Introduction to June 30th, June 30th
Farewell, Uncle Edward, and All the Uncle Edwards (Introduction to June 30th, June 30th)

by Richard Brautigan

My uncle Edward is dead.
He died when he was twenty-six years old.
He was the pride of my family.
The year was 1942.

Indirectly he was killed by the people of Japan, waging war against the people of the United States of America. That was a long time ago.

He was on Midway Island working as an engineer when the Japanese attacked the island on December 7, 1941. Warplanes began strafing and bombing. My uncle Edward was handed a machine gun to help defend the island. He saw a good place to set up the gun and started toward it. He was never to arrive at that place.

There was an explosion nearby from a Japanese bomb casting, like a shadow, shrapnel into his head. Everything went blank for my uncle Edward and the place where he was headed to set up the machine gun went very faraway and dark and had nothing to do with his life any more.

He was evacuated from Midway by ship and taken to Hawaii where he remained unconscious in a coma for months. The shrapnel was removed from his head and he lay there asleep week after week with his head wrapped in bandages until after a long time his eyes opened and he was returned to this world again, but it was not for long.

He was to partially recover from his December 7th wounds during the spring of 1942 and die later in the year, working on a "secret" air base in Sitka, Alaska.

He spent his recovery period in Hawaii writing poetry in the vein of Rudyard Kipling, Robert W. Service and Omar Khayyam. Also, he copied from memory poems by them. They were among his effects that my mother ended up with. He had been a brilliant engineer and something of a romantic besides.

The poems were in three-ring spiral notebooks.

I remember reading them in the years just after the war. It gave me a strange feeling to read them. The war was over. We had won. My uncle Edward was dead and I was reading his poetry.

After he got out of the hospital in Honolulu he went to San Francisco and had a two-week love affair with a divorcée. That was a big thing in those days. Their common bond other than obvious physical pleasure was a deep affection for the poetry of Omar Khayyam which they would quote to each other, hopefully after making fantastic love together.

I think my uncle Edward deserved that for he had just a few more months to live. He would be dead in the autumn. I would be standing beside his coffin in the form of a seven-year-old boy staring down at him with his face covered with grotesque makeup and being forced to kiss the lipstick on his dead mouth. I refused and ran screaming up the aisle of the funeral parlor away from his coffin, his death. The pride and future of our family had been changed into this rouged and lipsticked corpse thing.

It was raining outside.
It was night.
The Japanese people indirectly killed him.
They dropped the bomb on him.

After his love affair with the divorcée in San Francisco, he went up to Sitka, Alaska, to work on the air base.

This is how he died.

He was working on the air base with bandages still wrapped around his head. He had not completely recovered from the effects of the bomb but he wanted to help his country, so he went up there.

One day some lumber was piled on a platform that was being brought up by a crane to the third floor of a building under construction.

He stepped onto the pile of lumber and started going up with it. I guess he had wanted to see somebody or check out something inside the building. When the platform was sixteen feet above the ground, he fell off it and broke his neck.

Thousands of people fall off things sixteen feet high and walk away from it, shaken up but not hurt. Others break their arms or legs. My uncle Edward broke his neck and was on his way to me standing over his coffin on a rainy night in Tacoma, Washington, being asked to show my love for him by kissing the lipstick on his dead mouth. I refused and ran screaming up the aisle of the funeral parlor.

It was believed that what caused him to fall from the platform was a siege of dizziness related to the effects of the shrapnel entering his skull from the Japanese bomb.

He just got dizzy and fell off and broke his neck. I once wrote a poem about his death when I was about the same age as my uncle Edward. The poem is called "1942'' and goes like this:

Piano tree, play
in the dark concert halls
of my uncle,
twenty-six years old, dead
and homeward bound
on a ship from Sitka,
his coffin travels
like the fingers
of Beethoven
over a glass
of wine.

Piano tree. play
in the dark concert halls
of my uncle,
a legend of my childhood, dead,
they send him back
to Tacoma.
At night his coffin
travels like the birds
that fly beneath the sea,
never touching the sky.

Piano tree, play
in the dark concert halls
of my uncle,
take his heart
for a lover
and take his death
for a bed,
and send him homeward bound
on a ship from Sitka
to bury him
where I was born.

Flash player not available.

Indirectly the Japanese people killed him.
They dropped the bomb on him.
He never really recovered from it.
He has been dead now for thirty-four years.
He was the pride of our family.
He was our future.

Everything that I have just written is a legend of our family history. Facts and dates may be slightly off for it was a long time ago, and facts and dates change. They are altered by the failings of human memory and embellishment, which is a human trait, but one thing is totally accurate:

My uncle Edward died in his middle twenties and he indirectly died as a result of the Japanese people dropping a bomb on him and nothing in this world, no power or prayer, will ever return him to us.

He is dead.
He is gone forever.

This is a strange way to introduce a book of poetry that expresses my feelings of deep affection for the Japanese people but it has to be done as as part of a map that led me to Japan and the writing of this book.

I will continue describing more places on the map that took me to Japan in the late spring of 1976 and these poems.

I hated the Japanese all during the war.

I thought of them as diabolical subhuman creatures that had to be destroyed so that civilization could prevail with liberty and justice for all. In newspaper cartoons they were depicted as buck-toothed monkeys. Propaganda encourages the imagination of children.

I killed thousands of Japanese soldiers playing war. I wrote a short story called "The Ghost Children of Tacoma" that shows my dedication to killing Japanese when I was six, seven, eight, nine and ten years old. I was very good at killing them. They were fun to kill.

During World War II, I personally killed 352,892 enemy soldiers without wounding one. Children need a lot less hospitals in war than grown-ups do. Children pretty much look at it from the alldeath side.

I remember when the war finally ended. I was in a theater watching a Dennis Morgan movie. I think it was a singing foreign legion desert picture but I cannot be certain. Suddenly across the screen came a piece of yellow paper with words typed on it saying that Japan had just surrendered to the United States and World War II was over.

Everybody in the theater started screaming and laughing and were in ecstasy. We rushed out into the streets where car horns were honking. It was a hot summer afternoon. Everything was in Pandemonium. Total strangers were hugging and kissing each other. Every car horn was honking. The streets were flooded with people. All traffic came to a halt. People swarmed kissing each other and laughing like ants over honking cars filled with ecstatic people.

What else could we do?
The long years of war were over.
It was done with. It was ended.

We had defeated and destroyed these subhuman monkeys the Japanese people. Justice and the rights of mankind had triumphed over these creatures that belonged in jungles instead of cities.

I was ten years old.
That's how I felt.
My uncle Edward had been revenged.
His death had been purified by the destruction of Japan.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were candles burning proudly on the birthday cake of his sacrifice.

Then the years passed.
I grew older.
I was no longer ten.

Suddenly I was fifteen and the war slipped back into memory and my hatred for the Japanese slipped away with it. The emotions began to vaporize.

The Japanese had learned their lesson and being forgiving Christian people we were presenting them with a second chance and they were responding to it splendidly.

We were their father and they were our little children that we had punished severely for being bad but now they were being good and we were forgiving them like good Christians.

After all, they had been subhuman to begin with and now we were teaching them to be human and they were learning very quickly.

The years continued on.

I was seventeen and then eighteen and began to read Japanese haiku poetry from the Seventeenth Century. I read Basho and Issa. I liked the way they used language concentrating emotion, detail and image until they arrived at a form of dew-like steel.

I came to realize that the Japanese people had not been subhuman creatures but had been civilized, feeling and compassionate people centuries before their encounter with us on December 7th.

The war came into focus for me.
I started to understand what had happened.

I began to understand the mechanics which mean that logic and reason fail when war begins and illogic and insanity reign as long as war exists.

I looked at Japanese paintings and scrolls.
I was very impressed.

I liked the way they painted birds because I loved birds and then I was no longer the child of World War II, hating the Japanese, wanting my uncle to be revenged.

I moved to San Francisco and started running around with people who were deeply influenced by and had studied Zen Buddhism. I slowly picked up Buddhism through osmosis by watching the way my friends lived.

I am not a dialectic religious thinker. I have studied very little philosophy.

I watched the way my friends ordered their lives, their houses and handled themselves. I picked up Buddhism like an Indian child learned things before the white man came to America. They learned by watching.

I learned Buddhism by watching.

I learned to love Japanese food and Japanese music. I have seen over five hundred Japanese movies. I learned to read subtitles so fast that I think the actors in the movies are speaking in English.

I had Japanese friends.
I was no longer the hateful boy of my wartime childhood.

My uncle Edward was dead, the pride and future of our family killed in the prime of life. What were we to do without him?

Over a million young Japanese men, the pride and futures of their families, were also dead, plus hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children who had died in the incendiary raids on Japan and in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What was Japan to do without them?
I wished that none of it had ever happened.
I read Japanese novels, Tanizaki, etc.

Then I knew that someday I had to go to Japan. That part of my life was ahead of me in Japan. My books had been translated into Japanese and the response was very intelligent. It inspired and gave me the courage to continue on in my own lonely direction of writing like a timber wolf slipping quietly through the woods.

I hate to travel.
Japan is a long ways off.

But I knew that someday I would have to go there. Japan was like a magnet drawing my soul to a place where it had never been before.

One day I got on an airplane and flew across the Pacific Ocean. These poems are what happened after I got off the airplane and stepped foot onto the ground of Japan. The poems are dated and form a kind of diary.

They are different from other poems that I have written. Anyway, I think they are but I am probably the last person in the world to know. The quality of them is uneven but I have printed them all anyway because they are a diary expressing my feelings and emotions in Japan and the quality of life is often uneven.

They are dedicated to my uncle Edward.

They are dedicated to all the Japanese Uncle Edwards whose lives were taken from their bodies between December 7, 1941 andAugust 14, 1945 when the war ended.

That was thirty-one years ago.
Almost a third of a century has passed.
The war is over.
May the dead rest eternally in peace, waiting for our arrival.

Pine Creek, Montana
August 6, 1976

June 30th, June 30th