Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Miyakejima, 4

In the parking lot of the restaurant, the island’s only restaurant, a crow is perched on the hatchback of a pickup truck. A cat leaps out from under the truck, makes a grab for it, but the crow is too quick, launches itself into the branches with two flaps of its enormous wings. As the crow is almost as big as the cat, with a wicked sharp beak, it is not clear which has been luckier to escape.

Your lunch arrives. You have no idea what you ordered, as you cannot read the menu, and neither of women working speaks any English, so you pointed and grunted and hope that you haven’t ordered entrails or sea cucumber.

 

            Afloat in my soup

                        sweetbitter leaves – a flavor

                                    I’ve never tasted

 

The same leaves have also made their way into the tempura. You have eaten deep-fried flowers before, but never a deep-fried leaf. What is this? you ask. The server smiles, pleased at last to have been asked a recognizable question. Ashitaba. Your phrasebook is entirely useless for conversation, but it does have a good glossary of food terms, and there you find it – ashitaba, angelica. It seems like a fine thing to eat in spring.

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