Lafcadio Hearn Leaving Kobudera
by Diane Kendig
Before he spoke Japanese, English, and before English,
Greek—not to mention all the cockney, pidgin,
Creole (his favorite saying causer cé manger
zoreîes, conversation is food for the ears),
and even so new to one, and even though
no one around him spoke the others and
he could no longer see from his one bulging,
Cyclopean eye, the simple words he needed
continued to come to him.
Near the Kobudera temple and its graveyard
with a hill of cedars to walk each day,
he had his home and marriage which he called
a haven from where he watched “dangerous
sea currents, running like violet bands,”
out of sight. For his sons, he’d built
a gym set where he’d hang upside down
a long time, smoking a cigar.
But the temple parish for the money
cut down the cedars one by one till the hill
was bare, sold the hillside off for house lots.
And just about the time he lost his place
at the university and two best friends,
a nearby prison began marching
manacled inmates past his house
twice each day.
Hearn said they’d move to the Oki Islands,
but though he had traveled the world,
he could no longer get so far, only
to the other side of Tokyo, leaving at least
the hack of axes and cedar crashing
on the ancient tombs, the chonking
of chains he’d escaped other places,
like his flight from Cincinnati’s miscegenation.
He didn’t need to hear them coming back again.
Diane Kendig’s recent chapbook is The Places We Find Ourselves. Her prose and poetry may be found in J Journal, Minnesota Review, Wordgathering, and Seventh Quarry, among others. A recipient of two Ohio Arts Council Fellowships in Poetry and a Fulbright lectureship in translation, Diane currently lives “out of place” near Boston. She spent four months in medium security spread across 18 years.