I half jog, straining up the steep Daisho-in Climbing Path on Mt. Misen, contrasting the verdant Japanese flora with a ridiculous blue running top and burnt orange and brown Cleveland beanie.
Fluorescents dimly twinkle across Hiroshima Bay in the rare sliver views gouged in the forest. The sky is a split wound: happy day powder blue fighting the advancing deeply bruised thunderheads. The endorphin-induced dusk-dream snaps. Survival instincts whisper, “Hey, Jackass! It’s getting dark, and you have to go back down.”
I’m tired. I want to keep going; I want to summit the mountain, but my muscles are on fire from this vertical jog, already spent from a week walking around Japanese cities.
My knee wobbles and I almost fall, so I sit, trying to control my arrhythmic breathing on a step next to a buddha statue with four coins placed around the edges of carved kanji symbols I can’t read. Blood pounds in my ears. I take thought inventory, floating back to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial the day before, where scenes of absolute devastation punched something in my psyche.
Disturbing imagery of the wasteland aftermath, scorched school uniforms on display: shoes, belts, tattered shirts, small mannequins with their waxy skin dripping off bones like pulled pork – faces contorted in melted screams in the foreground of a hellish, rubble environ. A brutal counter-attack; the cost of “Winning”; the United States’ precise, pre-planned means to beat Russia to Super-Power status…
I try to shed the barrage of cynicism, or American guilt, shaking my thoughts like a magic eight ball.
A clean-shaven, chiseled man wearing a beige Marine’s service uniform walks up silently through the trees.
I’m not scared. It’s my Grandfather who died in 2006. He fought on Iwo Jima during WWII, and was shot in the ass on the third day of his deployment. A Purple Heart sits safely under my bed back home, wrapped in a Japanese Flag with an ambiguous rusty stain on it.
Grandpa spent 6 months recovering in Hawai’i missing the end of the war with Japan, but from his elaborated stories, you’d think the man ended the Pacific conflict himself.
His ghost is now the gruff, unsmiling, post-military truck driver of 35 years. His appearance has changed —now wearing light blue jeans, a flannel, and a mesh trucker hat with impressive sideburns jutting down his fuller face.
Grandpa was one of the most racist people I knew —a concept I understood early on to stem from ignorance, and lack of experience/interaction outside the bubble he reigned over, bullying all that occupied: my grandma; my aunts; my mom.
The conundrum: he was my earliest hero. His war stories; his trucker stories about tarantulas in banana shipments. The man taught me everything to know about the patience in fishing, sitting with me for hours on our dock, hooking live earthworms to hook bass. He taught me how throw a wicked slider, bellowing from the crowd at my youth baseball games. He taught me how to properly cheer for Cleveland’s sports teams; he taught me the importance of crossword puzzles, “To keep the memory sharp.”
Sitting next to Buddha, I ask Grandpa how he felt about me visiting the land of the people he deeply hated his entire life, close to where his patriotism was awarded with fragments of lead.
“Do you hate the fact I’m in Japan?”
“Do you still hate “The goddamn Japs” now that you’re dead?”
He doesn’t answer. Remnant whisps of his hair stand in the breeze. He looks the way he comes to me in dreams: pregnant belly, flooded sweat suit with white socks and slippers.
He shuffles an about-face, and silently heads away, consumed by the forest. I’m not sad he’s gone. I let him go. I’m letting this all happen. I am controlling it.
Zen swoops in.
I pretend to know all the concepts of Zen from a two-hour Meditation class in Kyoto.
The class hit home. I let it, like a steered horoscope.
I often let every single thought stampede at once in an exhaustive cacophony —free-jazz, allegro, skeebop-dee-doo — anxiety.
I’m having a good moment.
Let it go.
Be here now.
Deep breath – the wind stops.
Exhale — trees swaying.
I’m in Japan. I’m climbing a mountain.
I, happy man.
It’s getting dark. Fast.
I’ll go when I want to go.
The leaves clatter in applause.
I sit still, despite my mind.
I start running away from Mt. Misen’s summit, back down the mountain, pretending someone is chasing me. Exhilarated, I laugh. Up here, I’m unsupervised, unguarded – freely alone.
Crows caw from somewhere in the seeping darkness. Their pitches bent and dulled by the forest canopy like bullfrog croaks as I whiz by in a state of meditative bliss.
The Zen reverend said not to worry, to go with the birds if the birds come.
It’s now autumnally cold; my favorite weather. Dead leaves scatter in the wind. It feels like Halloween. I feel like a kid.
The crows caw.
Go with the birds.
Caw Caw Caw
“Ichabod! Ichabod!” I yell back at the crows.
The wind responds as I chop my feet down a particularly steep section of stairs. I run down a dock with a fishing pole in my memory.
I run down a porch, ring a doorbell,“Trick or Treat!”
Sugar buzz —my chest sprouts black feathers that poke through my running shirt. My Browns hat flies off—my mouth— now a beak. There’s no one to judge what I look like on this mountain top and my shirt shreds in the wind. There’s no one to tell me I’ve failed and my shoes burst apart. I eagerly concede control to the feathers on my torso, to my fresh-winged finger tips, down to my clicking talons.
I run; I dodge. Tag, I win.
I take off.
32 comments on “Ghosts in the Crow”
This is really good! A departure from what you normally write, but I like it.
“Up here, I’m unsupervised, unguarded – freely alone.” I live near the Columbia River Gorge, and I’ve gone out there dozens and dozens of times just for that kind of alone time.
Thanks, Jen. I write some creative non-fiction on the side. Got a little bored, wanted to try something new. But, from the lack of comments, not sure it’s blog appropriate.
Awesome. I absolutely love it out there. Have you lived in OR your whole life?
I find that sometimes people don’t know how to respond to a piece like that. Admittedly, it was hard for me to come up with something that did justice to your piece.
No, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the went to college in Seattle, and now I love in Portland. I’m a West Coast nomad.
That’s true. Guess I didn’t think of it that way. Thanks for writing, then. 🙂
That’s awesome. I love all three cities – though, I need to get back to Portland. Was only there for like two days, and didn’t get a chance to connect. The town sort of stuck, like a slow burn. And the nature there is unparalleled.
Portland is a great city because it has something for every type of person: foodies, booze hounds, outdoor enthusiasts, music lovers, art lovers, readers and writers, and people who just enjoy having fun. I love it here.
I’m going to pick your brain before heading to Portland next time.
Mike, you are such a talented writer. I love this — this creative non-fiction piece that seems poetic — there is a rhythm to it. I love the way you described your conundrum about your Grandfather who you obviously loved but didn’t understand his reasons for “hating.” That balance is difficult and to write about it, even more so. You’ve written it as a loving observer — loving him for love’s sake and without judgment and without sounding too well, “sappy” if you know what I mean. You obviously do. He’s your grandfather, after all, right?
Your post (and the pics — wow) makes me want to write creatively again and because of many circumstances the past year, I’ve not had any desire to do that. Thank you — this was WONDERFUL!!! But, I have your book with your short story, been reading your posts for a while now so I know that you’re capable of being wildly funny and crazy, deeply soulful. Like this. I wanted to listen to Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly” during that last part. Zen. It’s elusive but so nice when get “there” HERE, isn’t it?
Thank you, Brigitte. It was something I’ve been working on since I came back. Something I felt I had to get down. THere were definitely a lot of conflicting feelings towards my gpa while traveling in Japan. It’s really weird how you hold certain people up on a pedestal, yet things are revealed as time goes on, specifically, when they pass. Interesting stuff.
That’s the highest compliment one could pay! Thank you very much! Write away, I want to read some of this creative explosion you’re ready to pour out.
Good song choice.
Absolutely right about zen. The moment I wrote about above really bookended the trip for me. I came down the mountain (how cliche) feeling super charged.
Thanks again for your comments. Really gives me a boost to keep going with some of the more serious stuff on the back end.
I’m really liking this piece, Mike. It has a wonderful stream of consciousness element to it.
Thanks, Mike. That means a lot coming from you.
I plan on hacking away the piece some more – taking it out to dinner, not calling it for a few weeks, then drunk dialing it months later, begging for forgiveness.
If I know this piece, it’ll totally let you come back. It has zero self-esteem.
I like it. A lot. It’s totally blog appropriate because it’s your blog! (I know how you feel, though…) My Nana who just passed and who was of the same generation was also one of the racist people I ever knew… Is that picture really of the two of you?
Thanks, Jessica, and you’re right about appropriateness of posts.
Sorry to hear about your Nana. That generation was enigmatic. Tough, strong, ignorant…
Not us. I have a picture of us somewhere, but couldn’t find it in time (still can’t). Buried in the move.
Reblogged this on Winarno De inlaander Blog and commented:
usually crows always fly together with the other Crow community notice how to fly in a group …
Thanks for the reblog, winarnorambar!
Sure do. A ‘murder’ of crows…that I joined at the end (or tried to) at the end of the piece.
Late to this party for sure, but really enjoyed your piece, Mike. I like the way you’ve ‘presented’ Japan from several different literary angles. It fits the experience, I would think, because of course you’re a little different, or sensing things a little differently, throughout the travel. For people who come here for straight humor, it’s a departure. For others, who have come to ‘know’ the more well-rounded (ok that’s not a fat joke) you, it’s consistent. And for your grandfather, I think its good to be able to hold both sides together — not either/or, but both/and.
Thank you, Laura.
I really appreciate it. For some reason, the old man was on my mind most of the trip, couldn’t shake him – thought a flawed truth piece would be appropriate. Wabi-sabi 🙂
Oh, yes of course. The truth is always perfect because it’s flawed. Beware of the perfect is perfect crew. As you know. If you read the small print on your Winner’s card… 🙂
I did indeed! Beware, perfection.
This piece is amazing, Mike. Poignant, creative, poetic, all that crap. I really enjoyed it.
Thanks, madame. Need to polish it a bit, get some crud out of there, but should be good to go soon. Appreciate you reading it.
This is some of your best. Really enjoyed it.
Reminds me of Carlos Castaneda and The Teachings of Don Juan; without the peyote.
Very blogworthy and inspiring.
Thank you, Sir. Humbling complement coming from you.
I can honestly say (this time) I was not gnawing on peyote buttons. Didn’t meet my Indian guru this time.
Got a couple more short stories like this, maybe I’ll post ’em…
I’m afraid an articulate response to your brilliant work is beyond me right now, but know this; you are the sort of writer I wish I could be.
Dude, incredible compliment – thank you. Seriously, thank you.
Hiroshima demands contemplation.
Indeed it does. Fascinating place.
Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
In all seriousness I enjoyed this. Well done.
Haha – it is.