Last Weeks in Kamino, Japan

Last week of August in Kamino,
the cedars strain to keep their green,
bell crickets and cicadas pitch
themselves against lengthening nights,
and I prepare to leave this village.
The morning after an argument,
the air inside still bruised and tender,
our pit bull, Ginger, jerks me down
the road now flanked with empty shops—
the pharmacy, bank, Laundromat—
to the abandoned Shinto shrine.

Like Carmi, Illinois, the sister
town it doesn’t know it has,
this town is dwindling back to nature,
slowly reclaimed by bugs and bush.
Each year the classes at the school
grow smaller, more shops shut their doors,
more empty homes gape from the hills.
The graves are overgrown because
the offspring moved to bigger towns
or no offspring remain alive.

The river here runs cold and clear
as facts—no mud, no trash, no farm sludge.
No truck exoskeletons,
no bathtubs collect on its banks.
The number that keeps washing up
is 7, the shape of its old folks,
only ones left, poking the sidewalks
with canes, always facing downwards
as if searching for something lost.
In dying towns, the official color
is rust, as all equipment, pipes,
bridges and roofs bleed back to earth
by shedding finite skins of rust.
As Carmi’s empty little churches
white-dot the countryside, here
the Shinto shrines and temples are
abandoned, and this one has a sign
nailed to the wooden steps that reads
Closed. The god has gone away
to a shrine in the next prefecture.

Ginger and I sit on the steps.
I bend a country twelve-bar blues
that makes matchbook-sized frogs skitter
into the weeds while insects shriek
above the river’s icy whisper.
Perhaps my guitar playing will call
the god back—or keep him away.
Next week my wife and I will leave
for different jobs in different towns
in Vietnam, where we’ll become
one of those couples we said last year
we’d never understand. I wonder
if I’ll return to Kamino,
or my old family home in Carmi,
then wonder if that’s what everyone
wonders when they know they won’t.


Richard Newman is the author of three books of poetry and one novel. His work has appeared in American Journal of Poetry, Best American Poetry, Boulevard, Crab Orchard Review, and many other places. He lives and teaches in Vietnam and Japan.