Thinking of home

Last Thursday night, I watched on live television as wave after wave assaulted the shores of my homeland, houses on fire rolling on a black crest of water across farmland, engulfing cars, vans, and trucks fleeing before the tsunami. I watched people die that night, helpless and powerless, transfixed by a TV screen thousands of miles away.

Since the Great Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami struck Japan last week, little else has been on my mind, and I return time and again to memories of the 15 years I spent there from birth through adolescence. I have vague memories of taking a boat ride among strange islands of greenery overhanging wave-carved stone. My father tells me that was Sendai, nearly 30 years ago. I wonder what they look like now.

Sapporo, 1977

Here I am circa 1977 in Hokkaido, ensconced in a tokonoma, lined up with a carved Ainu bear, iron kettle, water jug, and a sock monkey made for me by my great-grandmother.

Crashing a poetry reading at Open Books

I’ve driven by Open Books on 45th here in Seattle many times, but I’ve either been too busy or they’ve been closed. My wife and I were driving past last night after dinner when I noticed that they were open.

We parked around the corner and walked through the rain, only to see that the store was crowded with people, spilling out onto the sidewalk. I suspected that this was the tail end of a poetry reading, but hey, the cash register was open and people were still looking over the shelves (an inventory of 9,000+ books of poetry, according to their Web site), so I thought I could sneak in and grab the book I’ve been trying to find — one of Wagoner’s collections published after the Collected I have. (Fine, call me a Wagoner fanboy/groupie — he’s a great guy, and I love his poetry.)

Anyway, I pick up the book and make my way back to the front of the store, noticing for the first time that the center of attention seems to be someone other than the cashier. Crap!, I think, It’s the poet herself! (I’d been hoping the reading was an open-mic or something, I guess.) I didn’t recognize her based on any book jacket photos I’ve seen, but then I wouldn’t be able to recognize most of the poets I read (mainly in journals). I edged close enough to read the name on the cover of the books stacked next to her. I pride myself in knowing the national and local poetry scenes reasonably well, but her name still didn’t ring a bell. Now I was in the awkward position of being in line to have a book signed by someone I didn’t know, or to blow past her to buy the book I really wanted.

I opted for a strategic retreat instead. So, back to the shelves, wending my way through the chairs neatly aligned to face the back of the store, back to the front, through all the poetry aficionados looking shy as they asked to have their books signed, out into the rain and cigarette smoke.

I think there’s a poem in all that somewhere…