Born and grown, an island in view of the peninsula
of Florida, raised in shades of sabal and coconut fronds,
too much sun, too many tourists, too many beaches,
I had to flee—crossing oceans, but needing to seek lands
that thrust out into the waters—Yucatan, Baja, Leelanau, Cape
Cod and the great Italy–peninsulas of many stony types
or fertile, windy climes—shipping on to Greece and round
the Hellespont, stunned by antique visions of Peloponnesus—
sailing on to Iberia, bussing it down to Malaga—backpacking over—
land to Lisboa, not caring what language to challenge me next,
yet when hungry, finding gestures to fit. But now, finding
these twenties years have flown, I sit this weekend on a Pacific
peninsula called “Izu” and ask myself: what if I were born here?
Here on this Honshu coast, speaking this “Nihongo” syntax,
studying Ikebana and Hiragana with the consulate crew,
photographing Shikoku’s dolphins and the inland sea—diving
chopsticks into my soba and udon noodles—my glassy eyes loving
the gentle light of Tanazaki’s lantern light, while gazing out
my Shinjuku window every day at the magical cone of Fuji-San
volcano—where, in winter I go with friends to soak in hot spring’
“onsens” under “matsu” pine boughs, when I wondered—would
I ever question what identity I’d assume? What world view I would
visualize had I grown up not in Florida, but on this Izu peninsula?
Me, wandering through a Sunday’s fresh market with my basket
full of tubers of wasabi, daikon, mikan oranges and my favorite
fruit—persimmons in autumn. I’m digging my hands into this fertile
soil by helping a friend plant a cherry tree in her back yard
to celebrate the coming spring’s “hanami,” and blossoms.
Who am I now? Teaching grammar and phonetics and
idioms I love to explain, memorizing “kanji” ideograms, but
forgetting those multi-strokes soon, and on Saturday mornings with
“Friends of the Earth,” hiking along hills, blazed by banana man, Basho.
I always carry a “bento” lunch. I’m called the “sensei” teacher
lady, but no identity is an easy fit for one as wild as I was;
my skinny legs grew into a woman’s, while jogging down
a sandy coast with bare feet splashing in salt water, ankle
deep in Atlantic dunes, and finding what it means to be always
seeking adventures for one, the restless kind, and searching
for my personal utopia, which if exists, would be near a bay
or hilly, inland sea. And so I sit on these Izu rocks, not sure
where to sail next, if anywhere, but not doubting that my fate
drifts in rhythm with tides of stars, where one day I must wade
in give this ebb and flow mind and exchange my passport
for living on a sailboat in Hawaii. Or Bahamas? Key West?
So I’m prepared, I’ll carve my headstone now—not in Roman letters
but “Hiragana” or “Kanji” characters to say: Here’s one who sailed from
the island of the parents to grow up down the strand of Florida land,
yet fated to always search for the next peninsula that would be home.
Formerly linguistics professor at Sophia Univ, Tokyo; Reed Venrick now mostly writes nature poems or reflections on travel locations.