Debra J. Carlson

Shakuhachi — Sample Chapter


The gods do not reply to our cries of why—they simply point the way. In the season of Obon, when cicadas shrill their listless song along the river, when rice stalks hang heavy with heat and thickening grain, when children race to graves with buckets of water and chrysanthemums, we come together as one—the living, the ancestors, and the gods. We remember our dead and we dance. We tell the story of the son who found his mother’s soul in the realms of hell, who turned to Buddha for guidance, who created a feast of offerings. Buddha accepted his offerings and released the boy’s mother. We recite the tale of Mokuren—the boy whose devotion freed his mother—to remind us of courage and endurance.

Like all boys, Kenji wriggled through the storytelling and dashed toward the bonfires and the taiko drums and the flutes when it was done. What child ever understands the gift of life? But even before the war, before the parades and the flames and the hunger and the graves, my thoughts lingered on the mother.

Sometimes the gods point the path to hell. And we must go . . .

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