Poem About Autumn

Mono no Aware

“Both languages are good for different things,” the nun told me,
outside the temple in the dark.
“English is good for describing one or two bright stars.
In Japanese, they are dimmer, but I can see the whole sky.”
I held a bucket of food scraps as the incinerator
sent smoke into night.

When I finally escaped the convent I had a 9x12 tatami room,
no bed, no television, no furniture but a low, brown table.
It was all mine and so it was as wide as heaven.
After work I would run along the Kamo river
as sun leaked onto low, black rooftops.
I remember autumn the most—
trees so red you’d swear god had bled there
freedom so sharp and cold I barely knew what I was feeling.
I had headphones, somehow.
Music fueled me like the urgings of fallen angels,
I ran and ran and ran, feeling my legs, feeling my
hips, the strange ontology of my own body,
heart cracked open by the flaming glory of fall.

I didn’t know I was running back to myself.
I didn’t know it would take years.

In Japanese it’s called
mono no aware—the pathos of being.
What a clumsy translation for something so simple:
The heart’s trembling
at dew flung from a bird’s beak
a newborn’s last breath
autumn leaves floating downstream.

A window I closed long ago is opening—it lets in
the song of myself, warm and sweet.   
I am grateful.
I can hear my voice again.
But still, I long for Kyoto, her red trees,
the ramen shop, that man with a dog,
a language
that sees the whole night sky.


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