The Global War on Terror

It’s a yearly August ritual, for this American ex-patriate: a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV in American parlance) out at Nagaoka-tenjin. I am there to renew my Kyoto-issued International Driver’s license so that I can pilot a rented car in my own home country. There’s no such thing as an “American” driver’s license (a quirk of our federal system); there are only state licenses. When I tried some years ago to renew my Michigan license from abroad, I was refused. I had to come back to Kalamazoo and prove my residence there, they told me. When I tried to obtain a new Georgia state license last year the clerk demanded that I forfeit my Japanese license first. I couldn’t get any better explanation out of either DMV than a familiar American shibboleth: 9/11. The new strictures are part of the so-called global war on terror, it seems. So the world wags, the American world anyway. And with my Kyoto-issued International Driver’s License I will, next week, rent a car in my hometown of Augusta, Georgia––a semi-tropical place where the cicadas, this time of year, fairly howl in the heat of the afternoon.

louder than the bus
to Nagaoka-tenjin Station,
the cicadas call––
license to go home

6 Responses to “The Global War on Terror”

  1. Fine irony all through. The haiku falls without the haibun, but in its context rounds off the piece, for we understand what ‘license to go home’ really means. Loved the howling of the American cicadas. The Driving License Centre at Nag-Ten is my least favorite place in Kansai – one of the bastions of the Old School of Bureaucracy. I trust they let you off lightly and only wasted half your day, what with the pilgrimage down there and all the queueing and bowing?

  2. marksrichardson Says:

    Thanks, Stephen. Good point. That’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you about haibun. Does the convention call for the haiku to be readable without the prose? Should prose & poem ideally be related but also somehow each self-contained? Therein would lie the real difficulty of the form, I guess.

    The “license to go home” had a private meaning for me beyond the document I’d obtained: the call of the cicadas in Nag-Ten sounded exactly like the call of the ones in Georgia. The cicadas gave me license, too. I already felt transported in a world too separated by all our damned documents. To convey that I’d have to lengthen the last line to “license to go home to Georgia.” Which would make “license” a sort of pun, but might allow the haiku to stand on its own (at least for anyone who knows Georgia).

    Which reminds me of another small irony: Instead of taking my shoes off at household door-ways during August, as I do here in Kyoto, I’ll be taking them off at airport security checkpoints in LA, Atlanta, Huntsville, Kalamazoo, & Boston, & then again at Atlanta. You have to take your shoes off to enter America, and to fly round it, and to exit it. But once you’re on the ground there you can really muddy up the joint.

  3. In the better years, it was possible to renew driver’s licenses by mail; even e-mail renewal was promised. Then came 9/11, and we are now without hope; nearly. I am also from Michigan, so I know well Mark’s agony.

    drive away, drive ahead, drive on;
    oh, no plastic?
    drives one crazy

    The idea of having to get an international driver’s license in order to drive in your own country has to be one of the unique particularities of this age. For me, another oddity is the ease foreigners sometimes meet when dealing with Officialdom in areas where we are supremely weak, absolutely helpless. I refer to the Almighty Immigration Office. Expecting lashings, laughter, languishing hours, last week I walked in, bowed, proffered the docs, sat down, bounced up as the metal seal whacked my passport, and left bewildered.

    over before the first sob;
    the bow did it.

    On the subjext of this month’s endless rain and high temperatures:

    moist thru and thru
    heat melting my hair
    the cicada’s voice saves always

    meaning that to hear this lovely trill helps greatly to cut thru this wilting weather we suffer in.

  4. I liked the Michigan and Georgia sequences to illustrate some differences in America’s state laws. And bringing up “a familiar American shibboleth…”contrasted with the power of an international driver’s license is a really big eye-opener!

  5. Nobuyuki Yuasa Says:

    I enjoyed reading this haibun very much, especially the ironic jabs it contins against worldwide red-tapes and bureucracy. The loud cicadas’ call might be a protest against it. Talking about cicadas, I am afraid Japanese cicadas are getting louder each year. This may have something to do with the climate change. Quiet cicadas Basho heard at Yamadera are disappearing in Tokyo and its vicinity. Instead, we have more and more louder cicadas, such as Kumazemi.

  6. Thank you, Yuasa-san. What a shame that the cicadas Basho heard are disappearing! Where I grew up (South Carolina/Georgia) the cicadas can be quite loud. I have no idea what species they are, or whether they are the same as the ones you mention here. I suppose I should consult a field guide.

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