Scrolls is a new 'experimental' collaboration in progress by James C. Hopkins and Yoko Danno. One of us writes the first half of a sentence and the other follows up the rest of the sentence. The latter begins the next sentence and drops it halfway, which is taken over by the former. Writing thus in turn we draw 'picture scrolls' with words. There is no rule except that a scroll should consist of five paragraphs. When we start a scroll we never know how it will develop and end. We have set out for adventures in an unknown land without a map or a compass.

   ("Scrolls" is posted as "an experimental work in progress" in Jerome Rothenberg's Poems and Poetics and Jacket2.)

♣  Scroll 18


The rain seemed like it would never stop, and now the boat was really sinking. I scanned the horizon for land or another vessel, but nothing was in sight, not even a piece of wood. In panic I took off my shoes, and started to bail out water with them—sloshing water over the sides of the small sailboat, and tying off the lines to keep the sails full. The wind & rain picked up and the boat began to move slowly through the sea like a snail moving on a huge wavy wet leaf. The pole star appeared just above the horizon and for a moment it gave me a little hope—a kind of predictable connection, in the unpredictable sea—and then it was gone again, covered by clouds. I continued to bail out the water frantically with my shoes.

The rain had long stopped but the water in the boat seemed never to run low and I knew that there wasn't much time before the boat went down altogether. There is nothing like contemplating the end of your life to make one think of living fill to the brim, but at present I couldn't do anything but make my boat lighten for my dear life. I threw away everything that was of value—compass, knife, silver pen, corkscrew—keeping only the most worthless things in the boat. Desperate times call for radical transformation, and this time, although I frantically wished a miracle would happen and get me out of this nightmarish state, I woke up instead to the fact that I had thrown away in panic all of the means of communication.

As a last resort I checked the pockets of my pants and discovered, to my surprise, a small black stone dog which I had purchased at a bazaar in Bangkok years ago. I looked at the black dog, as if looking for an answer, and was reminded of a small wood-carved dog cherished by a monk, who had lived in a temple in Kyoto some 800 years before. He is said to have written love letters to his most favorite island, and somehow I had a gleam of hope that this black stone dog might somehow hold secrets that could help me as well. I rubbed the back of the dog, and to my surprise it whined. Inexplicably relieved, I rummaged in the food box, picked up the last bottle of beer and drank it off before realizing that the dog had disappeared.

Then I heard a splashing sound off the port side, and when I bent over the rail to look, a small dark figure was swiftly fading into the distance. In despair I took a notepad out of my shirt pocket, tore a page and wrote down: "leash." The next time I would not be so careless, but I didn't understand why my boat had leaked so. I added on the torn page, "Burn this with other trash on the beach," folded it up, put it in the beer bottle and let it float on the waves into the dark. Hours passed, maybe years, when I suddenly heard shrill calls of birds and felt something soft drop on my cheek. I found myself still in the same old boat, the sun blazing down on me from a cloudless sky, and a small piece of paper next to my foot in the bottom of the boat.

I picked up the paper, opened it, and found the word "leash"! I surely had washed the message out to sea, but was I in a bad dream, or so it seemed, so nothing was predictable at this point. The birds overhead seemed strangely disturbed, and kept circling and circling overhead, calling like air-raid sirens. Crucially alarmed, I armed myself with an oar in one hand and a noose in the other, fashioned from an old cotton line from the deck, tossed the noose overboard and began paddling west towards the sun. The cloud of birds gathered and dispersed, again and again overhead like a swarm of biting worries, which I soon realized was impossible to dispel. I kept on moving into the evening glow until my arms could paddle no more. As soon as I stopped, the birds descended onto the boat, covering it like a blanket, and put me to sound sleep.

Photo by James C. Hopkins: Ishigaki-jima, Okinawa

Posted, June 12, 2014