Tiny bars with arbitrary names - FROG, Jette,
Tattoo - advertising all-night wrestling inside
six-seat rooms lined with movie posters, old bottles
kanji-scrawled with the surnames of regulars.
A lacquered dish of mixed nuts, wasabi peas,
rice crackers shaped like spicy waning moons.
A drunk man leaning into his hot sake cup
talks to the mama-san who dries dishes and smokes.
Smokes and rasps a throaty Japanese,
Yu-san, shall I turn the baseball on?
In the toilet, my knees knock the door
as soon as I sit to remind me I shouldn't be here,
a sitter, and I can still hear the mama-san rasping
to the man at the table, just inches away,
in a place for men to sleep-drink and stammer.
Even the toilet graffiti is in scratch I can't decipher-
intricate scribbles, cartoon drawings of big-titted
women and animals. Kaomoji, sweating ink.
This town was different once-
geisha layered with gold-threaded kimono
shifted through wood slat windows, shuffled
along these alleys, sat in smoke-filled rooms
charming men for high fees.
These brothels are bars now.
The only women, old and callous, pour drinks
for drunk men, but know the ghosts of girls
who moved through these make-shift drinking rooms
when they were still filled with trinkets,
tapestries and laughter; girls who knew
these broken men and made them beautiful.
- Aiko Harman
Aiko Harman is a Los Angeles native living in Scotland while she completes an MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. She has also lived in Japan, teaching English to high school students and spending time with her maternal family there. Aiko's poetry is published in Anon, The Glasgow Review, and Fuselit, among others. She is the winner of the 2009 Grierson Verse Prize and a recipient of the William Hunter Sharpe memorial scholarship in creative writing. Aiko was a Poet in Residence at the London Poetry Festival this August, where she celebrated her 25th birthday to massive fanfare and poetry... well, at least to poetry.