by the time I arrive at the 7th station
these old knees are trembling
and my left heel throbs inside this boot
I’m short on band-aids, a blister stings
my right fingers are stiff, I lost my glove
somewhere on the trail below
but thanks to the god of this volcano
here’s a warming hearth and
a futon space reserved
my first cup of green tea, then another, please
I hope my down sleeping bag is warm enough
reclining on tatami seems heavenly now
–I need something for this throbbing head
where’s my tiger balm?
within minutes, I’ve joined my early self
my grandmother then 77, chatting at dawn
–my son gone to war
my only wealth now, my granddaughter
living then with relatives in the country
west of Fuji san
in a boarded up cow shed
it was a place much like this hut, dug into a hillside
with a ceiling so low, we had to stoop across the room
grandmother reminds me daily
–we are lucky ones
always cold, rare the wood
save the ones at temples, the army cut down all trees
and me, always whining for food
father gone to Phillipines, never to return
mother working in an airplane factory, never to return
–will I die before I have a bowl of rice with meat?
I asked again and again, but
grandmother wagged her finger at me
–we will not die because we must climb Fuji-san first!
she could not sleep past 4:30 in the morning
up and sweeping the floor, preparing the tiny breakfast
sometimes, just fresh leaves or fresh weeds from the woods
a rare feast, the eggs from an old farmer nearby
once grandma grew “daikon” but there was never rice
my life kept me sleeping late with a man I refused to hate
and a body that refused children to walk on this world
I took up jogging on my sixtieth birthday
because I had a volcano to climb
what changes in sixty-two years?
what is the difference between twelve and fifty?
all those decades blur when you’re exhausted
I crawl across the tatami
and pull off my boots again
–don’t wait too long like I did
grandma reminds like an ear worm grinding again
so fresh to breathe at this above-timber-line altitude
from the passing clouds a whiff of delicious pine
and far too soon comes the tapping on my shoulder
–time to rise now
–grandma, I’m so stiff I can’t even rise up!
–turn on your side and push your way up
other hikers are sleepwalking out
a long-nosed “gaijin” comes by, dangling a pack
and union jack, he extends a giant hand
and yanks me to my feet, easy as a feather, I bow
–domo arigato, gozaimashita
–you’re quite welcome, indeed
–what time is it, please?
–4:32, we must hurry to catch the sunrise
how amazing, they come across the oceans
to trudge up a volcano in my backyard
I grab my pack, it’s just cans of coffee and trail mix
but heavy as rocks
and when I drink the second green tea at the warm hearth and when
I linger in netherland and when I rub my eyes too long
the familiar voice returns with the whining wind
–don’t stay too long at the hearth, child
–I’m soooooo tired
–but you can make it to the top in time
–but it’s freezing outside, I don’t know if–
–young lady, tie your boot strings tighter, I’m waiting for you
–waiting? where waiting?
–where the sunrise strikes the rim
–and then, what?
–the trail down we’ll trek together, that’s the easy part
R Venrick taught English for five years in Japan.