Gaijin

Do you remember
the way in which our bodies,
sweating sulphur,
and pale as rice-paper,
were framed by the rock?

Do you remember
how hot the onsen1 was?
The way in which the heat
returned us continually
against the small boulders,
ensuring that they remained
dark and glossy under
our limbs, limp,
like soft sticks of white chalk?

Do you remember
squeezing our thighs and heels
tight together, stretching and separating
our little toes, and pretending
we were mermaids?
Becoming Disney princesses, waxen,
each of our movements animated?

And then do you remember
parting our legs like lily petals
when goosebumps bloomed upon them,
and sliding ourselves back inside
the steaming holes in the ground?

Do you remember
looking up gradually as we
shrugged ourselves into the water?
How the hot liquid
enveloped us as an opaque seal,
warming and wavering?

Do you remember
occasionally grazing
another wrinkled knee?
Seeing raven heads
bowed over the surface of the bath,
encircling us like an inky ring
of black folding fans—swelling open
and closing around us as we bathed?

Do you remember
their fastened mouths, like slashes,
trembling upon our kind of
alien nakedness?

*

Do you remember
the day that Mt. Usu2 erupted?
Do you remember the ash,
and do you remember the speed
at which the sky seemed to shed it?
The way in which it mottled
its blank-white backdrop
in uneven, smoky breaths
before obscuring it entirely?
The way in which it kissed
the snow with stained lips?

And all the while,
do you remember
how the ash gradually fell
through the hot spring
as coagulated drops of leaden blood
that weaved their way into the water?
How it spread itself as a gauzy veil
over both of our fair heads,
layer by layer,
charcoal, black?

We were gaijin3,
and it was almost as though
it was trying to conceal us.

1A hot spring / public bathhouse in Japan.
2An active stratovolcano located in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park in Hokkaido. It erupted for the first time in 22 years in late March 2000.
3Alien, foreign, or non-Japanese.

X is a writer.

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