Sights from roads my feet have walked: the ginkgo


Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons


The sidewalk wanders past the tiny shops. I notice a pharmacy its shelves lined with aspirin in antiseptic white bottles across from a Chinese medicine store with a window lined with bottles of ginseng roots floating in amber liquid, a stationery store no larger than a walk-in closet, and a coffee shop. A businessman hurries past me into shop, releasing the aroma of the freshly ground beans into the cold air.


Today, I say, I will be aware that I am alive. Today I will notice, I will see, I will be.


Ginkgo trees stand between the street and the sidewalk, each an equal distance from the one in front, stretching as far as I can see down the thoroughfare. All are completely bare of leaves. I wear layers of clothing beneath my warmest coat. It is February in Tokyo.


Up ahead I see one tree laden with the round, feathered fruit of sparrows. Dozens sit in that one tree, and only that one. It surprises me, and my happiness doubles when I notice two men inside a small shop noticing them, too.


We do not speak, the men and I. We stand, watching, filled with wonder and delight.


Some years have passed since that cold winter day when I stopped to see the world. Even in a world empty and barren, hope lingers. A tree bereft of leaves can blossom forth in birds.





You stand before a vast, empty country, the land taut and pinned to the horizon. You measure your journey in months, believing the mirages, imagining fruit-laden trees. Before you, emptiness; behind you, the bones of your hope, bleached white by the unblinking sun. Blistered by grief, you drink shame; it burns your throat.


Your womb refuses life; it is the tomb of lost children. A dozen die each year. You see their blood and weep.


Reason tells you that giving birth is not a measure of your worth. You are still a woman. You listen politely, go home and drown yourself in tears. You curse the moon.


At the store, you wander the aisles, fill your basket high with food; some hungers can be filled. A woman, great with child, walks by, smiles at you, as if the two of you shared a secret. You leave the basket; someone will come by later and empty it. You must leave quickly, before the wailing starts, before you rock yourself to silence.


You do not know the secret.


After the silence, you rage, scorch earth and heaven with your anger. You tend the fire of hatred and burn yourself.


In the times before this, when your body kissed your lover, you shut the door to time. Now you line the walls with calendars, watch the clock, measure love by numbers, as if there were a recipe for life.


You give yourself to doctors, learn the humiliation of need, fail, and try until you are tired of dying like this.


One night after some years have passed, you hear the soft whimper of a child, and rise to hold her in your arms. Standing before the window, you see the full moon and smile. You never learned the secret, and yet your arms are full, too.


Another woman, in a different place, rises from her sleep and stands beneath the moon. Her hands search beneath her breasts and feel the emptiness beneath her heart, where a child once slept. That child sleeps now in the arms of the barren woman.


On dark nights when the moon empties itself of light, you think of the woman who shared her secret. You weep for the moon and the woman. You, too, know something of emptiness.