I have been reading Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins over the past several days, a comical and very socially conscious novel from the early 1970's. That experience has transported me back to a more carefree and entertaining time in my life - and it has gotten me thinking of the "way-out" writers that I enjoyed back in the day. When it came to poetry, the one poet who seemed to strike the most harmonious chord with college students of the sixties was Rod McKuen.
Many of Rod McKuen's poems (or songs) focused on harmony with others and love - and cats, but he had several that recalled his years in the military. The following, "Tokyo Harbor, First Impression," was published in the McKuen collection Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows in 1963. It is a very valid description of the impression that Americans often make when they visit foreign lands.
I've been there - I know.
(McKuen's Second Impression is included at a poetry bonus.)
Tokyo Harbor, First Impression
by Rod McKuen
Riding through the cities on the train
I saw dirty people at dirty windows
and bare children walking railroad ties
chalking messages on sidewalks.
Sometimes there were bicycles waiting at crossings
and oxcarts carrying who knows what
and fat mamasans resting in the shade
eating rich lunches.
At the noon hour
we threw them candy bars
and felt happy and foolish about it.
Gave us the finger
and got candy bars in return.
I can't help thinking that we Americans
leave behind a universal sign language
in lands we occupy or conquer
a phallic finger raised to all
these people think it means hello
what are alphabets for?
by Rod McKuen
Way around the lake
beyond the trees that crowd the moat
there is a warm place I remember
where all the high garret rooms have skylights.
Mamasan is in command
and for a fee
she'll forget anything.
You can get there in a 70 yen cab.
Listen if the night will let you
to songs I sing and things I say
tomorrow when the air is different
you'll forget and go away.