Friday, October 31, 2008

"A Towel" is accepted by Chiron Review.


My mother cleans my grandfather’s apartment
every Thursday. She picks up a photo
documentary; Auschwitz.
“A heavy, dusty book,” my mother calls it.

I ask her, “Will I go to a war?” Her palms,
her warm palms are on my cheeks.

Mothers have strong,
strong hands to push away all the soldiers.

Holding a vacuum cleaner, she says,
“I want your pain.” In the smallest

room, my sister cries, the glowing teeth.
My grandfather watches TV with the loudest volume,

the loudest speech. The howling-wind.

He lost his voice seventeen years ago,
the stroke. This mouth and the quietness like people
in those black and white pictures.

Piles of Jewish clothes, glasses, and hair.
Half-naked bodies and holes in the ground.
Their stark tongues and dirt in their mouths.

A last word adheres to their throats.

After the atomic bomb in Hiroshima,
my grandfather stood alone on a black hill.
He saw nothing but smoke. No clothes. No shoes.

Burnt skin hanging from arms.

Under the August sky, his mother
listened to an imperial speech from a radio.
Japan was lost. Clod between her finger nails.

Miles away from home,
he listened to the speech. A stranger
gave him a towel.

The white towel. He wiped off his face.
It smelled like dandelions; the mother’s hands.

My grandfather still watches news.
His unfocused eyes and shooting
bullets into the emerald sky. Oranges,

my mother brings them on a white plate.
She turned off the TV and ties a towel
around my neck in a summer breeze;

a wind bell.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Empty Suitcase:
Meet the Fujimoto Parents

My death metal guy is going to meet my parents this Thanksgiving weekend. The Japanese usually do not celebrate the harvest, and I have never left school in the middle of semester to go to Japan. But, this November, my family is going to have a family reunion, a celebration for my parent’s 27th wedding anniversary, and my best friend’s wedding. Especially, I would like to visit my grandfather, who connected to a feeding tube now, before he takes off to the other side of the world.

When I told my plan to my guy, he said, “Why not.” It was the shortest answer that I have ever received. I made sure he knew how important this decision was and what “meet the parents” means in Japanese culture. It is more serious than a relationship between Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller.

My father is not a CIA agent but a regular office worker carrying a briefcase and his proud cellular phone. It has a radio system inside so he can listen to baseball games wherever he is. My mother secretly believes that he may be a sidetracked employee. He loves Chuniti Dragons which Fukudome of the Cubs used to belong to and was the team in Mr. Baseball. From his phone, there is a wooden baseball charm that my sister and I gave him one summer a long time ago.

My death metal guy said, “I’m a White Sox fan but I have no problem ordering a Fukudome jersey for your father,” and he added, “Besides, I would like to get along with your family.” The following week, we bought two flight tickets to Japan.

I have ordered my tickets from the same Japanese traveling company in Chicago for six years and my agent is from Nagoya, Japan. He was very happy to ask detailed questions and beyond— a typical nosy Nagoyan citizen— his questions started from “Is he American?” to “What is your favorite bouquet color?” But he was very helpful in giving information about hotels in Nagoya. My death metal guy cannot stay at my parent’s apartment because he has not been accepted into the Fujimoto family yet.

I have never introduced a man to my parents. I wished my death metal guy was my one hundred and one time for the meeting parent’s situation. So my parents would not become nervous and they may finally be pleased to give a Fujimoto to some American family just like a winning lottery ticket. Fortunately or unfortunately, he is the first experiment.

I emailed my parents, “I would like to take an important person to Japan this November,” but they did not email me back right away. For the past two weeks, I was extremely nervous. I hesitated to call them. I could not eat my favorite blueberry pie that my death metal guy brought. I usually finish it within three hours or a day. He called me a neurotic Blueberry dope pusher. I tried to make my brain function, so I went shopping and bought a sweater with a long ribbon in the front.

The next day, with my new long ribbon outfit, I felt less nervous than before. It was the first snowy night of the seasom. It was cold night, so I suddenly wanted to go to the bathroom. When I flushed my toilet, the ribbon untied and my phone rang. With all haste, the pretty ribbon was flushed away to the Pacific Ocean. The toilet was clogged and water bucked up. My father talked to me, “Sure. He is welcome” and I answered, “I need a plunger.” He responded to me, “I hope it flows smooth between us.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Empty Suitcase:
Olives on Pizza

Suddenly I received three hours. A meeting, class, and other commitments were canceled one after another the other day. Under the autumn sky, I did not know what I wanted to do for three hours. I could have gone back home to sleep or do massive loads of laundry, but I did not feel like it. I could have read articles and homepages that I was interested in, but I did not feel like fitting myself in a computer lab listening to other’s typing keys. I was just standing in the middle of campus with a vacant look.

Then, I felt my hunger. Deep inside my body, my stomach craved for pizza with lots of olives. I purchased it from the Courtside Café in the Student Activity Center. I like the pizza from the café because I can choose three favorite toppings— my favorite is X cheese, olives, and olives on pizza bread— and with a bottle of water, it costs five dollars. I usually order X-cheese, tomato and chicken but I did not feel like it that day.

If I have lunch at one o’clock, I feel full until late evening, so I would say five dollars for lunch is reasonable. I am petite but I usually fit the pizza bread and other pieces of pizza left over by friends who share lunch time with me— I sometimes think that my stomach is an endless pit— the pizza never lands at the bottom of my stomach.

Holding a small pizza box, I left the café. I just did not feel like eating the pizza there. October 21st was a beautiful sky-day. Unfortunately, October 21st is not my favorite day in the year. Actually I like November 21st. I just like the sound—November twenty-first—as if I have rum raisin ice-cream in my mouth. If November 21st is my most favorite day of the year, October 21st is probably the third favorite. I do not feel that October 21st is worthy of being my second favorite day.

October 21st does not sound as perfect as November 21st so I liked the oddness of the day like the olives on my pizza. My father does not like olives on pizza because he believes olives are for salads or belong in martinis. Cooking olives are somehow against his appetite. But this October 21st was the perfect day for olives on pizza.

I walked towards Adams High School across from campus. I walked by the Greenhouse, which is going to close soon, kept walking around the closed Walgreens— I used to buy cheap cosmetics and accessories there but it was empty— and came to the picnic area by the zoo. There were only four people. Three of them were taking care of falling leaves— when they put all the leaves on the ground into plastic bags, more leaves fell from the sky— and one person drove a truck to carry something back and forth from the zoo. From a distance, I thought that he was carrying tons of pumpkins.

I felt autumn. My pizza was already cold. October 21st was cold. Thick fallen leaves looked warm on the ground by the sunshine and gold and reddish leaves kept falling. But all the leaves were ready to freeze on their edges soon in the early morning. They will feel the very first snowflake on their dried skins any moment.

When I finished eating my pizza with olives, I dropped the last piece of olive. I imagined that it would be never eaten by ants and other insects and will freeze until next spring. I covered up it under the fallen leaves with my toe. It was my kind of October 21st.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Naoko is observing bloggers.
Paparazzied by Ann Weedon
(A photographer and The editor of IU South Bend Student Publications:
2009 issue of New Views on Gender.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Empty Suitcase:
The Halloween Magic, the Nile’s Haunted House

Two weeks ago, I received a love letter from my death metal guy with an invitation for a date, which he called a blue night. I was kind of expecting a romantic blue night— under the stars and the moon in an autumn night sky— whatever it was to fulfill my fantasy, my girlish dream. The blue night was indeed haunted, an enchanted night, the Halloween magic.

I dressed up in a little red riding hood costume with a slightly shorter skirt and fishnet tights. Instead of waiting for him at a country home in the woods, I was waiting for him by the street-light pole in red high heels. “How much?” was a forbidden question to the innocent riding hood.

His car parked next to me and he rolled down his window. His face was exactly like the Joker from Batman: the Dark Night. I watched the movie on the day it came out with him and I fell in love with the Joker’s creepiness between his lonely and sadistic moments. His sense of humor—making a pencil disappear into an eye— makes me shudder like a cold bottle suddenly touching my skin in a dance club. Since then, I only talked about how creepy-sensual the Joker is and I was sorry that I could never see him on the screen again because of the actor’s tragic death.

My death metal guy with the Joker’s outlook was actually scarier than most ghosts; perhaps, corpses would return to their caskets when they saw his face. Actually, I hesitated sharing a car with him. I would not be surprised if my body had become pieces somewhere by the Michigan dune. The next morning, he would say, “I locked your heart with my love in a cooler!” while wiping off my Japanese hemoglobin. I could finally understand my grandmother’s advice from heaven, “Do not talk to a bad wolf.”

Anyway, he drove me across the Michigan border surrounded by cornfields, Nile’s Haunted House.

In Nile’s Haunted House, I screamed like hell. I cannot deal with narrow, dark places like an elevator or toilet booth. I usually take the stairs and go to the bathroom within 27 seconds. The Nile’s Haunted House is like an endless narrow corridor in some 100 year old house. With chains, eyeballs, coffins, spider webs, chainsaws, those all-stars from Halloween icons and people in ghost costumes, I grabbed my guy— at least I thought so— but he actually belonged to some other girl. She did not allow me to grab his waist, so she separated me from him in the middle of the haunted house in front of a Frankenstein creature.

I somehow lost my death metal guy in the haunted house.

I was alone with the Frankenstein creature and told him I lost my boyfriend. He kindly suggested to me, “He may come with next crowd of people.” Then we heard scream upon scream from high school girls. My guy hid and scared people while he waited for me and the Frankenstein creature appreciated his support.

At the end of the night, we finally reunited again and I was exhausted from screaming. His plaster-like make-up was falling apart and I realized something unusual about him. Under the morning sunshine, I saw he was changing; perhaps, he was already changed in the sparkling dewdrops.

If the definition of my death metal guy is spiky expressions of the face and ears, black T-shirts painted with skulls, and long, long hair, he no longer belonged to the definition. He lost the pierced accessories on his nose, eyebrows, chin, and ears because we fought over those accessories three days ago. Maybe it is very narrow-minded but with my traditional Nago-yan background in Japan, piercings are not widely accepted for males in non-Western culture yet. He turned into a handsome, young guy from a half-dead death metal and Joker-like guy, all from the kiss before sunrise.

His beardless, pierce-less face looked painful with his smile. I do not know if he will live happily ever after the kiss, enchanted pumpkin magic

Friday, October 10, 2008

Toys for Tots

I would like to make an announcement…

This year the Preface will be conducting the toy drive here on Campus.

“In the United States, children now make up about 29% of the population, and 13% of our population lives in poverty. That means a lot of children in our country are waking up every Christmas with little to nothing under their Christmas tree” (Mabie, the Preface Oct 1, 2008).

I would like to support the event selling my art. If you are interested in purchasing pictures from Empty Suitcase, please email me at

$10 for one picture but if you would like to donate more, you are welcome!

I will donate all profit to the Preface.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Empty Suitcase:
A Violation of Parking

I received a parking ticket— a violation of parking— parking on the wrong side of the street. In my defense, I did not know that parking a car facing opposite of the other cars was against parking laws. Maybe it is common sense— dangerous to park on the wrong side of street— however, how would I learn this common sense with my Japanese and international backgrounds.

I recalled to myself that there was no such question on the driving exam— some people said that I can find the law on the internet or in other brochures at the license branches— again in my defense, I drive on the left side of the street with a right side steering wheel in Japan— why should I need to pay the fine by in the absence of being informed? I would like to say loudly that the Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles should educate me with all the complicated, detailed driving rules on the driving exam or maybe have a lecture. Japanese driving branches often have driving lectures for any kinds of drivers.

The parking on the wrong side incident is just like hidden messages in a computer game— if I hit some control buttons together on a certain stage, I receive one more chance to be alive in the game— but in real life, I paid ten dollars for the fine before payday. The ten dollars could have been a bottle of orange juice and lunch from China House.

From the beginning, I moved from the school apartments because I did not have any confidence in living with four American or international female freshmen in a small apartment— I had thirteen roommates— with conflicts from sharing a spatula to the refrigerator — in four years of living in school housing made for two people; of course we rarely became friends, so how I can deal with four students in a small apartment. I knew that I would be end up with bad things happening— I may soak their toothbrushes in the toilet past midnight— so I am very happy that I made the decision to move out from school housing.

I am glad to be living outside of campus, but the parking became an unavoidable issue on the IU South Bend campus. So, I biked in summer and early fall, I shared a car with my friends and I sometimes parked my car in the visitor’s parking lot because I do not have classes often, it worked perfectly until the day I got the parking ticket.

It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, I was looking for a spot in the visitor’s parking— there were no spots as usual— I just needed to drop off some books at the IUSB Library. With no spots in visitor’s parking by the library, I parked on Hildreth Street in front of the International Office— there were no cars on the street at the moment— so I parked facing the opposite way. Maybe it was just troublesome to reverse the car and park facing the normal, common way. After fifteen minutes or so, the yellow slip was between my windshield and wiper. I violated a parking law. I also admitted that I did those illegal fifteen or so minutes of parking on the street a couple of times this semester due to no spaces in the visitor’s parking lot.

Ten dollars for a parking fee is a generous warning, if there is generous warning in this society— as long as I am a student living outside campus, I must have the parking hang tag— I might have to pay more than ten dollars or some other serious fine.

I went to the parking office and purchased the hang tag for the IUSB parking lots. It cost about 45 dollars, depending on my credit hours. I wanted to argue that I was an ecologist early in the semester— avoiding all the conflicts in the parking lots by riding a bicycle and sharing a car— could my hang tag be on 50% fall clearance before Thanksgiving?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

-->Empty Suitcase:
Centipedic Musing in a Cloud of Blueberry Fallout

On a day in the middle of the semester, I was dragging myself out of bed— I want to skip class— I repeated the phrase over and over while in my bed. I convinced myself that I need to skip a class; perhaps, I deserved skipping a class because I made the longest presentation, finished up the longest paper, and read the longest novel for classes last week. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am the most serious student ever— I only had three absences in eight years of college life but received tons of incomplete grades— in other words, going to classes everyday is one saving grace in my school life.

I opened my refrigerator and looked inside. I prepared yogurt with a strawberry champagne jam from a collection of seventeen jams and threw hundreds of blueberries from the farmer’s market into it. I love blueberries. I preserve blocks of blueberries in the refrigerator and freezer.

My little black cat asked me to change the water in her bowl. The right leg of a cricket was floating on top. By some chance I opened my closet. A cricket missing a right leg was dead in it. “Don’t be so sadistic, Cat!” I warned her. But she ignored me and waited for fresh water in front of the bowl. My cat likes to pull the right legs off of crickets, so there are hundreds of right legs in my apartment. Somehow, the dead bodies were found in my closet behind some boots.

So I went to class missing my dear white pillow and the little flowers on it. I sat at a desk in one of the gloomiest classrooms far away from sunshine in the basement of Northside Hall. It was still fifteen minutes before the class begun. I always came to class early regardless of me really wanting to go to school in the morning or not.

When I opened the textbook, I found a letter between some pages. It was in a regular envelope and a crooked heart was drawn on the seal— it was a love letter from my death metal guy— at least, I felt sunlight in the corner of the classroom.

Inside of the letter, there was a piece of paper and a smaller envelope. The paper said, “Which is preferred for your new nickname— a blueberry saleswoman or a blueberry dope pusher— please check a box before you open the next envelope” followed by two crooked boxes. It was written in my mother tongue, Japanese. I checked the blueberry dope pusher box but I added a note—the smuggled bag in my abdomen burst and I absorbed all of my stash, so please ignore any berry-fresh emissions— then I opened another smaller envelope.

Again there was a piece of paper and another smaller envelope. It said, “Do you agree that your cat is the tormentor of crickets? Please check a box before you open the last envelope” but there was only one box on the paper. I checked in the box, yes, and commented, “I currently own five and a half cricket corpses and hundreds of legs scattered all over the carpet.”

I opened the last envelope. My past column about how many socks he owned— and how many legs he must have— in the craziest, dirtiest closet is in the envelope and the letter said, “Please return your answers by this Saturday. A person is going to pick you up at 3:00pm and take you on a blue night picnic with blueberry muffins. With love from the King of Centipedes.”

I was actually surprised that he read my column and understood my joke of many socks for the centipede. Now I am looking forward to go to the blue night picnic. I am just wondering what the blue night is; conceivably, I just speak fondly of my death metal centipede king.