From “The Japan Project”

When I was three we lived in a Japanese village outside Misawa A.F.B. An earthquake that was over eight on the Richter scale damaged our water lines, so my family used the local public baths. What I remember is that the water was scalding hot and the Japanese women in the pool passed me around – a white skinned, red haired curiosity.

An enfant enflagged and found
on the deck of a cockleshell boat
cormorant infested with horses nearby
with horses nearby
with horses nearby
cormorant infested with horses nearby
you are my darling baby

A recent medical study argues that redheads respond uniquely to anesthesia. This paper was published after my two cesareans – during the first of which, because the anesthesia wasn’t working, I felt my daughter being pulled from my uterus. And also, perhaps due to the color of my hair, I felt it when my husband left the hospital that night. And was it the color that brought the exhaustion, disorientation, and terror? And was my hair the cause of my being alone? And was it this color of nature that led me to lick my daughter’s head clean, lick where I’d been cut, and after I’d healed, to sever the limb that once was my beloved?

***

Long ago people from China went to these islands on a sea-serpent’s back and made their homes there in spite of the fact that he was squirming in his sleep. We know that these islands are simply old volcanoes in the water and when they shake, as they still do almost every day, we know the shakes are just earthquakes. We call these islands on the sea-serpent “Japan” and the people “Japanese.”

They built a great big up-to-date army. Then they started a great big up-to-date war by dropping bombs on American ships in Hawaii. After the Japanese were beaten in the war they were not allowed to have a big army nor to build war machines like battleships, tanks, and guns.

Tokyo is the capital and largest city of Japan and one of the largest cities i.t.w.W. The old capital has exactly the same letters as Tokyo but arranged this way: Kyoto. If you say Tokyo twice you say Kyoto too: TO/KYOTO/KYO.

I don’t know why, but I’ve often seen American girls sit on chairs with their feet up under them as if they were sitting on the floor. But I’ve never seen boys do it. Perhaps girls are part Japanese.

***

My daughter’s pupils dilate to imaginary size when I read to her. Her mouth hangs open, and her breathing changes to near dream slowness, for a while still – charmed, as I move aside that heavy curtain of heaven.

After tucking her in, I remind the foxes beneath the bed about good dreams and hope they listen. After all they are Japanese foxes, and my Japanese is that of a three year old barely remembered,
yet they form the oldest natural cast – my neighborhood of being now hers.

***

Buddha dreams of the white horse with over-large ears who could hear the quietest of whispers.

As a young prince with heavy earrings he once rode just such a horse.

As a young man he rode just such a horse into a clearing

and surprised She-Who-Invites and He-Who-Invites in their bower.

This was a long time ago, before the divorce,

back when handsome young princes roamed the land on horseback.

And next to the horse ran a white dog with a proud tail curled up over his back

and he carried in his mouth a golden ball, which he would set down before

running down a deer and leaping on its neck.

And the prince wore his hair bound behind his head so that it flowed out

as the white horse galloped across the field.




Elizabeth Cross earned her Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Denver and has taught writing for the last 18 years at various locations including the University of Michigan and her current position in the Writing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has led creative writing workshops for underprivileged youth, parents, school teachers, medical students, university students, and corporate clients in Denver, Mackinac Island, and Chicago. Awards and grants for her poetry include Michigan Council for the Arts, Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writers, and the Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute.

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