restricted access The Mirror Diary
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I The Mirror Diary When I was twenty, I decided to dedicate myself to the study of art and literature. It would be as if I were an apprentice in some religious practice, laying down the foundation of learning in letters and values both spiritual and moral that I would draw upon in later days. My yearning was intense, I thought, and my devotion almost absolute. I read and I read and I read, only and all the time. I was away at college, of course, and I was overjoyed. I had escaped the noisy house of my upbringing in Gardena, a postwar Levittown of Los Angeles, a neighborhood crowded with loneliness and working-­ class anger. I read fiction in the afternoons out on the porches and lawns and poetry in my room after supper in the dining halls. After midnight, with the company of a cup of wine, I practiced calligraphy. In the mornings, I studied languages and read as little as possible in my science texts—­ the explanations and charts therein befuddled me. I was for literature and that was it. On Botany field trips, I took Shakespeare ’s comedies and read them on the bus as we swayed along small roadways through the California foothills, spring lupines, purple brushes of salvia, and yellow buttercups burgeoning under the oaks and in the fields around us. Strolling the dusty campgrounds at night, I recited the love lyrics of Sir Thomas Campion and made eyes at the fires of my own learning. It was, alas, a somewhat hermetic experience. I began to long for things: for companionship, of course, the true thing always elusive—­ “They flye from me who sometyme did me seeke . . .”; but also, and in the most earnest way, for ancestry, for a sense of descent from noble things, not only from a people, as was being chronicled for me in the novels of William Faulkner, but from a tradition of thought, of speech without desperation or the angry pollutions of human affairs. I who was so filial to the texts of 4 my studies, so observant of the mores and principles both articulated and implied in Boethius and John Gower, was beginning to reflect on the contradiction that I was in no direct way tied to them, to that English cultural tradition. My own people came from southern Japan—­ in 1888 my grandfather always said, talking about his father’s passage. The family came from Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Satsuma, and Wakayama. They were laborers and strike leaders on the sugar plantations in Hawaiʻi They were a dancer, a tea-­ house owner, a country storekeeper, and drivers of mules in the cane fields. They were a kind of golden mystery to me at the time. There was no brief of their passage. No record that I knew of that marked their stories down for me to inscribe myself within them as the living image of their ancestral shadows. And so, before long, I invented a book. In secret. At first, I told no one, but I wrote that it was so in a diary of my own dreaming , as if it were a memory, though I knew I had not lived it, that the book did not exist. But I convinced myself that it did. In my diary, I wrote that I found it when I was five or six, rummaging around in the basement garage of my grandfather’s house on Kamehameha Highway on the island of Oʻahu near the town of Hauʻula. I had been exploring in the shelves alongside the polished green Chevy, careful to climb up on the floorboards, step on the seat, and push quickly with my bare foot from the dashboard and lowered passenger window on up so I could reach the high shelves crowded with things. My grandfather kept boxes full of sparkplugs, rayon lure skirts, seashells, and beach-­ washed glass up there out of which he fashioned curios for the tourists. A crèche of toy hula girls in the polished half-­ shell of a coconut. A kind of Joseph Cornell-­ box with opihi, chips of colored glass, spotted cowries, and a starfish. There were a few books up there too, mildewing and coated with a fine, powdery black rot: high school yearbooks with teenage pictures of my mother and aunts in them, paperback adventure novels—­ westerns mostly, and some with fake leather covers in red and green. Their titles were embossed in gold. For Whom the Bell...

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