IN PURSUIT OF A BIRD

by Yoko Danno

I am in my brain,
You are in your brain.
You are in my brain,
I am in your brain.

I feel that time flies faster than ever. Because I digest food more slowly lately? Or am I already traveling around another sun, or another moon? I hope the orbit of my thoughts can be traced more precisely and the geography in my brain explored more in detail. Ethereal fragments of consciousness, along with earthbound urges, should be eventually put together into a meaningful whole. Is there a mastermind behind all of this mysterious integrating process?

I sent a letter to my friend with a wrong address. I didn’t know he had moved. Someone told me he has gone in search of a bird. Where?

In pursuit of the swan, he arrived at the land of Harima by way of Ki, then crossing Inaba he came to Taniha and to Tajima. He followed the bird east-ward to the land of Chika-tsu-Aumi, crossed Mino, chased it through Wohari, past Shinano, and finally in the land of Koshi spread a net at a river mouth…*

The man in the topic was instructed that if he found the bird, the child—an emperor’s son who was unable to speak—would be able to speak. But is it possible, at the present time, to wander over the Japan Island of the 8th century? Let alone to find the bird? I’m told ‘past’ is a mirage, ‘future’ a phantom, and ‘now’ becomes ‘past’ from instant to instant—a flower never stays the same. But then what is the present time exactly? If there’s no ‘now,’ we live only in ‘past’? If so, no wonder he has gone looking for the bird into ‘past’…by the way, I sprained my neck while I was asleep last night.

Ki lies in the Ki Peninsular facing the Pacific Ocean. I once visited there on a school excursion when I was a child. Harima, far down south of Inaba, is the birthplace of my grandmother. Carried in a palanquin, crossing mountains, she married into a sake-brewing family in Taniha, my ancestors’ place. In Aumi is Lake Biwa, home to multiple birds. In Mino cormorants are nurtured to fish for humans. In Wohari I lived with my family for two years. Koshi is present-day Hokuriku, northwesterly coastal area. On my way to Shinano on a sightseeing trip I looked out over the raging Japan Sea through a train window. What has he been doing all the while? Where on earth has he flown to?—the one to whom I sent a letter, I mean.

My letter must be carried around in a postman’s bag in search of his whereabouts. I hope it won’t be abandoned in a box of ‘undelivered mail’ at a post office, since I forgot to write my return address on the envelope. My fatal fault. Once lost, a letter will never be delivered. I may not know whether he has actually caught the bird or not, although I desperately wish to know.

I have recently lost my voice, caused not by a laryngeal cancer, but from hypertension—I need to perform magic in front of old people in a nursing home. Most of the audience is suffering from dementia, but I am warned they are strangely quick-eyed in seeing through tricks. It is rumored they are trained nightly by particular owls to see through the darkness. If only I could regain my voice, I might distract their attention by my mumbo jumbo.

I wonder, however, if we should always expect replies to our letters. Emily Dickinson wisely stored in her small casket the letters to her ‘Master,’ which has kept the world in perpetual suspense and contemplation. Thinking I might perhaps have forgotten to mail my letter, I rummaged all drawers of my desk and cabinet—in vain. There’s no doubt that I posted it—the letter is in my brain.

*Excerpt from “Kojiki” (trans. by Danno), the oldest collection of songs and stories concerning the founding of Japan and the beginnings of Japanese culture, compiled in the 8th century.

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