Yoko Danno & James C. Hopkins

Photo Scrolls


Dogs are barking in unison with the sound of a train thumping down the tracks. It is well past midnight, the time that even plants and trees are gone to sleep. A flashlight pierces through the dark woods between the tracks and the river like a sparkling eye − searching back and forth and back again. The searching stops, the light clicks off, and I hear the sound of something jumping into the water.

The warm wind brushing past my face reminds me to breathe. I stay frozen in place for what seems like an hour, then start walking staggeringly towards the sound. My blood finally begins to circulate and a strange scene comes into view — a black dog with its hind legs in the river and front legs on the bank is tearing at a piece of meat. It takes a moment to realize that the meat is a human hand painted red.

The full moon reveals broken young trees trampled by an animal, or something of the sort, all the way to the riverbank. A splash downstream, and I turn quickly. A young woman, her face and hands painted red, with red flowers in her hair, is washing off the blood from the neck of a water buffalo standing, mostly submerged, in the river. From where I am, I can hear the woman singing softly to herself — the song of allaying the anger of demons.

The woman’s soft voice permeates the woods like the moonlight itself, but the song is chilling. I stop in my tracks again, careful not to move a muscle, lest she senses me. In fear of male, female, human, animal, dead, and not-yet-dead there is nowhere to turn to. Then dog steps from the river, hand in mouth, and starts barking again. I have killed my chance of getting away unnoticed.

The dog senses me and the flashlight turns on again. I give up my cover and run through the trees, heading back for the road. Running in the woods at night is like moving through a thick black fog. I feel like a child again − feet pounding, jumping, swerving, crashing through the brush. The dog is tearing behind me, gaining ground, and the young woman behind it. I give up fleeing, turn and face her. Almost apologetically, she says, “They were going to kill my buffalo as a sacrifice. Now, if you don't mind, I give them you instead.”

(Photo by James C. Hopkins: Sumatra)


A black scooter speeds out of the doorway and, in an instant, disappears into the cars along the Via Vitale. It’s a matter of seconds before I realize that he has tossed a parcel at my feet. I stand there, bewildered, looking after the speck of shadow, knowing that I’m in trouble again. I pick up the parcel, walk for another block, then stop and look at the parcel, which is wrapped in orange paper. I have no idea who the guy on the scooter is but something tells me that I’ve seen him before. I rip the first layer of orange paper from the package, and see another wrapping like an egg-shell. Something warns me not to open it, so I look for a place to hide it among the cluster of small shops, alleyways, and pastry makers that line the river.

The sun is just lighting the storefronts, and the sweet aroma of pastry is floating in the air. I open the lid of a trash can and put the parcel in it, hoping I can get it back later, but feeling relieved to be rid of it at the same time. Perhaps some things should forever remain a mystery, like the guy on the black scooter. But curiosity is my sore spot and eventually it always gets the best of me. I try to remember something about the scooter, sleek and shiny as a rhinoceros beetle. Once when I was in a scorched desert in Arizona I watched an army of ants consume a wounded rhino beetle — eating it alive, and leaving only a glossy husk in the sand.

The scooter wavers in my mind like a mirage, rising again and again from the ashes of my thoughts while I hurry to catch the 8:20 train. I plan on meeting my friend who is returning from a holiday in the mountains, who said he has urgent news for me. Arriving at the train platform, however, I find that the train has already left. Hopelessly I try to call him on my mobile phone — but no answer. The day has already become a series of missed connections and non-occurrences, and moreover, I realize I’ve thrown away my purse together with the parcel. I cursed the guy on the black scooter but I know there’s nothing I can do.

I walk to the exit, and look up and down the street, trying in vain to spot the black scooter. Without money, I walk back along the street, now crowded with people on their way to work, feeling disconnected with the rest of the world and its inhabitants. A shadowy grey dog, who seems to hover above the sidewalk, comes running towards me. He is the first thing in the past few weeks to show any sign of knowing me in the slightest. He circles me once, and then trots a short distance and turns his head as if to say, "Follow me." I’ve got no particular place to go, so I head after him and soon find myself back in the same alleyway, at the edge of the river, where I had dropped the parcel earlier in the day.

I open some of the trash can lids and look around for the parcel. All of the garbage has been picked up and there’s no sign of the parcel or the purse. But behind the last can on the street, the shadow dog noses at something silver. I pick it up and recognize it immediately — a bracelet that I had lost while I was playing with a stray dog in a yard the other day. Suddenly I realize that the shadow dog is only the memory of yesterday's dog, and I open my eyes. The bracelet is still around my wrist, shining in the morning sun. I am looking down on the street, the sound of a motor scooter fading outside as my husband heads down the street for work. I leave the window, return to the kitchen table and resume eating the soft-boiled egg in the orange-colored eggcup.

Photo by Yoko Danno: Florence, Italy


The flowers are acting strangely ever since the sun went down. I seldom see them after midnight and just assumed that they’re behaving as flowers always do when left alone in the dark. But what I see tonight is unearthly. Although there is not a breath of wind, each flower sways and waltzes on the beach like drunken Viennese on New Year's Eve. Stalky women with their arms extending as if to catch the ghostly moon, their necks craning as if to escape from their own shadows.

They seem to be afraid of standing still but somehow they remain rooted, even as the weather changes & the ghost crabs scuttle past them to the water. The sharks follow small fish and hover. Squads evade by ejecting ink. The ocean is another battlefield like every one I've ever known but, tempting as it is to join the battle, the rising wind gives me a clear sense that I must pay attention — something’s up. I walk slowly backwards, and watch the waves receding and feel the sand escaping beneath my feet.

I can hardly remain standing when I realize that it’s not only me who is moving backwards, but somehow so is time. With each step, I recede slowly into the past, and with each step I sense ghostlike human shadows increasing in number around me. I have no fear of them, but feel only that they want to talk with me rather than threaten me, and I have the clear sense that they’re more frightened of me than I am of them. As I move deeper into the jungle, however, I completely lose my sense of body position.

I have no idea where I’m heading in the tangled vines and trees. I feel myself swept up and off my feet, tossed like a rag doll through the forest, and I land hard against a tree. After a minute I’m able to stand. I look around and find only an expanse of blue water before my eyes and the white sand all around me. Forlorn on this strange white island, I regret not having listened to what the ghosts had tried to tell me. I know now that they were trying to warn me of the dangers that lie in this predictable, comfortable, sunlit world.

Desperate now to return to the darkness I take a final look around at the past and begin to walk forward again. Gradually a familiar landscape comes into view and I hear someone whisper in my ear, “Dare to be lost.” I realize I’d stopped dreaming in the sunlight, and that I’d given up hoping for gleams of light in the darkness. With a single step forward, I begin the journey back the present, step by step, until I come face to face with my shadow — which seems to have been following the movements of my mind all along. Moonlit, my shadow sways as if practicing for a dance, as if trying to hold me now in its extending arms.

Photo by James C. Hopkins: Koh Phagan island, Thailand


I’ve had a terrible headache since the rain began and there's no sign of it letting up — the rain, I mean — which is pouring down as though it were trying to wash away all of my illusions. “You’d better jog at least for 30 minutes to overcome your insomnia,” my doctor advises me, but of course I disregard his orders and decide to drink gin for 30 minutes every evening instead. The effects are fantastically rewarding!

During the first few days something nebulous appears at a corner of my room. It gradually takes on a human shape, and then finally it turns out to be none other than Philip Marlowe himself, who speaks to me as though I’m a suspect in one of his crime cases. "I'll tell you where I was last Wednesday, night," I say in confusion. “And if you are planning a date with me by chance, you can forget it!”

To my great surprise he immediately walks over and kisses me, which assures me that I’m definitely one of his suspects. “Follow me,” he says and we waltz out together into a gin-soaked night. I don't hesitate for a second, my headache a long-forgotten memory. I’m excited, wondering what kind of crime he thinks I’ve committed. He stops in front of the first bar we come to and looks questioningly in my direction.

"Next one," I say before he can answer. We make for a neon-lit entrance that looks like the mouth of a deep-sea fish. He opens the door and we step in as though we’re sucked back into the 20th century. Faces turn to look at us from the bar stools along the bar, and the bartender beckons to us, in a familiar way, to sit down in front of him. I’m startled to see that on the wall behind him, where shelves of bottles and glasses should be, there’s a huge aquarium with mountains full of rocks, plastic houses, flowing green seaweed and 5 or 6 small sharks patrolling back and forth.

"Gin. Two," I say to the bartender, who has suddenly begun to resemble a hammerhead, and he offers me a tall glass of gin, his eyes protruding from both ends of his forehead. In a panic I drink my gin in a single gulp, turn to Marlow and blurt out, "How did you know it was me?" He looks at me coolly, cocks his hat and says, “Because, my dear, whenever I try to stare into your eyes you look like a goldfish gasping for air. So I'm taking you in." He spins me around, slaps the handcuffs on my wrists, and in a second he’s shoved me down the hallway and through the bedroom door.

Photo by James C. Hopkins: Riga, Latvia


The check arrives in a brown envelope with no return address, and I have no memory of the issuer’s name. It might be another donation to my new project to save the world, but I decide that I've had enough of the do-good life. I take the check to the bank, and open a new account, and deposit the money in it. I set up another project to buy bad dreams, and the money will be used to give prizes for the worst dreams, which I assume everyone is having these days.

That afternoon I place an ad in the newspaper, asking for submissions to a grand Bad Dream Contest. The dream that speaks to the hearts of the depressed & anxiety-ridden all over the world is the classic dream where you are standing in front of your co-workers, ready to deliver a report, and suddenly you realize that you are naked.

With that in mind I design advertisement with a photo, taken from behind, of a woman standing naked at a lectern in a room full of people in business suits, all sitting in front of her with open-mouthed expressions. I figure that the photo will explain the nature of the contest. A few days later I received a flood of submissions — hundreds of them — all from women, claiming to have had the very same dream.

A week later, I design another ad based on the dream that one is plunging headlong off a cliff and diving in a tight flock of migrating geese. And this week I've received even more letters — this time from people who also claim to have had these falling and flying dreams as well. Strangely, since posting the ad I’ve felt that I might actually be one of the migrant birds, continuously flying from cold regions to warm places, and back again.

The birds, of course, have no concern for money or contests, but are always alert for toxic air and for birds of prey that would attack at any moment, from anywhere. In every instant bird of prey are dropping, with wings folded, from the tops of the temple roofs. Would you rather be a sparrow? I would not — I do know that the small and most sensitive birds eat not only grains but also insects. “Ask birds how gentle they are,” someone told me, “and then ask the worms about birds.”

Photo by James C. Hopkins: Kathmandu, Nepal

Yoko Danno is Japanese and writes poetry solely in English. Her books of poetry include The Blue Door (in collaboration with James C. Hopkins, The Word Works, 2006), Aquamarine (Glass Lyre Press, 2014), Woman in a Blue Robe (Isobar Press, 2016) and a collection of her earlier poems, Further Center: Poems 1977 ~ 1998 (The Ikuta Press, 2017). The 2nd version of her translation, Songs and Stories of the Kojiki, the 8th-century compilation of Japanese myths, was published by Red Moon Press in 2014. The collaborative work with James C. Hopkins, a sleeping tiger dreams of manhattan (The Ikuta Press, 2008), was translated and published by Mansards Publishing House, Latvia, 2012.

James C. Hopkins was born in Washington, DC, a retired investment broker, lives in Kathmandu, where he studies Buddhist philosophy and directs a microfinance project for the Indian begging people in a nearby encampment (https://www.quiltsforkidsnepal.org) to help them send their children to school. His book, MANY THREADS: Invisible Children of Nepal (The Ikuta Press), is a collection of their photographs and stories based on his experiences in that community. His poetry books include The Walnut Tree Waits for Its Bees (1997), Eight Pale Women (The Word Works, 2003), The Blue Door and a sleeping tiger dreams of manhattan: simultaneous poetry, photographs and sound. A new collection of his poems Ex-violinist in Kathmandu will be brought out soon.

They write: "Scroll is an experimental collaboration. 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, who writes the next half sentence. Writing this way in turn, we draw picture scrolls with words. There is no rule, except that a scroll consists of five paragraphs. When we start a scroll, we never know how it will develop and come to an end. Each time we set out for a new adventure in an unknown land without a map or a compass."

The Ikuta Press is planning to bring out 40 Scrolls (with photos) in a book form. Four of the above Scrolls have previously appeared on their web page.
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