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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 3, September 2018

Martin Locock on Hiroshi Matsuoka's "Alone in a Train Car"

When I was reading the selections in the last issue, they all seemed to be very precise depictions of a particular time and place. At first I assumed the strong reaction I had to "Alone in a Train Car" was aesthetic, a question of the choice of words and images, an aesthetic response, and I understood it, anaylsed it, in a technical way. 

Matsuoka: "It is a cold winter evening"

The end of the day, the end of the year; these cycles of life need not always be negative. There are winter days of bright crisp sunshine, mild nights of pleasant silence. Or times of high drama, of storm and snow or endless rain, the wind howling and shrieking at the door. But this time, it was a cold ending, plain and dreary.

Not quite a final ending. Matsuoka is in limbo: his mother sick but alive, on her own trajectory. The routines of cancer, the crises, remissions and resolutions and the nagging fear that this time will be the one. He presents a diagnosis but no prognosis; darkness gathers but he refuses to acknowledge it. Leaving her there has sucked all life and companionship from his world; the eeriness of the empty spaces designed for multitudes, a special sort of vacancy, like an Edward Hopper cityscape; on a mountain path, one expects solitude. He travels with the ghost of commuters; perhaps, in past days, he ignored or disliked their random intrusion, but today he would welcome their company, their mundane anonymity, a distraction from serious thoughts. At last a stranger comes, as if in answer to his need, sharing the silence, a minimal connection, coming like a benediction with the promise of change.

Matsuoka's haiku: hot noodles / in winter / my mother’s smile

Despite the day, the circumstances, the season, pleasure can still be found, in food, in company, in the passing warmth of his mother’s smile; even if the world becomes emptier, small joys will fill it.

Having spent time in weighing the import of each phrase, absorbing the atmosphere of this unfamiliar country, I then realised the parallels with my own experience, of a particular moment one Sunday evening, driving along on an empty motorway from my parents' house and my sick mother, on the way back to my home, my children. I realised I was crossing a threshold, not unwillingly but irrevocably: it was no longer a question of my parents worrying about me; from now on I would be worrying about them. Crossing the long suspension bridge, painted red in the sunset, I knew that some day it would be my children who took charge of me: a prospect not to be feared, but to be accepted, leaving life to be enjoyed in small moments.

Martin Locock is a poet, novelist and publisher, living in rural southwest Wales near Swansea. He is the author of The Flow of Thought: A manager's guide to using poetry for reflection and Bright Silence: a month in haiku. He works as a project manager at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and is a spoken word performer and creative writing tutor.

Hiroshi Matsuoka

Alone in a Train Car

It is a cold winter evening. I am on board a train on my way back home from the hospital where my mother is hospitalized with leukemia. I am the only passenger in my car. Soon the train stops at a station, but no passenger gets on my car. At the next station, again, no one gets on it. Thus, nobody gets on it for almost an hour. I feel lonelier and lonelier as the train runs through the dark country. I feel as if I were the only person in the entire train, in the entire world. I want to see someone desperately, when an old man walks into my car from the adjacent one and sits on the seat opposite from me. His being relieves me from loneliness. He might have been feeling just the same way as I.

hot noodles
in winter
my mother’s smile




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