The Game of 100 Ghosts by Terry Watada
Poems are not life. They live longer. Sometimes into eternity.
Such thoughts have been inspired in large part by the title of Terry Watada’s new book of poems, The Game of 100 Ghosts.
The title refers to a Japanese parlour game from the Edo period (1603-1868). The game is a tribute to friends and relations who have recently departed this life. Each participant gathers in the dark at night and sits around 100 lit candles. Then each tells a ghost story, and a candle is snuffed out. The last candle ends this summoning of the spirits.
Watada’s game of 100 ghosts serves as a conceptual framework for a collection of poems in which the spirits of lost and long-gone family and friends are fondly evoked. These lyrical poems are an affirmation of absent persons who have already become part of Watada’s version of Japanese Canadian life.
But it’s not all sweetness and light. In the best tradition of lyric poetry, the dark side, the deeply painful and broodingly personal side gets exposed, too. In the long and VI-part Impermanence, the poet’s brother is remembered in a candid way in part V:
“his cold heart. his negation of
intimacy. brotherly love.” [p: 14]
Later on in the same poem, as his customarily stern brother breaks down, and is weeping at the moment of their mother’s death at the hospital, Watada recounts:
“i rub his shoulders saying,
it’s all right … it’s all right …
knowing it isn’t
i have a brother again:
in his shuddering love,
if only for a time” [p: 14]
And there’s the Michael Poems [p: 78-107] — poems that commemorate an individualistic straight-shooting JC male friend. Although these poems might resemble love letters, they are not written in the usual adoring, love-is-blind-to-all-faults, sense — no: here, the love openly expressed is that of unconditional friendship and admiration.
Watada’s viewpoint gradually changes throughout the life of these poems, and when he mentions a “life cycle,” the appropriateness of the title, The Game of 100 Ghosts, became readily apparent to this reader, for the ‘game of ghosts’ resembles the game of life where everybody has to leave sooner or later, and the moment we understand this, we discover both our mortality and the paradoxical meaning of human life.
Or, as the poet succinctly says:
“the longer I
live the more life
i remain its chronicler”
[p: 97 – A Period of Glowing Life and [Happy]-ness]
The poet has listened closely to the music of life and has heard it in the daily “worldsadness on the radio”
[p: 96 – Babies in the River]
And it is therefore fitting that the last word in this collection — a final beatitude — is: