The woodcarving

At Nikko tourists buy small black boards. A nodding carver listens to your order, and without writing it down this skilled surgeon takes up his sharp chisels one by one and quickly cuts the painted wood, leaving your identity scooped in white pine. I said slowly the three syllables and repeated them carefully while he stared away from me. Then, bowing, he began his work, never looking up but asking a little later with the wave of a symphony conductor to hear them one more time.

On the train back to Tokyo schoolchildren inquisitive as raccoons saw the board and sounded out the whorls and slashes of their characters. Politely covering their mouths, they wiggled and laughed but showed their pretty teeth to sing my name again and again.

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