Punch

I lived in Osaka for 11 years starting in the early 1990s. Osaka gripped me then with its earthiness and immediacy, unlike the brittleness and coolness of Tokyo that I accept now as adjuncts to other things I have come to value, like diversity, flux and layeredness.

Osaka was where people just came up in bars, clubs and restaurants and talked to you – and where you inevitably got very drunk with them, weekend after weekend.

One of my favorite haunts during my first four years in Osaka was the Doyamacho area, a few hundred meters east of Umeda station.

Too close
for echoes, those old
Doyamacho bars

It was at a bar in Doyamacho, I don’t remember which one, that I met my good friend Punch (real name, Fumio) and his friend Wani (“Crocodile” – real name unknown). Both were involved in “design,” which seemed to mean imparting or creating aesthetic advice or decorations on a freelance basis via kone (i.e., “connections,” patronage). Punch was a tough mix of waifish and wizened, lean, sharp-witted, with small black bright eyes, quick with his tongue, and always laughing. Wani was tall, lumbering, lantern-jawed and retiring. Both were about 15 years older than I, giving them something of the status of mentors—people who, although I hardly ever met up with them in daylight, looked out a little for me, or at least let me know what they thought I ought to know.

Stumbling off
with a good-for-nothing
to peals of “baaka!”*

*”fool,” “idiot”

Time passed, and the last I ever saw of Punch was when we parted one morning near where I lived. Life had been tough on him and he had always maintained his buoyancy, but the price of it was beginning to show. I was living in a gaijin house, and, after a night on the town, this time he seemed to have nowhere to go. Yet, as we walked from Tennoji station to my place, he wouldn’t calm down, but maintained what had become a manic monologue. At the last moment I had to withdraw my offer to put him up that night and say “I don’t know” to his “What am I going to do then?”

It was perhaps a couple of years after that that I got word from an acquaintance that my old friend Punch was no more. It was sad, but a sadness that lifted when I saw him again.

That jolliness
friend Punch brings
even at his wake

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2 Responses to “Punch”

  1. I trust you don’t mind a little critique? For me, this is haibun only in the widest sense of the term, for the 2nd and 3rd poems (senryu) don’t seem to quite hold up on their own, although in the context they begin to make sense. The prose is perhaps too fully and skilfully descriptive for the genre?
    That said, you write very well, David. I liked the first poem most. Did not know what to think at the end, however, torn between the poles of sadness and jollity.

  2. Beautiful. I find myself lingering on the quiet transition between Punch’s “manic monologue” and “at the last moment I had to withdraw my offer to put him up for the night.” I find it haunting, and it makes me re-see Punch as a marginal figure in a tragic decline. I wince at the speaker’s withdrawal of the offer, because it reminds me of times I’ve drawn the line with similarly charismatic but troubled (drugs? mental illness?) figures. I was looking out for myself, but I felt like a jerk for doing so. I think _because_ the speaker doesn’t explain or apologize for or defend his change of heart, it makes the reader engage with the piece more: well done!

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