Monday, July 12, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 53

How will i leave this room with the sand colored walls?
How will I leave this city of the night?

At some time in the early morning, already the sky is bright. Through the window, slid wide open, I see the fog and clouds moving by. Wind rattles the window pane. I sandwich a paper crane between the window panes. The crane was made from poetry paper when I served tea to my friends here. Once garbage, now a crane, it softens the banging of old window panes.

Hours later, rain is falling in, dusting into the room. Outside, sheets of water pour down. Closing, now it's only heat and sweat that I feel, and a personal silence.

Swarms of dragon flies cluster by the towers of the Truth in Hope temple. The stones of the temple walls are not the usual beige, but almost brown and orange in places, wet, and glistening.

The clouds will break into the old roof of curved ceramic tile, the droplets finding their way through the boards will become rivulets, and old walls will be torn down into sandy mud. Is that the future of this house? I won't be here to see it?

On the other side of the galaxy, having passed by a thousand worlds, I'll land in one far away. And what then of this old room, where I have slept, and awakened. What of this city of the night?

Flavor in Space: Ch 52

At the New Post Station, the city of the night lies to the northeast, the devil's direction. The city here is called Ohcikubak, meaning both "the city of the bizarre" and "the city of song and dance." By one of its many kaleidoscopic colored gates, a huge phoenix splashes across building facades, the symbol of feminine power.

The streets are named for cherry blossoms, alleys and paths spin off at odd angles, lined with pink billboards, blaring multicolored light bulbs, thousands of technicolored doors, each leading to halls of perfumed parlors, each of these hawking fifty different methods of sweet intoxication.

Names on the signs parley double meanings or allude to sticky garden spots of someone's fantasies...

"Moth King/ Ego King"
"Ms. Crimson's Castle"
"Kangaroo Court Decision"
"Marsh/ Chat over Tea"
"Striking/ Diversion"
"Washing Boat"
"Waiting Dream"
"Southern Seas"
"Orange Prince"
"Hair of the Dogs"
"Desert Inn"
"Found Night +1"
"Cat Root"

The rooms are run by women, women who spill out onto the street, glittering in red, pink, purple, and green. Their heads are layered with long loopy blonde locks. To the right, a group of white collared executives are ushered out blushing and laughing, followed by the crowing of lovelies. To the left, men, dressed in silken suits and robes, eyes beaming from bushy orange manes reaching nearly a foot high above the eyebrows, follow the women, trying to syphon off a section of the the lady's earnings in his own plush bar. "Men" are sexual objects here; if they are not passed up for the objects of the sex shop entirely.

This is the city of flowers, of beauty, of art. Those who work in the city of the daylight, rigid with service, status, and accounts; they come to the city of flowers for drunkenness, for equality, for kinship. They are with their brothers here, cared for by their sisters... for a price perhaps... and hence things are really no different here, just status taking another shape, the servants getting served:

One bar has its name written in fat black plastic tape, "Love and Peace: Life is a bitch but I Love bitch and bitch Love me. It's Your Choice."

The city of the night will only be a place for drunken fantasies bred in the oppression of the daylight, froth boiling over from the control of the pressure cooker of the towers of men, unless...

Unless there is meaning in art, in theatre, in play, real shadow and shade beyond the sparkles of color and midnight lights. This is the sober work of Toulouse Lautrec, Okuni, Picasso, Utrillo, Yoshino, Jakuchu, Rikyu....

Flavor in Space: Ch 51

At the New Post Station the city of daylight lies to the west. A temple to men, huge metallic phallic buildings scrape the sky. Men and women, dressed in black slacks and white creased button down shirts stream through long corridors towards their planned work hours. At lunch, vast courtyards of grey stone and brick are populated by men and women sitting on mathematically spaced benches, apart, unspeaking. A few fellows puff cigarettes at the corners of long ashen granite staircases. In a far corner lies a marble statue in a house of brick: buxom and round, sexual, yet cleaved below thigh and above belly.

At the center of the district is a the Oykot Prefectural Metropolitan Government Office. It's dual pylons rise taller and grander than any other building around, a feat of engineering, a wonder of power made solid. And below it just to the east, beyond a wide, clean boulevard, lies the broad, oval, Prefectural People's Square and the low Prefectural Meeting Hall of Deliberation. The oval People's Square is lined by eight bronze statues, all of women, six of whom are naked. The ladies flaunt their metal flesh in powerful poses, facing, obstinately, without fear, the massive towers across the way. Aunties, mothers, and grandmothers squat and transplant primped rows of bright red flowers in the most black soil of beds prepared below the statues.

Beyond the stone monument of male accomplishment, just to the west, is the vast New Post Station Central Park. Hidden among the dense groves of oak and zelkova are the hundreds of blue tarp houses in the homeless' towns. Men sit about on benches, staring forward. The soft din of highway traffic is perforated by the constant sound of the crushing of cans, elderly men recycling the trash of public parks and town squares. Laundry- rags, old towels, old office clothes- dries under black umbrellas beside blue domed houses the size of large copy machines. These are the towns of the floating men without companies, without work, without status.

Flavor in Space: Ch 50

Eventually it seems I have taken up the space man's offer: I venture to a foreign world. This craft, like a long boat, glides up the old canal of Otoyk, and now to the eastern mountains. With what power can we float over mountains? We follow a strange black river.

There are two rivers. This one we see and follow, black or grey, solid; it repels rain or snow, uninhabitable. And there is another river, running deeply in the earth, unseen, ancient, hidden, the final gift of a billion lives.

This other river is a river of power. We use it to fuel our crafts, to lift houses over mountains. Using this river, human dreams take flight as picture perfect realities, metaphor and language take on solid form, imagined heights of status become real physical distance.

The infinitely sided sphere of opportunity, on which, at any moment one stands at the exact center and the exact highest point, is stretched by the power from this hidden river.

Used, the river flows from deep inside the earth into a shallow human world manifesting mutative dreams of power, and then finally dissipating into the sky above.

Light, the intangible thread binding all beings in chains of life dangling in the darkness of space, meets this second river in the sky. The aged chains twist; many break and scatter. How can single generations, single links, handle the sudden encounter with the death gift of a billion lives?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 49

Sitting in the moss, I close my eyes.  I see darkness, the void.  I wonder if this encounter with the void is where dreams come from.  Certainly, we all enter it to sleep, and certainly to dream.

The forest stretches on for a long while.  Groves of various shapes and sizes.  Suddenly, the forest ends abruptly at a cliffside.   And standing here, on this cliff, I look out directly at the sea.  In the distance, waves are hardly visible, but I can hear them crashing into the rocks below.  I feel like I've been to this cliff before, perhaps it reminds me of my home world where I was raised; a world, which, although still green, is now beginning to dry out and golden.  Or perhaps it reminds me of other ocean-sides I have visited across the galaxy.

The wide, endless sea reaches the horizon, the curvature of the globe, the end of perspective.  Only a small rocky path appears to lead down the cliff.  Why not take it?  The path is narrow, lined with fat succulents, green with purple and pink lining.  There are blooming flowers too, in bunches, and sand has accumulated between roots and rocks.  For some reason I imagine that if these little nooks were wide enough, they would be a delicious place to lie down in: sheltered from the wind, but within earshot of the beating of the waves.

The path ends right there on the cliff face.  No where to go.  I'm faced with space.  Blue grey sky, hazy horizon line, and blue grey sea.  No more flowers, no more leaves. The end of the land.  Stretching out one hand I swap at the air, loose, fluid, nothing to hold onto.  I grasp the roots and shoots on the cliffside for support.  I hold fast here for a while, facing the space before me with the stone mountain behind me, trying to comprehend something un-comprehensible.

If I were to make a living in this little spot, sleeping on a nook of sand, I would go out to sea and wait for creatures to rise up from the depths and bite.  I would clamber over rocks to find a few vegetables to add to my meal.  Perhaps I could collect the eggs of seabirds who fly out fishing each day.

What is life like to face space on all sides?  To rest on collected pebbles and sands on the eroding cliffside?  Is it a drab world of rainy ocean storms, ceaseless waves, rivulets eroding the stone?

As I wonder, a space ship appears on the horizon and glides over to this spot.  The ship beeps and flags to me.  A savior, he thinks himself, perhaps.  The driver opens the door and shouts:

"I can take you anywhere.  In a day you can be anywhere in the galaxy.  In minutes I can bring you anywhere on this world?  Of course, every journey has a price.  Of course, every mile has a time to cross it.  All you have to do is wait!"

I call out, "You've given me an opportunity to travel space again.  I can be a tourist anywhere.  But how do I know you won't just fly me around up there for a while and then drop me in some nearby valley?  I'll think I've gone across the galaxy but I'm really just in the thicket I went through yesterday!"

"Look Mister!  Your in between a big rock and a bigger ocean.  You're at the end of your road.  If you stay there too long you'll starve to death, or maybe roll out of bed, if you call that a bed, and fall into the crashing waves one night.  I'm doing you a favor.  Take it or leave it.  You spend all day looking out at the sea and sky, but now you can cross both in a matter of time.  What was once endless is now simply a figure of time and money.  My friend, you've got nothing here and so nothing is keeping you here."

I looked about my little crevice of sand.  I had wedged some driftwood among the rocks and it formed a small half shelter from the occasional rain.  The sticks were already falling down.  My stove was wet from the dew and although still a bit warm, it no longer smoked.  A few fish bones and egg shells lay nearby.  Its true, there is nothing here.  In a day, sand and all might very well slide away.

He went on, "There are space stations up there, sir.  Fabulous rooms, bubbles, entertainment centers!  From one of these stations you can see a million worlds below you, all you have to do is flick the channel.  If you want watermelons you can see watermelons.  If you want ladies you can see ladies.   If you want to see the streets of some city, I don't know why you would, you damn well could!  All the knowledge of the world is at your disposal from up there."

"What is seeing a book if I don't know how to read its stories?  Why watch streets that are meaningless to me?"

"Patterns buddy!  Aren't you interested in beauty, in philosophy? In having a good time?  Ride the patterns?  Listen to the music that you personally prefer!"

"Sure, I want joy..."

He knew he was starting to win me over.  I saw that the sky was not endless.  It was a measurement of weather patterns, of hours of travel, of quantity of fuel burned.  The sea was no longer a deep solid color with unknown depths.  The fish too can be measured, and they can be caught for profit.   Space, it too is something I can cross to get to the next mall, the next job, the next time.  The space man started to play some music on his radio.  He urged me to find something I like.

Then I heard your voice.  I felt the sorrow and joy of memories come to life.  I don't know where exactly your voice seemed to be coming from: whether from the rocks, the succulent plants, the little red flowers that bloomed this morning, the forest up on the mountain, the sea, the sky, or the silence itself.  There is nothing for me here, which means that I've got myself all together right here and now, and I suddenly decided to present myself in answer.

I turned away from the space man, and scrambled back along the little path, up towards the forest, the bogs, the insects, the people.  The man flew off, back to some distant bubble I suppose.  

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 48

Some time ago, I made the decision to land here in this world. Having passed through clouds, I now let the swirling skies roll on high above.

On the surface, I started walking on grassy paths. The tips of green leaves didn't rise above my ankles and the pebbles lay beneath my feat.

Slowly, as I walked through meadows and fields, I entered thicker brush. Grasses rose to the knees or even the hips at times. Burs clung to my pants. Butterflies flew about my chest. Crickets bounded over my shoulders. In a marsh, cattails and long reeds began to rise above my head. My feet sank into a slushy brine of larvae and minnows.

Now, I walk in a forest. Long shadows have melded into one shadow with breaks of light. Branches curl patterns into the sky. Early summer leaves twinkle in the daylight and shiver in the breeze.

What I once thought was grass five inches high is now tall pines and a wide canopy of elms. I walk in this world and examine each magnificent tree, climb onto each great boulder.

I wonder if, in time, I'll sink into this moss as well. It will seem a forest.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 47

I awake in a bath of pale light and birdsongs. I lie in bed recollecting, and recollecting continues until finally I find myself again in this sand colored room.

I'm not sure how I got here, although I could probably find a story or a chain of happenings if I examined my memories.

I fold the blankets and bedding around me. Linens dapple with pools of shadow and cascades of light. I suddenly wonder if I've seen linens like this before. How can any experience (and people pay a lot for experiences!) compare with this simple encounter?

How many days has it been since I have been here? How many days has it been since I have returned here collected for such an encounter. So many days of waking with the next chore weighing on my mind: breakfast, work, or even a future plan- all without the sudden freedom of the present.

Flavor in Space: Ch 46

The first thing one notices is the purple falls hanging about the delicate green that caresses the tree tops. The fuji plant dangles and twists. It cloaks the cedars and the oaks and a hundred other brothers and sisters who I can't recall by name.

The path becomes a canyon. The sky of deepening blues becomes a luminescent mirror path above. The fuji walls tumble down the tree top trellises. The purple falls tumble silently and motionlessly down the canyon walls.

These falls, the fuji blossoms, could also be compared to ephemeral grapes. They have the form and grace of grapes, but they will evaporate entirely in a few days, leaving only lonely grapestems.

It is somewhat widely known here that the fuji will soon wither if cut and placed in water. Its vines need roots in soil.

Beneath the green blanketed canyon walls wind a tangle of vines. Tender vessels lead to spindly half hardened links which connect to yet more solid woody tubes, and these become the thick vines that dance through the space between the canyon walls. The vines weave tightly by trunks of countless other beings, tying the fibers into a supporting net, and finally, these vines coalesce in the great trunk of the fuji: a mass of curling wood rising from the forest floor.

I came to the Place of the Spring Day in twilight. The dirt road is lined with a thousand ancient stone lanterns, unlit mossy sentinels making the way.

The Place of the Spring Day is the home world of the fuji. The paths and ways become the canyons of purple falls. I came to the red walls of the palace and peered through the blue green window slats. In the courtyard, light filtered down from the dusky sky, illuminating the curves of vine snaking along the trellises, lighting the delicate branches of ephemeral purple fruits.

The sky fell dark and the canyons of space became less defined. I could no longer tell what was space or canyon or soil, or stone, or person: they all became shapes of shadow between flickers of light. I traced the sinuous curves of wood-flesh, I followed the dances of vine lines, and I found the trunk and the root and the soil.

Flavor in Space: Ch 44

Scents of cherry. The pink clouds fill the street and canal, exploding silently and slowly. From shrine gardens they unfold onto the banks of the river. Warm wind licks the clouds and sends wisps of pink fog up. A cross wind shatters them. They scatter, dancing down as pink snowflakes.

Birdsong echoes in my ears, permeating even the privacy of my sand colored room. The scented air, the saturated evening colors that linger all day, the pink clouds, the whole affair leaves a trace of sweat on the back of my neck.

How can anyone sell spring? How can anyone bring a blossom to bloom?
An idea, an energy, is ludicrous to sell.

"It's not just a season. It's a feeling, a state of life," says my guide, the woman living in the Great Heart Temple.

We had been discussing the hanging scroll chosen by her father, the venerable monk whom everyone refers to as "king." The scroll reads:

Flowers bloom,
From heaven,

By the poem is her arrangement, big black leaves, revealing bright white cherry blossoms, a frozen spring. She's a certified teacher of this art, but she doesn't want to teach it. "How can you judge someone's art?" she says. Her teacher loves green and black things; it is from these simple hues that "you can construct your world," she is told.

Like the other temples on the mountain of the Wondrous Heart, the entrance to the Great Heart Temple is stark: grey of stone, beige of sand, brown of the wooden gate. The first few gardens are also fairly stark, stone, moss, dark forests of cedars. There is one small courtyard that houses an old tree in a bed of moss. Wizened woody boughs with dark green leaves, each year it briefly blazes bright red, a wildfire of blossoms. I'll return to see it.

Hidden in the deepest garden, wedged in a grove beyond the secret tea room, rests a huge cherry tree. When I visited, it had not yet bloomed; it had not yet drawn the pink cloud.

Such is the style on the mountain: outward appearances are all grey stone, green pine, blackened wood; deep within there are hidden gardens of pink blossom, waiting to unfold a secret drama under the sky.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 45

Sometimes in the lonely black, words are sent out, long and slender, glistening in starlight. They adhere to capsules, floating junk, ships, and people. Strung together, they become lifelines, webs hanging, nearly invisible.

For some, these words are lies. Crawling along in the dark, they pull themselves through space hand over hand, foot over foot, clinging desperately to the web.

I found myself feeling my way across one of these webs. At the center the lines and patterns became a mesh, a mat, a sack, a blanket and there, lying at the center was a human being, a beating heart. The rhythm of the beating matched my own and, seduced by a kindred human spirit, I rested there, with my legs, hands, and back on that webbed blanket, sinking in. I tried to move but my legs were sluggish, my hands were entangled. The more I struggled, the more the I sank in, sticky web looping around my chest and neck, now slimy and glistening.

Now I cut myself free, and I'm falling. Back to my own world, back to the surface.

I land in this old garden. I sit in the half dark of the night on this old wooden balcony, black and smooth from generations of feet.

The sky is all grey and orange. Patter of rain falls into this gloom. When I came here first almost a year ago, I moved the rocks of the garden a bit. It was an old patch of mud and trees before, a back yard, an unused spot for the collection of broken roof tiles, planters, shells, rusty sheet metal, and half rotten wooden boards. I moved the stones to open up a channel for a river, a small piece of an endlessly flowing river. White water rushing soundlessly under the house, under the neighbors houses, slipping around rocks, boulders, stepping stones, mountains, ferns, and the old hairy palm tree that was once crawling with caterpillars. The soundless river slips by it all, and then on under the next house where the old servant lives and cooks delicious smells every evening. The river plunges down under screens and reed blinds. It flows over the bones of dead, hastily buried after the plague. The white river rushes by, endlessly cleaning the bones in the mud and gravel and the gloom and the half dark.

I long to leave my little perch and dive into the foam, dip under the surface, and learn the forbidden secrets. But I know, now my place is here on the old causeway, sitting in the garden, listening to the rain.

From the web in the dark above, my friend sends down a line. She climbs down to dangle on the silver tendril, on haunches. I don't notice her until she calls my name. Her eyes are wide, her face is innocent and she says she was scared, alone in the dark.

From my gloom I look across at those starlit eyes and I know that sitting here in the garden is not nearly as scary as climbing back into that web.

I draw some soundless white water and wash the glistening slime from my insides and out . I know I will have to bathe many more times. The guck of one web easily becomes a catalyst for more, spun from my own saliva coated words.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 43

I realize that art is free. An artist does not work for pay, she cannot work for pay. For pay, art will not come. If a great artist receives gifts or pay, it is a useful convenience.

There was once a woman who danced on the riverside. Her name was Okuni and she was once a shrine maiden, but for some reason she decided to leave the cloister and dance on the river side for a crowd. Okuni didn't dance for pay, she just danced. Her dances mimicked the powers of the day. Sometimes she danced as men with swords and egos. Sometimes she danced as cowards, sometimes as the vain or the young or the old. She could become anyone, and, I imagine, she just loved to dance. Her art became known as Kabuki, and it was eventually made illegal several times.

And so I live in the city of flowers, where art was once the currency. Flowers and beauty filled rooms and streets with dreams. The atmosphere was such a heady broth that even water could be sold here. People might pay to enter a room or see a show.

But to tread a path of flowers or walk in a gallery of blossoms, that was free. The whole main street, the Flower Seller's Street, was a great hall of cherry trees.

I wonder where Okuni is today. I arrange my flowers, fresh from the riverside, in the little red bucket by the street.

Flavor in Space: Ch 42

A week later we talk about selling water. Water is, basically, free. But, there are places where the atmosphere is so beautiful, where customers experience such a good time, where the cushions and tables and walls are so stylish, where the girls are so kind... in such a place men will pay for water, and they will pay far beyond its normal value.

The chemist takes his friends from the capital there. They are rich and they buy water. "Buying water is for gentlemen," he says. "A gentleman is a man with strict morals, so only gentlemen should be allowed to buy water. After all, all gentlemen want to have affairs with beautiful women."

"There are those who don't have morals, and they are people who don't respect others. They should not be allowed to do this. They should not be allowed to buy water because they don't respect people."

"Rich people usually are gentlemen. Rich people tend to have good morals" he says. I disagree with him, but he tells me, "Perhaps, but there is a trend that rich are good, and that is why they are rich."

Flavor in Space: Ch 41

I know a chemist who is interested in sanitation. Clean water for the world is what he wants.

He describes, "There are people in the Middle Kingdom who live near factories and are poisoned by bad water. They need clean water and I want to design chemical filters that will give them clean water." Forget that the filters are disposed of in the Middle Kingdom. It is a big place, in its vast factories, under its poison brown skies, workers assemble the parts for the whole galaxy. "They need clean water," he says.

I reason with him, "In Aidni there are many people who bath in water that you call dirty and they even drink this water, but they don't get sick. Each, in their own body, have helpers who break down the inedible things in the water. There are those who live inside the stomach and make the water clean. Was it not the same here in Nohin?"

"It is true," he says, "that at one time here in Nohin, here in Otoyk, we once had these helpers too. We each had a fellowship in our body that broke down the poisons and made our water clean.... But we don't have it anymore. Our water is cleaned for us in big tanks with many machines."

"So we have lost our fellowship, and we can't drink the water from the river anymore? How do you imagine the future? Will we develop these helpers again? Will we eventually be able to drink the water from the river again?"

The chemist stops his talk, and decides to come back in a week and tell me. He comes back with his decision, "It is much more efficient to clean all the water for all the people with one standardized machine. It is very difficult and very dangerous to develop cleaning devices in one's own stomach. To develop personally in this way would hurt one's stomach everyday for years, and maybe some people might even die."

Flavor in Space: Ch 40

Towers rise up into the white air in the distance.

Cherry blossoms are blooming and I stop beneath a tree. It is here that I receive a call from my family back across the galaxy. My little black plastic box vibrates and pretty soon I'm chattering away in my native language with my mother and father.

At times like this, it's nice to float. To flutter in the air just a few feet from the ground, head high, listening to the voices of home come across waves of light and sound. We talked for a long time.

Flavor in Space: Ch 39

Floating through the broad spaces of the 5th street boulevard, a vast highway lined with high towers and filled with bubble mobiles, one might catch sight of the huge concrete building complex. This is the Otoyk City Citizen's Institution for Sickness. Massive beige walls lined with identical, un-openable foggy grey windows stand at 90 degree angles. A fortress for disease, it's towers rise into the grey sky. I rarely pass it when it is not raining.

At night, a line of small black spaceships wait at the entrance. Each ship houses a lonely man, waiting to fly someone somewhere. But here, as everywhere else in Otoyk, there are 10 small black ships for each customer who needs to ride. To drive a little black ship is a life for those who have lost their "meeting grounds," their work, their reason. For a while I taught had a student who was one of these men. He was not interested in my Nacerima language; he was, at one time, an interior designer and we talked about design. Eventually, he came less and less frequently and even told me that he was losing his mind and spending time in an institution. Then he came no more at all.

I have a friend who lives in a bubble tower of aluminum and plastic across the street from the Citizen's Institution of Sickness. Climbing the stairs is like climbing a ladder into space. It's dizzying to look down at a small stream far below. The stream is coated with concrete and lined with fences, to keep people from getting to close to the surface of the earth. Beyond the stream sometimes I find my way into the old dyers quarter.

Between the abandoned workshops and dye factories, old market streets still wind through the clusters of old houses. I walk them sometimes, and I feel a joy doing so. Despite the emptiness that has fallen like twilight, the narrow alleys and curves make for exciting walks. Each store sells some hidden delicacy crafted by ancient hands.

At an old fruit stand an old woman, unable to stand, swivels her body on a low chair in the shade. She barks orders at those, a bit younger than her, who can still move and help the occasional customer. The oranges are a good price, and so are the golden fruit. I buy a bag of fruit halfway between lemons and oranges. An old lady recommends them to me; she says, "I like the bitterness."

Flavor in Space: Ch 38

Those who lived by the muck of the rivers. Those who sipped tea in the old huts nestled in bamboo groves. Those who rose and fell like mayflies selling spring. Those who sold fish and meat and shoes. Perhaps they knew how to see a river pebble as a mountain, perhaps they knew how to expand a tiny space into a great hall. But to those who lived on mounds of earth they called mountains, to those who felt they were higher and deserved to be, to those people, the mucky beach pebbles were just slimy and needed cleaning.

There were those who preached about equality, and they, in flowing robes, donned the closed toed shoes of foreigners. Their children would go on to build towers that scraped the skies and eventually jet away in bubble mobiles. They decided that people in the north and the south, people in the mountains and the valleys, people who cut men and people who cut meat should all be proper citizens. They decided that crowded alleys and small wooden huts were not worthy of citizens, whether well established or newly recognized. Teams of bulldozers entered the old neighborhoods to wipe away the blood and toil and tears. Towers were erected in alignment with the sun.

And now they say we just shouldn't talk about it. Some things are better kept as secrets. "We all look the same anyway," they say. Take a new name, take a new job, find a new reason. Let's forget the surface and its rivers of tears. Face the sun, the stars, climb the white towers into the white sky.

Flavor in Space: Ch 37

I live here on the surface, where the old walk the narrow streets, or a few children play ball in a distant alley, as if to hint at the swarms of the past.

Towers rise into the white air in the distance

I was placing flowers in the bucket in front of my house, working out messages with sticks and curves. An old woman walks by with her dog. She smiles, "What a waste, putting flowers in the bucket there..."
I said, "I was hoping people in the street could enjoy them. After all, every house has a bucket like this in front. It's always full of water anyway." But she didn't hear or understand me.
She said, "Yeah, there are not so many children here anymore. I have grandchildren but they live some place far away. There used to be kids everywhere here playing and running around. Its very quiet now."
"When was that?"
"About 40 years ago."

And so I find myself living on a surface, quiet and textured, like the old wooden boards of my house, or like the beige stucco that has aged with a few chips and holes. The wind rattles my old glass windows that slide on a rusty iron track. There is rarely sound of talk or laughter, although the walls are thin and papery.

I wonder when people will land and come back to the old ways that wind through this quiet city. And so I fill the bucket with flowers and imagine the festivals of the future.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 36

In the thicket of bamboo, light filters in, scattering blotches of shade on the slow running waters and soppy river banks. There are warrens of old houses, narrow paths, dirt lanes. Butcher shops are on every corner. I sit in the dewy shadow of the old thicket, watching the river plants blossom.

The poor, the outcasts, all kinds find a home on the slippery mud shores. The great central market sprawls close by. Creatures are busily being separated into meat and guts. Some men race about pulling big carts loaded with boxes of fish and hunks of meat. Many more fly back and forth in their sleek green-blue "cat-trucks," picking up big boxes of fruit or anything else.

At the edge of the market was once the huge public toilets. A cesspool of steaming crud. The children avoided this place as much as possible, perhaps because of the smell, perhaps because of the danger of falling in, or perhaps because of the men who frequented the place.

Across the toilets stands the back entrance to the flower city. From this perspective, surely the flower city is a dangerous and foul place, where women crawl about like spiders waiting for their pray to flutter in. A raucous quarter of night-walkers, half lit noodle shops, and rusty fences.

Deep in the bamboo grove not too far to the East, men and women are drinking tea. Their ancient practice at bending space speaks the language of plants and flowers; and it expands little corners in the thicket into drinking halls and philosophical clubs. For many, their studies take them to the hut of the Arrow Maker, a small woman with black clothes and a sly smile. She is of unknown age, she appears young, she is polite, and she pays for my education here. She teaches how to communicate with color and shape, how to carry on the ancient meetings in the groves, and how to tell time by watching living beings.

Rising beyond the thicket of huts and bamboo is the great Western Truth in Hope Monastery. The front gates open onto the ancient artery of the city, a canal lined with stone and crisscrossed with bridges. Today, the canal is a formality, although big space cruisers and cargo vehicles still buzz by in a constant stream. There are many tall buildings and towers in this area of the city today, although the Western Truth in Hope Temple is still a giant among them. Its pillars are massive tree trunks. Its halls scrape the sky. Huge gold prism lanterns line its balconies. In the center of its courtyard is an ancient ginko tree, fat limbs the width of hogs hang down to the ground. In fall, as pilgrims idle about, basking in the size and grandeur of the court, the broad branches of the great ginko shower gold leaves on the eager crowd.

The temple was built about a thousand years ago on the mausoleum of a fellow, Shinran, who started a new way of thinking about passing between worlds, a new way of thinking about human suffering. This fellow was once a monk in a high mountain monastery, seeking to climb beyond human suffering by way of effort and airy height. But spending each day at such heights, climbing closer and closer to the triumph of the heavenly void, he felt it was just an egotistical game. There were other teachers; Honen had descended the mountain and was teaching a different way for people to travel to the other world: not by triumph, but by trust. Shinran joined him. This new style was persecuted and the new teachers were exiled to far off places. There, in a cold far off world on the "shadow side," Shinran considered himself neither monk or layman and began to raise a family. He gave himself a new name: the Bare Headed Fool. He traveled through the fields and swamps, along the riverbeds and roadsides, teaching his doctrines of trust to everyday folk, and translating the ancient glyphs into normal understandings.

So today, the pilgrims come visit the grand court of the Western Truth in Hope Temple. They seek pure land. Some say it's in the West somewhere.

Ironically, just to the west of the Truth in Hope monastery, lies Shimabara, the flower city. A garden of pleasure for all fools, monk or layman.

In the flower city, trust allows the passions themselves to become a vessel, like an empty gourd floating in a stream. Trust turned ukiyo- "the suffering world" into ukiyo- the "the floating world." Here in the world of river beds and bamboo thickets, it makes no sense to crawl up a remote mountainside. Asai Ryoi, a visitor to the city 400 years ago, wrote: "If you live in this world, some things heard and seen are called good or bad, everyone is interesting, and you don't know what will happen beyond the space of time one inch wide. Your stomach sickens to think of something as firm as the thin flexible skin sliced from a fresh gourd. At this moment, to view the moon, or snow, or flowers, or crimson leaves, to sing songs, drink, and float along, now, small personal worries and foibles are not troublesome. Don't sink; be like a dry, empty gourd in flowing water. This is what is called the floating world. Listen to this, and truly, you can feel it."(Asai Ryoi Ukiyomonogatari trans. Waxman).

Here, within the willow guarded gate of Shimabara, many have found a home when they could find no other. Among the thickets and overgrown berry bushes, mud and fallen leaves, here ghostly spiders spin invisible webs that once caught brilliant butterflies of all shapes and sizes. Here, the women were once the greatest lords and they "brought castles of men crumbling down." They were the "boats" floating along on platform shoes a foot high. They floated through the "water trade," dancing in "fry houses" where men competed for a glimpse of their beauty. They could pull their partner to the farthest reaches of the void, to bob and dance on the river like the empty gourd.

Here, today, in the old mansion, I drink green froth with the monks of the Truth in Hope, learn to listen to the changes of flowers, and "linger in the beautiful foolishness of things."

Flavor in Space: Ch 35

On the mountain the rain carried on, softly. Bright grey clouds were a white roof for the vast gardens of the Monastery of the Wondrous Heart. I stayed there for a long time, sitting on the wide balconies built of ancient wooden boards worn smooth and black. I looked out over the mountains, swimming in a sea of impermeable whites and greys. Each crag hovered like islands.

Some say the mountains were really the fins and spines on the back of a giant submerged dragon. There is one room in the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon, a room often closed and dark and cool. It is said that the dragon is frozen there, steaming among boiling clouds, caged. It is also said that there is another dragon, a huge beast, white with long tendrils and mammoth, wise, beady eyes. One man, the famous Looks-for-Seclusion Field-Hunter, was called upon to summon the dragon to the main hall of the monastery. For 7 years he waited, baiting the dragon. Finally, when he saw it, he captured the dragon and bound it to the main hall. I saw it looking down at me from the heights of the hall.

The monastery is a world of white, grey, tan, and black. Long paths of grey granite weave between sand colored walls. Short, stunted pines are dwarfed by massive black halls. Each temple is a monochromatic concentration, broken occasionally by a rainbow of blossoms. When each arrives, it is greeted with awe and joy, a conversation piece between early morning prayers.

For days and nights I breathed the warm air of the mountain- scents of blooming hydrangea, rain, incense.

Many climb the mountain of the monastery of the Wondrous Heart. Many stay at the Great Heart temple like I did. Many sit and sit, stripping down their mind, searching for nothing, or perhaps clarity.

At the very top of the mountain is The Hut of the Eastern Ocean. There, I once passed the highest monk of the mountain. He was dressed in purple robes and he had a bloated bulbous alcoholic's nose. He was on his way home and I was on my way out. I had entered to see the gardens, of which there are three.

One is empty. The garden of the mind. Standing on the balcony of the hut, looking out at this garden, all I saw was whiteness, waves and waves of grey and white. Perhaps it was clouds, perhaps it was sand, perhaps it walls.

A single rounded stone pool sits at the edge of the balcony. a few scraggly pines and electrical lines can be seen far below on the mountainside. Beyond this, there is nothing, just emptiness. The white void reaches out until it becomes the sky and the sky reaches out until it becomes empty space.

One is a lush. The garden of the body. I picked my way among huge stones wet with dew, dense forests, blooming hedges and overgrown fields. I passed fat stone lanterns and broad bulging stone washbasins.

The last, the garden that links the first and the second, sits in a courtyard of elegant wooden walls. It is the garden of the spirit.

At first, it appears to be a familiar scene: a view of distant mountains rising to the surface above clouds. Yet, looking longer and longer, the clouds look more and more like waves, waves rippling from each stone, each island, each mountain. Below the surface, surely, each stone is linked, like mountains rooted in one earth.

But in appearance, each floats in space, sending messages to one another with waves. I have seen this garden a thousand times, mandala become physical reality: drifting space bubbles, space ships, trees in the mist, friends scattered across the galaxy, communication by telephone, energy rippling through the universe.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 34

I slide open the window.

Along the little path by the house, an old, hunch-backed lady sits on the cinderblock wall. She looks down at her wrinkled hands. She wears a gold ring. She straightens her gnarled fingers, adjusting the ring, still holding fast amid waves of sinew and bone.

Close to my face, a tiny mayfly climbs the windowpane.

To be transformed into ephemeroptera, the mayfly; to shimmer and glow like the last light of dusk lingering in distant mountain haze; to forget the long day passed, and the long night ahead.

These are some ways to describe the word they call here "kagirohi." I saw the word, scrawled across an old book. Photographs of the Great Lord amid shadows and flickering candle light, or half hidden by thick black locks, facing herself in the salon mirror. Photographs of winter scenes on the black, wet streets, snow quickly becoming slush in the dark city while still pristine and bright on the distant mountains. Photographs of groves of weeping cherry trees, swaying full bloom in mists of grey dawn.

As I poured over the old pictures, the Great Lord told me stories of her youth, stories of the tangled web of time and encounter that make up this world. Stories of which many certainly lead down dark, secret paths. Paths that I did not have the linguistic skill, or nerve, to venture down uninvited.

In the sacred book from this world, the Tale of the Shining Prince, the prince describes the telling of tales: "the gap between enlightenment and the passions is, after all, no wider than the gap that in tales sets off the good from the bad"(Genji Monogatari, trans. Tyler, p.461).

Perhaps this spider-web-thin line is what inspired Asai Ryoi to enter and write about this neighborhood, Shimabara, when he, 400 years ago, changed the "sorrowful world of the passions" into the "floating world." In Shimabara, and the numerous "flower cities" that developed in its image, passions themselves become a vessel, like an empty gourd, floating on a flowing stream: "If you live in this world, some things heard and seen are called good or bad, everyone is interesting, and you don't know what will happen beyond the space of time one inch wide. Your stomach sickens to think of something as firm as the thin flexible skin sliced from a fresh gourd. At this moment, to view the moon, or snow, or flowers, or crimson leaves, to sing songs, drink, and float along, now, small personal worries and foibles are not troublesome. Don't sink; be like a dry, empty gourd in flowing water. This is what is called the floating world. Listen to this, and truly, you can feel it."(Asai Ryoi Ukiyomonogatari trans. Waxman)

The spirit: the lively butterfly, or the momentary mayfly, takes flight.

And what if you commanded an army of butterflies? What if, with your arts, your make up, and your silks, you could turn another dirty, leaf eating worm into a fluttering, dew drinking, pollinating beauty?

Those who managed to conduct the transformation, and reap the profits, grew wealthy and powerful. In a world of black, grey, white, and brown; flashes of color, and flutter of wings can make even a fallen blossom appear to return to the branch:

The fallen flower, to the branch,
Rakkwa eda ni
If I saw it return- oh!?
Kaeru to mireba—
It was only a butterfly
Kocho kana!

(recorded by Hearn, Kwaidan, trans. Waxman)

Now, nearly everyone floats, orbiting distant worlds, communicating along tubes of light and sound, mind to mind, the body a flimsy image.

But here, in the old empire of ephemeroptera, only the "Queen Bee" still flies with gossamer wings. Yesterday, she was transplanting her flowers. One little plant went from one small pot to another small pot, now in the company of two other little colorful blooms.

Despite the bright, reflective, glamour of her ancient wings; amid a vast forest of floating trees, the Great Lord appears small, and still.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch. 33

The night was thick and heavy in the cold air of winter. A sliver of white moon peered out from the dark blanket. On the world of Bending Sight, Truth and I climbed the mountain of the Great Shrine.

We passed through the red frames. They start large. A huge crimson gate marks the entrance to the mountain. We humans likewise are small, our heads barely above the stone base of the tree trunk sized posts. And then suddenly, after about 40 large frames, we pass into a tunnel of small ones. Here, we humans almost scrape the top of the frame with our heads. After this, the changes are not so sudden as the frames wind up the mountain. Sometimes we walk tall, sometimes we walk small.

Each frame is a moment, like a picture in a story book. Each frame is a view of the past and a view of the present, erected by some business, admitting the power of the Great Shrine. Each business represents a world of customers, clients, and workers. Some businesses are old, holed up in some ancient section of a distant world. The same families have been working together, serving each other for generations. Their way of life seems as natural as the bends and waterfalls in the valley where they live, breathe, and die. Some businesses are new, representing some new market that has suddenly opened, some new power source that has been tapped, some new invention that digests that power into various conveniences before it becomes waste.

The frames pass away too. Mostly built of wood, they rot and crumble. The whole path is like this, frames in some stage of passing away.

I walk through many of these picture frames, tasting various views along the way and participating in various feasts. I walk here because I have wishes. I have dreams and wants. My own business is that of the Nacerima language teacher, but I have other business too. I am investing here. I am learning here. I don't forget the shape changers.

After all, the Great Shrine of Bending Sight is home to a shape changer, Lord Inari. This is his home world.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 32

The Otoyk Central Market is a place where a great deal of creatures pass from life into death. You see them swimming around, breathing their last breaths, their scales shiny and twinkling.

And then you see them, often in pieces, lying about on broad metallic tables. The carcasses are preserved, I suppose, in various ways for various dishes and uses. I saw a man carting away some great skeleton, knotted still with bits of sinew and flesh. A few scaly cousins watched on from a small plastic box, breathing their last breaths of sea water.

Really, the market is not a morbid place. As men and women are bustling about in plastic boots and skirts, or warming themselves in front of fat outdoor heaters, or passing a box of preserved fish from some distant world, the smiles are unstoppable, the laughter bright.

I arrived this morning in the market from the space above, where huge carriers careen by lonely human beings at high speed. I made my way down to the market then, between towers reaching up to the sky, silver steel, pale glass, stone tiles. Drifting down closer and closer to the surface.

In the market, there is something about the rainbow puddles on the long concrete floor, and the look of fish eyes, blankly staring from disembodied skulls; there is something that clears my cloudy mind.

And I settled again on the surface here in my ancient neighborhood, among wooden houses with heavy black roofs. I came down from the grey sky of the morning, so unexpectedly cloudy compared to yesterday's cloudless day.

No amount of pondering can prepare oneself for an abrupt change in weather. The heavens swirl. Like a fish still in the sea, or a box, I am foolish to think I can choose one sky or another.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch. 31

In autumn, the men of this old neighborhood in Otoyk take the portable shrine through the streets. The shrine, hidden for most of the year, is a small golden house. It is a center of this place, a center of gravity. Although it may have appeared as if we heaved it high into the air of our own effort, actually, we danced around it, drawn to its gravity at times, and, at times, orbiting in ecstatic free fall.

Early in the morning I went to the Base of the Mountain, the house of two elders. Here, I was dressed in white shorts, white shoes, a white festival shirt, and a white sash. Mr. Base of the Mountain and I posed for a picture. I carried a little smiling child in my arms, the son of one of my students.

Myself, along with a few other able-bodied men from the neighborhood were drawn here by the gravity of the shrine. We arranged the apparatus for moving the little golden house, we drank beer, and we ate fat, white, rice balls. The sun was shining brightly.

We walked slowly, holding onto the shrine. Slowly plodding through the streets, to houses old and new, to the temple, to the long black latticed Horn House, to the broad Correct Face street. We stopped often, heaving, cheering:

With us, wearing our white clothes drenched in sun, cheering and sweating, the gold shrine brought the center to each corner of the neighborhood. A new beginning, a new binding to ancient ways, unknown people become neighbors, neighbors become friends, friends renew bonds.

The party followed in a room with a long u shaped table low to the ground, big wooden tubs of raw fish and vinegared rice, and more than enough beer. People kept refilling my glass. People of different shapes, sizes, and status met. I knew just enough of the language of words, and fish, and rice to understand the important details. We meshed like a puzzle, pieces plugged in, we wove together a ring constantly refreshing itself, coming and going, dying and living. Here we are, home in the center, for a moment, weaving this ring of invisible, delicious strings.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 30

Autumn comes back to me at times. The present pools lucid, but I can't quite dive in, held by memories, waiting to be told.

Old Awaziurak town square sits on the surface, but it lies half in shadow. The massive Awaziurak space station hovers about fifty meters above. The town has long been a favorite resort for the rich of Nohin. It's old station, frozen as period architecture, stands in the old square. The new station, towering above, is a reflection of the old, only fifty times larger. Instead of wood, it is built of glass, steel, and granite. A massive double staircase stretches from the hovering station to the surface below. The stairs alone are half the size of the whole town square. They cast a long, cold shadow.

From the stairs, a visitor can see the broad valley cradled in mountains dyed deep crimson. In the distance, massive Mount Amasa puffs away volcanic breath into the sky.

Being a resort planet, the people of Awaziurak prize their closeness to nature. The great landed estates are still there, each the center of some invisible fiefdom. Now, each manse floats just amongst the treetops. This accommodates the occasional spaceship when the masters arrive, fleeing some distant, stress filled world. As I walked, passing under the shadows of the mansions, floating just out of reach, I saw the occasional resident. On some jaunt across the forest floor, his feet pattered across colored leaf covered paths and thick carpets of light spattered moss.

Following the long straight paths through the crimson forest I found a stream lined with especially beautiful views. The path was narrow, just wide enough to squeeze by a photographer hunched over his tripod capturing red leaves.

At the end of the path stood a beautiful woman. She was dressed in a long white wedding dress. As she posed for her picture, she spoke in some dialect of the Central Empire, conversing with a flock of slim men in tuxedos. Blue sky above, red mountains behind, the long lake before her reflected crimson shapes. Her black tresses rippled down below her shoulders, splashing onto her sparkling white dress. Like a living photograph, she floated separate.

I had arrived in Awaziurak in early morning, riding above a wakening world. I climbed the staircase into the sky and left from the massive station of glass and steel and stone. I boarded a speeding metal bullet. Zip zip, black flashed by, perforated by momentary glimpses of small red, yellow, and then emerald worlds. Suddenly I was in vast Oykot, the Eastern Capital of Nohin. Here I would paint fat black cherry trunks in the High Field, beside a bustling temporary market of foods from around this Empire at the Base of the Sun.