Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Miyakejima, 1

Among the things that endear you to Japan are drink vending machines. They carry soda and juice and water, to be sure, but also green tea, and – best of all – cans of coffee, with various amounts of milk and sugar, both cold and hot. The most common is Boss Coffee, whose logo features a mustachio’d man with a jut of jaw and a pipe clamped firmly in it. Others carry the face of actor Tommy Lee Jones, who does not look happy to be the boss, looks too sad to be in charge of anything.

These vending machines are everywhere. You might be on a small barely-populated island, seven hours south of Tokyo, at five-thirty in the morning, after having slept very little, and in your clothes. You might be hiking a long twisted road up a mountain, for reasons you cannot clearly remember.


      The day is breaking –

              one side of the mountain pink

                     one in cold shadow


And there in the distance, gleaming red and white, a beacon of all that is bright and welcoming about consumer capitalism, will be a vending machine.

Sitting on a concrete block, sipping a café au lait, enjoying the feel of warm metal between your hands, you listen to another announcement broadcast on the PA system. The entire island is wired for sound. Every now and then a set of speakers will hum into life, as if clearing its throat to say something, but then thinking better of it and falling quiet again. This bulletin is the fourth since you landed two hours ago, but all you catch is good morning. Presumably none of them has been urgent. You cannot imagine an evacuation order beginning with good morning, but in Japan, who knows?

But the hot coffee has helped you reach a kind of resolution. There is nothing for you to do but to walk, following the slope of the roads upward, to see how far you can get before something or someone makes you stop.


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