Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2011 v10n1
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Japanese Ghosts Don’t Have Feet

On the night of my grandfather’s funeral
I heard things. I could tell
it was a march—by the regularized footsteps,
by what sounded like pebbles crushed beneath
their waraji, straw sandals.
It was the hour of ushi-mitsu, between two
and three in the morning, the hour all cheap
samurai movies say the spirit world
merges with ours. But they, the marching ones,
who came closer and closer, had feet!
Couldn’t they choose a different ghostly path?
Why go through a thirteen-year-old boy’s
bedroom, tiptoeing around comic books and
pencil drawings of the girl I had a crush on
at the time—where were they going anyway?

I could tell there were monks—by the striking
canes, once every two breaths; the bells,
shrill and high, jingled in octaves, reverberating.
The march went through me, and they were
chanting, “Spare me, spare me,” without
emotion, in one tone. Among them,
I thought I heard my grandfather, too.

To ring, sing, or cry we write mei: a mouth
and a bird: a character that follows a bell, beast,
wind pipe, and lightning—sounds that toll.
Bell: the blind slave, the hollowed one—we swing
our bodies back, the rope tightened around
the midair log, and break the night into
one hundred and eight pieces.

Ghosts, if you can listen—if you make your way
to the United States. I’m here in West Lafayette,
Indiana, on the sixth floor of a pale orange building,
where I sit with Itoen green tea and own the only
refrigerator with pickled plums stored inside it.
Take me away, too, if you like.  end

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