Poetry Reading at the
Yakimono Gallery, Kyoto
The note they left at the hotel said
take a taxi to the Higashiyama district
at the foot of the Eastern Mountains.
You will see students parking bikes
at a library no bigger than a shed.
The Bank of Kyoto is on the corner.
Across the street on the north side
you will see a wooden sign
that reads 哲学の道 —this is
the start of the Philosopher’s Path.
As the full moon slowly rises,
follow the narrow stone way
under the bent, old cherry trees
that weep over the tiny canal.
Very shortly you will come to
a small koban—a police box.
Continue along the canal,
enjoying the sound of water.
Walk for an unhurried minute
toward a wide stone staircase
that leads up the mountain,
rising higher into the darkness
and Kitaro’s night of nothingness.
Stop at the base of the stairs
and do not climb them.
Beside the road in the shadows,
a red paper lantern burns
next to a small wooden easel
displaying a book of poetry.
This is the centuries-old house.
Pass under the gabled gate
and through the rock garden
to the gallery with ceramics
silently occupying space and time.
Slide open the paneled door.
Waiting among the potters’ vessels,
you will see rows of friendly faces.
In the quiet after dinner, we sit in the living room.
I tell my children gathered around me
that each day we compose the story of our lives
between the blank margins of existence—
barrenness and bleakest despair.
The three of them listen, calmly indulging me,
smiling, having heard their father recite
a thousand such monologs.
As the evening’s darkness settles,
my sentences spiral away like comets through space—
and the children are like three silent blue planets,
or three bright moons, or a trio of tiny distant stars
shining with me in the dim universe of our house.
When they say nothing,
I pull the chain on a lamp to light the room,
adding that sometimes I feel like Franz Kafka.
“Who is Franz Kafka?” they ask.
I tell them he’s a hero of mine, a writer
who wrote books that stab us and affect us like disasters,
like suicide, like the death of someone we love
more than ourselves.
The three of them say, yes, exactly right!
and Google “Kafka” on their cell phones.
They read his aphorisms aloud—
A cage went in search of a bird—
which immediately they say should have been translated,
“A cage flies off in search of a bird.”
Then Andrew says barrenness is not so bad—
depends on how you look at it.
With a wink William says he likes my poems
for their vast white spaces,
those wide silences he can enter at the line’s end.
Sarah innocently agrees. She says margins
are like towering, white clouds that recreate
and restore us high above the earth.
Every line of a poem, she says, is a leap
and fall from heaven
to the next line
where, with renewed strength,
taking up the thought,
we face life’s next terror, life’s next wonder.
RICHARD JONES is the author of seven books of poems from Copper Canyon Press, and the editor of the literary journal Poetry East and the free, worldwide poetry app, “The Poet’s Almanac.” A new book, Stranger on Earth, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon in 2018. www.RichardJonesPoetry.com and www.PoetryEast.org.