The Descent

It was many years ago that I read ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’,  a novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, published in 1994–1995. It features a character, a man named Toru Okada (who narrates the story), a low-key and unemployed lawyer’s assistant who is tasked by his wife, Kumiko, to find their missing cat. In the course of the novel he finds an abandoned house that also contains an empty well, which Toru uses later to crawl into and think. I remembered this novel from so long ago, while I was working on another poem. All I could recollect were three aspects; the thinking well, a grotesque scene that inspired the other poem I should publish someday and two elegant Tokyo women in a café. Thanks to the internet I was able to find Haruki Murakami again and was so delighted to read his 2014 interview on the Guardian, where his answers to a few questions resonated with me greatly [1]

Haruki Murakami; Photo by Elena Seibert [2] for NPR

Murakami said: “My lifetime dream is to be sitting at the bottom of a well“
“It’s my lifetime dream to be sitting at the bottom of a well. It’s a dream come true. [Not a nightmare? asks John Mullan. “No!” “Why not?” “I dont know.”] I thought: it’s fun to write a novel, you can be anything! So I thought: I can sit at the bottom of a well, isolated … Wonderful!”
He also said : “My imagination is a kind of animal. So what I do is keep it alive””I’m obsessed with the well. And the elephant. The refrigerator. The cat. And the ironing. I can’t explain it.”And finally: “I have no intention to write about sad characters” An audience member asked why so many of his characters seem so sad. “Really?”, he asked, astounded. Toru Okada is certainly sad about his marriage, offered Mullan. “Everybody is!”, joked (we think) Murakami. “I have no intention to write about sad characters”, he concluded. I found the last one so funny, because I remember the sad vein of Toru Okada’s life in that novel and I would have answered similarly about my own writing: “What melancholia in my poetry, I don’t write sad depressive stuff at all. I’m quite the happy cat, as my husband, friends and family would attest to; writing though, is simply a soul exercise, if there can ever be such a thing”

There is mention of another well in ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’. The plot, in the style of Murakami, consists of strange incidences and stranger people, where Toru Okada meets a character called Lieutenant Mamiya, who tells him a long tale about his eerie and mystical wartime experiences in Manchukuo, (a Japanese puppet state created in China), while in the Kwantung Army, one of largest and most prestigious command in the Imperial Japanese Army, (1906-1945). The experience involved having to watch a man being skinned alive and then later, Mamiya being left within a deep well to die. I felt like writing for Toru Okada in the manner of his descent into a thinking well. I believe he would contemplate thus, in a similar way to how Lieutenant Mamiya does further in the story, each coming from a different experience leading to a unique perspective.

The photo is from an article on the USGS website about aquifers [3] and ground water, that’s well illustrated. There are illuminating primers on ground water [4] and one on water [5] that I am yet to read and have cited in resources below.

It is strange, the pathway of water. Like all liquid feeling, it remains confined to various strata of an Earth consciousness, I would like to imagine. It knows where to percolate to, permeate through or even be dramatically overwhelmed in a pressurized outburst of an Artesian nature. Aquifers are like chambers of the heart, they are lined by a sweet compassionate sandstone porosity, or sometimes confined to a dense granite of reserve, knowing that the water of life is just beneath and beyond the reach of anyone that thirsts for it. Such a perspective comes out of a certain possessiveness towards the Earth’s lifeblood, so to speak, the need to strike water through unyielding rock, even where it may spurt and gush forth like an injury to a carotid artery. Yet, from a human perspective, there do exist confined aquifers and legions of people with dry wells. It has been illuminating, this study of aquifers and wells [3] I would like to use the dry well to draw an analogy to a dearth of compassion. Does a heart / soul need to be bored through in the filling of a dry well? I mean, in such an exercise lies the possibility of confining unfamiliar expressions to a medieval grammar.  Nothing is original, I heard it said once, not even sin. All that we create has been created before, yet, we are new each time, despite our genetic ancestral inheritance and we seek to explore life like no human has, that have come before us, knowing at the end there is simply death for the sated or the hungry.

I have been missing out writing poetry that is simply for the sake of poetry, without the attendant prose. There is simply too much to write about without having the added pressure of perfecting articles for social media or the blog. It’s a discipline certainly, but an exhausting one, so perhaps I need a well too 😉

The Descent (For Toru Okada)

A stuttering silence
in stepping
down the rungs of
a shallow sentiment 
which arose from
disjointed syllables,
confined to an aquifer
within a strange
intellectual porosity. 

The water had long gone
that nourishes a soul thirst.
Here, like seeking egress
through shale,
the artesian lay languishing
in the heart. 

It's a circular view, sparkling asterisms 
cruising across silver patch of sky.
How would one ever know the world is round
from at the bottom of a well ?

It is strange, this, Murakami’s obsession with wells. In another interview [3] he said “When I’m really focused on writing, I get the feeling that I shift from this world to the other world, and then return to this world. Kind of like commuting. I go there, and come back. Going is important, but coming back is even more important. Since it’d be awful if you couldn’t return”. He also told a story; “At the beginning of the ninth century there was a nobleman in Kyoto named Ono no Takamura. During the day he worked in the imperial palace, and it was rumored that at night he’d descend to hell (the underworld) and serve there as secretary to Enma Daio, the ruler of hell. Commuting, as it were, every day between this world and the other. His passageway to travel back and forth was an old well, and it still exists in Kyoto. I love that story. Though I don’t think I’d ever like to climb down inside that well’.

It is wonderful, is it not, that the wellspring of our inspiration, can just as simply be a well ~ as well 🙂

From the USGS website [3]





Additional Resources:

[4] A Primer on Ground Water ~

[5] A Primer on Water ~

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