There was an outdoor shower Cynthia and I loved to use . . . Though the nights were misty and chilly, it wasn't a problem to shower under the stars either. Our bodies steamed, pale suns with white prominences furling off our skin and into the black milk dark of the forest. One of us would be showering, and the other would walk out of the house and then down along the planked walkway around the sauna. We used the flashlights, orbs of yellow light probing the way. When it threw the bather into the relief of the other's sight, it was a marvel that made us laugh and could reconcile any difference of the day.
"Otoko," Wakako said. "Men who
Once, she sang me a song about the soul's need for beauty, a dance of the heart, a dream in the darkest hour of night . . .
Kurai yami no yume,
Setsu nasa yo . . .
Hitori sake nomya,
Kokoro ga odoru.
In the dark madness of my dream,
Things are unbearably sad . . .
Alone, I drink a blue wine,
And the soul makes its slow dance.
When I was four, or perhaps younger, before the languages diverged, I saw a performance of katarimono, the recitative of Japanese ballad singers, who were themselves called tayu, or "master narrators." . . . People were laughing, laughing in unison, brought together by the chanter, the storyteller. Then they were silent for a long time. A woman wept, then others, moaning quietly, keening. The men dropped their heads, shading their eyes with their hands. The storyteller picked up his fan. He unfurled it. The audience gasped, together as one, then began to applaud . . . I walked from the theater, holding my mother's hand, my father's hand, and I could still hear a woman sobbing, a man laughing, a group of relatives chattering with excitement. Erai tayu da neh! they were saying, "What a great singer!" What a great teller of tales.
After years, after I'd finally come back to live in Volcano again, only once did I dream of Kubota, my grandfather. It was the same night I'd heard that H.R. 442, the redress bill for Japanese Americans, had been signed into law. In my dream that night, Kubota was torching, and he sang a Japanese song, a querulous and wavery folk ballad, as he hung paper lanterns on bamboo poles stuck into the sand in the shallow water of the lagoon . . . He had painted a talismanic mantra onto each lantern, the ideogram for the word "red" in Japanese . . . He strung them from pole to pole in the dream then, hiking up his khaki work pants so his white ankles showed, and wading through the shimmering black waters of the sand flats and then the reef. "The moon is leaving, leaving," he sang in Japanese. "Take me deeper in the savage sea." He turned and crouched like an ice-racer then, leaning forward so that his unshaven face almost touched the light film of water. I could see the light stubble of beard like a fine gray ash covering the lower half of his face. I could see his gold-rimmed spectacles. He held a small wooden boat in his cupped hands and placed it lightly on the sea and pushed it away. One of his lanterns was on it and, written in small, neat rows like a sutra scroll, it had been decorated with the silvery names of all our dead.