In a Bar Near Shibuya Station, Tokyo Poem by Paul Engle

In a Bar Near Shibuya Station, Tokyo

The Japanese next to me at the bar
bites at his sake with big irregular teeth.
Behind the heavy glasses (which he wears
like an elegant suit of clothes) his eyes
are yellow as the warm wine he is drinking.

He turns like a door opening and says
with an aggressive softness, 'USA?'

I nod, waiting to see the color of his mind.

'I was wounded at Okinawa.'
The words drop reluctantly from his mouth
like drops of wine from the bottom of the bottle.

I set my weight on the soles of my feet
and keep a careful eye on his hands.
he pulls up his sleeve. The scar cries out
along his arm like an exclamation mark.
What words do you speak to an accusing wound?
He looks at the scar as a man looks at a bug
crawling his skin, with interest and loathing,
wishing that it would simply go away.

'I'm sorry,' I say. The words in their silly weakness
vibrate in the vivid lamplight of the bar
before they fall to the floor with a shamed rustle.

He clenches and unclenches his fist. The scar ripples.

I lift my hands. I am ready, like a new kid
uneasy on a school ground the first day.

'American doctor fix my arm good,' he says.
And then his face collapses into a smile.
'He not fix good, I not pick up sake now.'

He lifts the blue-glazed, lovely curving cup
and gestures gently toward me. Shyly his eyes
move over mine like a friendly hand. We drink.

He puts the cup down carefully on the bar
with a brave lightness, as if it were a bomb
waiting to go off and blast his hand.

His face goes back to being merely a face.

Outside, Tokyo growls like a hunting tiger.

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