I had to surrender my "Alien Registration Card" when I left Japan, but I still have one legally significant reminder of my time in Japan: a small wooden stamp called an "inkan."pronounced INK.ahn This device, which the staff at my school very ceremoniously undertook to secure for me, stamps my name as written in katakana, and is my legal signature in Japan. Many pages of grade reports, shipping receipts, one car contract, and many bank transfers bear the impress of my inkan.
I like the idea of having a material object that ties my acts to me, and I like the way the well-crafted signature stamp fixes in time the meaning of a signature as a unique mark, as the unity of name and act and representation. Of course, being American, my inkan does not bear kanji whose ideographic characteristics were chosen along with their sounds; but I do have a name that has both ancient and family stories, and I do have a little wooden inkan that marks that history specifically by using the characters reserved for "foreign words" in Japanese. "Peter Epps" in katakana
Since my time in Japan, these three themes have stayed with me through many changes: the beauty of being "foreign," of learning to live as "strangers and pilgrims," and how that both marks and transforms our traditions. The many ways in which one might seek to "make a mark," and the importance of doing so integrally, of respecting the unity of good faith and good will. And the way that a respect for the unity of the good, of the "inner join" between all things True and Good and Beautiful, always keeps us near to the heart of God.
One of the first sonnets in Depth Perception ends with this sestet: by Peter G. Epps
We guess the light was first, but it conceals
Itself by passing always through the dark,
Where nothing can be seen unless it strike
Observers also whirling in the race,
Uncertain of their times, their only place
A moment on an arc where like meets like
Aflame forever till days quench the spark.
The sonnet sequence at the heart of that collection was pretty much the best thing I'd written up to that point; and, although its implied narrative was complete fiction, I thought it served well to encapsulate what I'd struggled with, learned, seen, and begun to understand of life.
that I structured that collection around the Ptolemaic universe, or that it grew out of months of effort to describe my actual biography in enough detail to discern a real multi-layered pattern (those are fascinating notebooks, but in the end the Ptolemaic universe won out). you can read Dr. Pilkey's poem "Cocteau's Dream" at the Penwood Review My undergraduate mentor, John Davis Pilkey, was a teacher and poet of unparallelled commitment to the total unity of truth and beauty in reality, the final summation of all things known and desired in the as-yet-unknown glory of what he called "Resurrection Man," the final state of humanity redeemed and fitted for true friendship with God. To that end, Dr. Pilkey made poems and recorded lectures, and mixed-media presentations of all kinds, on the theory that such efforts to conform aesthetic and scientific learning with a will to see the full expression, the final connection of all things, was the only truly great motivation for making.
Between Dr. Pilkey and influences such as C. S. Lewis's truly great work on medieval literature The Discarded Imagehere's a fine appreciation, I found myself enchanted by a universe where the manic diversity of things could be apprehended, not by reduction, but by analogysee St. Thomas on the subject. --by a constant "binocular vision" of similitude and difference that does not turn difference into opposition, nor privilege difference, but recognizes that any real similitude discloses both definite realities and as-yet-unknown realities. We do not yet apprehend the unknown with clarity and distinctness, but as those who begin gradually to observe the lightening of the sky and the revelation of outlines in the shadows, in those eternal-seeming hours between the fading of the stars and dawn.
with a poem, I think. Or at least it's a nice idea to try, often. Here's one from The Clay Pot: by Peter G. Epps
His candle gave us light enough to see
The stranger telling stories in the night,
Creating in our minds the world of light
He told us once had been and still could be;
We smiled knowingly; for how could he,
Undocumented stranger, know by sight
The age to come of which some madmen write,
Or future days fit only for TV?
He said that light lived on, and struck a spark,
Unmatched by our philosophers, who yet
Had sifted out the shadows from the dark
Enough to dream a “Sol” that must have “set”;
And when the candle guttered, sputtered, died,
Despite ourselves, we hung our heads and cried.