By Laurel Nakanishi
The flowers, however fragrantly blooming, are doomed to whither. Who in this world can hope to live forever? The remotest mountain pass of existence is crossed today! Awakening from a dream so evanescent, I am no more subject to intoxication.
—Iroha poem attributed to Kobo Daishi 1
The slump and twist, the sag and pooling,
the edges of bone that steam reveals.
So this is what I will look like at eighty.
And perhaps they are thinking: so this is what
gaijin look like under their clothes. Or perhaps
they are staring at the bike grease on my legs,
my matted hair, silently hoping that I scrub well
before joining them in the tub. I know the ritual now,
the pattern of soaping and rinsing. Beside me,
one old lady scrubs another’s back. We are, each of us,
in the process of dying. They help each other
into the furo, groaning softly as the water laps their bellies.
It is a relief to be naked in a country that hides so much.
1 We place flowers on the altar not for beauty but as a reminder that all life fades. This crumpled and sagging bloom is our body. Soon and always we pass over the knifed cliffs. It is a blessing then, this rapid stream and the glimpse of silver in its flow.
Copyright Nakanishi 2011