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The Anatomy of Vacuums: A Crown of Sonnets for Tokyo by Jake Sheff

“The burning man is represented in the saint’s halo and the king’s crown, both of which are analogues of the sun-god…” Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism

Sakura-pink, moth-eaten time is up

to something. “Sleep on it,” the distant ear

of yesteryear may counsel you; a cup

of sake too soft-spoken and too near

to see. Mean-spirited, time-eaten moths,

in secondhand kimonos, dance to paint’s

tuition, aboard the train tomorrow’s myths

upbraid. Ferocity takes tea with saints.

But Corri tells me cities offer tea

a fishing pond to steep in, if its priest

is dressed in honesty’s clear blue. To me,

all cities say, “Sit down till you’re released.”

And sometimes they mean, “See the Meiji Shrine.”

All cities have a soft spot full of wine.

All cities have a soft spot full of wine

between a rock and a stiff darkness. Bolts

of boulevards crisscross the open sign

of spring’s activity. No store consults

a building full of exits when there’s yen

at stake. Omotesando’s boldest tree –

zelkova; right in front of Tod’s – would lean

above Sumida-gawa’s mouth for free.

But that would mean Roppongi Hills should step

aside for matcha and Metabolists.

(Those architects of capsules eyeballs schlep.)

And pernio’s afflicted history’s fists.

So let swan pedal boats at Ueno Park

skip ramen days, like stones, above the dark.

Skip ramen days, like stones, above the dark

tuition tucked behind the art museum.

Grandeur is one-eighth man; Hachikō’s bark

is too. Though out of earshot, I can see him

still waiting at Shibuya Station. Red

bean paste and salted plums await the crowds

at Sensō-ji. Away day went, misread

but not unfed; its surgery mask of clouds.

However, moonlight’s mutiny was lost

each night to cat cafes and Junie Moon;

Jakuchū knows Akihabara’s cost:

his rooster crows at moonrise (“Crazy loon.”).

The wind at night gets so expressionless,

you’d swear it wears the mask of pricelessness.

You’d swear it wears the mask of pricelessness,

the Blythe doll Maddie got. Ikayaki

was washed down with a pils, Polybius

and Bacon’s Essays in Jinbōchō. I

forgot to not resist the Kit Kat bars

and moat around the palace. All in all,

as jetlag caught a tailwind, Tokyo Tower’s

athletic height became a Tylenol.

Having said that, we tossed and turned like fish

or fishing boats on our tatami mats.

Tsukiji Market caught our palates’ wish

and threw it back, in soy sauce-coated nets.

Those ancient blocks in Shitamachi own

it’s hard to square the heart with fact alone.

It’s hard to square the heart with fact alone

among the orchids, where you’ll feel it in

the part that beauty frightens. Budokan

pretended to advise me, “Reel it in,”

as Corri sketched camellias. Angry young

impressions stood astonished when a flute

offstage descended from a dragon’s tongue

of fire; outside, Kabuki-za was mute.

“In any case, tamagoyaki must

be served with dashi if it’s for an ogre,”

said Maddie, as she fed komainu trust

and fries. I said, “Let’s go.” They said, “Don’t hog her.”

Tuition comes in pairs, but not as friends

to cats, Daruma dolls or dividends.

To cats, Daruma dolls and dividends

are chewable ideas to deepen you.

The airport’s robot greeter’s ‘Hi’ transcends

crab innards; fans the sun to leap in you

like fuel, but not to cheapen you. “Your jib –

its cut – is so kawaii, Edo bows

and gardens bloom when you go by.” “You fib,”

my wife replied. (Suntory’s cruel vows.)

In schoolgirl outfits, pushing baby strollers,

time passes cemeteries; wooden sticks

and sutras knock about and stir like molars.

Pagodas watch the wind play politics.

Five stories travel fast, but slowly tell

a life to slow its roll; its role to sell.

A life too slow unrolls its role to sell

a grown-up ‘thank you’ to a grown-up like

a blown up understanding. Shake it well,

your heart, before you see Mt. Fuji hike

into your dreams from the horizon. Lost

in Hiroo, Maddie said, “They’re howling at

the sun, dad,” rubbed her feet and all but bossed

the day to end; my little shogunate.

Just the same, arigato never grew

decayed. Back home, spring set the fields on fire;

so much so, roosters crowed at noon. The blue

and Corri both wore poppies in their hair

and said, “In, in my arms, my Shiba pup,

Sakura-pink, moth-eaten time is up.”


Jake Sheff is a pediatrician and veteran of the US Air Force. He's married with a daughter and pets. Poems and stories of Jake’s have been published widely. Some have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing).

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