Friday, October 29, 2004

word of the day: pompous

trying to make people think that you are important, especially by using very formal and important-sounding words

My boyfriend had a misfortune to have to deal with a pompous coworker who brags about his previous works.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

word of the day: nuzzle

to gently rub or press your nose or face against someone to show that you like them

The proud vicuna nuzzled her as she slept
Lax on the grass; and Adam watching too
(A. D. Hope "Imperial Adam")

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 6

[This is my translation of the seventh story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by Soseki Natsume. As careful readers may have noticed, I haven't translated the sixth story about a renowned sculptor of images of Buddha from the 12th century, because it is so saturated with specific Japanese artifacts, both mundane and cultural, that I have hard time explicating and translating them in a way that is not distracting and understandable at the same time. As usual, for more informaiton about the book and the author, please refer to my biased coment. Also I'm looking forward to your feedback!]

The Seventh Night

It seemed that I was on a huge vessel.

This vessel cut through the waves, day and night, without cease, emitting black smoke. It roars terribly. But I didn’t know where it was heading. From the bottom of the waves would the sun rise like red, hot, burning tongs. Not long after I saw it rise up to the top of the high mast and rest there for a while, and not before I realized it, would the sun overtake the huge vessel, and move ahead. Then at last it would sink under the waves, giving out sizzling sounds like red, hot, burning tongs. Every time the sun sank, distant indigo waves would boil and bubble, carmine. Then the vessel would roar terribly and chase after it, never ever catching up.

One time I caught a crew of the ship and asked.

“Is this vessel going West?”

For a while the crew studied my face perplexedly, and asked back why.

“Because it is apparently chasing the falling sun.”

The crew gave a loud laugh and went away.

“Is the East the end of the sun going West? Is that so? Is the West the origin of the sun emerging from the East? Is that so, too? Waves below me, rudder as my pillow. Float it, float it!” he jeers. I strolled to the bow to see many crews buckle to round in a thick halyard.

I grew extremely anxious. Nobody knows when it would be the day I disembark on the firm land. And nobody knows where the ship was taking me. The only thing unquestionable is that the vessel was cutting through the waves and emitting black smoke. The waves were the very vast ones, looking infinitely blue. At times it turned purple. But only around the proceeding ship were invariably pure white with bubbles forming and collapsing. I was very anxious. I suspected it might be better to throw myself into the sea and die, rather than staying on this damned ship.

I had many passengers on board. Most looked like étrangers. But each had a different complexion from others. When the clouds gathered in the sky and the vessel rolled, there was a woman, leaning on the handrail, crying inconsolably. The handkerchief which she used to dry her eyes stood out white. She covered her body with a calico-like clothes, however. As I saw this woman, I realized that I was not the only one in sorrow.

One night I was gazing up at the stars on the deck by myself. An étranger came up to me and asked if I was familiar with astrology. When I even thought of killing myself because of sheer boredom, why should I bother to study astrology? I remained silent. The foreigner told me about the seven stars of the Plow on the crest of the Taurus. And said the sea, the stars, and everything else are all creation of the God. Finally he asked me if I believed in God. I remained silent, looking at the sky.

One time I stepped into the salon to find a young woman in a flashy attire playing the piano with her back toward me. Beside her was a tall magnificent man on his foot, singing. His mouth looked disproportionately large. The two, however, seemed to be indifferent to everyone else beside the two themselves. They even seemed to be oblivious of their being on board a ship.

The boredom intensified further more. I finally made up my mind to die. Thus one night, when nobody was around, I resolutely leaped into the ocean. However---at the very moment when my feet lost touch of the deck and the connection with the vessel was broken, my life suddenly came dear to me. From the bottom of my heart I wished I had not leaped. But it was too late. I had to dive into the water, whether I liked it or not. The vessel being made extremely high, my feet did not reach the water long after my body had left the ship. But without anything to hold on to, the water came closer, inch by inch. However hard I contracted my legs, it came closer. The water was black.

Soon the vessel overtook me and was gone, emitting black fumes as usual. Having realized that it was better to stay on board, even on a ship with an obscure destination, but not being able to utilize the realization, I silently kept falling down toward the black waves, bearing infinite regret and dread.

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 5

[This is my translation of the fifth story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by Soseki Natsume, a renowned Japanese author. For a brief (and biased) information about the book and the author, please go to my comment. Also, I'd appreciate feedbacks from you!]

The Fifth Night

The dream went like this.

In what seemed to be quite an ancient time, almost the days of mythical gods, I fought a war and had an misfortune of defeat, and was caught alive to be dragged to the foot of the enemy general.

People back then were invariably tall. And all had long beard. From their tightly fastened leather belts dangled their swords that looked nothing more than a stick. Their bows appeared to be made of crude wisteria vine. Neither lacquered, nor polished, just plain primitive.

The enemy general had a bow gripped at the middle with his right hand, with its end on the grass, and sat on something like an upturned Sake pot. I looked at his face and found his thick eyebrows connected with each other above his nose. Of course there was no such thing a razor back then.

A hostage, there was no way I could have something to sit down on. I squatted down on the grass, cross-legged. I had huge straw shoes on my feet. The straw shoes in those days were deep. They came all the way up to my kneecap when I stood up. The straws were left unwoven at the ends, for decoration, dangling in tassels so that they swung as I carried my legs around.

The general lit up my face with fire, and asked death or life. Being the custom of the time, everyone asked his hostage this question, just as a formality. Life meant surrender, death meant resistance. I said only one word, death. The general threw away the bow that he had propped on the grass and reached for the stick-like sword hung at his waist. A gust blew the flame towards him. I opened my right hand like a maple leaf, and popped it above my eyes, with the palm facing the general. A sign for “wait.” The general clicked back the heavy sword into its sheath.

Even back then there was romance. I said I wanted to have one last look at the girl of my heart before I die. The general said he could wait until the dawn, until the crow of a rooster. I have to call her over here before a rooster crows. If it crows and she doesn’t come, I’ll be killed without seeing her.

The general is looking at the fire, still settled on the pot. With the huge straw shoe rested upon the other, I’m waiting for the girl on the grass. Minute by minute the night wears on.

Every once in a while the firewoods gave collapsing sounds. Everytime they collapsed, they made avalanches of flame toward the general, as if in panic. Under his thick black eyebrows his eyes glared. Someone came and threw an armful of new firewoods into the fire. After a while the fire crackled. A valiant, stirring sound as if it were repelling the darkness.

At the very moment the girl untied the white stallion from an oak tree in the back. Stroking its mane three times, she flung herself up on its high back. The horse wasn’t harnessed, not a saddle nor irons. Receiving a kick in its abdomen with her fair lean leg, the horse bursted into a full gallop. Someone had raked the fire, which faintly illuminated the distant sky. The horse flies, slashing the darkness, toward this faing illumination. Giving out its breath like pillars of flames from its nostrils, it flies. All the same, the girl incessantly spurrs the horse on with her lean leg. The horse flies so fast that its hooves click in the air. The girl’s hair trails in the darkness like a streamer. Nevertheless they still can’t reach where the fire is glowing.

Then suddenly, somewhere along the dark path, shrieked a cock-a-doodle-doo. The girl jumped back , pulling on the rein clasped in her both hands. The horse engraved its front hooves into the firm rock with a sharp bang.

The rooster gave a cock-a-doodle-doo once again.

The girl gave a shriek of startle, and at once loosened the tightened rein. The horse collapsed on its both knees. Together with its rider, it stumbled forward with all its momentum. Ahead of the rock was the profound deep.

The inscription of the hooves are still on the rock. The one who imitated the rooster is an imp. As long as the inscription stays on the rock, the imp will remain the one whom I avenge my girl on.

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 4

[This is my translation of the fourth story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by Soseki Natsume. For more information about the book and the author, please refer to my comment. And of course, I'd appreciate your feedback.]

The Fourth Night

At the center of the earthen floor are several low tables, surrounded by small stools. The tables throw back jet-black glare. In a corner, an old man drinks to himself, with a legged tray in front of him. The side dish appears to be boiled down vegetables.

The Sake has turned the old man fairy red. Beside, his face is lustrous, with no trace of anything that can be called a wrinkle. His being old can only be fathomed by his abundant white beard. Even as a child, I wondered how old the old man was. Right then the hostess appeared from the back with a bucket filled with water from the water duct.

Drying her hands with her apron she asked, “How old are you?”

The old man swallowed the vegetable that had crammed his mouth, and said with a straight face, “I’ve lost count.”

The hostess stood there, studying the old man’s face, with her dried hands tucked under the narrow sash. The old man gulped down his Sake with a large vessel like a rice bowl, and took a lengthy exhalation through his white beard. The hostess asked, “where’s your place?”

Holding his long breath he said, “behind the bellybutton.”

The hostess asked again, with her hands still tucked under the narrow sash, “where are you going?”

Again the old man gulped down his hot Sake with the large vessel like a rice bowl, gave a sigh like the previous one, and said, “over there.”

“Straight ahead?” As the hostess inquired, his breath passed through the paper screen, ducked under the willow tree, and went straight toward the riverbanks.

The old man went out. I followed. A small gourd hangs at his waist. Under an arm he holds a square box strapped to his shoulder. He has pale blue underpants and a pale blue sleeveless kimono on. Only his socks are yellow. They appeared to be made of leather.

The old man went straight to the willow tree. A couple of kids were under the tree. With a smile the old man pulled a handkerchief out of his waist. He twined it into a lean rope. Then placed it on the ground. And drew a large circle around the handkerchief. At last he produced, from his box hung from his shoulder, a brass whistle of a candy seller.

“In no time the handkerchief turns into a snake. Look, look.” He chanted.

The kids stared at the handkerchief intently. I also looked.

“Look, look. You ready?” The old man said, and started to jump around the circle, blowing his flute. I fixed my eyes on the handkerchief. But it wouldn’t give a sign of movement.

The old man whistled on and on, and jumped around the circle many more times. On the tips of his straw sandals’ toes, as if stepping over something, as if in an attempt to avoid disturbing the handkerchief, he went around. It seemed chilling. It also seemed amusing.

After a while he abruptly stopped blowing the whistle. Then opened the box hung from his shoulder, picked up the handkerchief by the neck, and threw it into the box.

The old man started to walk straight ahead, muttering, “Wait a while, and it’ll become a snake in the box. I’ll let you have a look soon, I’ll let you have a look soon.” Passing under the willow tree, he walked down the narrow straight path. Because I wanted to see a snake, I followed him all along the narrow path. The old man kept walking, muttering alternately “anytime soon, you’ll see,” and “ a snake, you’ll see”.

He walked on, singing.

“Anytime soon, it will be. A snake, it will be. No doubt, it will be. The whistle is blowing.” Singing, he came to the riverbanks. With no trace of a bridge nor a boat, I thought he would take a rest here and show the snake in the box, but he waded into the water. First it was about knee deep, then gradually the water reached his waist, then his chest. Nonetheless, the old man went on and on, straight ahead, singing.

“Deepening, darkening, straightening.” At last his beard, his face, his head, and his hood were obliterated.

Thinking that the old man would show the snake when he reached the other side, I stood alone among the rustling reeds, and waited forever. But the old man never emerged.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

photo of the day: parking lot beauty

I went to a Panera in River Forest for darly lunch in an overcast morning. The streets and trees were still wet from the rain earlier in the morning, but the cloud had started to disperse. When a weak streak of sunshine broke through, rain drops left on the leaves shined, as if in celebration of their ephemeral life. Combined with the rich purple with green tint of the leaves, the drops were enough to make me dare to shoot at them, kneeling on the still moist ground, trying to ignore the suspicious looks from passers-by.
朝方の雨が残した露が、薄雲を割って射し込む日の光に輝く・・・大胆にデザ インされ、手入れも行き届いた植え込みや花壇は、シカゴに住む日々の小さな楽し みの一つ。なんでもないスーパーの駐車場で、無数の雨粒が、紫とモスグリーンの混じりあった複雑な色の葉の上で、日の光を浴びて銀色に輝くのを見られるな んて、と我が身の幸運を思う。(River Forest, IL, Oct/21/2004)

Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

photo of the day: astray in a greenhouse

For all the 17 months in Chicago, I didn't realize that next to the Lincoln Park Zoo (which is by itself surprisingly guilt-free and fun place to visit for a zoo) there was a really cool conservatory. Not until recently, that is. I visited the park this Sunday and was absolutely fascinated by its old, industrial-looking greenhouse constructed with glass and metal frames. Lusty chains glimmering with humidity, big reasurring pulleys, and othre heavy meatl objects are everywhere, creating a weird yet attractive juxtaposition of vivacious lives of plants and inanimate silence of machinery. I felt as if I had been strolling in an European conservatory of two centuries ago, in a hoop skirt, hair tied up high, with a parasol and a handbag in my hands carefully hidden in a white pair of elbow-length glove. The tropical plants are in a great condition, thanks to the hard work of the park maintenance team. Intricate patterns, bold shapes and striking colors of various plants are a delightful tickle to our tired eyes.

シカゴ在住十七ヶ月にして初めて、リンカーン パークの植物園に 行ってきた。十九世紀ヨーロッパの、機械文明の賛歌のようなガラスと鉄の温室の中には、手入 れの行き届いた熱帯植物があふれて、寒風吹きすさぶ外界とはまるで別世界。生き生きと生い茂る植物の陰に、何に使うのか錆びたチェーンの絡みついた滑車が ひっそりと隠れていたり、天井を這う散水用の金属チューブからツタの根がすだれのように垂れ下がっていたり、重厚長大産業の残骸に熱帯植物が入り込んで 乗っ取ってしまったような不思議な雰囲気に圧倒される。そうかと思うと、日の光のあふれるガラスの天井と、それを支える鉄の骨組みの作り出す幾何学的なパ ターンは、新しい機械文明への畏怖と賞賛に満ちた二世紀前の西欧を思わせるに十分な、純真かつ朗らかな明るさに満ちている。葉脈の作り出すこみいった柄、 パパイヤやヤシの葉の大胆な形、赤い茎に紫の葉といったほとんどシュールリアルな色。視線の焦点によって全く違ったイメージの得られる、奇妙で楽しい植物 園である。(Lincoln Park Conservatory, Oct./17/2004)

Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

Monday, October 18, 2004

word of the day: rambunctious

noisy, full of energy, and behaving in a way that cannot be controlled

Two rambunctious racoons in the attic kept me awake all night.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 3

[This is my translation of the third story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by a modern Japanese author Soseki Natsume. For a brief information about the book and the author, please look at my comment. And also, I'd appreciate feecbacks from you!]

The Third Night

The dream went like this.

A six-year-old child is on my back. There is no doubt it’s my son. Strangely though, he has gone blind and has become a novice monk, before I know it. I asked him when his eyes went blind, to which he replied, “I’ve always been, you know that.” His voice is certainly that of a child, but the language is nothing but the adults’. And as if on equal terms with me.

On both sides are green rice paddies. The path is narrow. From time to time shadows of herons glide across the darkness.

“Now we’re in rice field,” said the voice on my back.

“How do you know?” I asked, turning my head backward.

“There’ve been herons’ screeches, obviously,” he said.

Then indeed a heron gave a couple of screeches.

I began to feel uneasy, even though he’s my own son. Who knows what will become of me with this thing on my back. As I looked ahead, hoping to find a good place to dump it, there was a deep forest in the dark. That forest could do, I thought. As soon as it occurred to me, I heard a “humph!” from behind.

“What’s so funny?”

The child didn’t answer, and just said, “Father, am I heavy?”

I said no.

“Soon I will be,” he said.

In silence, I walked aiming at the forest. The irregular winding path in the rice paddies wouldn’t lead me there easily. A while later the path came to a fork. Standing at the fork, I took a little break.

“There must be a stone standing here,” said the child.

True there was a stone, nine by nine inches, standing waist-high. On the surface it read, Higakubo to Left, Hottahara to Right. Even in the dark, the carmine letters were clearly visible. Carmine letters were the color of an eft’s abdomen.

“You’d better go left,” commanded the child. Toward the left the forest cast the shadow of darkness over our heads, from the distant sky. I hesitated a little.

“There’s no need to hesitate,” demanded the child. I had no choice but to head toward the forest. As I paced along the narrow path toward the forest, wondering how a blind could know all that, it commented on my shoulder.

“It’s no fun to be blind. Such an inconvenience.”

“What’s the matter? You’ve got me carrying you on my back.”

“I appreciate you hump me, but it’s no fun to be made little of. It’s no fun. Even a parent thinks little of me.”

I felt weary. To dump it fast in the forest, I hastened my steps.

“A few steps ahead, and you’ll see. –It was the night just like this, wasn’t it?” From behind I hear him mutter, as if talking to himself.

“What night?” My voice came out tense.

“You know it very well, don’t you?” Answered the child mockingly. Suddenly I felt like I knew it. But I didn’t know it clearly. It might have been just like tonight. And it might become clear a few steps ahead. It might be foul to know it clearly. I’d better get rid of it once and for all before it gets clear, and I’d better be relieved. I hastened my steps further.

It started to rain a while ago. The path was increasingly dark. I’m in a near trance. It is just a dwarf stuck to my back, illuminating all my past, present, and future, glaring like a horrible mirror that never misses a single detail. Moreover it is my own son. And it is blind. I’ve had enough.

“Here, here, it’s exactly at the root of that cedar tree!”

The child’s voice was clearly audible even in the rain. I found myself standing still. I was already in the forest before I knew it. The black object about six feet away indeed appeared to be a cedar tree, as the child said.

“Father, it was by the root of that cedar.”

“Yes, it was,” it slipped out.

“It was the year of dragon, 1808”

It indeed seemed to have been the year of dragon, 1808.

“It was exactly a hundred years ago, that you killed me.”

No sooner than I heard it did a realization burst in my mind that I killed a blind, at the root of this cedar tree, in a moonless night like tonight, in the year of dragon, 1882, exactly a hundred years back from now. As soon as I realized that I was a murderer, the child weighed heavy on my back as if it were a stone statue of a Budhisattva.

fruitful hunt for the fall foliage

Dissatisfied with the poor quality of pictures I took several days ago, I went back to Glencoe Beach in the afternoon. Just after I crossed the Metra railroad, a maple tree in its full fall red caught my eyes. I parked my car, and took this picture of a maple leaf sitting on a bench on the platform. The soft light from the slightly overcast sky was just enough to bring the red to life but not to white out the intricate feel of the skin and the veins.
レイバーデイを過ぎると、南仏コートダジュールと見紛うような、白壁に赤い瓦の乗ったあずまややビーチハウスの点在するグレンコービーチは、灼けた肌を誇 らしげに見せつける若者でにぎわう夏とは全く違う、静かで落ち着いた大人の表情を見せる。白い砂浜へと落ち込む崖に茂る潅木や草が、お互いを引き立てつつ それぞれに紅葉し、石垣を這うツタは紫や黄色の小さな実をぎっしりとつける。高台の散歩道には、近所に住むと思しき年配の夫婦がふわふわのプードルを連れ てゆったりと散歩していたり、これも近所に住むのだろう若い母親が、ランニングウェアに身を固め、赤ん坊の乗ったベビーカーを押して走っていたりして、弾 ける夏とは違う親密で穏やかな雰囲気。郊外の村によくある「駐車許可証を貼っていない車両は駐車禁止」という排他的な規則もこのビーチにはなくて、快い余 裕を感じる。ここに住んで一年半になるけれど、いまだに、湖から車で15分という恵まれた環境が時々信じられなくなる。湖を望む高台に巨大な豪邸を構える 金持ちもいれば、夫婦共働きでも、日本のウサギ小屋を笑えないちっぽけな家も維持できないワーキングクラスもまた多い、それがアメリカ。(Glencoe Beach, Oct./13/2004) Posted by Hello

Saturday, October 09, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 2

[This is my translation of the second story that appears in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by a Japanese author Soseki Natsume. For a bridf information about the book and the author, please refer to my comment. And also, I'd be happy to receive your feedback!]

The Second Night

I had a dream like this.

Having excused myself from the Buddhist priest’s room I went back to my own room by way of the corridor, to find the paper lantern dimly lit. When I stirred its wick, with one knee on a cushion, a flower-shaped clove dropped on the vermilion-lacquered stand. Right away the room illuminated.

The fusuma has a drawing by the hand of Buson. Willows are drawn with ink, close ones in solid black, distant ones in watery gray. A fisherman passes on the riverbank, looking cold, tilting his hat of woven reeds. On the alcove wall hangs a scroll depicting Bodhisattva of Wisdom on the back of a lion, approaching through the clouds above the ocean. The remain of an incense is still emitting fragrance in the dark corner. A perfect silence reins the empty, upscale temple. As I look upward, the round light of the paper lantern cast upon the black ceiling wavers as if it were animate.

Still on my one knee, I flipped the cushion with the left hand and felt underneath by the right, to find it where I had supposed. Reassured, I put back the cushion and settled upon it heavily.

You are a samurai. Any samurai can attain enlightenment, said the priest. Considering your persistent failure to attain enlightenment, you are no samurai, are you, said he. A trash, he called me. Ha, see, now you’re mad, he scoffed. I dare you to bring me the evidence of your enlightenment, he said and turned away, dismissively. That damned priest.

I swear I’ll come to the enlightenment by the time the clock set in the alcove of the hall strikes the next hour. Having reached the enlightenment, I’ll enter his room again tonight. And I’ll have his head in exchange. Unless I attain enlightenment, I can’t take the priest’s life. It is imperative that I shall attain enlightenment. I am a samurai.

If I cannot attain enlightenment, I’ll kill myself. A samurai shall not live on in shame. A samurai should rather die gracefully.

At this thought, my hand crept in under the cushion again, unconsciously. And pulled out a dagger in a vermilion-lacquered sheath. Gripping the hilt, brushed away the vermilion sheath. The chilly blade flashed in the dark room instantly. I have a sensation of something intense diffusing from the tip of my hand. It concentrates along the blade, harboring condensed thirst for blood at the tip. Seeing this sharp blade, confined in a tiny pinhead, sticking out at the tip without any other outlet, I feel the instant urge to sink it deep. All the blood in the body flows into the right wrist, and the hilt starts to feel sticky in my hand. My lips trembled.

With the sheathed dagger close at the right hand, I folded my legs in the zazen position. –Reverend Joshu said “naught.” What the hell is a “naught”? I clenched my teeth—fuckin’ priest.

Because of the pressure I applied to the molars, hot breath fiercely steamed out of the nostrils. My temples hurt with strain. I pried open my eyes no less than twice as wide as normal.

I see the hanging scroll. I see the paper lantern. I see the tatami. I see the priest’s kettle head vividly. I even hear his scoff coming out of his crocodile mouth. That damned, impudent priest. By all means I’ll have to behead that kettle. I swear I shall reach enlightenment. Naught, naught, I chanted on the root of the tongue. It should be a naught, but still I smell the incense. That saucy incense.

Abruptly I clenched my fist and hit my head with all my strength. And then I rasped my morals. I perspire in both armpits. My back is like a pole. The knee joints suddenly began to ache. The hell with the broken knees, I thought. But they hurt. It’s a torment. Naught doesn’t seem to emerge soon. As soon as I sense it close, then the pain comes back. It’s annoying. Discouraging. Frustrating. Tears pour out. I’m tempted to crash my whole body against a crag, smashing flesh and bones into million pieces.

Nevertheless I disciplined myself to sit still. I sat still with an almost unbearable urge in my bosom. The urge pressured all the muscles of the body from beneath, trying to pry its way out of the pores, but every pore was clogged, in a state of extreme cruelty, without a single outlet.

Shortly, my head went weird. The paper lantern, the drawing by Buson, the tatami, and the alcove shelves, all looked as if they existed but not existed, or as if they didn’t exist but existed. And yet, the naught didn’t materialize at all. It felt as if I had been sitting leisurely. Suddenly the clock in the next room began to strike the hour.

I caught my breath. Quickly I put my right hand to the dagger. The clock struck the second time.

Friday, October 08, 2004

word of the day: vicarious

experienced by watching, hearing, or reading about someone else doing something, rather than doing it yourself

Expanding one's understanding on fellow human's emotions and becoming more torelant to their behaviors are among the merits of vicarious experience gained through reading fiction.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume

[This is my translation of the first story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by Soseki Natsume. For a brief (and biased) information, please refer to my comment. Also, I'm more than happy to receive feedbacks from you!]

The First Night

I had a dream like this.

As I sat at the bedside with my arms folded, she, lying on her back, quietly said, I’m dying now. She laid her slender face of soft contour in her long hair spread on the pillow. From the bottom of her pure white cheek pleasantly shined the warm color of her blood, the lips were of course scarlet. In no way she looked dying. But she had announced in a quiet voice that she was dying. I myself felt that she was in fact dying. Thus, leaning over to her I asked, is that so, are you dying? Absolutely, she said, opening her eyes wide. Big, moist eyes, ebony all over inside the envelopes of long eyelashes. In the deep of the ebony eyes vividly floated my reflections.

Gazing into the transparent depth of the lustrous pupils, I wondered if she was dying nonetheless. Therefore, I put my mouth to the intimacy of the pillow and asked again, you’re not dying, are you? To this she replies, but I’m dying, I cannot help it, with her sleepy ebony eyes still wide open, her voice still quiet.

Then can you see my face, I asked frantically, to which she managed to throw back a smile, and said, of course I can see your face, can’t you see it’s reflected there? I silenced myself, took my face back from the pillow. Folding my arms, I wondered if she was dying no matter what.

After a while, she spoke again.

“When I’m dead, bury me, please. Dig a hole with a large pearl oyster. Then, place a fragment of a star that comes down from the sky as a marker. Everything done, please wait for me by the grave, I’ll come to see you again.”

I asked, when are you coming to see me?

“You see, the sun rises. Then the sun sets. Then it rises again. Then it sets again. –The red sun turns from the East to the West, from the East to the West— honey, can you wait?”

I nodded, silent. She raised her voice from the quiet tone, shook off hesitation, and said, wait a hundred years.

“Wait a hundred years, sitting at my graveside. I promise you I’ll come.”

I just said I would wait. At this, my reflections, that had been vivid in the ebony eyes, started to blur. As soon as my reflections started to flow, as if disturbed by the sudden movement of once-quiet water, her eyes snapped shut. A teardrop dripped down to her cheek through the long eyelashes. –And I knew she was dead.

And so I stepped out to the yard and dug a hole with a pearl oyster. The pearl oyster was a large, smooth shell with a sharp edge. Every time I scooped the dirt, moonlight twinkled in its inside. There also was the smell of wet dirt. Before long the hole was dug. I laid her in it. Then tenderly I sprinkled soft dirt over her. Every time I sprinkled, the moon light shined into the pearl oyster.

And so I went to pick up a fallen fragment of a star to set it lightly on the dirt. The fragment of a star was round. As it slid down the vault of heaven for over an eternity, the jags got scraped off, giving it a smooth surface, I imagined. As I held it and placed it on the dirt, my hands and chest were warmed a little.

I settled myself on a carpet of moss. Thinking that I was going to wait a hundred years thus from now, I folded my arms and glanced at the round grave mark. A while later, as she had said, the sun rose from the East. A big, red sun. It sank to the West, as she had said, a while later. It dropped, still red. I counted one.

After a while the crimson sun dragged itself up the sky. Then sank, tacit. I counted two.

Counting it so one by one, I lost count of the red sun. Countless red sun passed over my head. Yet, a hundred years was yet to come. At last, looking at the moss-covered round stone, I began to wonder if she had tricked me.

Right then, from beneath the stone, a green stem reached slantingly toward me. In an instant it grew, and stopped just about the height of my chest. Next moment, at the top of the tremulous stem, a slender bud, that had initially tilted its neck slightly, softly opened its petals. The bones inside me trembled at the scent of the snow-white lily at the tip of my nose. Hit by a dewdrop from the far above, the flower swayed with its own weight. I stretched my neck and kissed its white petals, wet with the cool dewdrop. Stepping back from the lily, I caught a glimpse of the distant sky, where solitary Phosphor burned.

Finally I realized, a hundred years has passed.

"Ten Nights' Dreams" - a delightful deviation of a literary giant

Soseki Natsume, the author of "Ten Nights' Dreams," is considered to be one of the greatest figure in the modern Japanese literature, for not only his numerous novels and essays with spontaneous insights into the nature of modernity but also his contribution to the very creation of modern Japanese language.
Born in 1867, he lived and worked in the midst of the modernization/Westernization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, probably the most abrupt and zealous reformation Japanese society has ever experienced. When the entier society was voraciously (and with a considerable amount of inferiority complex) absorbing the "advanced" Western culture and technology, Soseki was not an exception. He diligently studied English literature in cold and damp London, and came back with larger-than-average inferiority complex (a perfect recipe for his future stomach ulcer). After teaching at the University of Tokyo, he devoted himself entirely to creative writing, including novels with deep human insight, such as "Kokoro," political and social criticism and satire, such as "I Am a Cat," short stories and essays. The majority of his works are realistic and deal with such serious (depressing, one might say) matters as the meaning of being individual, the selfish nature of human being, and the implication of rapid modernization of Japanese society.
Placed amongst his other works, "Ten Nights' Dreams" is a strange but delightful bastard of his underexplored, dreamy subconscious. It is true that a reader can read essential unstability of our existence, and profound fear as a consequence in the ten stories, and in that sense these are "serious"works. However, thanks to the fact that these themes are sublimed into surreal setting and plot which are not necessarily closely tied to our own lives, the ten stories are redeemed from the revealing but depressing nature of his other works. Japanese text is available here, a post on 青空文庫, a web-based free library of works whose copyrights have expired.

Friday, October 01, 2004

self portrait Posted by Hello