- Grass-Colored AirBreathing with Osaki Midori
Breath holds time.
In a short set of passages on spring from 1934, the Japanese novelist and film critic Osaki Midori (1896–1971), who had suffered a breakdown and left Tokyo for her native Tottori Prefecture two years before, includes the following telegram. It is characteristic of the modernist style for which her work is known:
monsieur hamada congratulations on winning prize stop open tired old second floor window and breathe in lungfuls grass colored air stop propose toast in my heart to spring stop overworked stove in your workshop can relax stop my spring is three thirteen carried over from autumn stop1
Reading this sealed in my room in October, with my overworked air purifier on full blast as the smoke swirled outside, I longed to be able to open up my tired old second-floor window and to breathe in the grass-colored air rather than the orange haze. To bring the world into my body in a way that didn’t feel fraught. [End Page 215]
I can feel it. I want respite. Right now, hope and possibility are bodily. Huge, voluminous feelings filtered into my lungs and my blood. I can breathe, and my breath holds time. Even if time feels at once dilated and homogeneous, my lungs expand and collapse.
In the passage before the telegram, Osaki writes:
If I clean the Mentholatum-colored roof and wind the clock, the fresh spring will come, ticktock. But, of course, for now I’m living outside of time. Until the fraying pollen of the pussy willows dissipates, the timepiece in my room will remain quietly stopped at 3:13.2
Time has stopped at 3:13. It could move forward, but it doesn’t, and this stopped time is carried forward paradoxically through time, into the new year: “my spring is three thirteen carried over from autumn stop.” The phrase “my spring,” rendered in classical, masculine Japanese as ora ga haru, is a reference to the haiku poet Issa’s verse 目出度さも中位なりおらが春 Medetasa mo chū kurai nari ora ga haru—loosely translated as “My spring this year: a mixed blessing.”3 It’s a reflection on aging, at seeing another year pass as an old man and wondering how much longer you have left. The clock is still giving the same time.
daryl maude is a PhD candidate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the Program in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. He works on queer futurity and intimacy in Japanese and Okinawan literature.
1. Osaki, Osaki Midori zenshū, 375. All translations are my own.
2. Osaki, Osaki Midori zenshū, 374.
3. Kobayashi, Ora ga haru, 2.