To the Sea and The Temple Grounds

by | Dec 15, 2022 | Creative Nonfiction

To the Sea and The Temple Grounds by Kenneth Tanemura

To the Sea

“Here’s a twenty-dollar bill,” my father said, holding it up with two fingers as if it could slip, be taken by a wind to the sea. We were on the boardwalk, my sister and I, and we wanted to shoot for the bear stuffed and dressed in raggedy yarn. “Blow it on this or a nice family dinner.” This, we insisted, this. He gave the bill to the vendor, watched us miss and miss through round after round, then growled: no money for food. We didn’t know until after our air bullets had whizzed past the smiling clown’s head missing his little blue cap what we would miss—the thing that makes us live, that gave our father a reason to drive down to the coast. Watch us want and want until the sun hit the Ferris wheel at a new angle, and the American flag shook in the dusk wind and the water rose over the patches of sand where sunbathers had laid all afternoon baking in the heat. Hoping for brown skin to make others look, more and more often, with more desire, until desire was used up like a coin placed in someone’s hand. “Now what do we have,” he said, opening his hand, but we did not see emptiness there.


The Temple Grounds

For the longest time I believed this: I climbed up the cherry blossom tree, the bark rough on my skin, and straddled a branch. Someone blasted power metal from their Toyota Corolla. Agent Steel, tales of doom, three chords harping on an angry anthem. A few petals fell, as if from the sound; my hands cupped scooping sun. Pollen-smell sprung from Olive and Willow all through that long spring. The Buddhist temple bell rang; a man chanted sutras in the hall. Something about this fleeting world being a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream. Incense smoked the pews and a pack of kids trundled to the trunk, slow, agile suburban leopards glaring bullet eyes at unsuspecting hares. Slithering like snakes, movements elegies to sound.

I was a hare, cautious in my silence, chewing twigs in the open. The boys plucked pebbles from the gravel of the temple grounds and hurled the gray disks into the branches, raining down a shower of blossoms. Japanese, like me, almond-eyed assassins at ten. They aimed at the arm I blanketed my head with, and the pebbles pinged off my elbow, skipped off my skin like water. Laughter rose up the tree like steam from vents, vapors no one would notice. Not the adults in the hall paying penance for self-indulgence, for being trapped in the jaws of their egos, so hungry to feed.  A string of rosewood beads forced their hands to clasp against their will. The pleasure of submission. A week of screaming at children and now their heads lowered, their lips following the sutra’s pious shapes.

What did the boys want? To pelt the Japanese boy from the Japanese tree, watch him drop, break a leg, give the performance of his life: a boy falling from the heights? Why me? Because I fled from the slightest taunt, showed I’d hide in clusters of pink, the cloudy heights, regress to tradition, stereotype?

I was like them, shooting spitballs at the necks of little kids, old men. Stuffing foreign currencies down the mouths of machines in video arcades, launching eggs at the sides of houses in the cul-de-sac as if they were skillets, crackling oil.

In another memory I’m in the pews with the adults, watching the cherry blossom tree illuminate the grounds, so much to absorb that the rest of the world was a nebulous whorl. I watched the pinpricks of light from dead stars as the monk spoke of gratitude for eight minutes, the only eight minutes of the week I felt grateful.

Once I told the therapist I was chased up a cherry blossom tree by rock-wielding boys on the temple grounds while monks chanted sutras in the hall about being stuck by thorns wherever we go. She rolled her eyes like I made it up. I felt the fury of not being believed. It seemed the branches swayed under my weight, and I found no support from the trunk below, from the root.

Photo by Toshiyuki, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author


Kenneth Tanemura lives and writes in Mississauga, Canada.