From “The Abundance of Less Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan by Andy Couturier

From “The Abundance of Less Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan" by Andy Couturier

Pages 264-265

“Sooo..” I begin to ask him, a bit apprehensive, not wanting to be insulting, “Gufu-san, why write all this stuff down?”

Unperturbed, he replies simply, “To make a record. If you don’t record things, you start to lose your sense of the place. It’s also interesting when you talk to other people, or when I want to look up something later. But it’s mostly just to make a record, even if I don’t use the information.”

“Yes, but how do you decide which things to write down?”

“Whatever is possible to write down, I write. How much the bus cost. How much the movie was, or how much the hotel was.”

“But why?” I ask.

“I didn’t have any purpose in doing it.”

No purpose? Perhaps I’ve been too attached to all my own actions being done for a reason. Utilitarianism is so deep in my culture I don’t even notice it. Listening to Gufu it occurs to me that it may not be so good to be always reaching ahead in time. Sitting here with my friend in a farmhouse in the mountains of Japan, I find my way of seeing the world start to deepen and change. All these little, unlooked-at details create the fabric of memory. By writing them down, we are refusing to let the experiences of our lives get subsumed in the tsunami of time, the onrush of the next, and the next, and the next. I think of so many travelers (myself included) zipping from one location to the next, taking photos of scenery or a building. Have I been missing the beautiful in the obvious?

Gufu is showing me--not that he’s trying to show me anything--that the whole world can come alive with these tiny details, ephemera, you might call them. But not just a generalized “world,” but a specific world, an India of a particular time, and, as it happens, an India that is disappearing every day.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I fell asleep and woke as if they were the trough and the rise of a wave that I rode.
After a sleepless night I am always catching up to get back to the full rest that I had just a few days away.
I like to be still and slow on the days when I feel as if I am walking through the molasses of a mind—and sticking to everything and cannot –be fast—as I would wish.

I feel I am moving towards freedom –and I am rushing through a past that was clot in the room. I often find—when I write –that I have worked through something—even though I might not understand at the time I was flinging globs of words from the hands to the walls—something was being taken up out of me and thrown there –to plate some story I am making—to make me see—and then I see—and then I can make a way.

A rhyme that is nonsense is not clear way and a complete country.
I am floating sometimes on a raft and often sinking.

But out of hemorrhaging words—I might find a space—cleared out in the attic of the mind where I can contemplate—a lie—or sit through a series of mistakes---or even see a cowardice and decide what to do about it—and if it all falls apart in my hands---I shrug—and say to myself—What can I do? This is real life and not the fantasy of a poem—I am making here—some sort of real—that is closest to non-fiction but more---some sort of poetical truth—and I can’t do this in full expression—and complete gene penetrance. I am walking slowly to the real life—of a nun—and out of this odd mixture—I am strongly inclined to add the globs of mud that is fantasy –and so –no wonder the language is unstrung---and the music I make is strange.

It is a rhyme with a hollow bone that is tapping at the surface of a mind that hasn’t learned to control itself –and self discipline will come as I work at story.


I say goodbye with a remoteness that understands my state
as if I were a door that was silently closing to a room that had I had just started to understand
as if there was a singer there who was quite alone but nothing I did would make him come to me
and I finally come out to the sun and see the world is full of singers I can be with and that this is good.

I don’t know the answer—I peer into dark and all I see are robins in the slow trees and the magpie
robbing the tree with the waxwings. It is all a parade of birds and the men are insidious in these trees
and I am float of the boat on a river of darkness and it seems the land is between all of them and I—
and I am going where I can –to make a pasture to graze—the time away and not forbid myself—

the time where I can –understand the still—of the hour—and the silence that sits
I am here in the cell and it is pleasant to be this quiet—and this away from everyone and perhaps
I will stay –locked and only send out notes to the world and be ---the sort of poet—who opens
a hole—to send an arm through and never cross the limits of a room—and perhaps---

I want to be this way—and this way –stay.

I put the night away and shrug

I put away the night and shrug.

There is a door that shuts and one that the moon gleams with a single stone of white.
I look at the day that has leaped—out of the silence and I understand what I have been wrestling with –and I walk towards an open place –where the sun is running butter over –a plate that is slit with the cuts of a spoon—here is singing so odd—I might call it ----a frog’s.

Here is the plate cut in lines and the door –I don’t understand.
And a mouse that squeaks at the door asking for the moon’s blue cheese.

All I know –is if I walk slowly towards you—I might make out a line or place where the door is a line –that I can use—to pour the cream into a cup of land.

Or if I mix and match the patterns –then this is all ---a trend that is hollow and the bed is filled with songs and I get out of sleep to write a nonsense that is mine.

 I put the diamonds into clay and press down hard and let only the soft impressions stay.  A fist is covered with a mitten and –a ringing dance begins again.  After all the drawing and the metal work of silence is read out loud and the messages lost—I turn and turn again—and break into the points of a star—in this small dance—I am quite alone.

I bolt the ocean into place with a word. I knit the reality I create with the sounds I pour from a cup of time.  Even memory is labile in this place. If I could show you rivers—they would be black and carry bodies that are stolen from a moment when—I was a child—and the blood was real. In the end, none of this makes a blow until you are inside the room—where the bullets are singing and the bodies fall with the slamming of a feather hand.

All you are –are specters in this place and the stones that you throw are mud –that never touches the images that I make out of bone. I do this work alone with blood and cheese. The  moon watches a star that I make and shrugs when it collapses—I cannot see that each molecule requires something more certain than words---I need to turn the whole into a certainty and I can’t –this is the imagination –and I--- won’t crucify the flux --- into solid.

I point at the wall---and holes appear—the walls skip away –and I understand the shore I am walking to is also alone.  If you sit in a room with a door that is falling constantly and the floor is a dancer that rises up to say—a word of compliment and you are waking up so slowly---you aren’t sure of anything –and the dream you had—or was this a dream?  It is growing into the size of a tree that shakes its leaves of poems and you wish to pick continually.  Nothing is as pure as when you reach up and detach a single line of song—from the tree of poetry and hold it in your hand. You might think this is less than ---a single day of living—but trust me---it’s not.

it is all

Here is a door that reaches out and takes a wide star from the sky and makes a hill. You can’t say
where the door goes into and what’s inside-the world in there---seems to have a stone that presses down—naturally.  Here is the ground –and you fall. The sun leaps out of the slit in the tree—and burns the leaves. Each leaf falls in flames—a river forms where was the line of grass—and now the grass turns and turns—and a boat rises out of feathers—that wicks a candle.  Sometimes-when you come here—the world is a stone that becomes a thousand kaleidoscopic colors and throws of images.

You would not come here ---if you were tame. You must be willing –to be shamed.

Here is a door----that I break---- each time—that  I sing.
I don’t care if it is ugly –what I find ---and how I grow the crystal from the seed--is just like this.
I may make nothing. It may be some sort of illusion or fantasy.
I let the crystal shape. I watch the shining break.

It is all a form of light—I want to catch in a net of words that hold—in their notes—some sort of noise—that I wish to smooth out and the only way I know –to make the flowing chain—is to sit here –and write—as if I knew—the way the star is rising in the dark or how the moon steps out of her sheets of black and swims alone in the river where the stones are heaped to make a marriage bed for her and sun that will marry her in the day—and then she will go away.

I am mumbling here. I do not wait. I keep ribbing the chest with these thickets of wood. The words that fall out of the mind—they deserve to be the calcium that deposits free—or the shell in the hand—that I pick up and place where the chest will stand.  Nonsense is the way to make a poem—and out of the diversions shape-something of what is sane.  You take the image and you bride it to a groom you meet in the silent street and stare ---at the glowing shape that forms—out of consummation—this is a foreign territory –and all the testubes break—you can’t do it all.

The silence is the first place where the words mate. You are still as the broken tune. You hop the ferry  to the river and there you sit and wait it out –the song is all wrong –and you cannot do anything and you are hopeless.  This is the way it is and will be—for you do not go back—you are in a hurry. You can’t sit and revise and repair---the world is singing out its stars and the moon is a plastic ball that bounces where you have flung it high –and the river is stamping its toes as you sing and there is –oh—such a dancing!

If you would sit with the music and run inside—you would never leave –the nun’s ball and chain. You would be the single soul in a cell of music ----and you would refuse all other company---because it is all ---oh—it is all.

tuning fork


I am stuck here
in this endless river.
Only the shell of a clod
of dirt reminds me I am not alone.
Parts of me are falling down and I am split
into parts—I do not feel this –it feels as if I am still whole
but a reflection seen ---tells me ---that I am not entire—that I---
may have started out as one trunk—but have  now—become--- a tuning fork----
in the impossible wind-that drives through the open highway of my frame to make--
the  sounding out –of a knell –for what ill—I do not remember –nor do I want to think about—
The world is a murk—the words are the reflection--- of what is solid and broken but still sounds slowly.

February 29, 2012 writing notes

When I am very tired –as I am right now –and as I was early this morning when I could not sleep—the door is wide open and the mind is flush with uninhibited words that it flushes down the toilet and they disappear and I don’t really know what I have said.
This type of uninhibited and unrestrained writing is dangerous because the unconscious is murk and muddle in the writing and what am I really saying when I put down a sentence in this state of dazed sleepiness?

I don’t know.
i say –I don’t know ---quite a bit when I write.
It is because –it is best to be honest and say the state that you are really in.
Most of the time –when I read and then write about what I have read—it is flow.
It comes from some spot that I cannot access when I may be in control –as in when I write business letters.

The type of flow writing that can then morph when I am tired—into uninhibited flow writing—is something ----- I label as --tired flow writing ---- well---it  is a strange writing that I have learned to accept.
I don’t want to say something too revealing.
And I do not reveal when it deals with family because they don’t like it—at least I don’t reveal excessively.

And yet—what sits inside—this narcissistic tapeworm –it releases its proglottids slowly and on days like this when the filter is gone—I lay the egg burdens like stones from a hurricane of rocks from above.

What am I saying? I don’t know. And I am to tired to think clearly. I say.

This is what I am concerned about. When I just say—I am being gap toothed, mussed hair, the grimy fingers and torn jeans on the blog. I am being vulnerable.

This matter of vulnerability is not really encouraged in our society because it usually gets you laughed at or eaten.
Being either a fool or a preyed on tidbit is not a bad thing for a poet –as this seems to be the usual state we enjoy –in any case.
But at least the poets—who make—with conscious effort—are able to restrain their outflow of words—sufficiently to prevent ---complete seizures of their body of words.

In the case of flow—and tired flow writing—this isn’t always possible.
The words have their own force and current and ideas.
The words cannot be restrained and they channel forth to a place they want to arrive at.
It is rather like standing on the land and watching a river run by you and not doing anything but watching.

It is eerie.
How can you be watching something that you are making?

It does feel like this.
You are not making.
The river is making.
You are watching the river of words –inside you—making.

I don’t know what I am speaking about here.
Some days I need to go have a nap.
I think I will.

where we finally are intimate

Sometimes I am not sure it is wise to be so open—to have an unlatched door to the heart and a mind that buzzes like a fly through the syrup of the hours. It might be wiser to be chained to the nail on the floor and the odd stranger passing by –rising you up---to leap for the throat.

It might be wiser even to be beaten down to submissive as the way the poor are. If you go to a poor country the poor have learned to eat the dust---pulling the fat owners of property in their rickshaws, talking their car salesman language to sell a small trinket –running after you as if you were important and with their liquid entreaty printed clearly on their faces—teaching you the disparities between their economic state and your own.

When you sit in the masses of poor people at an early age and learn what it is to live on the side of the door of safety and riches and to understand the scarcity and dysfunctional lives on the other side of the door –it is indeed tempting to shut the door and bolt it and never look out again at the ragged children with their malnourished bodies and copper hair.

It has become fashionable for Canadians to visit the poor countries of the world—either as tourists or as helpers and to become familiar with their destitute states and consider these travels as a widening of the mind and of the personal experience of the travelers.

But is this sort of global travel—really a way to increase the circumference or is it merely an indulgence of folks who have enough spare cash to travel---who want to see the world—and don’t –really in the end—care about the folks living in these other worlds of hunger and exploitation and degradation?

How many times have I been asked if I travel?
 And my answer has been—I have already traveled enough and my mind has received the images that still crowd them and I do not need to be a tourist to misery.

I understand the curiosity and the money that tourists bring to the microeconomies  of these developing countries—but what is really being satisfied here? And who is benefiting from tourism? And what is the cost of this transfer of cash from the developed and bored First world to the last world?

I can’t but think that there is exploitation –in every way—and there is a superficial and temporary gain in comprehension of the way the world is –rather than the more accurate understanding that comes to us when we live in a place for years and learn the days with the influx of strangers into our houses and meet with their families and encounter their difficulties and barriers.

A tourist trip to the world is not a way to know it.
It is merely photography and sensation.
A life of such sensations is a materialistic endeavor and I do not encourage it in myself.

My son is going to the Galapagos on a field trip.
Is this sort of a science trip also exploitation of a fragile ecosystem?
Is it a materialistic masturbatory experience designed to give him his first bite of a forbidden apple?

I don’t know.
All the travel he has done so far has been to relatives in Quebec and along the sea shore of Quebec.

I think the trip is really a way for me to enter the business of global travel on a small scale—to put the feelers out and see what can be learned from such organized trips and whether or not my family will benefit from short visits to places we do not know and can never really know because we are flying over at the speed of modern life and so cannot figure out the intricate web of life that persists –despite the tensions and breakages of the web created by the arrivals and departures of foreigners.  

In this short trip –my son will encounter another group of people and understand that Canada is not the only place on the Earth and from this experience –he may choose to go to the other places to work and live there. I hope he does.  I hope he doesn’t become a tourist –but instead becomes what my own family was—a sort of gypsy traveler breed---going here and there –without a country –and becoming part of the land.

Only from long term—over years---staying in a place—do you begin to learn the small aspects of a location and GPS map it into memory.

Here is a country we have lived for decades---Canada—and I sit in the cell of my house and look out at it and I do not know anyone.

The world is even larger than my cell.  I will not know anyone out of this cell and it may be that we –none of us—know anyone—not even the soul inside ourselves—that we forge out of determined efforts.

It may be that tourist travel is all we ever do in our lives—even in our own home countries—and at the end of all this moving ---always forward---there is a land we will intimately know and become its only occupant—finally –no longer tourists---but known citizens of the grave.  Maybe tourism is what life really is and the grave is where we finally are intimate.

golden singing

Autumn Color

Even golden music---
requires marring notes
to make the singing---- clear to me.

To confirm that it is something---exquisite---something true--
A dark---contrast--makes the golden noise sharp—so that I can finally hear--
that  excess of gold—that indelible music---in its solemn--- hue and appearance.

All the leaves speak silently ---
about how they were once pristine—and entire--
and now they are wrinkled—and their browning is abrupt.

They are blotted with dots--- and they are cut into wide arcs--
But they still reach tentatively to the light--- as if to say they are not yet  done—
and that they are still hungry for life—as if they knew—some battle had yet to be won.

How they mouth their last syllables!  They speak--- in rustlings –
in their grouped songs—and they hum through the last hours of the autumn—
these row upon row of writings—that parchment the stems and the long slopes of the hills—

to echo an imprisoned music ---that is roped to the tree---
I can hear this golden stanza---it makes a reverberating sound—
that waves through my body and hits me –full in the face—with its gold beat---

But I am not even awake.  I try to see the leaves –each of them –a single blast of flame—
and the fog disappears—and the long stick of repeats-- remain.  Here is a falling meteor shower--
of sparks—the leaves –are embers of gold—and at their tips –the wood burns brownly –and their lips

move—can’t you hear that gold sound?
I wash through their music—I glow as they turn ---
their green youth to the autumn harvest---and the end—that has begun.

stilled swan

Trumpeter Swan

I would be suspended
in still motion—as if caught

in mid-flight—and trapped
between two pages of light----

I would be completely quiet—
My beak would be open but soundless ---as if---

I understood the reason for stillness
as if silence were a notion that was clear to me—

the purpose of which is to make music
the sounds emanating from my shapely flight

evident to me—as if I could by such freeze-drying  
of my movements—show to you—that such stillness

is the beginning of poetry—as if it made possible
the silence—from which ---a  poem springs its cotyledon of rib

and then makes a fist of a flower---
to finally shape the seeds that scatter music.

I will still myself like this swan—
and teach every muscle to stop their frenzy

I will stare at the blue sky before me
and never backwards into the past darkness and noise—

I will forget all the trespasses of my mind—
and simply be—an origami prayer—with my wings

like bent paper ---curved by the hands of a god—
shapely signals of another world---where the music is strong.

I will write out a period that ends the sentence
of flight –that I have made—and I will make a graphic of this view.

now I can write

Let me take a deep breath.
Let me be still and not whine.
I have just got back from my mother’s appointment and it is like going on a roller-coaster ride of death and illness and pain and drop down menus of misery.

I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis and yet –it feels as if I have had it for my entire life because my mother has had it.
To add to her pain and anemia and inability to sleep through the night –siblings are dying right left and center and there is a breakdown in supports in our family ---since I am unwilling to be the family repository for all the histories of suffering that everyone is going through and –so I merely do the appointments and travel now—and to save my own soul—I retreat into my cell and hide out here.

It is rather like being under constant assault –when family members are ill and you are the main go person for repair and fixing of human beings.

Now I am done.

I will go to bathe in words.

It is pucker your lips day—outside—lemony and misty. I do not appreciate it very much. The soft grays are hugging the buildings and the marsh is foggy with the wormy cloudy light and I do not like it very much.

But the long white blanket—the coverlet of the soccer field is still pristine, I have the boys home from their educational daycare spots and it is good to know that I can write now without interruption –except for the supper.

I like the day to be empty as it is now because when I write I want to be able to take my time and think and feel –and not hurry.

Most of the time –when I am in the appointment business –it is a very scattered feeling—as I stop and start—and there isn’t that rich immersion in the language that I love.

I don’t like to be scattered –like a throw of poppy seeds from the hard basket of the poppy head.
I don’t like to feel the words puddled into the crevices on the floor and I am waiting for a big pool ---in which I want to flow.

Here is ample time.
It all belongs to me.
 I no longer have to wait.
Let me be grateful.
The wasted hours are done.
I can be in the quiet of the writing and the singing of the other world.
I do not have to do anything fixed now—it is free time---and I can write.

February 29, 2012 laps

I have just got back from the YMCA where I hobbled through 100 laps. 

I gobbled down two eggs and toast and now it is off to take my mother to the rheumatologist.
I find that I have to book at least three or four hours for her appointments because of the slowness of ancient mothers.

I will also add a cascade of her things that she is lost without (food/water/money/purse/books/the walker/her handicapped card/phone). And we will lose something somewhere. It is always like this when I take her anywhere. I am not a very patient daughter and she is very querulous –the combination is not comforting for either of us –and least of all for her—and her feelings get hurt and I am even more impatient—and then the contact between us is like rubber on the icy surface.

You don’t know what the learning of patience is like until you are in your fifties and have a mother in her eighties who has been sick almost as long as you can remember –and you are always the good daughter. I am tired of being the good daughter.

But let me stop whining and go.

February 29, 2012 -Muse letter

I often wonder if the Muse allows small holidays –where I could grieve—a moment—for the sane person –I used to be. I could sit here and think of the days –when all that mattered was the cost of a life. I would count each expense—and belittle it—if---it cost too much of our resources—and say that we would do what we wished---later—when---we had enough money to throw away on life

Now –I don’t see money as the key I put in the ignition of my small car of life. Nor do I see it as fuel or the way to happiness. I don’t –in fact—think of money---at all---except –to make sure there is enough of it to pay –for the bills of a life—that increasingly—is devoted to words---almost completely.

There is a need for money.
For this reason –we can work.
And the work we do –can earn a great deal of money –or hardly enough.
But the Muse isn’t going to worry about money for you.
He isn’t rational and he isn’t about pride.
What he asks—is that you earn
enough money to pay for bills
and the rest of the time is to be
devoted to words—almost completely.

If you have some money—and you put it away---will it prevent---the moment when your cells –end their lives?  You see –the cells already ---know the time—when we will---each of us –die.

And if intuitively---we understand—money won’t stop these cellular clocks----and we subvert this understanding to addict ourselves to money—and its status objects---because we are afraid---of being poor and without status—how can we become poets?

We must first work at what is making us less.
And for me—money –was a barrier—I had to write through –and I did.
I do not think about money ---because ---we worked and paid off our debts.
We do not want to be partners in making banks rich.
We do not want to be robbed each day of our lives.
So we paid off –all we owe.
And we do not take on debt—unless we know—we can pay it off quickly –or in full.

I think this matter of living without debt—is important for everybody.
But mostly for poets—who do not eat –frequently.

The less you eat—the longer you live—and so poets –should live---as long as their cells dictate before the alarm sounds and crashes their ships.
And as for money----it is best to live under the bar----of what you earn—but not so stringently –that you can’t have a life.
I have learned to spend some money---now that we have more—but it is still hard to see it go out the door.

I think how many hours---I worked to pay for that bauble I buy—and it is still difficult to do the work of mentally –letting the hours I worked go---to pay for the junk that I let in the door.

I work when I need money –more than what we earn—and then when there is nothing to be bought—all the hours are for poetry.

This is the only way –to arrive at the door of the house of the Muse—and beg with an empty bowl for the rice and the spoon.


all the trees
of the night
have made their blankets of branches
and blocked out the light

they have slammed their fists
into the morning light
and they have bruised the surface
of what was the night

Here is a dark corner
where I cannot sleep
the music is furtive
the mice feet creep

and the door is open
the mind cannot shut
I am not sure what I do here
spin my wheels in the rut?

I want to go to silence
put the words in a row
peaceable and silent—
and their messages—not know

but I am awake
the words etch a space
I am locked to my work
I am in the writing place.


All the doors are flapping their wide wings
and the eyes of glass that were once windows have crashed—

there are nails falling out of drywall
and the hardwood floor has come apart

Where the pictures where hanging –there are now gaps
A stone preaches at the ceiling where the light used to be

And even the bathroom fixtures are rising
and floating away on an imaginary sea---

At night the heart puddles
the mind is a small straw through which I suck

all these images and drink down
the syrup and milk that they provide

this milkshake of visions
this night cap that goes on

I have a mind that is throwing out manure
and the pitchfork in my hands—is active—and won’t stop.

Here is the rubber of a bookshelf full of sounds
and a casket of dead people opening up—and the

beat of their bones ---in their organs of sound—
are ghosting the room—where the darkness is abrupt.

I am willing to sleep. If they would all let me be—
but they are sudden passengers in a train that has come for me—

I do not know the engineer or the journey
I get in ---and I am rushing through the tunnels ---there are stumbling

tracks---there are signs.  None of it clear---to say what I do here—
other than hold tight –on to the straps of the place—where I hide.

I do not know what the poem wants –or where the Muse is driving to---
I am a passenger on a train full of ghosts—and their stories are all true.

to be alive

To be alive
is a hard work
akin to being born
to be pushed through the narrowest channel
but this one does not contract and squeeze you out---
you must work the tunnel and make your own way to
the river of darkness—that you must recognize as the end
of all the effort—and still you must work hard at the tunnel—
and when you are alive—you are to keep going—despite the
erosion of time.  It is hard to do this. You might –instead—choose—
to be a magpie—and hunt for bright objects—to collect—and forget
the water—lapping hard at the tunnel door—and the rising ocean in the tunnel –itself.
You might forbid—yourself comfort—the touch of a friend—the love that she offers
and instead be---the stone pedestal with the statue of pride—and be cold concrete and
a monument for life—I wish you to understand—I do not say—you cannot do this—if this
is what you wish for your life----but the river of darkness is nearby—and you will have this state
for your final room—and so why work for this condition---before you are dead?  Why collect the
bright magpie pieces—that lie in the nest and the grave?  How are you to explain this to yourself
as you go—rushing with the darkness—the ice and the snow? At the door way to disaster—when the
water is at your lips—what will you tell your soul—if you can then ---- still speak?