When I wake and turn on our bed
to you,
little muffin with mosquito bite,
little strawberry linen pj’s rumpled,
yet big,
I squint to see.
I am still dreaming of college and dormitories and young Elvis.
Coffee is present, at least in smell.
And the fan, circumnavigating
the room,
combined with some
serious Sunday sun streaming,
culled with voices out,
away from my dreaming,
sunlight, cousin-sunburns,
and that coffee,
I think I’m at the bay,
our bay in Harvey Cedars.
And I won’t get up from my dream-licked palette,
can’t creak my ankles to see over
her third-story window
where sun is gleaming even at 7:25,
won’t topple the sandcastle feeling
that I am with you all:
thirty welcoming faces pour my coffee, suggest a run on the beach, or bike ride to the bakery.

I won’t set myself up to see that
instead of ocean, gulls, and terns,
there will be
a horizon of buildings.
There will be sun hats and gloves.
And high heels and sneakers.

Not seaweed, not put-put, but quick this way, we have places to be.

There will be city, the ocean,

really a frenetic train, waving past the dunes,

running home.

It will be on time, but I will feel late
or early, thinking back.

I was with you,
I stirred in your milk and served your water with ice, clinking clinking resemblance, family jokes at sun up.
I showered over stones, over deck.
We must have biked the island up and down thirty times or sixty.
And how many seagulls would we have seen if tagged over the years,
their hungry cries willing blue crabs to beach themselves and open up.

I walked sand, hunted for that clear, perfect spot to set up camp,
looked out, looked out with love.
I climbed each grated step to the top
and peered out.

I hear you now, my family,
morning mixing with night.
Sunday makes me squint as I take in the missing you with coffee, streaming out. All this before I’ve even gotten up.

Showers, Dresses, & Bodies


1. Splash

Lots of wonderful, silly things happen in our showers. We are (still) a family-get-naked-shower-group, where, to save time, I shower with my kids. It began when my girl was just a tot–I bathed with her, the special Japanese way, where you support their small neck while gently folding their ears back to not let in any water. She learned deep bathtubs at one-month-old, also learning buoyancy and the weightlessness of trust.

She later graduated to showers–Now, with toddling baby boy joining our shower, the scrubbing and shampooing life gets even funnier. I swear I said, just yesterday, “Do not pee on your brother.” I know.

In spite of sounding as crunchy as crunchy as a handful of sunflower seed trail mix, (but maybe, probably, I really am), heaps of fine and normal body-talk occurs. Some of my best parenting, I swear, happens in that shower. Gloria Steinem, my mom, Raffi, and the cast of Rent would be proud. With the addition of our boy and his circumcised penis, my girl understands girls/boys. It’s not a thing. We may even help save embarrassment later! Let’s keep all this body stuff on the table, really, as it pertains to them now, before the messy onslaught that can be “teens”. This is the way to go for us. In fact, it is quite a normalcy, in Japan, that the whole family bathes together. This is the land of public baths. Even the monkeys hang out in the tub! We know each other’s bodies; I tell you, there are worse things.

And no, we’ll not keep that up longer than appropriate. But for now, anyway, there is a comfort. There is laughter. There are correct names for body parts–no peepee and wee. No ninnies or whatever else people say. There are breasts and nipples and “jajinas”, damnit.

(I did correct my girl when she was just beside herself, kvelling at how cute Jude’s “jagina” was. Also, when she complimented his butt (Nope, honey, his PENIS. Yup, still his penis). Us girls have been in fits of giggles seeing our boy spend the greater part of a shower touching himself. Sometimes all you can do is laugh, use correct words, and wail “Baby Beluga”. At the end of the day, it’s fine. And everybody’s squeaky clean.


2. Powder & a Sheath


I hadn’t worn the dress in years. This is the aquamarine tea-length dress I could wear with back and tea with the queen, without trying too hard. It is v-length; it is flattering; I feel like one of the very gorgeous, vaporous women in The Stepford Wives. I could be an instant-walk-on; such is my love for this dress. It wasn’t even expensive or anything. I think it may have been my single-ever purchase from Dress Barn or another such unfortunately-named shop for women.


Glen Close in Stepford Waves. Gooood stuff~

Anyway, I wore it out to teach in today. My daughter LOVED it, exclaiming that I looked so beautiful that I ought to have stockings with it. She loves fancy and I was it! I clicked my heels all the way to K’s school for drop-off. Midway, I looked down and felt a bit big. Was it that I was wearing a non-nursing bra? Was it surprise that my breasts still inhabit the area above my belt? I had some definite cleavage. Not terrible, but enough that I, modest Mel, noticed.


2. Stick Out Yer Chest

So I noticed. So did Kariin’s preschool friend, Aratakun. No “good morning”, no, “Hey”! Simply, “Opai mieru!” He could see my boobs. Oh, boy. Kariin protested with firerce loyalty: “Mom! He cannot say that to you!” I think it wasn’t simply being possessive over ones’ mom. She didn’t feel right about his comment, or him noticing me there, in that way. Not okay for her.

That walk from my girl’s school to my private, all-girls, Christian private school with conservative traditions was not so easy. I didn’t have enough hands. One for trying to cover my overzealous mommy-cleavage, one for my canned drink, and one (?) for my heavy bag.

Do you know Japan? It is modest-town. There is Washington DC conservative, and there is Tokyo dress. We are so dog-gone modest about tops, so serious about modesty. There are some dichotomies and little issues when daily, I see a woman who can barely cover her vagina with a dress, but who has the most LDS-looking tops, decollate fully under wraps. Everywhere I go, I make immodest moves in the shirt-department. (Nevermind the reality that I am a no-shame in my game breastfeeder).

There n’er was cleavage til I moved here, it seems. Sigh. Such is life and pretty things that you buy in the US but here, feel hussie-like.

Oh, this dress. You’d never know this tea garden dress could make it easy to feel more like a tea garden floozie, letting preschool-aged boys and grown weirdo men get a free eyeful. And yet, in our shower, in our family, everything is pure.




The Importance of Voice From Maya Angelou


I don’t remember which Maya Angelou poem it was,

but I heard voice.

The choice to sing out,

to align letters and sculpt mood.

Maya made rubies out of wood.


I heard a woman, stark, celebrating

though she’d been a slave,

bruises deep as ancestral scars;

Her stories brought out the

stars on an obsidian night.


She had the words to sing

though she’d been harmed.

She’d also been formed with love

and lumps of soft clay.

This woman had style, phenomenally.


Grace to look at the truth of things and smile;

such was her Hope.


She had sass and swing and enough spring to make

showers of thousands of powdery puffs

flit onto the sisters of her generation.

She commanded mesmerisation.


Ms. Angelou showed us elegance in cotton,

grandeur in the sweat of penning a memoir.

That a true-life-hymn could spring up from my soul.

That lonely words could be straightened out with Joy

and human rights.


She showed me swinging hips and education,

that writing that made me giggle and trust

with anticipation–

all might be well in the morning.

She shared with me, Voice.


Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning. 

–Maya Angelou

Here is a  video of her own gorgeous voice

Her Maybe Plans


“Mommy?” We ready our fresh pjs on the washer. Towels hang, baby boy’s diaper, everything set to take us in, to dry our damp hair and growing limbs. Where there was pudge and baby rolls, there is now thin arms and ankle points. She takes the lead, strolling in first and turning on the faucet we will all share.

“I may want to live in America when I am older,” she informs me at three and a half. Wow, where is this coming from, my slight smile wonders with my eyes, squinting to see her at some older age. Will it be college? Later? Gosh, will she stage a dramatic coup, some let-me-live-with-my-Grandma moment at age five?

Before I can press much into these folds, these far away moments, she, herself, winds down.

“But…I may get too scary. I may just want to stay home with you and Daddy and Judy and just be cozy.”

She proceedes to scrub and play, negotiating the shower toys with her brother; she is a big girl still with that puppy tummy. Her own dreams and suppositions carried into the shower.

You may, honey, you may.



I’ve Done it Again

k's painting

My girl’s painting, Jungle Meets the Zoo

Gone & lost important papers

records of importance

which meant i had-ta shuffle through papers

rifle through every pocket of every bag

go on & toss out old receipts

& scripts from the grave.


How is it I always need an apology.

Can’t complete z before x or y,

can’t make it husband’s fault

when i was the original mover

the pancake flipper

I am the ones with keys, letters,

paper stating I don’t have tuberculosis,

I swear.

One simple delivery

one itty job

in hand

and then




outa sight

no memory

(huhhhhhhhhh the biggest sighs, the old admission of HELP)



under the next time

that next thing

the every-time

making me remember that

habit of losing things–







any traces of gills

this little fish with just barely

a memory of where anything’s hidden

i swear

heaven help me if i ever find treasure &

think to bury it.


so now it’s like this:

for my birthday, whenever that may be,

please someone, get me a private secretary,

a metal detector,

some ginko biloba,

and perhaps, maybe,



“glub”, which in this case, is fish for “word”.

Even for a Minute, Away


Sometimes you just have to plop on the floor, take off heavy bag, sit down on the curb of your busy intersection, feet away from cars, pull out that pen, and write.

This, as I just walked the better part of Northern Tokyo, looking for, willing still-closed cafes to open. Up before iron gates have come apart. Out before hot crusty cakes and poppy- ensconced buns were pulled from the oven.


My recommendation to you, O writer, O mother on overdrive, you, girl with the thousand thoughts, is to just lock yourself somewhere, pull a Rapunzel.

But lock yourself somewhere your feet and breath widen, the rock like a dock where you can toss breadcrumbs, lacquer your nails, which are tapping, and breathe.

Either that, or find the cafe that allows laundry-baskets chock-a-block with your family’s garments to fold, new ways to not really leave, you newly resolved in efficacious efficiency.

Mostly, let it be somewhere with a French press and extra pens
signed with love,


Just now, at 4:30 am


It is now, right now
As I slide rag over table, finally arrange teapots how they ought to be,
the all quiet hum of silent night time home, sunrise hits all points:
loppy tomato plant, stone siding,
compass rose, Google Earth
Tokyo Pacific time
The time crows and babies
remember food.

Driveway, towers, and trains
are now running.
I could stay up,
Could be the artful, neat designer me,
Could wow them at 7:38.
It could be really great.

This is my night time, so fresh,
Mind is calm,
yet races.

I have always wanted to yacht.

Instead I drape the white rag over faucet, flick off light, and hang

that teeny vase in the hall.

I walk into night time breath,

tenderly lulled

by the time
I slide into bed
sheet under chubby leg
one year old
next to thirty five year old
both breaths, love.

It takes all I have not to wake
them with snuggles
robot shirt covered tummy expanding with each 4:38 baby boy

and man breath, each sweet


This is when we gather strength
for the day
I could stay up
but lights are already off
and sun will come in soon.

It is time to add my sleepy dreaming
leg under sheets,
rise and fall tides of breath
to the song of awakening birds.