Reparations

On Easter Sunday last year, I heard an American soldier speak in the Catholic church on Kawaramachi street. He was uneasy, only twenty-four, and by avocation a photographer. The translator hobbled him somewhat, but he had presence, and he told his story––a story of how, south of Baghdad, his unit killed three goats and one child, in error; and of how, in reparation, the Army paid out $200 U.S. for the girl, and $1,200 more for her father’s livestock. The soldier had made his stop in Kyoto, on a long walk from Hiroshima to Tokyo, with a group of Buddhist monks––a walk undertaken for whatever it might accomplish in the name of peace.

After the meeting, the soldier stepped outside for a smoke, and took a seat beside me on the steps. A young Japanese woman approached him. She said she spoke no English––a fact for which she apologized in English. She extended her hand to touch his. “You have beautiful eyes,” she said.

No desert mirage,
in this sorry botch of a war––
three goats dead, one child.

7 Responses to “Reparations”

  1. The prose is poignant, although on a subject (war) little treated in haibun. I liked the connection between the soldier’s eyes and what he must have seen (the mirage in the haiku), though the poem, I feel, unfortunately adds little to the piece, largely repeating what has been said and using judgmental language in its second line (a no-no for haiku).

  2. Nobuyuki Yuasa Says:

    This is a very powerful piece. I find a great deal of irony in the concluding haiku. It is true that war is a difficult subject for haibun, but haibun writers should be ready for everything under the sun. Unfortunately, many Japanese haiku poets tend to limit themselves to traditonal subjects, narrowing their poetical world thereby.

  3. Thank you, Yuasa-san. I agree w/ Stephen about the haiku–which isn’t really haiku at all for the reasons he gives, and which adds to the prose only the idea that what this photographer/soldier saw with what the young woman called his “beautiful eyes” was not a mirage, though he sorely wished it had been.

    The idea of “reparations” struck me particularly because of a coincidence: the soldier appeared here in Kyoto in a Catholic Church on Easter, when, for Christians, Christ made “reparation” for our sins–among them, of course, the manifold sins of war.

    Incidentally, the soldier stressed a point I didn’t make explicit: that the Army paid twice as much for each goat as for the girl–a fact due perhaps less to the inhumanity of the Army, I suspect, than to the mores of the patriarchal culture they are attempting to, well–for Christ’s sake, who knows by now what the Americans are attempting to do in Iraq?

  4. yes powerful and moving I loved it

  5. There’s so much to this story through the variety of symbolic points of view. Remarkable! And just a few simple facts of a settlement with a non-combatant of war to explore value/s.

    To Tito’s point, I too think that the haiku seems to repeat a central part of what has been said in the body of this piece. For me, the concluding paragraph seems to have a haiku-like function, and makes me imagine a possible reparation offered to the soldier.

  6. Thanks, Gerald. What you say here catches what I hoped to do. You say, “For me, the concluding paragraph seems to have a haiku-like function, and makes me imagine a possible reparation offered to the soldier.”

    Yes, it astonished me, as I sat there beside him, to hear the young woman say what she said, given all possible things she might have said under the circumstances: “You have beautiful eyes.” It was felt as reparation, and it was uttered with perfect ingenuity; and then she simply walked away.

    By the way, I second your seconding of Tito’s point: I’ve not got the hang of it in that non-haiku.

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