Sunday, July 22, 2018


Nothing Done, All Resolved

Elizabeth wrote:

Ikkyu's enlightenment came after several years of study with Kaso in his small, rather decrepit temple on the shore of Lake Biwa. As usual, he had awakened just before dawn, the sun a thin orange disk above the distant smudge of hills. He had carried water and gathered kindling, then stripped to his loin cloth and walked purposefully across the pebbly foreshore to the lake. Out he rowed in the little cedar skiff, drifting, watching the sky lighten, just breathing, counting his heart beats, hearing the plunk and splash of the oar blade working, the thin creak of the bronze oarlocks turning on their shaft. He thought of Kaso's admonition: Leave your dreams in the fire pit, sonny, the old man had said. And had cackled and shooed the boy away.

This morning, with the sky just beginning to blue, with the gentle lap of water on wood, the sudden caroak of a crow startled Ikkyu. And all at once he knew, vividly aware of what lay among the ashes of the pit.

Returning to Kaso, he told the old monk what had happened, grinning, dripping, for he had fallen from the boat in his haste to reach his teacher. Kaso said: "So, you have become an arhat. Not yet a master, no. Not yet. Continue. Continue. Go dry yourself." And Ikkyu had replied: "If I am just an arhat, then I am content to be an arhat." Kaso considered him for one long moment. "In that case," the old man said, "you really are a master. I can teach you nothing." He snorted. Nothing done, he said, all resolved. Now go, you're puddling my floor."

Satori, Elizabeth thought. Such a curious business. And arhat: one who has overcome ego, or one who is worthy or one who is perfected. All depends on whom you ask. So how does a master differ?
She had seen Segovia play. A master. Flawless. She had also watched a good deal of Julian Bream performing on videos. Another master? Or perhaps just an arhat? How easily the terms---or certainly master--- carry over into any art or sport or what-have-you.
See had seen Nureyev dance. And loved the old films of Fred Astaire. Preferred Astaire to Gene Kelly. And writers. Joyce, for example. Certainly masterful; but a master? Or teachers. Her mentor, John Sherwood. Certainly a master. And Grace's Jack. "He seems a master, certainly." But masterful?
"And I do have a master's degree," she said. And a Phd. She shook her head. So much paper, she thought. So much pedantry and dogmatism. "To what purpose?"
Elizabeth stood up from her desk, and walked the length of the room to the far window. A landscaper had arrived and was grooming the neighbor's yard. How odd. A warm morning in bright sunshine. Tide at the flood from the sound of it. And where are my ravens today? She turned and walked back to her desk.
Perhaps some sand in my toes to clear my head. The woman cupped a hand behind her frog candle and puffed out the flame. Just the one this morning. Grace always going on about my candles. And these stairs. She gripped the hand rail.
"I'm not that decrepit," she said. Not yet anyway. Not yet.
"Bess," Grace called. "Bess?"
Well, that's a bit frantic. "What is it, dear? I'm coming"
Standing two steps down, Elizabeth heard the clatter of a pot in the sink.
"My tea," she said, and bumped her forehead with her hand.
Grace still stood at the sink running water on her hand when Elizabeth shuffled her way quickly down the hall and into the kitchen. The young woman leaned her hip against the counter, back to the room, shoulders hunched. Two bags of groceries stood on the table, a knit purse spilling its contents across the floor.
"Shimatta," said Elizabeth.
"Is the pot ... "
"And ... "
"I've burned my hand." Grace turned her head. "I was angry and just grabbed." She lowered her head. "Bess, how ... Oh, never mind."
"I'm sorry."
"It is a bit disconcerting."
Grace turned the tap, dried her hand, went to Elizabeth and gave her a hug. "Let me put these things away. We'll take a walk."
The stone path led them through the salal and kinnikinnick to the first of the low swales of sand. A narrow strip of wind blown white sand led off north and south with the darker, firmer, sea packed sand just now appearing, left behind as the tide began its ebb. A wind scurried down from the north ruffling the feathers of a lone gull marching back and forth near a tide pool.
"Which way?" Grace said.
"You pays your money and takes your chances," Elizabeth said. Twain used that line in Huckleberry Finn. But it's British, not American in origin. Does it matter? You pays your monkey, she thought, a wistful, thin smile, a shake of head, and said aloud, "and he do his dances."
"Who do?"
"Micki's line."
"You've left me at the dock, dear." Just her thinking out ...
"'With rue my heart is laden, for golden friends I had ...'", quoted Elizabeth. Past tense. Had. Iambic pentameter. Da dah da dah da dah. Have to read it out loud to get the gist ... 'With roux my stew is thickened,' and Micki's laughter trilled like robin song.
"Damn these ghosts and goblins." Take your walk, old woman. Get on with it.
Taking the older woman's arm, Grace said, "Let's just walk, Bess. No worries."
"Fiddlesticks," Elizabeth said.
They plodded across the soft sand. North or south? East or west? It matters not a twit which direction I go. North or south, up or down. You do the hokey pokey and ... I have the world entire to myself on this fine morning, a good morning. A good morning to shuffle off. I am of an age that teeters on the thin wire of mortality. No matter. I'll live 'till I die and not a moment longer.
Walk, woman. "Do you know the hokey pokey," she said.
"Not off the top, Bessie."
She watched the wind-lifted sand now scouring the beach, just ankle high. Like emotions abrading one's sensibility.
Leave it alone, Bess.
All these years, and the salt still stings.
Leave her be.
Yes. Well, the sensible thing to do is to take a northward heading. Come back with the wind.
Phooey. Why not strip my shirt open and fly south. Strip my britches, too. I could wander about aimlessly, could wander about naked as a jaybird, if I chose, mindless, insensible.
But prudence. Responsibility.
Yes. So fine. I'll keep my clothes on. And beat up the wind. Was that the phrase? We are so nautical these days. Grace and her Bernar-d. Just how she manages her nudity with such aplomb is a wonder.
Standing in the parlour with her morning tea, Elizabeth had watched Grace as the young woman wandered the back yard, nude. Elegant was the word, Elizabeth thought, that best described this lovely creature's form. Not classical, no. Those women tended towards the dumpy; but perhaps that's unjust. We live in an age where skinny is celebrated, but fat proliferates. She's a good deal leaner and, well, svelte. That silly word. Slyphlike a bit clumsy, but descriptive. The faint dimples just below her iliac crest adding a whimsical touch. The dimples of venus they're called. Curious.
Grace held clippers in her right hand and was trimming the two rows of raspberries. The robins had wreaked havoc with the vines that morning, eating the berries, breaking the tender limbs in their frenzy. Juncos twittered about through the shrubbery.
"The gluttons," Elizabeth said. Her small breasts and the silly line about eggs that she had forgotten as quickly as she had heard it. A joke of some sort was it? Pear shaped anyway. Her boyish hips. Not a good sign for maternity. Want those hip bones wide for child bearing. "Probably a myth, that." She sipped her tea. And that slight bend of the spine. Scoliosis is it?
And, as Grace had turned, she had scratched at a thigh, and then at the edge of the rise of her mons pubis. Another mound celebrating Venus. That goddess again. Just a mass of fatty tissue. Pubic hair all neatly trimmed. Some women get waxed, I'm told. However that works. Walks like a red Indian, one foot in front of the other.
As Grace stopped, shielding her eyes with a hand to follow gulls on the wing, she turned to the window, saw Elizabeth, smiled, and gave a parade wave with a lopsided grin.
Elizabeth raised her cup in salute. One would think that nudity would bring vulnerability; but this tall wahine exudes confidence. A satori of sorts, this comfortable movement of hers. She is without ego, certainly that is what allows such self-possession. And that seems a contradiction. To be without egocentricity; but, at the same time, be self-possessed. Like slack water it is. Between the tides there is that calm. And between the horns of life's dilemmas there is always a solution lying waiting to manifest itself. The middle path. No problem insoluble; only intellect, imagination without the wherewithall.
Elizabeth and Grace walked north against the scouring breeze, the wind just strong enough to lift the fine particles of sand and create the illusion of floating. Gulls came whirling overhead. Waves washed overlapping arcs of white foamed water up the beach and then receded.
This is best, she thought. I'll head into this little tempest and have it at my back when homeward bound. She lifted her chin and closed her eyes, caught the tang of salt and sand and sea wrack. The sun warmed her back, the earth spinning it higher and higher, the brightening sky.
They came to the logs encircling a small fire pit. The debris of imbeciles now gone, gathered by those more caring.
"Leave your dreams in the ashes," she said softly.
Mori had left the man who had taken her in without so much as a by-your-leave. Had left him dying in that shabby village. So she said. Or someone said for her. A bit of a quandary, that.
"It needs explaining," Elizabeth said.
"Your antecedent seems to be ambiguous, Professor."
"Mori. She left Ikkyu to die."
Grace, nodding, took up a driftwood stick, stirred the ashes of the firepit, spreading them, mixing sand.
"Perhaps," she said, "she simply left him to his death."

Monday, July 16, 2018


The Mist Is My Roof

Elizabeth wrote:

Ikkyu was eighteen when he became a disciple of a reclusive monk in a small Kyoto temple. Two years later, this mentor died and Ikkyu became a wandering monk disconsolate and prone to suicide.

At twenty-two, he tried to become a student of a master named Kaso who had a reputation as the sternest teacher in Japan. Kaso refused to see the young man. Ikkyu resolved to "take the mist as his roof and the reeds as his bed" until Kaso relented.

Ikkyu's determination was rewarded. As if ordained, the stern master and the ascetic young monk were perfectly matched. They passed a decade together in Kaso's rather rustic temple on the shore of Lake Biwa. His dedication to his master was unconditional. Kaso, become an old, frail little man, was often sick; and it was Ikkyu who cleaned the vomit and excrement.

With a soft gust of breeze, the curtains fluttered and the candle flame did its little dance casting delicate shadows on the sloping ceiling of the room. She lifted her glasses to the crown of her head and rubbed her eyes with her fingertips. From a mug---PSC Vikings, the decal nearly worn away with use---she took a yellow #2 and wrote a note to herself in the margin of the manuscript page.

This brief timeline of Ikkyu's youth does not jibe with the conventional portrait of the poet as an adult. Media, both modern animé and traditional woodblock prints, portray him as a rowdy rascal who spent more time in wine shops and brothels than he ever did in temples. His early reading of the Vimalakirti sutra and his subsequent training seem to give the lie to such a notion. Who was Ikkyu? Vimalakirti reincarnate?

She looked up from her desk, leaned back and gazed out the window. The man was proving to be all too illusive. And dear Mori all the more so. From downstairs she heard the soft chime of Grace's cell phone and the murmur of her voice. The tide was slack just now. The gulls raucous. Along the low white crest of rolling waves a small pod of brown pelicans stroked their way south. The gawky creatures were her particular favorites.
Standing, leaning over her desk, she peered south along the shoreline, and watched as they emerged from behind the cedars. Elegant from this distance, she thought. Looking for lunch? Or just out for a stroll?
"Or without an agenda," she said. Being a bird. Hmmm
She sat, and reread what she had written. On a notepad she wrote:

The question remains: was Ikkyu a reprobate and, if so, how does one reconcile that fact with his early training, his satori?

"Two questions, then," she said. And they beg a third: how does an enlightened man behave? How one behaves seems to me the central issue of anyone's life. Too many folks just swept along by circumstance, flotsam on the tide. Too few people act with intention. "And constancy." Easy to be chaste for an afternoon.
Elizabeth sighed. Gazed again out her window, pencil tapping desktop. She turned her head to the soft footsteps coming up the stairwell. Grace appeared and slowly sat, perched on the top step. Her face was angular and pale.
"What is it, dear?"
The young woman was slow to answer. Then, "I'm sorry to bother you, Bess."
"Not at all. I'm at a bit of an impasse anyway."
A slight shake of the young woman's head. "There's been some weather. Bernard's off the grid."
"That was the phone call?"
"Ummm." Grace ran a hand through her hair. "Too soon to worry, but ..."
The heavy surf that had raised warnings on the Oregon coast was the residual swell of a storm in the Pacific. How odd, Elizabeth thought, we so rarely think beyond our own little nests. A butterfly in China ...
"A bit unusual," Grace said, "to have weather like that this time of year. They were running south under bare poles ... " She gathered her hair, turning it to gather loose strands, and brought the long tail over her shoulder. "Weather funneling down from the northwest. Waves kept building."
"But they're all right?"
Grace shrugged. "Not enough to know." She looked away, then down, entwining her fingers, rubbing the the base of her hands together. "A friend of Bernard's ... a ship reported sighting a sailboat in distress, but could do nothing with the sea state. Breaking waves 8 - 10 meters. The Coast Guard passed along what information they had. Serendipity."
Grace nodded. "Bernard's boat."
"And little more. The ship gave a position, but ... "
"Were they in distress, could they tell? Or just thought as much."
"A quick look from a fast moving horse." A bit of a smile. "No EPIRB signal, so ... "
"Ah. Sailor talk. Emergency position-indicating radio beacon. Bullet proof little devices that transmit a boat's position." She shrugged again. "For what that's worth. 500 miles off the coast. Pinpoint. Precise. And meaningless. Too far from anywhere."
The two women sat quietly. Distant gulls mewed faintly above the slow roll and wash of the retreating tide. A sharp whistling bird call brought their eyes to the window.
"He's back," Elizabeth said. She looked at Grace with raised eyebrows, turned her hands palm up. "Well?" she said.
"The red breasted sapsucker?" Grace said.
They listened. The call repeated, then came as a series of staccato whistles with each seemingly a duplicate of the one before.
"Sapsucker it is," Elizabeth said. "Staking his territory. Saying hello. My guess anyway."
"Sharp black bill, brownish, white rump and about the size of a healthy robin."
Elizabeth smiled. "You're learning." She gathered her loose papers and put them into their folder, turned it on its back and slipped it into the corner of her desk. "He's a competent fellow, your Bernard. He'll be all right."
Grace stood, nodded and turned down the stairs. "A little pasta tonight?" she said.
"Suits me. The rigatoni? With the Romano?"
"We just have the pecorino. You thought it was a little too sharp, too salty. Yes?"
"Sheep's milk, that one is, if I'm not mistaken." She pushed herself up with a grunt. "No matter, my dear. The taste buds are getting as bad as the eyes. Need a bit of zest to perk them up. Pesto and pecorino should do the trick."
Grace started down the stairs as sirens wailed suddenly, loudly from the highway. Moving through the room, Elizabeth caught the reflection of the red and blue lights and the crunch of gravel, an ambulance turning in at the Harvey's house.
"It's next door," Elizabeth said. "Go see, Grace." The Harvey's, that was the name. Was he a doctor of some kind?
Grace went to see; but stood at the end of the driveway reluctant to intrude. They rarely saw these people, hardly knew them. As she moved around the hedge, a gurney was eased through the narrow front door. Mr Harvey stood aside rubbing his clipped hair with the palm of his hand. He leaned over and spoke to his wife as she passed.
"She's diabetic," he said to the EMT pushing the gurney. "Has a stent, three years ago. Is ... is... I'll follow you in." He started for the house, stopped, pulled keys from his pocket, and turned to the car. Seeing Grace, he gave a curt wave and walked to meet her.
"Miss Yew," he said. "Immense favor to ask." He took her by the arm. "Check the house for me, would you. I'm so rattled ... Hide-a-key in the flower pot." He moved quickly to his car, slid ponderously behind the wheel. "We're digging our graves with our teeth, we are," he said. "I'll call ... I'll ... take care of the place, would you. We were just dancing ... we were... Jesus."
A frown clouded Grace's face. What was that all about? "Grace?" called Elizabeth, faintly. Frightened, that voice? She looked up to see the woman leaning out the window. Walked towards the road as ambulance and car drove off; and, as she turned around the hedge, said, "All in hand, Bess."
"What's happening then, Grace?" Elizabeth said.
"Mrs Harvey collapsed. Don't know why. Mr Harvey asked me to check the house. All a bit odd." She gave a wave. "Be right back," she said.
The neighboring house was a small, one-story ranch painted gray. Rather drab. The yard was moss and weed, patches of grass and some creeping Charlie. The front door stood ajar. Grace pushed it open and walked through.
Inside was nothing like outside. A large central room with adjacent kitchen held a leather sofa and two leather chairs with ottomans. An ebony coffee table with carved end pieces and what appeared to be abalone inlays fronted the sofa. The table was pushed back against the sofa, and a small rug had been rolled against the table. The furniture sat on a gleaming hardwood floor.
Mr Harvey's cell phone sat on the curved island that separated the two spaces. A bottle of red wine stood open with crackers and cheese beside it. Salami. Two small plates. A cabinet door was opened and phone numbers and a conversion chart had been neatly pinned inside. The kitchen floor was tiled and the counter top was granite. Black appliances and a large free standing cast iron stove.
"Oh my," Grace said.
Floor to ceiling windows faced the sea. A brass telescope sat poised beside an armchair and table with books neatly stacked beside a brass lamp. More books lined the shelving of the far wall. Bedrooms and bathrooms were likely at either end of the house. She scanned titles. Novels and non-fiction. Books of the sea. Records occupied a bottom shelf with tapes and CDs slotted above them. An expensive looking turntable circled a record round and round and made its audible, persistent complaint, the record long over.
Grace lifted the arm, switched it off. Glen Miller. They had been dancing.
The house smelled of lemon polish and sandalwood candles. Other than a light in the master bedroom, nothing else seemed amiss. She returned the cheese to a well stocked refrigerator. Corked the wine. She left his phone where she had found it.
Returning down their driveway, Grace saw Elizabeth appear in the open Dutch doorway.
"Things are rarely as they seem," she said.
"I'll put the kettle on," Elizabeth said.

Sunday, July 8, 2018



Foreshadowing is a literary device that prepares a reader for future events in a narrative. A character is made to stumble before he trips before he makes a fatal fall. Commonly, plot events are used to implement this effect; but character dialogue, a change of setting, flashbacks, and titles are also used.

At times, a writer may add bits of foreshadowing that are not relevant to the story line. These rather unimportent, unrelated events may be used to intentionally perplex a reader, to add breath to the plot, or to add tension to the mix. This use is sometimes labeled sideshadowing, but it comes to the same thing. Dostoevsky used this ploy frequently in his novels. Life is full of inconsequential events, he thought, and he wanted his narratives to mirror this fact.

The device is not limited to literary works. Composers frequently add themes or bits of themes to prepare the listener for a climax to come or for a change of theme. Film directors also use foreshadowing, most often to lend credibility to subsequent events.

II - 8

A Meeting Place Of Manifold Ills

Ravens caroaked, one then another, as they circled above the firs and spruce on the hillside above Elizabeth's house. The woman stood with her long handled pruning shears in hand, poised to nip a tatty branch of the old laurel hedge. The birds were just above the tops of the trees, on the glide, riding the cooler air down to the flat apron of land that was mostly scrub and sand tending always on to the sea .
Portentous, ubiquitous birds. Poe's disquieting drivel. She snipped her branch, raised a hand to her brow to see the birds, a pair, caroak, caroak, as they cut across to the cedar in the corner of her yard.
"Humph," Elizabeth said. She sighted down the hedge. Up to no good, those fellows. "Secateurs. That's the word I was looking for." These clumsy old things, she thought, lifting the shears, are getting too much for me. "Grace gave them to me," she said softly, talking to herself. Christmas before last, those secateurs, though nobody here calls them that. Clippers we call them. Like scissors only more burly. "The perfect tool for this job if I could only find them."
Nestling the handles of her shears against her hip, she prodded and stroked the ball of her arthritic thumb. She had risen early, read again from the sutra of Vimalakirti; remained puzzled and skeptical. Watson had done a remarkable job of translating the piece. She had met the man, briefly, in a restaurant in Palo Alto. They were both enamored with Yeats and, she remembered, he had quoted the Irish poet's phrase in defense of his own translations:

A line will take us hours maybe;
yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

"There is a good deal more than a moment's thought in that sutra," she said aloud.
Caroake, caroake, called the ravens. More had come and settled in the trees at the corner of her property. Crows joined them screeching, it seemed, just to hear their voice.
"Up to no good," she said again. The creatures. Do crows have Buddha nature? she thought. Then chuckled. "What would the answer be? Like the mu koan. "Croak," she said. "Croak. Croak."
She arched her back, stretched. The pruning shears slipped quietly to the ground, unnoticed. He was quite the boy, this Vimalakirti. Rich, but traveled the alleys. Went to wine shops, brothels. Half think that's where Ikkyu got the notion. A deceptive fellow, this Vimalakirti. Healthy as a horse, but feigned illness so people would come to console him. Then, with this captive audience, he proselytizes.
Looking up to the birds, she recited what she remembered of the opening paragraph of the sutra:

"Good people, this body is impermanent, without durability, without strength, without firmness, something that decays in a moment, not to be relied on. It suffers, it is tormented, a meeting place of manifold ills."

"'A meeting place of manifold ills indeed'." She stretched the fingers of her hands, made a fist and stretched again. "Glucosamine," she said. I always forget. She patted her pockets for a tissue. The distant chime of her phone turned her head. "Now where in the world did I leave that gizmo?"
She ran fingers through a curl of hair, patted pockets once more, turned and walked to the house, listening. As she poked her head through the open top of the Dutch door, she saw the package that Grace had left. Off to ... where was that girl going this morning? Elizabeth turned her head, startled, as three ravens touched down behind her uttering their guttural cough, and rose up again as one.
"Oh," the woman said. "What in the world?" Silly birds. Carry me off one day. What was that Hitchcock thing? "You are," she said firmly, "just the common raven. You birds. Corvus corax. Ubiquitous. Proletarian. A bit vulgar, you are," she said. Boorish. "Croak," she said. "Croak." Bit of that myself, I am.
Chuckling, she turned, opened the door and walked through to the kitchen.
"Time to put the kettle on," she said. That comforting phrase. Put the kettle on. How tea came to be such a panacea is a rather odd piece of business, I think. "It's bitter taste really doesn't recommend it."
Into her mug she drop a pinch of loose tea, centered the kettle on the burner, and stood listening for the waves as they went about their eternal business. A shake of head. "Eternal? Not the word I wanted." Joyce's word. 'In' something. She eased herself onto a chair beside the table, opened the manila envelope, and slipped out the brief manuscript. Someone---where had Grace found this? "Can't remember," Elizabeth said.
Robin song; then again. Then a flurry in the shrubbery and strident calls.
"Those jays. After her nest again." Why they build them in such obvious places ...
Turning her head, she listened for the boiling of the kettle. She took up the manuscript.
"1968," she said. "So long ago." The saddest year. She slowly turned the cover page and read:
A Paraphrase Of Vimalakirti
6 june 1968

Curious. There was no preface, no introduction. No by-line. Edited by that fellow in Corvallis. "It just starts off and hammers home its points. Not the elegance of the original, or fluidity; but effective for all that. Grace doesn't care for the mix of allusions, but Socrates, I think, would have found a fellow traveler in Mr V. She read:

Nothing remains but my vial, my needle. Asclepius has been paid for his cock. Much better, this vial, than merely waiting around to die. I have decayed in a moment. Or so it seems. This body now tormented suffers in its weakness, and my impermanence would now torment me. Save the vial, eh Crito.

Never put your money on this sack of bones and flesh. Your body is a product of random selection and chance mutation. Never doubt it. Your body is a flicker of your imagination. Your body is a shadow, an echo, with no more substance than dream. All men of sense and wisdom of every age have come to this conclusion.

She had gone to bed early, downstairs. Her bedroom. Not her favorite room. Drab, it was. A bit musty. The rear corner of the house suffered from dry rot. "And too many memories." We shared the bathroom between the two bedrooms, Micki and I. Oceanside now Grace's room. The way she wandered about brushing her teeth, spouting incomprehensible words through a mouth full of foam. Quoting her French poets. Pirouettes from room to room.
Elizabeth had gone to bed early; and Grace, returning from Corvallis sometime after eleven o'clock, had found her still awake.
"Run the fellow to earth, did you, dear?"
"I did." Grace had leaned against the door jamb, package in hand. "Shall I leave you be? This will keep."
"No, no." Elizabeth patted the bed. "Come show me," she said.
And Grace had read from the pages.
"Sounds familiar doesn't it," she had said.
"The Vimalakirti Sutra, paraphrased. A section anyway. Yes?"
"Yes, indeed. The Body Section. 'Good people, no person of enlightened wisdom could depend on a thing like this body.' From the Burton translation. Is it plagiarized?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "Enough change. Different perspective. Same message, though." She took a tissue from her sleeve and patted her nose. "Where in the world did you come up with this?"
"A grad student at Oregon wrote his dissertation on Vimalakirti. I scanned through and found, in the bibliography, a mention of a paper by a professor at Oregon State. Tracked him down. One of the professor's students had dictated the piece in one sitting. Terminal cancer patient, he was. Wanted anonymity. After the fellow died, the professor put out a few copies under his name as editor. Caused some ripples in the philosophy department, but didn't get much notice beyond Corvallis."
"My my," Elizabeth had said.
The robins and jays had declared a truce, but gulls were squawking and her fox squirrels were querulous and noisy. She scanned the manuscript, reading silently, then aloud:

Your body, objective, carnate, mortal. Where does ego arise? Wind, fire, water ... have they awareness of themselves. Not likely. An unnecessary encumbrance, awareness. Ashes, ripples on the sand, rush of wind through the trees: never singular, these things. Nor plural either. Wind, fire, water ...

Wind, fire, water, she thought. That covers one's mortality nicely. Between life and death, gossamer. She stumbled as she stood, leaned heavily on the table, and moved slowly down the hall. Tears welled in her eyes.
"Pfui," she said. Stupid old woman. Have to pee. She smiled, still softly crying. "Have water coming out of both ends," she said. Yes, that was it: Ineluctable.
On the stove the kettle hissed and steamed and quietly whistled.

Sunday, July 1, 2018


Encumbered By Dragon Wings

Morning fog had settled around the house, tide at the flood, loud, insistent. Mugs in hand, the two women sat in the parlour before the bay window, Grace with her legs curled under her hips, Elizabeth with her legs outstretched, feet propped on the ottoman, the mission chairs turned to the room, their backs to the gloomy yard. Elizabeth insisted on many British spellings, and this was one of them. 'Parlor' without the 'u' seemed to lack some dignity. The word was from the Latin 'parlare', to speak; and Elizabeth rather preferred the definition that was rarely listed: a room in a convent used for conversation.
"He wants me to meet him in Papeete," Grace said.
"He wants what?" Elizabeth said. Her eyes had widened behind the lenses of her glasses. "How in the world ... "
"Rather simple really. All captains are required to carry satphones on their deliveries. Call anyone. Anywhere." Grace reached out and took the older woman's hand. "We have time yet, Bess. We'll finish the book."
The cool, damp air always carried such a distinct odor. That business about raindrops releasing smells from hitting the ground seemed just the least bit farfetched. Elizabeth thought rather that it was the sea air mixing with the smell of the vegetation on shore with a pinch of ozone if a storm were brewing.
Not to mention the Proustian effect: smells evoke memories. They, too, call. She turned to her friend, and said, "What, dear, is a satphone?"
A smile from Grace, a pat of the hand. "I'm sorry, Bess. Satellite telephone. Like GPS. Yes? Bounce signals off satellites."
"But Tahiti is just Option Number One. It could be New Zealand or Australia. Mon Capitaine's Grand Plan."
"Which is?" Elizabeth did not like that 'my captain' business, no matter how whimsical Grace voiced the phrase.
"He wants to sail right around the world; and do so on other people's boats, getting paid for the privilege."
"And that works how?"
They sipped tea. Gulls were circling the house. Prosaic coastal scene. Romantic novel. The heroine on the cliff waving her hanky farewell, farewell as the clipper makes sail and fades into the distance.
"Simple really. He makes his delivery to Papeete. Picks up another boat for Auckland or Sydney. Same again to South Africa. Right on around the watery planet. Easy peasy." Grace shrugged. "He's had the notion in his head for some time now."
The young woman placed her hands on the arms of the chair, circled her fingertips around the smooth, fine grain of the arms. "Tea time," she said, and made to stand.
"And you know how to sail, no doubt."
"I do. Jack lived on a battered old Wharram catamaran. Still a steady sailor, that boat."
Grace gave a shake of her head, a bit of smile. "Hawaii? Surfing?"
"Yes, yes. That Jack."
"That Jack. He lived on an old boat, Óle Wale." Standing, she said, "The name means nothing of value. Jack was anal about his possessions. He was very careful not to be owned by things he owned. Not even his boat. 'Only thing of value sits right in here,' he would say, and tap his chest with his stubby fingers."
"Some Jack, your Jack."
"That he was." A look, then, out the window.
Grace stood. "Five years ago now. Or nearly so. He was off to see friends on Lanai. Never arrived. No sign of Jack or Óle Wale."
Elizabeth turned her head, gazed out the window. "Doing what he loved is what they say, but that's just an empty euphemism to mask sorrow. And sorrow is a problem for the living," she said. "Dealing with grief. Always a problem about how one should proceed."
A rueful smile from Grace. "When I was first in Hawaii, after my parents had died, a counselor told me that grief was just another emotion, like anger or happiness, and learning to control one emotion helps to control them all."
"Preaching stoicism was he?"
"Doing his best. I was eight years old, and not nearly as wise as our young Ikkyu seemed to be. Or Mori for that matter. The counselor---an older Caucasian woman---struggled to elicit some response from me. It seems I had already learned to bury my emotions."
"There is that passage in Mori's manuscript ... the crux of the matter, I think."
"Where she is accosted by the carpenter?"
"Just after. She goes on to the temple."
"Yes, sitting on the veranda singing her song."

I sat quite still disregarding the pain from the bruise on my cheek. My hair still tousled, my thin faded, drab kimono still disheveled. Footsteps from the temple. I glanced quickly, but continued my song. I sang so softly, it surprised me that anyone might hear.

The priest stood in the doorway, listening. My lyric surprised him. It went:

The fair lady who rolls up her window is blind.
She sits deep within, and knits her moth eyebrows.
One sees only the traces of her tears,
but knows not who she is hating.

The priest waited until I stopped. I knew several verses; but most often I would just repeat one or two. Over and over. When I sat quiet, he approached me, knelt. He turned his head to one side, then the other. I thought he would try to console me. Tears ran down my cheeks. But he merely sighed, and said, How is it, child, that you become so encumbered by dragon wings?

Grace unfolded her legs, gazed across the yard.
"And so, was that it? Had you grown some dragon wings?" Elizabeth asked.
"Like Mori, I knew not who---or what---I was hating. Not then."
"And now?"
"And now?" Grace folded her hands in her lap. "Hate," she said, " slowly becomes superfluous. If one is the least bit reflective. Yes?"
"And if one has the habit of reflection; age offers many opportunities for practice."
Grace entwined her fingers. A boat came slowly around the far point just beyond the breakers, the captain feathering his bow against the push of the swell, two crewmen hanging over the gunwale scanning the water, gulls flitting about the cranes, swooping over the stern, the wake kicking up white water.
She and Jack, sitting just beyond the break. Somewhere on the North Shore. Could be anywhere on the North Shore. Or nowhere. Swells roll in, sets of four or five, but none big enough to trip over the reef and break. She lay prone on her board; Jack sits with knees cradled in his arms. Trades softly blowing. Gulls mewling. Sun rolling to the western horizon.
"Enough," Jack says.
"Think so," I answer.
"Not a question."
I look at him, right leg crooked out awkwardly; he sits serenely, complacently.
"What then?" I ask.
"Enough," he says. "Hawaiian fellow say, lawa. Means strong. Sufficient." He grins. "That you, cupcake."
"Me?" I sit up, swinging legs around to straddle the board.
"'Me?'", he mimics. "No more inaina aku"
"Who's pissed off? Me?"
"No more." He lays out on the board, paddles. "Little bigger swell, bit of break. In we go," he says, laughing.
Elizabeth reached out and touched Grace's arm.
"Odd," the young woman said. "There really isn't a word for 'hate' in Hawaiian. Jack cobbled some beach slang together. Inaina aku."
"Pissed off," Elizabeth said.
Grace laughed. "Leave it to you. Yes. Pissed off. Really pissed off," Grace said.
"Happens to the best of us. Emotion hard to manage. Comes from our old brain, I'm told. Survival thing."
"Of course." Grace stretched and stood. "And as one gets older?"
"Sometimes I think we just lose interest. Too busy trying to keep the systems functioning. Becomes a major project just to walk downstairs." Elizabeth got purchase on the arms of the chair and pushed herself up. "Salad for lunch?" she said.
"I made pico de gallo. Remember?" The young woman cocked her head and raised her eyebrows. "And corn bread? With an extra dollop of honey?"
Elizabeth looked blank, then sighed. She slowly raised a hand and tapped her forehead with its heel. A shrug of her shoulders. "As I was saying ..."
Grace took her hand. "All systems go, Bessie dear. No worries."
"Humph. You say."
"I say."
"And Bessie was a cow's name. Some company's mascot, she was. Before your time, I suspect."
A laugh from Grace. "Ever hear of Eagle Brand Condensed Milk?" she said. "A staple for kids growing up in Hawaii."
"Eagle Brand ... And?"
"A Borden product. Their mascot was a cow whose name was Elsie, not Bessie."
"That's the one. Big brown eyes. They had a real cow, too. Did parades and such. Fell out of the back of a truck."
Laughing now, sidling through the doorway.
"What you dredge up."
"Not just me, dear. 'We.'" Elizabeth patted Grace's hand, then entwined her arm in the crook of Grace's elbow. "Definitely we." She leaned her head against the young woman's shoulder. The kitchen was still warm from the cooling oven; and Elizabeth caught the sweet scent of cilantro and tomato, the earthy tang of the corn meal. "Umm," she said.