Feb '04 [Home]


Around the Imperial Palace in October
Peter Hanke

. . .

Japan is second to none in its per capita
joggers.  .  .  . Many of our guests do the 5/4
kilometer run around the Imperial Palace
grounds across from the Hotel.

—Palace Hotel brochure

Cut a tunnel around the palace with your body
While the mist still holds memories of the moon.
If there are petals in the floating world
With lampposts upside down on the other side
Of the wet, black sidewalk, you can't smell them. Deep
Above the moat sinking to your left as you climb,
Ascending and descending dragons move
In shredding mist. Before you see, you hear
From a cedar branch passing your head, a raven
Refusing dawn: as large as the Tower of London
Ravens, as touched by the acid of Time: but more
Discreet and ominous, more Japanese.
Its voice recedes among the dripping trees.

Eight times around would make a marathon.
Here comes the plaza again. The hungry ghosts
Of History are pent up in the fortress.
For you, now, History is a bent man running
Straight toward you with metal shining in his hand:
A radio: each of you says "Good morning"
In the other's language, hands across the sea.
You turn, the moat always at your left, uphill,
Enough light so shadows move in the moat
And sing. The carp sing: "Never give up! Expel
The barbarian and revere the Emperor!"
They flame in the water. "Never give up!" The swan
Remains pure black although the night has gone.

Mist puts the streetlights out. The eleven lanes
Of the boulevard to your right have filled with wheels,
That other way than legs to cover ground.
Your stride shivers the water windows brimming
With the fluttering sleeves of the low, wet sky.
The weak sounds of the autumn insects drown.
Silk screens tremble and lacquer boxes flash.
Where the great stone rampart slants into the moat,
A white crane stands among water lilies.
A wood block print of a wandering recluse
Or man of wealth on his way to the gay quarter
Loses its outlines: is a stretching man
A team of joggers tumbles from a van

And all at once more people are running with you
Or against you as again you pass Oteman Gate
Than Prince Gengi saddened mistresses
In his dark journeys, or than Lady Nijo
Hung poems on the branches of her Springs.
The carp sing to the many: "Do your best!
Pursue your dream!" You can see them one by one—
Mr. Fujita grabs the lead at a subway entrance
From Mr. Watanabe: or see them as,
Say, the signs of the zodiac, rat, tiger, bull,
Hare, snake, horse, dragon, goat, cock, dog, boar, monkey,
And the ten celestial signs, streaming both ways,
A furious calendar of lives and days.

Schoolgirls behind their flags sweep across the plaza
Like squadrons across rivers on a scroll
And, scattering tourists, march into the fortress.
Your legs are smoldering; your world is dimming.
Till a seagull flying from the palace calls:
"Try to achieve a balanced life! Keep studying!"
And a white carp offers from the moat: "Be aware
Of changing market needs! Never give up!"
A red carp sings: "It's possible… Maybe probable…
Anything's possible… Probably." You can't
Go as much faster going downhill as
You go slower going uphill. You
Can't reach the end by merely wishing to.

The only language now is of the sun.
If the floating world of dawn was but your own
Land surface full of mist, if the raven was
A clump of innocent feathers, if the carp
Are fish, you reach in any event the same
Necessity to launch a finishing kick
Straightway t the lamppost! The pain of stopping
Is immensely less than keeping on would cost.
Head down, you cross the street. The glass door opens,
Gold braid bows down, the doorman knows his place:
Higher than yours. You retrieve your key
And, when the metal lips in the wall have parted,
Ascend to the hotel room where you started.

Raised and educated in Massachusetts and Maryland, Peter Hanke served for three years as a naval officer and thereafter has had a varied legal career with some foreign travel. He lives in Austin, Texas, and has had poems and two stories pubished in magazines and four one-act comedies produced in a regional theatre. This is his first appearance on the magazine.