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Elegies Texts | Eiko + Koma

Elegies Texts

Elegies

(John Killacky)

We didn’t know if you would live long enough to celebrate your 82nd birthday. My brother warned me not to be startled. You commanded, “No tears.” Even with tubes pumping fluids in and out of your tobacco-scarred body, you were beautiful, your skin translucent. You joked about ending up like a newly born with “no teeth, baby skin, and diapers.”

After the grandchildren sang happy birthday, they went to a barbequed rib fest, on you of course. I stayed behind to tell you how much I admired you. Your five kids, disparate though we were, you celebrated each of us distinctly. I remembered your reaction to my tattoo. You laughed and said, “I thought the surprises were over.”

As we reminisced, I thanked you for your unfettered support. You were shocked when I told you how proud I was to be your son. You hated your job as a park attendant, but kept at it long after you needed to, so as not to be a burden. Your whole life provided a future for your children, often at a high personal sacrifice.

I wanted to tell you how easy it is to let go. Years ago, paralyzed and hemorrhaging from spinal surgery gone wrong; my spirt, heart, and mind imploded as morphine, fear, and pain colluded. Past and future collapsed as I drifted off into a seductive, dissolving vagueness. But, I awoke to Larry’s pleading, “Don’t die on me,” and returned through his voice, eyes, and breath.

I wish I could carry you safely into the void. I am well practiced: cleaning morgue bodies when I was an orderly, witnessing vultures descend upon Himalayan sky burials, tending hungry ghosts amidst the AIDS carnage, and living through my own death. My relation to life remains porous, elusive. I fear the waiting more than dying.

Saying good-bye, I had no solace to give you. All I had were tears and my own sorrow. I realized I would never see you again. You cared for so many. Who will be there when you call out like daddy did for you? I’m sorry I can’t be there. You gave me so much. I wish you clarity and courage for a safe journey, mom. Carry my love forward. May you find peace.

(Eiko Otake)

Mom, at the age of 93, you gradually stopped eating and died without any medical intervention.  A good death. 

I am your only child and I have lived abroad for 46 years - I never thought I could be with you when you die.  But every day for a month, I was there. You died with my cousins and me holding your hands. Staff bathed you the day before, so you smelled clean. I know you liked that.

I raised your bed, so you could see Mt Fuji.
A spoon of ice cream was your last meal.
“I don’t need more.”  Your last words.

Suddenly you opened your eyes wide.
I spoke to you loudly,
“Mom, Thank you for giving birth to me. Thank you for raising me.”
Did you hear me?

You were dressed in your favorite kimono. You had decided years earlier to wear this in your coffin.  So beautiful.

After I left Japan at the age of 20, you stopped eating red- bean-sweets for decades to wish for my safety. It is an old custom to give up a favorite food for a wish.

You did not understand what drove me. For a long time, my infrequent letters were the only sign of my being alive. You must have felt very lonely. Later, phone calls changed that distance, but as your dementia advanced, you could no longer remember how to make international calls. Every day, you waited for me to reach you, and there were many days I failed.

I cannot regret the way I live.  You knew this all too well.  You wrote, “Eiko’s happiness is different from my happiness.” Even when you had no memory of my father, you never forgot I lived in New York, and I always had to go back to work.

When we said, “See you again,” we both knew this could be our farewell.
You never asked me to stay longer -- there was a resolve in your sad smile.

I inherited a lot from you and resisted a lot.

I am always going to be your daughter.

(CREDITS)
Elegies
Eiko Otake and John R. Killacky

Yukiko Otake (1925 – 2019)
Rita E. Killacky (1919 – 2002)

Cinemagraphy
Brian Stevensen

Production support by Vermont PBS

Copyright 2019
Eiko Otake, John R. Killacky, & Brian Stevensen