Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reading the air

The idea of "reading the air" sounds absurd.
But Japanese talk about it and do it all the time _ the art of staying so in tune to social expectations that one fits in perfectly without ever being told anything at all.
It's all in the air, to be detected, if you are a proper Japanese.
There is no need for blatant threats, punishment, policing, even instructions.
The person who starts laughing when everyone is solemn, the person who says the wrong kind of joke, the person who doesn't get the joke, the person who is wearing the wrong shoes, the person who doesn't get it, the person who thinks the party is happening when everyone else wants it to end _ those are people who fail to read the air.
They are out of it, no way a proper Japanese, possibly criminally insane, surely a loser because he or she hasn't learned the art of reading the air _ what's invisible but everywhere and so so so necessary if one wants to survive, what's so plainly obvious to those who are aware of that waft, that scent, that billow in the air around us, but otherwise goes over the unknowing's heads like a gust of a thoughtless clueless wind.
Reading the air is crucial in this society that thrives on conformity and is ruthlessly cruel in setting boundaries on who is "in" and "out," seeking to protect its comfortable insularity from the challenges of individualism, assessment by performance and self-expression.
Its rules are so thorough, governing every detail of everyday life, the psyche of its participants, so subtle in its nuances, like a tea-ceremony dance, that no one can really create a manual comprehensible to the humble outsider.
So read the air, my friend, read the air.
There is even a sociological/demographic twist.
Japan is one of the most rapidly aging societies in the world, meaning that the birth rate has been so low here (partly because of the role of women, partly because child-care services are inadequate, partly because education costs are so high) for so long the numbers of old people are massive compared to the dwindling numbers of children and young adults.
This has reinforced air-reading.
A kid born in Japan finds him/herself in a world dominated by lots of adults well versed in air-reading.
This is a society where children by definition are a minority, possibly an endangered species.
They are outnumbered.
Pressures on them to read the air are enormous.
And they learn fast.
They figure out how to get over with the more numerous and more powerful elderly.
The young as defiant, carefree, dangerous _ not so in Japan.
Instead, they focus their energies on reading the air, on not doing the weird wrong wild thing, to win their untroubled place in the Adult Establishment.
Air-reading is so crucial chastising people for their inability to read the air is part of the modern Japanese colloquial lexicon.
Being labeled "kooki yomenai (unable to read the air)," like "nerd" or "wimp," is utterly uncool.
As in most such sweeping social trends, there's a backlash, even in Japan.
Those who refuse to read the air are now being seen as brave achievers _ but only if they are true undeniable winners like Kosuke Kitajima, the Gold Medal Olympian swimmer.
"Kooki nanka yomuna!" he declares in an ad for a burger chain.
Don't you go around reading the air!
Having the privilege of not having to run around reading airs, and not having to worry about the consequences, is the ultimate that proves you have truly risen to the top in Japan.

Isaku gets taiko rocking with Hybrid Soul

HYBRID SOUL brings together the West and the East/minyo tunes with rock/jazz fusion with Isaku Kageyama on taiko, Pat Glynn on bass and Chris Young on guitar.
And their music keeps getting better and better as evident at Roppongi Edge in Tokyo May 29, 2009.
They play again at the Daikanyama Loop June 4, 2009 _ their last performance for this series that began in April.
They will be starting up another round of concerts later this year, where they will present their further evolution.
Among the songs they play: "Yagi Bushi," "Tanko Bushi," "Soran Bushi," "Nikata Bushi," "Hachijo" _ and "Dear Prudence."
It's moving to see how these men, who happen to be living in Tokyo and love music, have come together.
Meeting one another halfway, they have created something that's positive _ a new sound that's fun, intelligent, tasteful.
It is moving because everyone knows that kind of understanding is what this divided world needs.
The music isn't smug or insular. It is sincere and unafraid. It doesn't pander. And it doesn't pretend to be anything that it is not, or even really know what it is yet.

A stamp of approval from Ishmael Reed

Photo by Tennessee Reed.
In New York with Ishmael Reed, Carla Blank, Wajahat Ali, the actors of Ali's play "The Domestic Crusaders," and Rome Neal, artistic director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Our reading at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York is getting approval from the best _ poet and novelist Ishmael Reed officially declared "a genius" as a MacArthur Award recipient.
Please read his May 27, 2009 column in the San Francisco Chronicle called "City Brights," written by Bay Area luminaries.

YURI KAGEYAMA has a book of poems "Peeling" (I. Reed Press). Her works are in many literary anthologies _ "Y'Bird," "Pow Wow," "San Francisco Stories," "On a Bed of Rice," "Breaking Silence: an Anthology of Asian American Poets," "Greenfield Review," "Beyond Rice," "River Styx," "Other Side River," "Yellow Silk," "Stories We Hold Secret," "MultiAmerica," "Obras." She has read with Ishmael Reed, Shuntaro Tanikawa, Geraldine Kudaka, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Russel Baba, Seamus Heaney, Shozu Ben, Al Robles, Winchester Nii Tete, Keiji Kubo, Yumi Miyagishima. Her son Isaku Kageyama is a "taiko" drummer in Amanojaku in Tokyo. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Cornell University, and has an M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.

ERIC KAMAU GRAVATT has played with Freddie Hubbard, Albert Ayler, The District of Columbia Youth Symphony, Roberta Flack, Horiuchi Makoto, Sonny Fortune, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus, Donald Byrd, Carlos Valdez, Booker Irvin, Woody Shaw, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, Hank Mobley, Kikuchi Masabumi, The Milwaukee Symphony, Jimmy Heath, Donny Hathaway, Sam Rivers, Khalid Yasin, Andrew White, Tony Hymas, Paquito D'Rivera, George Mraz, Ravi Coltrane, Stanley Clarke, Pharoah Saunders, The McCoy Tyner Big Band, Gary Bartz, Bobby Hutcherson, James Carter, Terrance Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Donald Harrison, Charnett Moffett. He tours with his own band Source Code and with McCoy Tyner. Wayne Shorter calls him "The Weather Report drummer who was the all-around hippest one."

TERUYUKI and HARUNA KAWABATA are on their honeymoon. Their band Cigarette She Was performs at the numerous "live houses" in Tokyo. Their hippie-like music scene is part of what inspired YURI to write her story in "Pow-Wow" _ "The Father and the Son." They have been performing poetry together with other Tokyo musicians, including Winchester Nii Tete, a percussionist from Ghana, under YURI's project called The Tokyo Flower Children. Haruna fell in love with not only Teru but also the kpanlogo, a drum from Ghana, during college. The couple also work on films, CDs and posters, and are often featured in art festivals in Japan. Teru also makes cell-phone music downloads, and Haruna works at a major Japanese coffee-shop chain.


a poem by Yuri Kageyama

when people bad-mouth us
sneering in French
assumptions are being made of us
a yellow face is non-literati,
good at math, grunts only pidgin
assumptions are being made of us
we are followers, never leaders,
happy to be hired
assumptions are being made of us
sidekick in "Heroes," never the hero
Kato like Tonto
assumptions are being made of us
we do dishes
we do blow-jobs
assumptions are being made of us
trying hard to be liked, blend in,
do better than the best
assumptions are being made of us
digging with a scalpel
make our slant eyes round
assumptions are being made of us
sneaky and un-scru-pu-lous
prove our loyalty by "going for broke"
assumptions are being made of us

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yoshiaki Tago Film-maker

Film-maker Yoshiaki Tago in his Tokyo office.
Tago and I are working on a film together.
Surprisingly, it's only recently (after reminding from an email from writer and choreographer Carla Blank) that I've realized this is another cross-cultural collaboration that's always been my life/work/identity.
I have a very good feeling about our work in progress.
I love Tago's sensibilities. He is a Japanese film-maker. And that means a certain language, a way of seeing and telling a story.
But we are struggling to connect a divide (gender, generation, genre, cultural reference).
Sometimes we are frustrated because we don't understand what's so obvious to the other.
By being forced to articulate what my poetry is for me, I am learning how my works connect to the past, to music, to the marginality of being caught in between the U.S. and Japan, to sexuality, to my son and his music _ all the things that are so close to me I sometimes forget or choose to forget what they mean.
Certainly, I don't want to talk about them _ in conversational prose.
After all, that's why the scars and tears and shame are all so carefully packaged _ and over so many years since my childhood in my poetry and stories.
To put it another way: If I had become someone who wrote in the Japanese language, I would certainly have become a different kind of person.
I write in English. I am an American minority writer.
I don't want to give the wrong impression.
Tago and I get along great: We both don't like "Elephant Man," or even "The Ballad of Narayama" (though Tago was educated in the school of director Shohei Imamura).
And we both love Kihachi Okamoto.
If that's not enough to keep us going, nothing is.

Film-maker Yoshiaki Tago in his Tokyo office.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

poem RE poet

poem Re poet
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

ninja lost in the commuter train
the voice in the urban wilderness
shaman moaning an improvised chant
the word that kills
the thought that heals
being a poet is being told to take a bungee jump
and the rope is "Made in Japan-town"
feeling that fetal taiko-drum beat vibrating from deep within
all the way from my shuddering lips
to my dew-dropping labia folds _ majora and minora
the word that kills
the thought that heals
i don't feel safe:
will the music survive?
standing and sitting and walking and jogging
no different from anybody else
but transforming the everyday into the eternal
adding meaning to the meaningless
connecting with the dead like a radio show
seeing outer space
in the here and now
there is no choice
but alone
being a poet
it just happens
the word that kills
the thought that heals

From Yuri To Yuri (continued)

From Yuri To Yuri _ Japanese Womanhood Across Borders Of Time
A Contemporary Renku Poem (a work in progress)

Yuri Matsueda and I have been taking turns, going back and worth, to build a narrative epic poem.
The section below, our latest, is by Yuri Matsueda.
My segment that preceded it is haiku.
All this follows our previous poems.
Our collaboration continues.





* * * * *


Hybrid Soul _ rock/fusion taiko _ in Roppongi

photo by Ryan Bruss.

HYBRID SOUL ( Chris Young on guitar, Pat Glynn on bass, Isaku Kageyama on taiko) presents MOSTLY MINYO at Roppongi Edge (TEL: 03-3505-4561) Friday, May 29, 2009.
Starts 8:30 p.m. (Doors open 8 p.m.) 3,000 yen (including one drink).

Eclectic and electrifying, Hybrid Soul brings rock 'n' roll to the world of taiko (traditional Japanese percussion) to deliver a totally modern version of "Bon" (summer festival) folk tunes, breathing new life into a down-home but complex Asian tradition with psychedelic sounds, the blues, funky rhythms and American-style rock.
The music of HYBRID SOUL is evolving _ with fresh tunes with every appearance.

Isaku Kageyama, an award-winning drummer with Amanojaku taiko ensemble, is also giving a TAIKO WORKSHOP at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space
B2 Rehearsal Room
1-8-1 Nishi Ikebukuro Toshima-ku Tokyo 171-0021
7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
(!!!Your first lesson is free if you tell Isaku you saw it on this blog!!!)

San Francisco-born Isaku Kageyama has been studying with Amanojaku founder and leader Yoichi Watanabe Sensei since he was 6 years old.
He now plays with Amanojaku in concerts not only around Japan but also in Dubai, the U.S., China, Brazil, etc.
He recently played with Japanese jazz trumpet legend Toshinori Kondo.
He also collaborates frequently with Winchester Nii Tete, a master percussionist from Ghana.
Isaku became the youngest player ever to win the Mt. Fuji Odaiko Contest in 2000 when he was 18.
He also won the Hokkaido Odaiko Contest in 2003.
He has helped Amanojaku teach taiko drummers throughout Japan as well as overseas. He traveled to Brazil five times since 2004 to teach more than 500 Nikkei Brazilians.
In 2008, Amanojaku led the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil with a performance by 1,200 Brazilian drummers at the Sao Paulo samba festival space.

For more information on the concert or workshop, contact: Isaku Kageyama at Tel: 090-8506-9885, Fax: 03-3904-9434 or e-mail:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Empty Library (from Motherhood Notes)

Photo (today) by Annette Dorfman. My column (from way back) in the Hokubei Mainichi:

"I'm Christopher Robin, and you're Pooh, OK, Mommy?"
Most likely, other 3-year-olds besides ours have the same fantasies. But it is the solitary plight of the non-white in America that the mother must experience a tinge of anxiety about ethnic self-hate. Perhaps she comforts herself that the illustrations of the blond blue-eyed hero in the A.A. Milne classic are black and white ink drawings.
Fortunately I am bilingual, so I can at least resort to Japanese books. Children's books in English that deal with Asian or Asian American themes are few.
The recent "Wings for Lai Ho" by Genny Lim and "Pie Biter" by Ruthanne Lum McCunn _ both well-written and enjoyable _ are set in historical immigration days. The drawings by Andrea Ja in the former contrast favorably to the more typical and stereotypical versions of Asian features _ not only by Caucasian artists, including Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, but also Asian Americans such as Chester Yoshida for Mei Nakano's slant-eyed "Riko Rabbit."
Some works by Yoshiko Uchida take place in Japan, and a rural out-dated Japan at that. For a San Francisco boy of the 80s, whose primary interests range from break-dancing to comic book superheroes, all the above-mentioned stories are as exotic as they are to average "hakujin."
Gyo Fujikawa is an exception in depicting children in regular modern-day activities such as brushing teeth or climbing the jungle gym, and he draws them with Caucasian, black or Asian physical features. However, aimed for very young "readers," his picture books do not go beyond the visual impact of UNICEF cards that show multiracial children in harmony.
Taro Yashima's tender "Umbrella" is another rare example of a modern Asian American story that does not rest on an exotic "foreign" or historical (sociological) theme.
Yashima and Uchida are both award-winning creators of children's books. Nevertheless, a weakness of language can be sensed in both, that is, in contrast to the power of feeling in the classics of E.B. White ("Charlotte's Web"), Kenneth Graham ("The Wind in the Willows"), Hugh Lofting ("Dr. Doolittle"), Beatrix Potter ("Peter Rabbit"), L. Frank Baum ("The Wizard of Oz") and even the sparse, more poetic styles of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silversein or Margaret Wise Brown.
As a so-called "model minority" that has produced its share of coroners, astronauts and senators, Japanese Americans have never boasted cultural sophistication as their strong point. Who are our equivalents of Miles Davis, Martha Graham, Jasper Johns, or even Prince? Our cultural output is low, both in terms of quantity and quality. Never has the tragedy of our cultural vacuum struck me more profoundly than in thinking of our son's future.
Of course, we struggle. We take him to hear Russel Baba blow his Asian soul out to us through his saxophone. Isaku has already attended concerts by the Nohbuddies, the Asian American Dance Collective, Kei Takei, the Kalilang Ensemble and many others. We are still hoping for a local revival of Philip Gotanda's "Avocado Kid."
Asian American culture exists. But not enough to make it easy to teach a growing child that being an artist is exciting, dignified and meaningful. Particularly as an Asian in a country that is not overly cultured to begin with.
Japanese Americans are rapidly assimilating. We are rapidly losing our cultural ties with our ancestral roots. And loss of a unique language is lethal for a poet. (The potency of black English in poetry, drama and prose proves that "language " here does not necessarily have to be Japanese.) But, instead of weeping over our culture's diluting into the mainstream, we cheer it on as a sign of our success in blending into a smug oneness with monolithic America.
The poet Ronald Tanaka was one of the first to deal with the problem of audience and the resultant isolation of the Sansei artist. Now a father of two daughters, he is busily writing poems and stories for them to read because, as previously stated, there just isn't much that really speaks to them.
It comes to this: If the culture to which we wish to expose our daughters and sons doesn't exist, we have to create it ourselves. Part of my responsibility as a parent is to try to see that my child survives, not only economically, but also as a full human being who is proud of what he is.
The crimes of racism include unequal wealth distribution, askewed employment patterns, disproportionate alcoholism and infant mortality; but the crime of racism is also that it makes us less than human _ not quite human _ for a community without poets (read: painters, musicians, dancers, etc.) is dead.
I am not advocating Japanese American cultural fascism or ethnocentric fanaticism. (Actually such concepts are absurd, given the material reality.) I have not forgotten that America _ the beautiful America _ is multicultural, where each culture enriches the other.
What I want to teach my Nikkei son is the Japanese rhythm of language, the Japanese psyche or spirit, the way we feel, the way we breathe and live. Though I have no easy answers as to what that entails, I believe in my responsibility as an artist and parent because I have to. To me, cultural survival is life or death.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Love poem for Isaku from 1983

Everyone says that you take after the father, not me. Though I was the one who suffered the nine months of carrying you around, the agony of labor, the Cesarean scar.
I feel surrounded by Face and Face _ a formalization in flesh of a relationship that was otherwise just a romance, perhaps even love, but not quite this. I am afraid. When I see your sleeping face to my right and the same face sleeping to my left, the face doesn't seem much bigger, with those eyes with lots of long lashes that make them appear smeared-gray painted, the pouting undersized mouth, the same curve of skull arching at the back. You two are breathing the identical rhythm, and I kill mine to make sure you are really breathing.
Did you know a mother often checks to make sure her sleeping child is still alive? You are nearly 2 years old, but you still want to suck. I feel like killing you. Yet I make sure you are alive. You cry when I leave. "Miss Mama," you tell me later in your sweet voice. (That sweet voice you have, no matter how much I resent you.) I don't feel guilty. I tell myself: I don't feel guilty. When you become a young man and I an old woman, I will cry for you, yet you will leave. So, at times, Isaku, I have to go.
Your father's shoulders have broadened and muscles lurk in arms that used to be skinny. He has a job now and works hard. And he wasn't like this before you came around. "Are you my son?" he keeps saying, bouncing you on his knee, waiting for your correct reply. "Yes, Daddy!" You point to his baby photos and comment, "Haku," mistaking them for yourself. When you grow up and leave, will this man, whose looks you will grow into, this man, who cried with me when you were born, will he still be here?

Toshinori Kondo Blows the Earth _ and More

May 13, 2009 was an important day for our son and taiko drummer Isaku Kageyama.
He played with Japanese jazz trumpeter Toshinori Kondo at the Kuonji Temple up high in the Minobu mountains _ a spot close to the sky, filled with green, air and playfully warbling "uguisu" nightingales and looking so much like a brush painting with mushroom-shaped trees you'd expect God to come down any moment.
Kondo takes the crowd on a journey _ part pilgrimage seeking salvation, part exploration of a multicultural artist's emotions, sometimes gut-wrenching rage, sometimes sheer ecstasy.
He plays over several electronic soundtracks that have been worked out in advance for tunes, each of which expresses Kondo's thoughts about the earth's place in the universe, Japan's place in the world of self-expression, and the individual's plight and mission within that planet and place.
Kondo has always explored his Japanese roots and forged a Japanese sound.
But he has also always kept his eyes on what goes beyond race/nationality/genres _ looking for answers in the cosmic.
Taiko with jazz trumpet and a DJ track is a combination that's a bit unexpected.
But it worked _ splendidly.
It was something I had never seen before but yet it seemed the most natural thing to be experiencing.
In one segment, Kondo told the audience he did a collaboration sometime back with artists that included Nobuyoshi Araki and Seitaro Kuroda for an anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.
He said they were moved that the people of Hiroshima referred to the A-bomb as "Pikadon," an onomatopoeia alluding to the "flash" or "flick" of blazing light and the "boom" or "bang" of its lethal sound.
A Westerner would certainly have injected some outrage or maliciousness and called it what it deserved: a mother-fucking etc. ... Kondo said.
But the people of Hiroshima just called it Pikadon.
"We found this extremely moving," he said.
The Japanese language is filled with onomatopoeia.
That's why some people think the Japanese language is "primitive."
But I don't think so, he said.
The Japanese language is very beautiful and musical, and Earth is a very musical planet filled with the sounds of the birds, insects and the wind, according to Kondo.
And he goes into song.
There is never a dull moment.
And it's never the same.
Isaku felt the joy of sharing such a stage.
Kondo was generous and motioned politely to hand him solo spots. He even told the audience "Kageyama-kun" is nervous and this is the first time we've performed together but isn't he doing a pretty good job?
That evening, Isaku followed Kondo on that journey, every step of the way.
He didn't pull his leg, and he didn't tumble down any crevice.
And he was happy.
But looking back, he wants more, he says.
What he wants now is to grow as a musician so he will be able to add something of his own to that trip.
It's a beginning, and the endeavor will be long and arduous.
But as Kondo says, it is a joy _ just to be born.
And to be playing with Kondo _ that's nothing but bliss.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More Motherhood Notes

"Oya Baka" means "doting parent" in Japanese. Since it's Mother's Day today, here's another from my column:

Black and Yellow

My 3-year-old son wants to be black. All the people he admires _ from Golden Gate Park roller skaters and football stars to break dancers, jazz musicians and even bus drivers _ often happen to be black.
"When I get older, my face is going to get black," he says proudly.
"What color are you now?" I ask.
"Yellow," he says in a meek, almost apologetic tone.
"Your daddy is Asian," I suggest, though he doesn't appear impressed. "Daddy, you and I are Asian, and we're proud we're Asian." I've ben repeating similar propaganda since his infancy.
He looks up with an idea. "Can I pretend my face is black?"
It doesn't take many years in American society _ 3 years and 3 months to be precise in the case of our Isaku _ to figure out racial myths, which are, in part, based on or are exaggerations of reality.
For the Asian in America, the low cultural energy and absence of positive images make it difficult, if not impossible, for a child to think that we are: cool, creative, sexy, attractive, musical, vivacious, outgoing, etc.
It's more like we are: academic, responsible, straight, proper, quiet, modest, subdued, etc.
From the above two lists, guess which one Isaku would pick to emulate.
To give an illustration, aside form the pidgin in Hawaii, or the Cantonese-English of the recent Hong Kong immigrants, Asian Americans lack their own vernacular.
The "hip" Asians who talk "street" basically talk black English. They don't throw in "ne?" or "honto?"
Using Japanese except for names of food ("sushi" is "in" these days) would only destroy their style. And much of Asian American art _ poetry, music, visual art _ remains imitative _ mostly of black or Latin forms, but also of white forms.
Asian Americans have yet to produce an artist on the calibre of Duke Ellington or a media figure with the impact of Prince.
My son recognizes Miles Davis tunes on the radio, strums his plastic guitar wailing "ROCK 'n' roooooll music, if you wanna dance with me," and beats on his drums, claiming he's Elvin Jones. (And all this despite the unusual fact that we do have Asian American friends who play music.)
I point out Brue Lee posters, whenever they are encountered, which isn't that often these days. But I'm being unreasonable to expect a martial artist-actor, no matter how dramatic and handsome, to be relevant to a 3 year old. Many years lie ahead before he'll be taken to those violent films.
With the intention of alleviating _ but perhaps ultimately intensifying _ my son's identity crisis, I've been taking him to a Congolese dance class for children his age. Being of a contrary nature, anyway, he refused to participate. Then I made the worst parental mistake. I praised another student, a little girl, who was performing fantastically, and he muttered with a horrible hatred in his voice, "She's black."
"Don't say anything like that," I hissed, controlling an urge to strangle him while praying that no one else had overheard. "It doesn't matter what you are _ black or Asian. We're all friends."
We had never taught him to be conscious of race that so-and-so was this race while someone else was something else.
But after the class, I had to lecture to my son, "J.J. is black, and Seiji is black, and they're your friends. Wain is black and Dorothy is black ..." I felt like an idiot. But that was the only way he'd have understood.
"But I like black, mama," he protested, tears brimming in his eyes.
I wished that we didn't have to live in world that divided people by the color of skin. I wished that skin color didn't matter to Isaku, someone so young and innocent, but it did, and I was powerless to change it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Oya Baka Notes in the Hokubei Mainichi

Transcribed below is one piece from a column on motherhood that I had in the Hokubei Mainichi, an iconic ghetto paper that still exists in San Francisco:

The House That Isaku Built

"Here's a diamond necklace for you." Often he holds up nothing in his delicately poised little fingers. He may have a rubber band or a rock _ both parts of his extensive collection of street finds. His voice is usually timid if I have just scolded him.
"For me? Oh, THANK you, Isaku." I hug him.
"Happy now?" he asks, not just to ask, but really wanting to know.
I don't have to yell for him to know. Sometimes it is the way I close a door or put my books or a plate down.
I make tut-tut noises with my tongue against my front upper teeth, when I discover still another pair of Daddy's dirty socks or a toothpaste cap left on the sink.
"Is Daddy stupid sometimes?" he offers as though reading my mind. Or he cries out vehemently, "Daddy is too NOI-SY with his shakere!"
The shakere is an African Yoruba percussion instrument, which has been my husband's recent passion. He spends hours pondering over what he believes is a "hip" design, then stringing colored wooden beads around a gourd rubbed with palm oil.
He spends more hours shaking the shakere in our one-bedroom apartment, driving me crazy with the rattling rhythms, the volume of which, unlike radios or amplifiers, can never be turned down. The only thing louder I can recall is traps drums, which can literally shake the walls of an entire house.
Anyway, people have comforted me by pointing out, better music as your man's mistress than a real woman.
There are men who gamble at the race tracks; there are men who play golf all weekend long. The pursuit of Afro-Cuban rhythms seems rather dignified in comparison, I admit.
Nevertheless, I can't help but feel, bullshit, what's all this music, like it's a gift from God or something when Isaku and I are living human beings who happen to be a wife and a kid with needs, too?
I swear, the man worships Coltrane. What about me? I could use some husbandly reverence.
"If Daddy's insulted," Isaku tells me, "you can marry me, OK?"
I don't know if he knows what "insulted" means, but he probably heard his father remark how insulted he was by something I had said.
In the past, every time Isaku wanted to marry me, I told him I was sorry but I was already married to Daddy. Maybe he figures that, if Dad and I break up, then he's got a chance.
It's wonderful. Isaku adores me. Right now, I am the Woman in his life.
"Isaku-chan Mama no koto, daaaaai suki!" he tells me, climbing on to my lap and kissing my nose.
The way he fits, his solid smallness against my chest, his arms around my neck, he can fill an emptiness with an incredible certainty, with total negation of any loneliness ever experienced.
"You look cute, sitting there." The 3-year-old already knows the way to a woman's heart.
"When I'm older, I'm going to build a house," Isaku promises. "It's going to be painted white and pink. And we're all going to live in it _ with my two cats and two dogs and five penguins."
He has this all planned out.
"For you, mama, the house is going to have books and clothes. Lots of clothes." I start to laugh. "And flowers," he adds with conviction.
"What are you going to have for Daddy?" I ask.
"A radio," he replies immediately. "And earphones."
He can be so smart.