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Helen Ruggieri


It's hot in Kyoto.  It 's so hot my clothes are wet from the inside out.  I smell like a fish. When I was little, they said I could swim like a fish, but now  I trudge, plod.  Wet.  Hot.  Marutamachi Street is very long, Cid.  I looked at every little shop for one that might belong to an American poet.  A haiku out front, a kanji sign for poet, a red, white and blue noren to ward off evil spirits.
I wanted to say hello, to visit but I didn't know how to approach my want.  Just as well.   

"Poetry becomes
       that conversation we could
         not otherwise have." 

Better to send an e-mail, risk nothing, impersonal, instantaneous.  Ask,  how do you stay away from your language and transform it, amalgamate it; rather, make it Japanese too, the flip side of the world.  A  transformation of  idea into appropriate sounds.  Hot Kyoto under a July haze. 
Everything in Kyoto is uphill.  The going is slow.  We climb to the Silver Pavilion -  a poem made out of landscape.  An ancient emperor has angled the dry garden of sand so that when the moon rises full from behind that mountain, a metamorphosis occurs.  If we had all the money what might we build?  A poem out of a mountain, carved from a thousand year old tree.

The beauty of the moon framed, trapped, forced to transform sand into whitecaps of the imagination - a monthly         miracle.

Sometimes you find a home of the spirit.  This is where I belong, where I should have lived my life.  Perhaps I will buy a house along the canal, sneak over the gate on nights when the moon is full and watch Ginkakuji temple order it all - camellias glowing, scent of a god thick in the night, the moon seeing herself in the Brocade Mirror pond (kinkyo-chi).  I would learn the name of every stone and ripple and the poem each vista demands from visitors.  When the moon is full I will stand on the platform and wait.  A poem will fill my eyes, my tongue struggle against the new language, change sight into sound.  The miracle:

"Only a person
          lost in pursuing
          a calling loved knows." 

Cid, we walked the Philosopher's Path along the canal between walls and water, flowers hanging limp in the heat.  In the canal  seaweed  (mozuku) flowing with the water.  Tiny silver fish flashing, last night's dinner - what thickened the soup, the fish's silver eye watching.  We are what we eat.
We call out philosophies - cogito ergo sum.  Each according to his need.  Learn only to be contented.  No ideas but in things.  Kitaro Nishida (Ikutaro) said knowledge without experience is no good;  experience without knowledge is no good. 

Knowing and doing.  Live in the moment.  Learn only to be contented.  Marutamachi street is so long.

At an old house with a stone floor, we stop for tea. It is dark and cool inside, the floor still wet from the morning's scrubbing.  We are taken into the tea room and sit on benches at a low table along the far wall. It is gloomy in the windowless room, but cool.  Across from us a woman wearing a cotton summer  kimono makes  tea.   In the tea ceremony each action is part of the ritual,  each action the result of everything that has come before, done over and over until it is effortless.  We are served.  The sweet is called  chamaki, green and gelatinous, wrapped in a bamboo leaf.  The tea is green and clear and bitter.  First the sweet.  Then the bitter.  Then the blending.  The way sometimes one thing cannot be distinguished from another.  It happens.  Learn only to be contented.   In this moment only things are present.  Ideas follow.  All streets are long that lead here.