる
A certain evening in July, 1835
Bunting drapes the walls of the rented Masonic Lodge. Lamplight glitters across brass spittoons. Oblivious to sweltering heat, wide-eyed locals stream inside. They come at twenty-five cents a head for Michael Chandler’s farewell exhibition of four threadbare Egyptian mummies.
Propped up on makeshift stage, four mummies lie in cheap pine boxes. Chandler, a beefy man in frock coat and mustard waistcoat, points with proprietary pride at center mummy. “This little runt of a fellow,” he oozes, “was a great man in his day — Necho, Pharoah of all Egypt!”
Chandler’s glib patter is as practiced as it is fictious.
That mummy is female. Mayati she’d been, wife of a minor scribe. Her and husband executed. Mummified. A Pharoah’s whims are absolute and terrible in their totality.
Chandler, thumb hooked in waistcoat pocket, points at me. “And this sleeping brute was Pharoah’s Vizier!”
No Vizier I, but mere scribe Ptahshepses.
A fool who’d listened to Hebrew slave stories of Abraham and his God. A fool who’d believed them true. A fool who’d written down those Truths on papyrus, that there is but one God in Heaven and Earth and His name is not Pharaoh…a Truth no Pharaohs can abide.
Chandler — preening and pontificating on stage — sees himself a latter-day pharaoh.
Some pharaohs crave power, some riches, and others fame. Chandler might love money — he’d wrapped and unwrapped us a dozen times in his unshakable delusion that all mummies were encrusted in diamonds — but fame drives Chandler.
The moment Chandler had finagled and connived his way into possession of Lebolo’s mummies, he’d ceased being just one more immigrant farmer and became A Man Who Owned Mummies. Reporters and politicians hung on his every word; learned and unlettered alike clamored at his feet.
Mere money cannot buy that.
Sweat-glistened audiences follow Chandler’s every move. They come for him as surely as they come for mummies. His theatrics, his boasts, his entertaining lies. No matter last night he claimed the tattered papyrus scroll he brandishes — an inventory of granaries — told of building pyramids and tonight he brays it speaks of serpents walking on four legs. Pharaohs tower above consistency and mere Truth. Those who prostrate themselves before Pharoah share Pharoah’s reflected glory.
Chandler unrolls another scroll — my scroll — and its familiar bland and red hieroglyphics. The scroll vengeful Pharoah affixed to my mummified chest as delicious jape. To ensure I enjoyed that jape throughout eternity, Pharoah had me embalmed with menfe’tan’a leaf oils, pinioning me between life and death.
For millennia I lay thus, watching through sewn-shut eyes the ages pass away, knowing I could move but moving would burn away the menfe’tan’a and kill me proper. Men fear true death too much to leap into its abyss.
A Pharoah’s whims are indeed terrible in their totality.
Only once have I ever thought to move: this morning.
Chandler lives like a Pharoah and spends like one. At the end of his debt-ridden tether, he had to sell us to a man named Smith.
I thought Smith just another would-be Pharoah wanting to own mummies. Smith barely glanced at us, but ran his fingers along my scroll. “The words of the Fathers,” he breathed. “Abraham.”
In my surprise, I nearly turned my head and spoke.
Oh, Chandler fleeced Smith for all he could. Forcing him to settle on a price ten times the collection’s worth. But Smith instantly agreed, as if he decerned that only a sum that high would pin Chandler into selling.
And now, tonight, as Chandler winds down this final exhibition, it sinks in: when Smith comes for us tomorrow, no longer will Chandler be a Pharaoh strutting on stage.
Chandler’s patter falters, his swindle wormwood in his mouth.
The lights of the hall dowse. Chandler locks us up for the night. Another night staring upward through my wraps at the darkness.
Then, in those dark hours of morning-night when men sleep heaviest, Chandler staggers in, bottle in hand. “No!” he slurs. “I won’t go back to being nothing. If I pack now, I can be across the state line before they catch me.”
He picks up a tack hammer to fasten the travelling lid of my box.
“No!” I croak, mouth-stitches popping open.
I lurch upward, heedless of the cost. The sticky sap of the menfe’tan’a burns as my leathery fingers clamp around Chandler’s throat with superhuman strength.
I squeeze enough to choke off speech, but not enough to kill. The fear-maddened Chandler struggles.
As well strike onyx stone as strike my arm, fool!
My other hand slips in the pocket of his coat and extracts his pepperbox derringer. I jam it into his ribs.
I cock the hammer back. “Keep deal,” I command. “Or die.”
Chandler slumps quiescent. Batting aside my arm is one thing. A chambered bullet is inescapable death.
And so we wait, an unmoving tableau: I, conserving the last dregs of the menfe’tan’a in my system; Chandler, conserving air in his lungs.
Dawn rises. Breakfast-time passes. The agreed time arrives. Smith’s party enters the hall.
Chandler’s back conceals me from their view. I release his throat and sink back into my box. The derringer remains cocked in my hand, pointed at Chandler’s heart.
“Remember,” I whisper. “Deal. Or die.”
Chandler deals. Money rustles. Chandler slinks off history’s stage.
Smith’s men begin loading Chandler’s collection on their waiting wagon.
Burning the last of the menfe’tan’a, I let go the pistol, let it fall to floor unnoticed.
As they lift me up to set me in the wagon, I am lifted up at last into the waiting arms of my beloved Mayati, lifted up into the bosom of Abraham’s God, a God who twice blessed me:
To write the Words and to ensure they make it into the hands of the man foreordained to proclaim them to the world.
The final exam will be administered
you will be notified
at least halfway through
that it is taking place
and any corners cut
will teach you
about the shape of the world
will only be helpful
if written on your heart
and you must balance preparation time
between private study
and public practice
though the timing
of your tests
will not always line up
Feedback will be provided
each time you remember
and sometimes when you do not
I am, like the rest of you
excited to see
how the earth will pass.
Years ago I did a book signing with an author on whom the title “Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days” had been bestowed. (It is from said honored mother that I learned that the phrase represented by the initials MOTY is copyrighted and that the national organization takes copyright infringes very seriously. My hope is that they are too busy busting ten-year-old kids who wrote it in crayon on a Mother’s Day card to get around to me, but I can’t take any chances.)
She had written a book about motherhood. I had also written a book about motherhood. They are very different books because we are very different mothers.
People began to approach the table.
Her: “I was (insert year) Utah Young Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days.”
Me: (cue inner monologue) I got nothin’.
People all flocked to her side of the table.
A few minutes later, I was desperate to lure some of the people to my side of the table.
Her: “I was (insert year) Utah Young Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days.”
Me: “I, too, have written a book about motherhood, even though I was once turned down by the local animal shelter when I tried to adopt a kitten.”
The world needs us both. We need ideals of perfection so we have something for which to strive. But when we fall short, as we inevitably do, we desperately need someone who tells us it is okay to be imperfect. I have taken the low road, preferring to be the person who is willing to share her imperfections because, well, that perfection thing just looks too dang hard.
About the Kitten
My son was four. I did not need a flattened frog or a bygone goldfish to teach him about death, because his father had died in an accident before he was a year old. He had learned about death along with learning his ABCs. I did my best to answer his questions when they came up.
On a visit to the cemetery, which I called “the remembering place,” he posed a question.
“Mom, is this where my dad is buried?”
“How do you know about being buried?”
“Ben across the street found a dead bird and I helped him bury it.”
“Yes, this is where your dad is buried.”
“Did people walk by and look at him before they buried him?”
“Yes, it’s called a viewing.”
“I sure hope he looked better than that bird!”
When we had lost two cats in a row to drivers who came around our blind curve a little too fast, I was upset that my young son had to experience further loss. In fact, I was more upset than he was. After the second cat funeral, I heard him say to a neighborhood friend. “And if your cat dies, you can bury it in our yard for only a dollar.” I guess learning about death early in life gives you a matter-of-fact approach to the whole thing.
We replaced Snagglepuss with two little kittens from a “free to a good home” advertisement. That way if we lost one, we still had one left to love–the heir and the spare, as they say. We set up their feeding dishes and a comfy cat bed in a corner of the garage. Grover and Clover stayed close to home, and close to each other. I always checked their corner before backing out of the garage to make sure they were both there.
I had started back to college to finish my degree. I had already dropped my son off at the neighborhood preschool and was in a rush to be on time for my first class. That was the day I forgot to check for both kittens before I backed up. They were always together I told myself, and if I had seen one, the other was surely nearby.
“So we’re going to start with Steven here and have everyone tell us your name and something about yourself,” the professor said.
“I’m Susan, and I just ran over my son’s kitten.”
It was what defined me that day. I didn’t know that it would continue to define me. If I am ever nominated for “Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days,” I’m sure it will surface in my file. Racked with guilt, I determined I was going to replace the kitten. I stopped at all cardboard “free kitten” signs, but my little boy wanted a kitty the same size as dear departed Clover. Finally we ended up at the local animal shelter. There we found a little striped tiger kitty that was the spitting image of Clover and exactly the right size. Bingo!
“Why do you want to adopt a kitten today?” the lady asked.
Before I could answer, my son piped up. “All our cats got runned over.”
“We live on kind of a blind corner. You know how cats are. They roam.”
“Have you considered keeping them inside?”
“Yes, we’ve been keeping them in the garage now.”
“That’s where my mom runned over one of them,” my son added.
“I see.” Her arched eyebrows told me this was not going to be as easy as I thought.
She left and conferred with a colleague and returned momentarily.
“I’m sorry, but with your record, I’m afraid we can’t in good conscience entrust you with one of our animals.”
It was a low point in my life. Being a single parent is tough, and after that when I had a bad day, there it was, that reminder that the local animal shelter would not even give me a baby kitten to raise.
Let the record show that we kept Grover alive long enough for him to die of old age. He is buried in the backyard with all the others.
And when your cat dies, you can bury him in our backyard for only a dollar.