From One Place to Another

We sat in the Yamatoya Jazz Bar,
such an unlikely place, dark
and soothing, deep in Kyoto,
its decor a cross between
a whorehouse and a 1970s
American basement—
red lampshades with gold
tassels, mismatched
sofas and chairs,
and thousands of LPs
shelved along red velvet walls.
My brother asked for Ellington,
“Take the A Train,” by the shy,
continuously inspired
Billy Strayhorn.
Can you make a song
from instructions on
how to get from one place
to another? Yes.
Beer and ginger ale
is what we were drinking,
New York City what we
were thinking of—
my brother and I at The Fez
to hear the Mingus Big Band,
George and I at Barbés
to hear a Django guitarist.
Weeping is what we
were not doing, no elbows
on knees, faces in hands,
shoulders heaving—no,
we were taking a break
from all that, taking the A train
uptown to Harlem,
we stepped right up onto it
laughing as it lurched away
from the station nearly
knocking us
* * *

Hobbled up
narrow cobble-
stone lanes
to the Pure
Land Buddhist
its haloed
Amitabha Buddha
perfectly placed
at the edge
of the graveyard
his hands
forming the
teaching mudra
as if to say
take heed
wake up
death comes
without warning.
Yes it does
I thought as I
looked out
over Kyoto
its thousand
ancient temples
and million
cramped apart-
ments—a city
like all cities
of the living
and dying
living together
side by side
one and the same.

* * *

Leaning over Sanjo Bridge
in mossy August light,
I imagine him
leaning here, looking
down on the lonely
Kamo River.
Maybe he saw the same
thin white crane
that stands and looks and
needles the shallow water.
Or another just like it.
Maybe he said to himself,
as I did: so they do
exist outside Zen paintings.
But where would he
have been going,
crossing this bridge from
one side to the other?
What thinking?
The smell of being
alone in a strange city—
would he have noticed that?
One more thing there
is now no way of knowing.

* * *

At Kiyomizu Temple
tourists clown
for the cameras

line up to catch
in a long-handled cup
its falling healing waters.

* * *

How I longed to be home—
Such a roomy word:
“home.” And here

I am

in this emptiness
with nothing to do but
rest and think and remember.


“Well,” she said, “your incision is huge.”
Yes, I wanted to say, I noticed that.
Or: You should see the other guy.
Though I did wonder how much bigger
than other scars my scar must have been
to shock a sixty-year-old radiologist.
Then she greased my crucified torso
and slid the camera over me
to photograph the lightning storms of pain
the 13-hour flight from Osaka
to Denver had unleashed again.
“The left lobe of your liver is gone,” she said.
“There’s nothing there.” OK, I thought,
tell me something I don’t know.
And then she did: “Did you have
a gallbladder before this surgery?”
“As far as I know,” I said. “Well,” she said,
“you don’t have one now.” “Jesus,” I said,
my vast ignorance of the body surging up
into speech. “Can you live without that?”
“Oh, sure,” she said, “you don’t need it.
People have them taken out all the time.”
But then I wondered what else
the good doctors in Kyoto failed to tell me,
or I failed to hear. Did I still have
an appendix, for example, or my tail-less
tailbone? Or any other ancillary
or vestigial organs the body
may have been born with?
And what about my totally superfluous
sense of impending doom? Or the not
strictly necessary or useful everlastingness
of all my wounds and regrets? Or my feeling
that failure might be a natural element
like water or air? Those were not removed,
were they? I don’t think I could part
with them just yet.