from The Men in My Country
It starts as a name, a place, a squiggle on a map. Japan. A country as far away from familiar as familiar can be. I try to imagine the country, what its streets look like, how its air smells. I touch the country on a map, fingering the page of a weathered atlas, spine broken, yellowed pages flying apart. As big as a thumbprint, as small as a canoe. Japan. I like the sound of it.
When my best friend called to say there was a job in Japan, when she asked, did I want to go, I knew I would. I would say yes, I would sign a contract to take me to Japan for the year. The job? To teach at three different junior highs. The town? A medium-sized city in the mountains, someplace called Matsumoto. I had just turned thirty, a watershed year. I would start over that year. I knew I would. I wanted to, I needed to. I didn’t know the difference then between want and need. All I knew is that I had to get away and when I stared at my name on the Japanese contract, the squiggles of katakana, my name typed in English sturdily beneath, I liked how it looked. As if it—as if I—were translated, transformed, emerging now as someone new.
And within a month, I had arrived. Sleeping on tatami mats. Eating rice. Washing blue-and-white bowls. Hanging laundry out on the balcony to dry. I loved the smell of sun-dried shirts and cotton sweaters that carried a hint of wind and earth. A new wind. A new earth.
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Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
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Marilyn Abildskov has an MFA from the University of Iowa, lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. The Men in My Country was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2004.
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