The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday

Something Whispered in the Shakuhachi
By Garrett Hongo

No one knew the secret of my flutes,
and I laugh now
because some said
I was enlightened.
But the truth is
I'm only a gardener
who before the War
was a dirt farmer and learned
how to grow the bamboo
in ditches next to the fields,
how to leave things alone
and let the silt build up
until it was deep enough to stink
bad as night soil, bad
as the long, witch-grey
hair of a ghost.

No secret in that.

My land was no good, rocky,
and so dry I had to sneak
water from the whites,
hacksaw the locks off the chutes at night,
and blame Mexicans, Filipinos,
or else some wicked spirit
of a migrant, murdered in his sleep
by sheriffs and wanting revenge.
Even though they never believed me,
it didn't matter--no witnesses,
and my land was never thick with rice,
only the bamboo
growing lush as old melodies
and whispering like brush strokes
against the fine scroll of wind.

I found some string in the shed
or else took a few stalks
and stripped off their skins,
wove the fibers, the floss,
into cords I could bind
around the feet, ankles, and throats
of only the best bamboos.
I used an ice pick for an awl,
a fish knife to carve finger holes,
and a scythe to shape the mouthpiece.

I had my flutes.


When the War came,
I told myself I lost nothing.

My land, which was barren,
was not actually mine but leased
(we could not own property)
and the shacks didn't matter.

What did were the power lines nearby
and that sabotage was suspected.

What mattered to me
were the flutes I burned
in a small fire
by the bath house.

All through Relocation,
in the desert where they put us,
at night when the stars talked
and the sky came down
and drummed against the mesas,
I could hear my flutes
wail like fists of wind
whistling through the barracks.
I came out of Camp,
a blanket slung over my shoulder,
found land next to this swamp,
planted strawberries and beanplants,
planted the dwarf pines and tended them,
got rich enough to quit
and leave things alone,
let the ditches clog with silt again
and the bamboo grow thick as history.


So, when it's bad now,
when I can't remember what's lost
and all I have for the world to take
means nothing,
I go out back of the greenhouse
at the far end of my land
where the grasses go wild
and the arroyos come up
with cat's-claw and giant dahlias,
where the children of my neighbors
consult with the wise heads
of sunflowers, huge against the sky,
where the rivers of weather
and the charred ghosts of old melodies
converge to flood my land
and sustain the one thicket
of memory that calls for me
to come and sit
among the tall canes
and shape full-throated songs
out of wind, out of bamboo,
out of a voice
that only whispers.


Spent Tuesday morning with my in-laws just hanging out, doing laundry and chatting -- my mother-in-law has loaned me a very good, readable book on exposure in SLR photography. In the afternoon on the way home we stopped at Boyds Bear Country in Gettysburg, which bills itself as the world's most humongous teddy bear store, and if it's not, I can't imagine what might be...four floors of bears and hares of every imaginable size and costume, plus a make-your-own-bear factory, a museum, a restaurant and a massive Christmas tree covered in little bears. We have been here several times but not during the post-holiday season. Most of the decorations were still up (including the massive bear nativity scene, which is for sale for $1500 complete with camel and manger), though little was on sale because the flagship store carries holiday merchandise year-round, including a Halloween room, an Easter collection and the like.

A collection of US Navy sailors at Boyds Bear Country in Gettysburg.

Here are some more casual seafarers.

Being so close to the Gettysburg battlefields, there are, of course, Blue & Gray military bears, too.

A bear nursery for those who prefer to adopt...

...or in the Bear Factory, you can custom-make your own bear.

We had to be near home by 5 so younger son could have his stitches out (of course we waited for the doctor for nearly an hour). Then we had to drop Van #2 off to be serviced, so we went home to get it and drove separately to the dealer, then all went in Van #1 to IHOP because it was nearly 7 p.m. and we were starving. Finally got home, have not unpacked nor gotten sufficient work done but, you know, it's a holiday week and it's not like my editor posted a lot while I was gone. (perkypaduan, thank you for feeding my cats and thank you for the holiday goodies! We need to have lunch soon!) Meanwhile, Wednesday we are heading back to Pennsylvania to a different part of the state to go to several museums, and Friday we are going to Baltimore to see several exhibits at the art museum before they turn over at the end of the year.

So I think I said my husband had given me Celtic Woman, on which is a piece called "Nella Fantasia" which I knew the moment I heard it was based on "Gabriel's Oboe" from The Mission (my all time favorite soundtrack, even defeating The Fellowship of the Ring). I have since been told that Sarah Brightman recorded "Nella Fantasia" -- in fact, that she got Ennio Morricone to let her record it as a song with words, which he flatly refused at first -- but I can't find it on iTunes, though as it turns out we have it on a concert recording of hers; it's just not the clarity of a studio recording. Does anyone know which album of Brightman's the song is on? I am obsessed. (And also fond of the Celtic Woman recording of "Someday" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.) In other music news, I got Sylvia Tosun's Jump In, many songs on which were written by October Project's Julie Flanders and Emil Adler, so even though her music is a lot more pop-electronic than theirs, it's an utterly lovely CD and she wrote a very nice note that she sent herself with the CD.

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