japonisme: 10/23/11 - 10/30/11

24 October 2011

catch a scent of salt


naki haha ya umi miru tabi ni miru tabi ni

my dead mother--
every time I see the ocean
every time...

Issa's mother died when he was a small child. In his diary, this haiku is followed immediately by another ocean poem:

murasaki no kumo ni itsu noru nishi no umi

on purple clouds
when will I set sail?
western sea

In mythic terms, the western sea separates this world from the Pure Land. The ocean, then, is a barrier between this world and the next, keeping Issa separate from his beloved mother.

Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I'm nuts
saying the mountains
have no word for ocean,
but if you live here
you begin to believe
they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn't your land.
It belongs to no one,
like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours.
Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in,
and the men
who carved a living from it
only to find themselves
carved down to nothing.
Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

Philip Levine

(c) copyright 2011 Philip Levine


DYING MAN (inner voice): Don't look at me so stupidly! Haven't you seen anyone croak before? Shit, is it this easy? I'm lying in a puddle, stinking like an oil tanker. I can't really end up here like a cow shit! Everything so clear! How they stand there gawking at me. The oil puddle...

DYING MAN (Inner voice): Karin, I should have told you yes-terday... This thing got out of control. ...I'm so sorry. Karin! Now I'm lying here. I can't simply... I have to... Karin, there are so many things I still have to do! Karin, Baby, things look bad for me.

(speaking for the DYING MAN):

As I emerged from the valley out of the fog into the sunshine...
The fire
at the edge of the prairie...
The potatoes in the ashes...
The boat-house
far off at the lake...

The Southern Cross,
The Far East,
The Great North,
The Wild West,
The Great Bear Lake!

The Isles of Tristan de Cunha.
The Mississippi Delta.
The old houses of Charlottenburg.
Albert Camus.

The morning light.
The child's eyes.
Swimming in the waterfall...

(click to see the scene)

VOICE OF THE DYING MAN (off screen):

The flecks of the first raindrops.
The sun.
Bread and wine.
The veins of leaves.
The fluttering grass.
The colors of the stones.
The pebbles on the river bed.
The table cloth in the open air.
The dream of the house...

...in the house.
The neighbor asleep in the next room.
Sunday's peacefulness.

The horizon.
The light from the room...

In the garden.
The night flight.

Biking with no hands.

The beautiful stranger.

My father

My mother.
My wife.
My child.

from Wings of Desire

Wim Wenders and Peter Handke 1

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