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.


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