from The Grave on the Wall

"[At night, the roofs resemble the sea]"; “Tohoku”; and “Myoshinji Temple”


[At night, the roofs resemble the sea]

At night, the roofs resemble the sea. A cloud passes beneath the moon. The fields between the houses are blue; trees at the edge of the fields. The roofs are tiled in waves. Clouded moonlight curls in the tiles. The country is under cloud, but the cloud is thin and pulling out of itself. Trees are tall and feathered. The fields are low and when the cloud pulls out of itself and passes, aisles of space streak white between rows of blue. When the cloud passes, blue becomes green. Sleep is illuminated. Another cloud passes. Then everyone is awake.

Small villages support the dead. Then the moon is full again and everyone is in bed. Small villages seen through breaks in trees overflow uninhabited space to the road. If the sea, a sea of tar, thick and rolled into motionlessness: a world waiting in the hiatus of sleep, and not meant, while the people sleep, to be seen, but by the moon, ghosts on the road.



An old woman is planting spinach in the ruins of her house. Where her house once stood is rubble and dirt. She made a clearing in the shape her house used to make. The rubble is made of the old woman’s house: wood, broken roof, furniture, cloth, straw, shredded rush. She’s giving each spinach a few feet of its own. The roof resembles the sea. Gunpowder waves. Each spinach might eventually grow into its own, autonomous circle.

The woman’s house was demolished then spread by a tsunami that pushed through the coast bringing everything between itself and the dry world along. The woman is planting spinach in the shape of her house, though her house was demolished and pushed around and beyond where it stood. The spinach, the shape, is where the woman can go to be with her house, while her house is still there, in its parts, spread around. Planting spinach in the grave of a house seems a gesture, though it is true: spinach can be eaten. Who is it for? Who will eat it? Will the old woman eat it? Will she return to see it grown into autonomous circles? Will there be enough for her to eat? Will she share it with her neighbors?

Her neighbors are gone. Their houses were also demolished and spread. Some of her neighbors are dead. She knows some of them are dead because she can feel they are no longer living.

She was given the spinach by a farmer. The spinach is small. Even if each spinach grows to become its own autonomous circle there will not be enough to feed more than a few people. Not that there will be a deficit, but the woman will have handed out the spinach shortly, the ground scoured and empty.

The woman is wearing light-colored jeans, wide in the leg, a windbreaker, white, with pink cuffs, and an enormous white hat that curls down around her head like the cap of a mushroom. The spinach refuses to be co-dependent. Laughter emits from beyond the makeshift shrine.

The tsunami reached heights over one hundred thirty feet and pushed through the coast six miles inland. A white mushroom moving through scattered circles in a rectangle of dirt. The woman will never again be tired.

One of her neighbors, a man, is dead. He asked her one time to accompany him for tea and she said No. She had some idea of heaven that precluded losing one’s focus in life, but there was no focus, life was full of disregard.

The sky is blowing, beating light through shoals of smoke and fog. There is a rectangle in the air with six faces. There is a gulf in which light is shining. The landscape is a wasteland, resembling, on both sides of the road, a landfill, a transfer station, a war-ravaged city, a militarized zone, a clear-cut, a desert. Piles of brush, gutted buildings, crushed cars, enormous boats on rooftops and trash, imprints of houses, massive entanglements of color and wire and wooden and rotten and undifferentiated mass. Shortly after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami — March 11, 2011 — Shotaro took a drive up the Tohoku coast. He said at first he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, but that as he continued to drive, he started to view the damage as a kind of attraction. Ghosts are anomalous to the rule of life. If death is the rule, ghosts become the living. The living become the anomaly.

A tsunami moves across a landscape, gathering everything it touches, becoming everything it touches, leaving the unobstructed color of the ocean in the ocean black with earth being carried. A mushroom expands on a tree, branches lodged in a rectum, large fish leap over smaller fish.

The old woman lived alone. The house had been lively, there were more people, a family, but the shadows grew longer, darker, each threshold worn smooth; the liveliness caught on the webs, let out the windows. The woman buries each spinach above its first leaves. She is, she thinks, replanting her house. The spinach shall be the foundation. When it grows, I shall return. I will again have a place to live. It is not clear where she lives.

Small crabs come out of holes in the ground. Then the holes close, the ground pulled from below by an invisible tide — invisible as the old woman’s neighbor, the man, who once walked the street on which both of their houses sat, wearing a blue shirt and looking, to her, like a man who had something on his mind, but hiding it, hiding it inside the look of a man with nothing at all on his mind, a spore on the wind, aloof to the earth, a room without walls, the wind sowing emptiness before it.


Myoshinji Temple

An old woman pushed me into the wall. I was asleep awaiting the bell. The monks said when the bell rang, it would ring twice: the first to be aware, the second to be awake. It rained all night. I was terrified of not hearing the bell, so stayed awake. The windows, slid closed, were paper; the rain was loud, rushing in the canals. The canals ran the perimeter of Myoshinji Temple in Kyoto. Dot and I arrived at five o’clock for evening meditation. We were the only Westerners. Instructions were in Japanese. There were fifteen Japanese, and one young Korean woman. The meditation hall was four tatami platforms, raised, with aisles between. Dinner was a cup of tea. (Breakfast was a bowl of rice and three pickles, the third to clean the bowl, six grains of rice on the table to the gods). The men slept in the meditation hall. The women slept in a small room upstairs. The bell was going to ring at five in the morning. It would ring again and I, with the men, would leap from my bedroll, roll it up, stow it on the shelf above the paper window, quickly clean and get ready for meditation. I was listening to the rain, my feet beneath the window and my head near the edge of the platform, when I felt someone approaching down the aisle. It was three or four in the morning. It was an old woman. Her hair was gray in a bun and she was wearing a blue and white yukata. I could see her in the dark. She stopped at my head, leaned her thighs and stomach against the platform, and slipped her hands into my bedroll. She made no sound. Had she come to wake me up? The first bell hadn’t rung. She leaned over me. Her body was warm. I felt her breasts on my head. With her hands around my shoulders, she seized my body and pushed me with all her force into the wall. I thought I would crumple. I thought my legs would fold, my body fold into my legs, my head into my neck, my shoulders collapse, my ribs file off my spine. The moment I went through the wall, the woman disappeared. My body was whole, as though I had passed through the wall and was on the other side in an identical room. The monks were awake, facing each other, the wide sleeves of their robes draped over their legs. One of them stood up, and became a silhouette. The silhouette held a long, flat wooden stick against its shoulder. The monk mounted the walls and in the center of the room moved as if stalking a procession of animals across a field of freshly fallen snow. Light grew through the paper. Then the bell rang. It was the first. I could still feel the old woman pushing me into the wall. I didn’t know whether to feel gratitude or dread. The woman’s yukata grazed the floor, while she, without revealing her face, crossed the threshold into the rain.

The Mermaid

"You are at the kitchen table dicing a cucumber for Tia Reina’s ceviche."

Small Paradises

“She was constantly surprised at herself in a way that, it seemed to you, was lucky.”

Sons & Other Strangers

“Two girls stand in line at the coffee shop wearing prairie sundresses and red lipstick, trying to remember the lyrics to a song.”