Mr. Moto's Confession
The famous Tokyo detective looked as if he'd taken a shower
in his linen suit and then slept in it.
He mopped his shiny forehead with a handkerchief.
"Pascal was right," he said, his tenor slightly nasal.
"Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to
another form of madness. What's more," he added, the cat
eying the canary, "contradiction is not a sign of falsity,
nor is the want of contradiction a sign of truth -- Pascal again."
He took out his fountain pen. I saw my chance.
Mr. Moto, I asked, should I believe all those stories
I've heard about you? "Please do not," he murmured. "I do not."
He was writing something on a cocktail napkin.
"In fact," he said, his pen continuing to move, "my real name is
Laszlo Löwenstein. I was born in Hungary, I drove myself crazy
as an actor in Zürich and Berlin, and now that I live in Hollywood
I have bad dreams. Last night one of them told me
I'll end up buried alive in a tale by Edgar Allan Poe."
He coughed politely, capped his pen, and getting to his feet
handed me the little piece of paper. "An ancient Japanese
poetic form," he said. Even as I stared at it
the little cairn of characters, each a tiny, exotic bird cage
with its doors open, blurred, melted, and reformed as if rising
to the surface of a well, where these words trembled
but stayed clear enough to read: As evening nears, how clearly
a dog's bark carries over the water.
from The New Republic
AGHA SHAHID ALI
The Floating Post Office
(Note: The post boat was like a gondola that called at each houseboat. It carried clerk, weighing scales, and a bell to announce arrivals.)
Has he been kept from us? Portents
of rain, rumors, ambushed letters...
Curtained palanquin, fetch our word,
bring us word: Who has died? Who'll live?
Has the order gone out to close
the waterways...the one open road?
And then we saw the boat being rowed
through the fog of death, the sentence
passed on our city. It came close
to reveal smudged black-ink letters
which the postman -- he was alive --
gave us, like signs, without a word,
and we took them, without a word.
From our deck we'd seen the hill road
bringing a jade rain, near-olive,
down from the temple, some penitent's
cymbaled prayer? He took our letters,
and held them, like a lover, close
to his heart. And the rain drew close.
Was there, we asked, a new password --
blood, blood shaken into letters,
cruel primitive script that would erode
our saffron link to the past? Tense
with autumn, the leaves, drenched olive,
fell on graveyards, crying "O live!"
What future would the rain disclose?
O Rain, abandon all pretense,
now drown the world, give us your word,
ring, sweet assassin of the road,
the temple bell! For if letters
come, I will answer those letters
and my year will be tense, alive
with love! The temple receives the road:
there, the rain has come to a close.
Here the waters rise; our each word
in the fog awaits a sentence:
His hand on the scales, he gives his word:
Our letters will be rowed through olive
canals, the tense waters no one can close.
from The Kenyon Review
Something was out there on the lake, just barely
visible in the dark.
I knelt and stared, trying to make it out,
trying to mark
its position relative to mine,
and the picturesque willow, the moon-silvered diving board
on the opposite shore. I listened hard
no sound from it, although I cupped one ear
as I knelt in the cove,
wondering how far I should take this, if I should seek
someone to row out there with me. Yet it didn't move
or grow darker or lighter. Most shapes,
you know what they are:
a rock-garden serpent, a house in the mist, a man's head,
an evening star,
but not this one. Whatever was out there kept changing
from large to small.
The mass of a wooden coffin surfaced,
then the head of an owl,
a tree limb, a window, a veil --
I couldn't resolve it. I ran one hand through my hair
as I stood up, shrugging. I had just turned 50
and whatever it was that might be floating there
I didn't want it to be. Too much before
that came unbidden into my life
I'd let take me over. I knelt again and stared again.
Something was out there just beyond the cove.
from The Hudson Review
FONT SIZE="-1">Copyright © 1998 by David Lehman