First Snow on Fuji, 1959 (transl. 1999)

Nine stories and a “Dance-Drama” by Nobel Prize winning Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata. Domestic settings around living quarters, gardens and paths, plants and pets, involving marital and extramarital relationships, post World War II thoughts and experiences in lovingly (at once sympathetic and detached) close, naturalistic readings of character motivations and responses – to one another, to nature, to self. In a “Translator’s Note,” Michael Emmerich summarizes the style:

“He [Kawabata] had to make the most of each unclaimed moment, each precious word. So it’s no surprise to find that the pieces in this collection are incredibly distilled, often dealing with the relationship between language and being, words and the past, and with being claimed, with losing possession of one’s historical self” (ix).

Not that the motivations and responses are necessarily absent any ambiguity, in spite of the lucid, no-nonsense prose. There might be an impulse to get away from one another, the hugging closeness of living together, from one’s own place, of wondering what taboos have to do with you, from, in the end, comparing and contrasting what you have with what you think others might have, to break one’s silence of the solitude that comes with living with someone else:

“Once more I seemed to have said too much. Wasn’t what I was doing like forcing a desperately wounded soldier to return to battle? Wasn’t it like violating a sanctuary of silence? It wasn’t as though Akifusa was unable to write – he could write letters or characters if he wanted to. Perhaps he had chosen to remain silent, chosen to be wordless because of some deep sorrow, some regret. Hadn’t my own experience taught me that no word can say as much as silence?” (167).

Kawabata’s writing is full of atmosphere created from the smells and sounds, visions and touch, of ordinary living. The effects might be described as calming, even if the events portrayed are not. And in that sense there is an acceptance of life the characters often in personal rebellion don’t want to accept, or, at least, wonder what life might be like on the other side of such acceptance. That is brought forth from description, dialog, shifting point of view, of course, but here the brush strokes, the word juxtapositions, the storytelling flow, just seem so perfect and create that sense one sometimes yearns from reading – a momentary relief, as Frost said of poetry, against the confusion of the world, even, again, if confusion is what it’s all about.

The copy I read is a Counterpoint (Washington, D. C.) paperback, 227 pages, Perseus Books Group (ISBN: 1-58243-022-5), 1999, but there appears to be a reprint, “revised,” which I’ve not seen, from Counterpoint (Berkeley, 2000, 248 pages).

In the Sober Reality of Celestial Shade

Day ends with a walk to sleep,
ends again in the sober reality
of celestial shade, one awakes
in the dark and quiet, too early
to get out of bed, too late
to start some new episode
on the television or telephone,
and this is when one turns
to paper and words seep
out shy and uncertain fearful
like little furry animals searching
the brambles for food and drink
day’s fire now cool ashen,
and while certainly somewhere
in the city of night madness
drones on, an asocial tinnitus,
here in the paper we find
we can hear the pencil’s breeze
and feel the bluish-gray lead lighten.

Spelunking

What’s written by candle in yr cave
won’t be read for eons by anyone,
no views, no visitors, no likes, no
comments, until erelong perchance
some fair spelunker crawling
horizontally across the buried
rocks of yr commas, not too deep,
discovers yr degraded predicament,
etiolated undertaking to connect
images in the dark of creatures
now extinct, spellings archaic,
broken syntax of yr past, and finds
yr crushed crumpet of a skull
buried like a period at the end
of yr tunnel up against a wall,
a scurvy potation spilled betwixt.

Dear Reader,

Won’t you please tell me your rules,
style flaws that send you over the edge,
your conjugations, constructions, con-
junctions, your clauses and marks
memorized, when to be and not to be,
double negatives and things dangling
in white space and other wedded dark
matter; for I will find immense
pleasure in breaking & trashing
the etiquette of your ways & days.

Thanks,
Nomere Ana R. Chist