Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2020  Vol. 19 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Japan, Autumn

Ikebana class one morning: arranging bulky kiku,
burnt orange kinmokusei, ume—Japanese apricots
eaten in winter. Nothing lasts, our teacher said.
She lived alone, side-street house with fusuma

instead of walls, sliding screens allowing her
to configure space for different occasions.
She criticized our arrangements, redid them
with a smile—kiku here, with space, ume there,

with space. Space—necessary and good.
Do you understand? Absence an object itself.
Hold onto space, she said, taking photographs
of our work that was really her work by then.

I cannot accept the space. I must accept the space.
You whispered, What does she mean by space?
Japanese architects deliberately inserted mistakes
into their designs to appease the gods,

who believed only they are perfect. We do this
with memory—forgetting, mottling as salve
for the soul. The sweet relief of broken memory.
In Tokyo, we argued in Ramen Alley about selfies

but really about your potholes of memory
dirt-crusted with skewed views, facts, names
of preschool kids swapped for movie stars.
Your brain famous for its limbic system—

hippocampus, amygdala, cingulate gyrus,
mammillary body, all diagramed years ago.
If not the brain, then at least decorative facts.
Those days in which you recited dates, ancient

Edo pottery, dynasties of information,
explained with sketches. Now forgotten. Or,
you held onto details we don’t need now.
In Kyoto we walked along the canal

and tossed in handmade paper flowers
for luck, each one slipping, current-bound.
What to do? Hold onto washi fibers
from the gampi tree’s bark or let go,

mitsumata shrub in the form of paper stars
now floating away. No matter.
You will pocket neither the paper
nor the word for it. Washi. Washi.

This is what we need: take only
what your hands can keep. Maybe that
is pain’s definition: Only one person
retaining memory for two. How burdensome

being the architect, collecting flaws,
unable to sieve memories. Back at the canal
you do not wish for more washi stars.
This is my problem. Only the canal and I

remember, and even then, this water
only knows us as shadows. Both of us
leaning, willow bent, over what we’ve thrown.
Oh those flowers we recognize but cannot name.  

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