I once asked Mayuko and Minami (both in my fall 8 a.m. MWF Humanities class) if they had heard of Sei Shōnagon (清少納言). Of course they had! They had read her years ago in school. I only recently made acquaintance with SS through Meredith McKinney’s translation for Penguin.
Reading her renowned Pillow Book, I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s maxim, “If we don’t show anyone, we’re free to write anything”:
At times I am beside myself with exasperation at everything, and temporarily inclined to feel I’d simply be better off dead, or am longing to just go away somewhere, anywhere, then if I happen to come by some lovely white paper for everyday use and a good writing brush, or white decorated paper or Michinoku paper, I’m immensely cheered, and find myself thinking I might perhaps be able to go on living for a while longer after all. 212 Read the rest of this entry »
I am glad to have read The Ink Dark Moon, Jane Hirshfeld’s translations, with the aid of Mariko Aratani, of the Heian Court’s poets—Izumi Shikibu and Ono No Komachi. Several of Kerouac’s writing maxims came to mind as I was reading: “The unspeakable visions of the individual,” “In tranced fixation dreaming of the object before you,” “No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge,” and “In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness.”
Here’s Hirshfield’s salute: “Each woman confronted her experience with a directness and honesty unusual in any age. The result is that a thousand years later we can read poems that remain absolutely accurate and moving descriptions of our most common and central experiences: love and loss, their reflection on the loveliness and transience of the natural world, and the effort to better understand the nature of being. We turn to these poems not to discover the past, but in order to experience the present more deeply. In this way they satisfy the test of any great literature, for it is our own lives we find illuminated in them.”
Here are five translations from each of them, so as to encourage you to check this book out of the library soon, or, better, buy a used copy! Read the rest of this entry »
for Amy, Charity, Neeta, Neil, Neil, and Nima
Being their comrades becomes the only way we can remain true human beings. And if we would also be authentic human beings, then we already have impressive models in the Hiroshima people, such as Dr Shigeto, who have neither too little nor too much hope, who never surrender to any situation but courageously carry on with their day-to-day tasks. 
A while back I read Kenzaburo Oe’s Hiroshima Notes on several trips he made in the 1960s. I was particularly struck by his comments on the doctors who worked with the victims of the U.S. atom bomb, such as these:
There are many people in Hiroshima tonight who must work without a wink of sleep. The doctors at the A-bomb Hospital are doing their best to save a young girl; but she will die, and their sleepless efforts will have been in vain. 
In the open space in front of [Dr. Fumio Shigeto’s] hospital, thousands of dead bodies had to be piled up each day and then cremated in its yard. He had to stay on duty, directing the wounded doctors and nurses engaged in caring for dying people. 
He discovered, for instance, that hermetically sealed X-ray films stored in the hospital cellar were exposed by the atomic bomb. He was one of the first Japanese to recognize on his own the nature of the atomic bomb on the bombing day. 
From that day to this he has continued his research while devoting himself to sustained treatment of patients. 
‘Oh, sir, I’m so happy!’ She speaks brokenly, through tears. I shall never forget Dr. Shigeto’s gloomy but gentle look, his eyes like an ox’s, upon hearing her greeting.  Read the rest of this entry »
Going on a journey, whatever the destination, makes you feel suddenly awake and alive to everything.
There are so many new things to see in rustic places and country villages as you wander looking. It is also delightful to send word to those back home in the capital asking for news, and adding reminders to be sure and see to this or that matter.
In such places, you are particularly inclined to be attentive to all you see. You even notice the fine quality of things you’ve brought with you, and someone’s artistic talents or beauty will delight you more than they usually would.
Withdrawing to a retreat at a temple or shrine is also delightful.
–translated by Meredith McKinney
Yammamoto Gempo Roshi used to say, “There is no murder worse than the killing of time.” He devoted an entire teisho to this topic, reading aloud from the crime section of the newspaper. So-and-so knifed his wife and children. So-and-so ran amok at his workplace. After each item, he would repeat his theme, “There is no murder worse than the killing of time.” Indeed. Let’s make that our theme as well.
–Robert Aitken, Miniatures of a Zen Master
Itadakimas is an important word in the Japanese language. Literally, it means, “I place this over my head,” and is translated as “I humbly receive.” It is the blessing which all Japanese, from the day laborer to the prime minister, intone before a meal, even a snack. It is the saving grace of Japanese culture.
–Robert Aitken, Miniatures of a Zen Master
Gassho is the Japanese equivalent of the Sanskrit Anjali. It is the greeting, palm to palm, found among people throughout Asia, from the Dalai Lama to the Singhalese peasant, from the Pakistani weaver to the Japanese business executive. One palm is you and the other is me, and we are together.
–Robert Aitken, Zen Miniatures
I was reading a history
of Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb
In one of the chapters
The author noted that during the war
The US thought of the Japanese
As subhuman or inhuman
Depicted them as vermin, reptiles, apes
Called them “yellow rats”
“Yellow monkeys” “yellow bastards” Read the rest of this entry »