A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2009, vol 5 no 3

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Nancy Esther James


Almost Heaven

“. . . West Va-jin-ya . . .” It’s here, in Country Joe’s on a side street in downtown Nagoya, Japan. Cowboy hats above black eyes, bolo ties below amber faces, horseshoe rings around slender fingers.

On the wall a Confederate flag hangs beside an Oklahoma U. pennant. Joe himself tends bar, strums guitar in the Sunday night band. His leathery brown face beams. A glass of milk, rumored to be part whiskey, waits within hand’s reach.

The lead guitarist wears a beard and Gunsmoke regalia. His blue business card announces him Norio Sakagawa—nickname, “Cussy.” Each week he sings from the same repertoire: “On-na road-da-gen . . . .”

One by one, customers take the mike. A matron in black pantsuit intones a Western twang in words of fractured English. A young woman bounces behind the mike in jeans and fringed blouse. Her school English rings clear, but her belt-it-out style evokes lounge more than hoedown. A businessman, his fingers heavy with silver and turquoise, opens his thick notebook: “En ze saints go mah-chin in . . . .”

This evening a foreign visitor stars: a tall, blond woman, the very dream of Hollywood glamour. Fantasies of the costumed men make her brown eyes blue. “Stand by Your Man”—if her voice cracks or she forgets the words, this audience is kind. “Country Roads” take her home, and transport her fans to exotic America.

Saké, daiquiris,
rice wafers, nachos, ballads –
East/West potpourri.


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