Three Poems by Shaw Patton

Skin Remembers Heat of Springs

Small bottles of Suntory snuck into his daily allowance of tea
who was I to rat him out when he grinned with silver crowns showing?

After he was cut off from water
            for the day,

                                    he would resolve to soak in it            
            slide of glass door,
                        slosh of water,
            groan of metal

as he settled in the tub—silence then save for the children at the junior high
across the street, a baseball team shouting in unison

            But well before his kidneys gave out,
            when he, even at 50, could climb the steepest hills
            on his one one-speed bike, myself a child on the rear rack,
            fingers hooked through the loops of his slacks,

            Every summer I visited Japan, I was dragged
            to some onsen ryokan, nestled deep in the hills
            purported healing properties depending on
            whether the water there was filled with

                        rust sulphur     sodium    bi      carbonate

            A couple times a day, sit naked, awkward on wood stools
            In a line of other naked men, spray off
            our bodies, saunter over and lower ourselves in
            the impossibly hot water from the piped-in springs

Otherwise, peruse the grounds in patterned
yukata, which grew shorter on me each summer until
like a small dress on a tall woman they fit more like a skirt
My heels sticking out of the largest geta available
My height coming from my Japanese side,
but my large feet from my white, Anglo genes

When I was younger the onsen were more elaborate
Giant complexes with Greek-like statues and multiple pools
But my grandfather settled for the small and modest as he aged

            And as I aged, I was allowed to trek to the onsen alone.
            No longer tied to my grandfather’s schedule, I usually
            went in the mornings, when fewer crowded the tiled room

It’s on some of these solo journeys that
            I am most perplexed, still, by what I witnessed

The oddest: a young man with a giant erection
            As he stepped out of the water,

                                    circled around as if lost

                        occasionally swatted down at his dick—as if this would help

To be frank: if the population of Japanese men is said to
skew small, he was clearly no example, finally leaving the bathing area
no hint of embarrassment on his face, though his posture did seem odd

Another time, holding my towel in front of me as the

            cleaning lady busied herself in the changing room,

which I guess is common enough, as I have now learned

My earliest memories at the springs are not with my grandfather, but accompanying my mother or aunt to the womens’ side of the onsen

            curious to the forms over there—not yet

sexualized for me but fascinated still by breasts, triangle patches of hair, a vague sense
of softness.

            I never formally learned the names of the 19 minerals
            Each onsen is purported to be a mixture of—like an elixir
            But I can still recall how different pools of water settled and coated my skin
            Like different tastes hitting the tongue, tastes I have no names for

I bathed with my grandfather through the first half of my elementary school years
For he, like many Japanese, took to ofuro like a religion, instructed me
methodically how to scrub from the tips of my fingers to the tips of my toes

Strict as the lines of daimoku, ended the ritual by filling a pan

to wash my face

This act broken now,
            as I just spray my face directly with the shower head,

            scrub erratically,

                        like a dog,

            like a distillation

like the American I am.

A Collaboration with My Mother and Facebook’s Built-in Translator

I descend the mountain
The scenery with the gods

I bought a flower I saw

From today two nights three
days trip nikko kinugawa onsen

            I click translate on my mother’s
            Facebook posts, a necessity now, for she would not
            translate then. Letting the algorithms twist the words,
            their digital fingers gripping a Bowflex® Max Trainer®
            pull together phrases I cannot know,
            the gap between me and my mother who is

Back home at my parent’s home:
Fine weather
Kawagoe empty

The clouds are getting shape
change flow
The day quickly fell.
Tale of the milky way
and dream without string like…

Near You, you go “
It is so delicious. ~~

                        It’s only slices of her I see, only slices of anyone I
                        see really, but it’s nice to get the Cliff Notes® version
                        of her on a balcony overlooking a Kawagoe suburb,
                        raspy children chanting, the smell of sesame oil wafting
                        from downstairs, hanging her new shawl alongside pantyhose,
                        purchased recently after visiting Baba, who is now

to stay in
the hospital to go to
the hospital to go home

You check I became fun…
Key Chain 480 Yen-Yen
and pop-pop
Cute Bag Charm I could!!

                                                A Hello Kitty® purse and matching charm,
                                                $4.23 at the current exchange rate, iconic
                                                red bow, blank stare from black dot eyes,
                                                a lack of mouth so consumers can project their
                                                own emotions and thoughts, but past the thrill of
                                                the sale I do not know what my mother would project,
                                                on the cat, even if I asked I am not sure she’d understand
                                                keep conversations to the weather, shopping finds,
                                                her favorite foods which include

On Top of the daikon radish,
Celia’s one hundred
yen-why in the cart.

From the cold plenty
of vegetables soup

                                                            The exchange rate on the accompanying
                                                            photo exceptionally high for I can see
                                                            the ingredients in the bowl of oden,
                                                            the daikon radish floating in a brown stew with
                                                            fish cakes, quail eggs, seaweed tied into bows:
                                                            my Jiji’s favorite dish, one of the few he used to
                                                            help Baba prepare, stirring the pot at the kotatsu

                                                            In Japan when you are hungry you tell someone
                                                            your stomach has decreased, when you are thirsty
                                                            you tell them your throat is dry,

I’m going to tell you something
that’s not enough.
From the beginning to the end,
there is no shortage of explanation.
I’m sorry, but this is not possible
in Japan!

                                                                        As I grasp for what is possible,
                                                                        staring at a translation of zeros and ones
                                                                        in what I realize is simply one step
                                                                        in an ever increasing number of translations—  
                                                                        kanji to roman alphabet to words to thought
                                                                        I cannot help but wonder if I am more deprived
                                                                        than ever, stuck in some purgatory loop,
                                                                        Babel collapses, is rebuilt, collapses again in a  

Tohoku earthquake
for the revival of it…
Ikejime out when it will be?

Do oh oh oh oh
It’s a little bit lonelier

                                                                                    It’s a little bit lonelier
                                                                                    after all

I maintain the fruit plucked before the fall

was a mango, its blush
of poison sweet

cat sandpaper tongue  
near center stone, skin

scented peach-pine
fist-sized yellow heart

the femme fatale fruit 
just as sensual as

or strawberry, 

grape when fed to
on lectus reclined

sensual as poison
dart frogs, warnings 

which advertise death
also scream taste 

the serpent was hardly 
needed for Eve to bite

underhand the mango
when we could allow 

ourselves to fall
head over heels

for poke berries
or wild cherries

but when I am reborn
as a flying fox in

South Western Ghats
I’ll feast on mangos

exclusively, live in 
mango trees, reminded 

of my former life
the scent of my lover

for though I’ve crushed wild
berries between my fingers

I’ve yet to taste 
what they offer

and as fruit bat I’ll forget
I ever wanted anything else.

About Shaw Patton

 Shaw Patton is a Japanese-American who can barely speak Japanese. Since high school he has lived in Florida. He co-owns a restaurant in Tallahassee and got his MFA from FSU. He has poems published in The Matador Review and Talking Writing.