Haibun: Cricket Cage in Our Mother's Basement
My dad was a spy.
In 1955, in the first months of our mother's and father's marriage, our father, who had been drafted into the Army, shipped out to Tokyo. Our mother, flying up to Alaska, then down to Japan, joined him, and they lived together there, in a little house, which they rented, not far from the American base.
Trained in counter-intelligence, our dad's job was to look around the base for signs of spying. Reds, I have to assume. He would have been on the look-out for Reds. Communist infiltrators.
Their marriage lasted 53 years.
From that first house, that first year in Tokyo, our parents kept three objects. One is a photograph. Standing at the front door, you are looking into the house. A compact kitchen, a table, a counter, a window, and a screen door.
The second object is a Sunbeam Controlled Heat Automatic Frying Pan. (You can find these as "Vintage" items today on Ebay for around 30 dollars.) They purchased theirs at the Post Exchange on the base.
When we were children, our dad, for Sunday breakfast, before church, used it to cook pancakes.
Embossed on the handle of the frypan, like one of the large world's smaller mysteries definitively decoded, a list of food items, and their correct cooking temperatures, is given, for example:
"Everything you cook will be more delicious," asserts the instructional booklet, "because you get the correct heat every time."
The third object is a small wooden cage.
It hangs, the object of one of my earliest memories, suspended from a ceiling joist by a length of wire in our parents' basement. Standing under it, next to my brother, we look at it. Dusted with lint from the dryer, about five inches wide, and seven inches tall by seven inches long.
It looks like a little jail. It resembles, a little, the house in the photograph.
I remember that we asked our mother what it was, and our mother, who was doing some laundry, told us it was from Japan. She said it was a house for a cricket. She said—I think she said—crickets were for good luck.
your house in our parent's basement—
On the night of March 9-10, 1945, United States Army Air Force B-29s, centering an X on the working-class district, heavily civilian, near the port docks along the harbor between the Sumida and the Arikawa Rivers in the Koto and Chuo city wards, firebombed Tokyo.
Population density comes into play.
In Mumbai, for a current comparison, the population density is 60,000 people per square mile. In Manhattan today the density is 67,000 people per square mile. In Tokyo, the firebombs exploded over houses, which were made of paper and wood. Operation Meetinghouse is what the Army Air Force, making its own poem, named the mission. The population density in the firebombed districts of Tokyo was 103,00 people per square mile.
It was a windy night.
The B-29s delivered 1,650 tons of 500-pound E-46 cluster bombs, each releasing 38 napalm-carrying M-69 incendiary bomblets.
A survivor of the raid describes the airplanes as like dragonflies, everywhere in the sky.
People's bodies burned so fast they appeared to have been sculpted; like a precipitate, the corpses appeared half-transformed, as anonymous as carbon and trace elements.
They appeared basaltic, wrinkled, like lava, crusted and pebbled; they looked vulcanized; swept of their features, they curled like wicks; shrunken, the bodies in the intense heat became deformed; the faces split opened so fast and far that they burst, and left something else behind.
Something like this.
Where the fire, which lives inside all matter, burned across the threshold and, uncaged, joined the fire in the air over Tokyo, it burned into the molecules of the atmosphere, and it left tracks, like the marks of welding, the tracks of the screams from the charred corpses, falling to the streets, and into the air.
A child's parasol, the wind touches it lightly—
For the year that she lived in Tokyo, our mother taught Kindergarten at the Nishi-Machi School, which at that time was located in Meguro-ku.
The school was not at that point accredited by the Japanese government, because classes were to be taught entirely in English.
Yet many Japanese children went to school there, and, of course, the children of many foreign nationals, who were living in Tokyo then, participating in the reconstruction.
One American Nisei—her name was Anne, or Ann—was in our mother's Kindergarten, and our mother also remembers as well a Japanese boy, Makato, who must have been remarkable, because, more than sixty years later, our mother's voice brightens when she says his name. She loved him.
Our mom says,
It was the kitchen door and there was high fence there where the bamboo grew and where the little children could look down the wall into our house and with their big brown eyes wonder about Americans who were living right next to the air raid shelter, which was not a root cellar right close by.
A workman tended to the house that they rented.
For the year that they lived in Japan, our mom said, he seemed to be in their house nearly every day. Constantly making repairs, upkeep for the landlady, he would startle my mother from time to time by relieving himself, she said, urinating out through the screen of the back door.
He, like her landlady, would have been a survivor of the fire bomb raid.
A million people, homeless,
Our mother and the landlady were talking.
On the path to the fence in the back, they stood near a little door, which, as I picture it, would have been off to the side.
The name "Meguro" means "black eyes," and it derives from the Meguro Fudō (Black-eyed Fudō-myōō) of Ryūsenji. The Meguro Fudō was one of five Fudō-myōō statues placed at strategic points on the outskirts of Edo in the early seventeenth century by the abbot Tenkai, an advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu, to provide protection for the new capital of the Tokugawa shogunate.
It must have been morning.
Our mother loves to go outside then, early, before the sun warms up, the dew still heavy on the garden.
Summer by summer, from the year they built their house, shortly after our father was discharged, and after they had moved, because our mother was pregnant, back to the States, home to Illinois, the garden's space has taken over more and more of the yard's space, and, in fact, almost no yard space remains.
It has turned—she has turned it—into drifts of daylilies, with butterfly bushes growing out of them, and spindled with leggy coneflowers, the kind from the original prairie, which the deer love to eat, browsing across the edges of the yard at night; and in the borders, nasturtiums, whose blossoms our mother sometimes plucks off and puts on our salads, which when we eat them, and their colors burn like pepper on our tongues, surprise us; and bloodroot, and wild ginger, which have crept from the wild's space behind that house, into the garden's space, along with Solomon's seal, and the May apples.
Our mother says,
The carpenter who came on his bicycle to repair our paper house did come into the kitchen and I have a picture here to show you and he stood at the screen door next to the small ice box literally and peed through the door and down the wooden step onto the bare earth path which we used to carry our laundry out to the high fence where we hung our sheets towels and stuff to dry.
Our mother and her landlady in Tokyo, the morning sunshine, were talking.
The landlady, nodding, I imagine, assuring our mother that the rat, which our mother and father would see sometimes, and could hear some nights, in the ceiling above their bed in that little house, was good luck for the household, for the marriage.
As he was the messenger of Daikoku, "the happy looking god of wealth, farmers, food, and good fortune," God of Earth associated with the Shinto deity, Okuninushi, Lord of Agriculture and Rice, Farming and Wealth. The rat, a sign of good fortune.
A deity of the kitchen, yet his ancestor is a Hindu god of war.
Our mother says,
Maybe the other you were thinking of was the honey bucket man who came on his bicycle every morning with a song to announce that our honey buckets should be out on the street to be picked up and emptied into his cart....now I must go.
Standing outside—and the cricket cage, in the basement, an earliest memory, also good luck—our mother was looking at the door, a little door, built into the side of a mound of earth.
No, the landlady says. (Our mother has asked her, is that a root cellar?) No, she replies. Not root cellar. Bomb. Shelter from bomb.
"It was one of the best years of our life," our mom said.
I wonder, now, why would we not have asked? I don't know if our dad ever caught any spies. I think he said he never did.
The first, most obvious thing.
About the cricket cage, the little bars that make up its sides and its roof are spaced far enough that a cricket, a regular American brown cricket of the wainscoting, of the corn crib and silo shadow, could easily slip between them. What would keep a cricket in the cage would have to be something enticing.
Our mom says,
I miss you on this windy day. Everything is out of the house and the two avocado trees and the big fern and all of the stuff from upstairs because it causes me to use the stairs all winter to water them and they all look pretty tired.
's writing has appeared in Blue Fifth Review, Poet Lore, Arsenic Lobster, Tupelo Quarterly
. Two chapbooks include Tornado
(Kent State UP
2008) and We Practice for It