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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 2, June 2013


Guy Simser
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Walled in

During a tranquil walk within the muggy walled sanctuary of Tokyo’s Aoyama Bochi, my reverie is broken by a strange, slow march rhythmic squeaking. My senses sharpen focus . . .

mist skeins weaving gravestones      fading      reappearing

An enlarging form shunts toward me from over the knoll, takes shape on my gravel path: an old wooden cart with metal rim wheels, pick axe clasped to each sideboard. Handkerchief to wet forehead, I step aside to gain an angle of sight behind it, note four dirty raised heels in rope sandals, toes pressed to gravel. Two gaunt men straining to push, faces down under straw hats. Wizened gravediggers in labourer’s loose pants, sweat soiled towel draped on each tendon stretched neck. I greet them, “Ohayo gozaimusa.” Wordless, they plod on . . .

a swooping      CAW! CAW!      shadows my shoulders

Some distance behind me, the chatter of two Japanese men; I turn, observe. Slowly dark business suits, each with a briefcase, gain definition. While passing the cart, their nattering stops. Not a word of greeting. Then, as they walk by me, one sniggers to the other, Burakumin! Chortling on, they disappear in the fog.

Burakumin. Japanese untouchables. For centuries a source of whispers, of gossip. And today, still the hidden, the hiding. Sacred soil underfoot, I lower my head. Take a deep breath. The smell of mould intensifies . . .

thump-thump thump-thump      my heart      boneyard pickaxe



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