Take the Hope Express
Our rituals are few. Anyone can sing of crows; they bite.
We scrape the bottom of the barrel, looking for some-
thing to love. It might as well be a bird.
The Japanese bullet train called Hope; it’s faster than
the speed of light. There sits the Mad Hatter, all buckled
up. He’s on the train from Glasgow to Miami.
He sits in his dreadlocks, seeking harmony. The man
looks dapper in his tawdry cap. Confetti is better than graffiti,
if you ask me. Dam up the stream of consciousness.
It’s not an aberration, but an apparition. He’s committed the Book
of Amos to memory. It’s a Jeremiad without a theology. It’s a
Puritan tantrum. It’s a Blitzkrieg, not an insinuation.
We’re all having a ball except him. He feels left out of the commotion.
They are gathered for the Hullaballoo. Turn the volume down as you
leave. Silence is the answer.
It’s the night train. One arrives in the morning. We head out of Moscow
Station, looking for tomorrow, wearing garments of chinchilla or of rabbit.
Wave goodbye to all that, beginning with the caviar-flavored popsicles.
The children should be in bed. Instead, the adults won’t get up. They’re
hiding under the covers with the alcoholics and the invalids. They’ll have
to be sent home to get better.
Today is armistice; tomorrow, war. It comes once a year, this day of rest.
This day of regret. Tomorrow we’ll plot our revenge. We’ll have to get
back at them for their neglect; kill the tyrants..
We all want to be molested. We want to be fondled. My sister wants
somebody to look up her skirt. She wants a he-man to come along and hide
between her boobs. She offers directions; she doesn’t want him to get lost.
Wrong thoughts that darken fill my of thoughts. Like a dream
on YouTube, a corpse or a broken limb on which children play. Hang
a tire from it or a swing. Fold out a card table and sell lemonade.
Whatever’s the opposite of a miracle worker is what is called for. The Hatter
dabbles, he flirts. What is needed now is constancy, morning Mass, chickens
to feed, what used to be called routine. Too busy now with nothing to do.
Olive Oyl-sama and Popeye-san
A lot of Japanese women, young women, that is,
dress like Olive Oyl. The girls seem to like Olive’s
floppy hat of a dull hue, often the color of hay. They
are especially fond of the gigantic shoes Olive Oyl always
wore, big-toes and clunky, like those of an American GI.
These are hot in downtown Tokyo, worn with knee-high socks,
met at the knee by knee-length flapping culottes. Their underwear
as in the Altman movie with Shelley Duvall might be bright,
but the rest of their outfits are dull.
Japanese Olive Oyls wear long-sleeved pullovers with mittens,
their fingertips exposed. These days the Japanese gals prefer their
nails painted and decorated like a Victorian broche; they follow the trends
of an American DMV. Some wear sunglasses wherever they go. Others
not. On top of that, many wear an artist’s smock, the sort of thing found on
shop girls selling flowers. It, too, is the color of wheat.
They dress like Russians peasants harvesting sunflowers, but they are slim.
Japanese men don’t try to look like Popeye.
They don’t, in general, go for the cartoon look. They prefer,
I would say, the look of Woodrow Wilson. Yes, it’s always
1917 at Tokyo station, with all the men in shades of gray
or those who are not, in black. Brown is a forbidden color
in the Ginza, better suited for gangsters or foreigners.
The business class seems to be guided by Wall Street’s strict
code: “dress WASP.”
Men and women in Japan may love each other, but one doesn’t
see a lot of commingling. Business is a separate affair. The men
in black and gray go their own way. They prefer to meet
in back rooms filled with ashtrays. It’s a smokers’ paradise. Many
women smoke, too, but they stay away from the men.
What do Woodrow Wilson and Olive Oyl have in common?
This is my question. Is it a mismatch or a perfect fit? Who knows?
In any case, these are the uniforms of this island nation, a state that tried
to be a ruling empire. Perhaps this is the answer, to be found in the fact
of Japan’s failure, its military defeat. Perhaps this explains
the prevalence of cartoon characters. All one can say for sure is this:
Olive Oyls and Woodrow Wilsons wherever they are
seem happy together. The place works. And besides all that,
when they get together, rumor has it, the costumes come off.
It’s been quite a blow, this recent event. They’re
moving the Confederate flag from my backyard.
Never mind it’s on private property.
The city council and the homeowners association
ordered its removal when they learned
I’d put it up to honor my dead uncle, Robert E. Lee, Jr.
I am a distant—very distant—grand-nephew of the once-
famous general. At first, they demanded the flag be burned
by torch, that is, to be burned “alive,” whilst flapping in the wind.
Someone finally said, perhaps it was the fire chief, that setting
fire to a flag in mid-air violates city ordinances, not to mention
the fact that it is an insult to tradition.
Flags are meant to be lowered and folded, not set
on fire, someone pointed out, thank the Lord.
The city council is on a mission. They knocked down
all the statues in town square, including one of Abraham
Lincoln and replaced him with a statue of a prancing
dolphin in mid-air.
The council president got it into her head that dolphins are rarer
than Lincoln. My flag is gone now. I sent it to an historian
in Osaka, Japan. He’d not heard of Robert E. Lee, wasn’t sure at all
about the American Civil War. He collects historical memorabilia,
including samurai swords and souvenir flags of the Rising Sun.
It’s against the law in Japan to destroy the past.
If You Can’t Find One in Queens, Forget About It
I love Japan.
I’m so into it, I eat my cornflakes
I want to fit in.
I’m so into it, I wear a fake, jet black
knot on the top of my bald head.
Japan is everything I imagined it
would be. They still hate us.
It’s a chance to re-experience WWII.
On the trains at night, late, I imagine
someone might run a bayonet through
my knee. “Stand up straight.”
They greet visitors at the airport
with a test. “How long,” they ask,
“are you planning to stay?” If you answer
“forever,” they send you back. There’s
only one acceptable answer to their question.
“I’m leaving as soon as possible.”
Many foreigners love it even more
than I. They eat rice cakes for breakfast,
lunch and dinner. They bow as they talk
on the phone. They have their body hair removed.
They regret not having slept with their mothers
during college as many locals do.
Visitors often say they love it here. They declare
themselves smitten. They adore all of it, even the
green poodles, the boys with yellow toenails, and
the men in pink lipstick and mascara. I love them,
too. I especially love the retirees who take their pants
off at the cinema. They place them folded on their seat.
I love the dirty underwear sold in vending machines.
I love the home delivery of fresh eggs. I love beef
sold by the gram, at $100 per pound. I love the Parmesan
cheese made of sawdust and soy. But what I love most
are the 35-year-old housewives who wear Mickey Mouse
bras and Donald Duck panties. Quack, quack.
My love, however, does not compare to that of my colleagues,
who love it so much they hate their own countries. They don’t miss home
at all. What they love best about Japan is that those on death row
are executed in secret, without their families knowing. They like
the denials of war guilt and the cult of the Emperor. What intrigues
them most and what they identify with is the Japanese love of peace.
It’s their resourcefulness, their dedication and their perseverance.
When they chop the prisoners’ heads off, the executioner screams
“excuse me.” But this is not what I love most. I love the citrus,
a variety that tastes familiar but different. It’s something like tangerine
but it’s yellow. It’s small like grapefruit. It could be called a Japanese
orange. Its name is yuzu.
There must be something in the soy sauce. It causes blindness,
because when I wave at the locals, they never wave back. When I smile,
they frown. When I whistle, they run. Or is it something in the sake?
Or perhaps in the water? It rains every day, but they fine residents
for running the tap. My only guess is that they’ve sold their water
to the Chinese. Heads will roll.
And with that I leave for the airport. It’s time to go, if they’ll
let me. My taxes may not be paid up. I made $28,000 last year,
but they taxed me as a multimillionaire. They withheld over 70%
out of fear that as a foreigner I might abscond. Once you do,
you can never come back. You are blacklisted along with Koreans.
Let’s see if it works.
Japan without Japanese is China.
America is an airport with an annex.
It’s less a culture than a location, a living space.
Do we really want more and more of Houston?
A Dallas that stretches from sea to sea is bad enough.
Must it now be exported to the rest of the world?
The Japanese give up Kyoto but get Colorado?
A sea of homeless people. Mexicans without Spanish?
And the streets will remain safe?
Why ever not? Katie laughs. I wouldn’t try it in New Delhi.
Only a fool would in most of Chicago, not to mention Tijuana.
She doesn’t believe it. She knows better.
“If you’re nice to them,” she sings, “they’ll be nice to you.”
Diversity is marvelous, I’ll agree to that,
but I can’t see how a diverse Japan remains Japan.
Japan without Japanese isn’t Japan; that’s all I’m saying.
What it becomes might be great, perhaps even better, I won’t deny that.
You’ll get a better world perhaps, but you’ll sacrifice the sushi.
Have you tried the tacos in Los Angeles made with kimchi?
Many find them delicious—it’s a fair point—but remember this:
Say what you will, Japanese don’t drink their tea with sugar.
When you add peach flavoring to green tea,
it ceases being Japanese and becomes garbage.
So, open the gates and cry welcome, but don’t tell me
you love Kyoto. Tell me you want to live at Kennedy Airport,
in Terminal 9; the sushi there is marvelous. Try it with salsa.
David Lohrey is from Memphis. His plays have been produced in Switzerland, Croatia, and Lithuania. His poetry can be found in Otoliths (AUS), Tuck Magazine (UK), Terror House Magazine (Hungary), and The Cardiff Review (Wales). David’s fiction can be read online at Dodging the Rain, Storgy Magazine, and Literally Stories. His newest collection of poetry, Machiavelli’s Backyard, was published by Sudden Denouement Publishers (Houston, 2017). He lives in Tokyo.