Having lost track of the time in your own
country, how long you’ve been up, how little
you slept on the plane, but finding yourself alone
in a small room in an enormous city

you take the elevator down to the dim
lobby and feeling just like a criminal slip
out for a walk beside the moated rim
of the Imperial Palace. It’s late—

even the packed, desperate thoroughfares
of Central Tokyo are all but deserted.
Vistas have opened up, and the air’s
cooled a bit at last. You can hear

a few horns honking in the distance,
also a heavy truck which, meeting
strong internal resistance,
manfully strains and strains as it climbs

into gear and rumbles off. Such sounds
deepen rather than deplete the sensation
of an enchanted spell of sleep that extends
over miles and millions. Yet it’s you

who’s about to awaken, as a bend in the moat
reveals a vision—enchanted, too—
of frenzy: a jeweled inner city afloat
in light, the mad neon dazzle of the Ginza …

The neon blazes cleanly in the old moat.
Lights on lights are overlaid in repeated
applications which soothe somewhat
a staggered, jet-lagged brain that longs

to rest yet somehow can’t; for they fill
the mind as dreams do, these flourishing
ribbons on the ebony flux, the spill
of moons, keys and horns, the many-petaled rose

and amber and azure blooms that flare
and fade, flare and fade in rocking
even rhythms. How pleasing they are!—
these emblems from a Halloween magician’s cape,

these colors selected for brightness alone,
recalling jars of fingerpaint on the low shelves
of a primary classroom. With regret, then,
you note an approaching duck, whose wake shivers

all reflections; and it hurts a little
to watch the neat incision being cut, the plush
collapse begin as the first nudging ripple
swings outwards. Yet as the duck, in passing,

transforms into a swan, the shapely S
of the neck lit in sudden fluorescent profile,
and familiar designs begin to coalesce
within the moat, which soon again will reflect

composedly, you’ll grant that while the static
glaze was restful, welcome is this
queen of birds with the sea-serpentine neck,
who trails behind her such thrilling rubble.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 2 Number 8, on page 63
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