John Givens writes about his story:
Peace Corps for me was transformative. My wife Gail and I were in Pusan, Korea from 1967 to 1969. We later lived in Kyoto for a few years and separated there. A couple of years later, I was accepted by the Iowa Writers Workshop, as was Dick Wiley, another K-III RPCV, who also lived in Japan. givens-j-sh-storAfter teaching in San Francisco and publishing three novels, I returned to live in Tokyo for eight years. I have never written directly about my Peace Corps experience (other than a couple of puerile workshop stories). My second novel, A Friend in the Police, is very loosely based on what it might feel like to be thrown in at the deep end of an unfamiliar culture although the narrative is so heavily distorted by use of an unconventional point of view that it would never be classified as a “Peace Corps novel.” But for me, studying Japanese language and culture was like an extension of learning Korean; and over the past few years, almost all of my fiction-writing derives from lessons begun as a PCV.

“Under Blossoming Boughs” is one of a group of interlocking stories set in Japan in the last decade of the 17th century and dealing with followers of Japan’s great poet, Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694). My intention is to create a unique world that is self-consistent, credible, and populated by characters authentic to their time and place. Many of the stories in this group are modelled loosely on the medieval Japanese literary form known as haibun, which is the prose equivalent of haiku, and I hope to capture something of the beauty and strangeness of that culture.

Most of my Japanese historical stories are in a collection entitled The Plum Rains, a new paperback edition of which is scheduled to be published in summer 2012. “Under Blossoming Boughs” originally appeared in Asia Literary Review. The other stories in this group have been published in literary journals in the US, Japan, Hong Kong, France and the UK.


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Under Blossoming Boughs

by John Givens (Korea 1967–69)

Ohasu went upstairs to collect the scarlet underskirts herself.

A single wild cherry tree had emerged from the pre-dawn mists shrouding the moorlands, sparsely covered with blossoms and insignificant when compared to the grand cherry trees that grew inside the walls of the pleasure quarters itself. No one but she seemed even to have noticed the little tree, and Ohasu stood at the railing of the rooftop laundry platform and took comfort in its flowering, for she too often went unnoticed.

A small packet in her kimono sleeve contained a gift from her patron. The gel cubes of candied agar-agar were the color of the spring sea, limpid and glistening, and dusted with honey crystals like flecks of sunlight. Ohasu had been a child with neither breasts nor shame-hair when her patron began visiting her. She had wept at first but eventually stopped weeping, and she had learned where to place her fingers and how to move her lips in a pleasing manner although she was judged too small and too melancholy for an age that celebrated cheerful brightness. Her patron had remained steadfast for the most part, however, indulging himself only intermittently with other girls; but the years had passed, his courting become feeble, and although Ohasu still tried to encourage him with smutty gossip and loose sashes, sustaining the throb of love’s urgency was beyond the old fellow now, and most visits ended with him sinking sullenly to the bottom of a wine pot.

Ohasu checked the underskirts to make sure they were dry, then selected one of the cubes of agar-agar.

Her patron had watched her copying poems into a pillow book one night and told her that only by seeing into the true heart of a thing could you write about it. He said the great haikai poet Bashō himself had said it.

Ohasu had wondered how you could be certain that what you were seeing was really the heart. She pressed the yielding lump of gel against the roof of her mouth and felt it dissolve in a flood of sweetness. What if inside one heart you found another? Smaller, quieter, even more frightened?

There had been a wild cherry tree near her childhood home, and she used to play under it while her mother worked in the fields. She would make twig dolls and wrap them in mulberry-bark robes she stained with berry juices. But that world had ended and this one replaced it, and not even the beauty of seasonal changes could compensate her for what had been lost.

Ohasu smoothed out the scarlet underskirts they would wear that day then folded them neatly. She popped another candy in her mouth and hurried back downstairs.

Spring arrives
in the faint haze that wreathes
these nameless hills.

His eyes opened to the glow of a sun not yet risen. The air was dry and cool and still, and he listened for the first stirrings of neighbors then sat up and slid open his white paper doors.

Dew coated the planks of the narrow verandah-corridor. The leaves of the potted camellia were beaded white with it, and Old Master Bashō breathed deeply in the dawn air, his thin chest lifting and falling with the exaggerated effort he associated with good health. He lived alone now but still wondered at times what it would be like to share his cottage with another. His last acolyte had disappointed him by asking to be allowed to apprentice himself to a playwright known for his vivid imagination.

The day’s radiance had begun seeping up into low clouds that were strung like peach-colored banners above the shogun’s metropolis. Droplets of water fell back into the communal well, regular as heartbeats, and filling him with a familiar yearning to insert himself into the world and say what could truly be said about it.

Actors stamping and flapping and shouting imprecations. Gaudy costumes. Painted faces. Improbable coincidences leading to unlikely resolutions. Better by far to be an old man alone in a hovel, abandoned, gnawing on a fish bone.

He smiled at the hyperbole but also enjoyed the bitterness of it.

So, the sound of the water in the well and the sound of rain on the broad, raggedy leaves of the banana plant growing at his front gate . . .

Or the scent of rain arriving in dust. Or the color of rain shimmering in a hardwood forest. Or the shape of wind-driven rain striding across empty moorlands . . .

Or of rain lacing the river to the sky. Or pocking sleet floating on the surface of an old pond . . .

Or, rather, how rain in a rooftop collection barrel leaks out onto the roof tiles, the stillness of it understood at the moment of its interruption . . . or, better still, the murmur of rain dripping into the tub of scouring ash kept at the scullery door . . . not what it’s like but what it is . . .

He turned away, disgusted with his inability to resist embroidery, and sought refuge from himself in the magnificent cherry tree blooming in his neighbor’s garden.

One heavily laden branch hung over the back fence, the shell-pink clouds of blossoms glowing in the misty light with a delicate and preemptive beauty. He studied the unmoving masses of flowers then closed his eyes to see the image more intensely; and as he did so, a temple bell sounded in the distance, the long, slow, mournful reverberations of it like the voice of the Earth itself, reminding him of things he remembered and things he’d forgotten.

Clouds of cherry blossoms —
is the temple bell at Ueno?
at Asakusa?

The wife of the lesser of the Tada brothers believed in the virtue of steady accumulation. Those who placed their trust in the possibility of an unanticipated windfall profit were fools in her opinion, although she seldom said as much because her own husband was just such an improvident person, and nothing could be done about it.

Your services have been requested, she declared to the three girls kneeling before her. For a picnic outing on the riverbank under blossoming boughs. Merchants. Shogunate officials. And a poet.

The wife knew that pleasure seekers considered Oyuki indefatigable and Osome silly and pliant. Little Ohasu had seemed an odd choice, however, although older visitors enjoyed the girl’s fondness for linked poetry so probably the presence of the great Bashō explained her inclusion.

If they tell you to dance, sway like willows in a gentle breeze. Let the softness of the season suggest love’s languor. Your time has been purchased, but other arrangements have not been made. Let your sleeves hang long, loosen your bodices. They will wish to feel like superior beings. Ease them into it.

The wife of the Lesser Tada paused to make certain they understood her instructions.

You are to imply that more is available than might have been thought. Precious secrets, hidden mysteries. You are to suggest that your natural willingness to conform to the desires of others is impeded by constraints over which you yourselves have no control. You are to assure your guests that only here within the walls of the New Yoshiwara can the deeper hues of the colors of spring be revealed. Is this clear?

No one replied, and the scullery maid waiting in the doorway used this silence to announce that morning gruel was ready.

Is there anything about this you don’t understand?

The three girls looked down meekly at their hands, Osome and Oyuki contemplating breakfast and Ohasu wondering if she would have time to prepare a few stanzas of her own for the day’s linked poem.

How envious:
mountain cherries
north of
this floating world.

Old Master Bashō dribbled a splash of water into the well of his inkstone then began rubbing his ink stick on its upper slope, the sour-dark scent of blackness rising into the splendid pink glow of his neighbor’s cherry tree.

He had hoped to edit his travel journal from the previous year; but the prose sketches of places he visited and the stanzas written in praise of them now seemed like lifeless husks to him, like objects draped with cloths so that their shapes remained even as the things themselves became obscured. What he wanted was to make statements about the world that deserved to exist in it. But ideas accumulated, images multiplied, and even as he struggled to cut out unneeded phrases, new ones occurred to him. Better ones. Different ones . . .

Neighbors began shoving night shutters into their wooden frame-holders, the swish-crack, swish-crack like the sound of loud counting.

His boy used to complain about it. He said it was too noisy for delicate ears. But the young fool soon would be prancing about on stage dressed in a woman’s kimono and wearing a wig, smirking at shouts of approval from bumpkin samurai and pouting flirtatiously. Delicacy indeed.

Old Bashō bent to his task. He would need a hokku head stanza to start today’s poem. The merchants who funded him styled themselves as followers of the way of haikai linked poetry, although for them it was hardly more than an amusing pastime. He had the last half of an idea — Nothing you own is yours — but no good image to introduce it; and as he pondered options, the first tentative squawks of the fresh bean-curd vendor’s horn sounded in the distance, lonely as a heron’s cry, and he heard in it a reminder of his own irrelevance.

Recollecting various things —
the blooming of
cherry blossoms.

Blood-red soul banners hung in a swollen mass under the eaves of the shrine for the unborn, the newer ones still bright with pain.

Osome went on ahead to the baths, but Ohasu waited with Oyuki as she bowed in the sanctuary and clapped twice to call her losses to her. On this day too I ask for your forgiveness.

Ohasu herself never became pregnant. She didn’t know why and she didn’t know whether she should feel relief or regret, but suspected that one day it would be the latter.

You who never were will never cease to be for me. Oyuki’s face was shadowed by the tumorous red bundle suspended above her. Although the supplications inked onto the newer strips were still legible, none of the soul banners carried a name. The unborn were like bits of foam floating anonymously as they transited to the yellow springs of hell. On your behalf I call for the relief of the pure promise of the Lotus Sutra. And also in the name of the Jizō Bodhisattva, I request it for you.

Oyuki had been betrayed by a lover she trusted. He was the son of a rich trader and famous in the pleasure quarters for wearing robes and sashes secretly lined with exotic silks from the land of elephants. The insides of his sleeves might show a pale apricot when folded back, a dark cinnabar, a rufous gold, or even the luscious gleam of ripe pomegranate seeds. Oyuki had given this Second Genji whatever he asked for — her money, her love, the best of the gifts she received — and he had pledged to redeem her contract one day and set her up in a cottage near his family mansion. But his father had betrothed him to the only child of a soy-brewing magnate from the west; and although the lovers had soaked their sleeves with weeping, Oyuki was left alone in Edo while her heart’s desire trudged off to assume his bride’s name, her father’s fortune, and the duties of family progenitor.

Except Oyuki hadn’t been left quite alone enough, and the abortifacient she took made her sick for weeks.

If the Second Genji had felt oppressed by his new responsibilities as adopted heir, he soon discovered the solace that could be obtained in the pleasure quarters of Old Kyoto. Carnal novelties filled his nights and days. Endurance matched invention; observers became participants; and outrageous tales of concupiscent glory reached Edo eventually, so that for Oyuki, the memory of the taste of his love on her lips became like that of bitter radish.

It’s not much, said Oyuki as the two young women continued down to the baths. To offer such prayers.

Perhaps not, said Ohasu. But they hear you.

Empty words, said Oyuki.

Perhaps. But there’s comfort in them.

A bush warbler
shits on the rice cakes at the
end of the veranda.

Cherry petals filtered down like flickering chips of pink light.

Lovely, yes, Oyuki said. She inserted the bridge then twisted the middle tuning peg of her samisen, the plucked note rising as the silk string tautened. But they won’t last the night.

No. Ohasu gazed out at the spring river thudding past, the heavy flow reaching the grassy edge of the riverbank. It’s the end of the season.

Talk that Old Master Bashō’s followers wanted him to take on a housekeeper had reached the ears of the wife of the Lesser Tada, and she had spoken with Ohasu as the girls awaited their palanquins. They feel he’s too much on his own now. You might be seen as an appropriate choice.

Ohasu knew that disposing of her person while recovering the cost of her contract would be viewed as a double blessing by the House of the Lesser Tada, for undesired pleasure-providers soon became burdensome.

Make yourself agreeable, the wife had told her. Show them how well you can obey. Speak in a mild voice. Don’t interrupt the gentlemen when they are composing their poems, and don’t offer any ideas of your own. But do try to find out who will make the final decision.

Oyuki flipped her sleeves back then began adjusting the top and bottom pegs, sending those tones too soaring upwards into the pink light of the cherry blossoms above them. Silly Osome must be lost, she said, and Ohasu nodded but said nothing.

She would not disturb the Old Master in any way. She would rise early and do her chores quickly and quietly. She would clean and cook and serve food beautifully arranged on decorative platters; and when other poets visited, she would wait unobtrusively in a corner and listen as they discussed literary matters. Probably they wouldn’t even notice her. But if someone asked her opinion about an image or a phrase, she would reply modestly but forthrightly, and they would appreciate that she was a person of substance.

Oyuki loosened her bodice as the merchants began arriving then shoved the neckband of her kimono back away from her nape. Money, she said, and plucked out the opening bars of a popular old remorse ballad, embellishing the arpeggios shamelessly, her skirt flap parting open when she leaned to the side and revealing the inner slope of a white thigh.

Their guests were ruddy, well-fed men, each secure in the magnitude of his own accomplishments. The merchants’ robes were muted shades of beige and lavender, taupe and pale grey, as required by sumptuary regulations; but cunningly wrought ivory baubles dangled from silk cords on their sash pouches: a grinning skull, a rat on a rice bale, a sleeping cat, a sack of coins, a snake tied in a knot, and a rare hinged one of a pair of baboons squat-fucking, the realistic action of which was much admired by connoisseurs, who detected in the intricacy of its design and the audacity of its mechanism the epitome of the style of the Edo townsman.

The merchants had sent servants at dawn to encircle the area around one of the larger cherry trees with red-and-white-striped barrier curtains. All down the length of the riverbank other parties had done the same. Red felt ground-mats covered the grass, casks of rice wine stood against the trunks of every cherry tree, and black lacquer stacked-boxes of seasonal delicacies dominated the centre of each picnic site, along with tray tables arranged for the convenience of pleasure seekers.

At last! Osome pushed her way through the barrier curtains, her plump cheeks rosy. I couldn’t find a good bush! Then I got lost coming back! All these cherry trees look alike!

Osome had broken off a flowering branch that she waved like a dancer in the new-style kabuki theatre. Oyuki whacked her samisen as if punctuating a dramatic entry, and Osome cocked a saucy pose then began singing, “Oh, come and look! What won’t you see?” in a sweet if reedy voice.

Start again, said Oyuki, struggling with the unfamiliar melody; but Osome continued with, “Rice crackers, salmon crackers and…” and I forget the rest of it, she said, smirking at her own foolishness.

Osome flopped down beside her companions, jarring apart the elaborate brocade mass of her front-tied sash knot. Next time I’ll just piss in those reeds down there at the water’s edge, she said, and Oyuki laughed. Wet feet!

The grassy scent of rice wine greeted Ohasu as she began filling the long-handled pourers. She could let it be known that she rarely became ill and still had all her teeth. And that because she was small, she wouldn’t take up much space. A scattering of cherry petals spangled the lid of the wine cask, the pale pink flakes lovely against the reddish-brown lacquer surface. She was careful not to disturb them as she replaced the lid. And her night visitors would all agree that she was a sensible person. Even if a little too quiet.

Osome came over to help, her collapsing sash knot clutched up against her midriff. Which one’s your famous poet? she whispered, then tucked in behind the tree to reconfigure herself.

He’s not here yet, Ohasu said.

And these are the ones who will decide it?

Perhaps some of them.

And you’ll go if requested?

Ohasu looked down at her hands. It’s a matter of the price for my contract . . .

Of course. But if you do go, then you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice your poetry. Osome began reconfiguring her obi, struggling with the stiff, new oversized knot. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

Yes.

Under the trees,
soup and fish salad too:
cherry blossoms.

Petal fall continued throughout the afternoon. Every cherry tree on the riverbank had its crowd of revelers regretting the passing of the year’s most precious season, and consoling themselves with music and laughter. The rising wind riffled the surface of the river, blew up dust on the cart tracks, and sent latecomers scurrying through pink swirls of cherry petals as they searched for an open space where they too could celebrate what was being so poignantly lost.

Old Master Bashō accepted wine when it was offered but didn’t seem to mind when the pourers were commandeered by others. Osome heaped a dish with fish salad for him, and he smiled at the excess and said he couldn’t finish half that amount. Ohasu selected a few of the choicest tidbits and arranged them nicely, hoping that her sense of moderation might be interpreted as an indication of a subtle nature.

Bashō sat by himself at the edge of the red felt ground-mat. He replied politely to queries about his well-being and commented on issues of local concern but volunteered nothing about himself and asked no questions of his own. Ohasu watched him covertly. She thought he seemed exactly as he should be.

A provisioner to the shogunate dominated the conversation. You don’t need to control the source of supply in order to secure the hemp-rope market, he declared loudly, the wine making him boisterous. But you do need to control distribution. He held out his cup and Ohasu filled it. Manage your carters, said the provisioner, watching Oyuki as she worked out the complexities of the Rice Crackers Song. And your dockers too. Keep them sweet.

“What won’t you see…” Oyuki picked tentatively at the opening phrases, mistiming the tricky up-pluck syncopation. “Lips and … and tongue…” She tried it again. “A husband’s lies and a something something and lips and . . . lips and . . . tongue . . .” I just can’t get that part!

You’re too tentative, Ohasu said, starting around with the wine pourers again. Just jump at it.

Jump at it?

You have to make it bigger. Up quick then down hard.

Are you talking about me? asked a cotton merchant, his face flushed pink and his smile easy.

Or you could cheat and finger-pluck it with your left hand, said Osome; but Ohasu said no, the next stroke still had to be timed properly. Up big then down. Ohasu chopped the beat with her free hand as if wielding a plectrum herself, and the cotton merchant tried his joke again. So, it’s a thing that goes up and gets hard then comes back down again? Whatever can it be?

Oyuki stroked out the first notes of a love song and sang, “Some men yearn to discover a shy beauty waiting under the blossoms . . .” Then she released the tension in her centre string so the tone wilted in comic deflation. “And some to find her shame-place pink and slimy as the gill slits of a sea bass . . .”

What! shrieked Osome, and Ohasu laughed too. That’s smutty! she cried, but she was glad to see that Old Master Bashō seemed not to have heard.

You’re too much for me, said the cotton merchant, glancing around for allies. For all of us, the provisioner concluded approvingly. Girls swollen with the juices of spring. He could see how it would go.

Osome snapped off the tip of a blossoming branch then flopped down beside the cotton merchant, her sash knot collapsing in a surge of brocade that spilled down over the man’s sedate sleeves like a sack of dropped weasels. “Oh, come and look, what won’t you see!” Osome inserted the spray of pink flowers in his topknot. Who can be moderate under the blossoms? She twisted sideways and leaned against the cotton merchant to reconfigure her sash knot again, emitting little grunts of consternation at the effort required.

“Orange and pink on the . . .” No, it’s, “orange and pink on the . . . this and this!” Oyuki hit the up-twang perfectly. But no one seemed to be listening so she retuned her samisen and began strumming out the lugubrious opening bars of Green Willows Pink Blossoms, holding each note cluster solemnly before sliding on to the next.

“Spring rain sad in the dripping green of the willows,” Ohasu sang; and Oyuki joined in at, “Wetting my sleeves and the hems of my skirts, wetting the path as I walk on my weeping way;” then Osome came in as they sang, “Sad spring rain in the lonely sadness of the willows,” their plaited voices rising sweetly plaintive within the flickering pink lattice of falling cherry petals, while the merchants sprawled on their red felt mats discussed forward contracts and funding strategies as they sipped from their elegant wine cups, and the old poet on his own seemed aware of everything and nothing.

The sound of the bell fades,
but the scent of blossoms continues
for an evening.

The merchants dragged Osome off to see the evening cherry blossoms illuminated by bonfires suspended in iron baskets, but Old Master Bashō stayed behind at the picnic site. Ohasu poured for him. Despite the wife’s admonition, she had prepared a few ideas on the chance that she might be invited to participate in the merchants’ linked poem; but they had tossed out stanza after stanza with the casual ease of boys flipping pebbles into a cistern, and the poem was quickly completed.

It seemed too easy, Ohasu said.

It was what they wanted. Old Master Bashō had made suggestions for improvements here and there, and reworded a few awkward phrases, but the finished poem had met the aesthetic requirements of the fee payers.

Ohasu sat so as not to block his view of the river. Didn’t you want more from it?

The Old Master held out his cup and she poured for him. Does it matter?

Just that the blossoms will be mostly gone by tomorrow . . .

He drank again and thrust out his cup. That too is something over which I have no influence.

The rest of their party returned subdued. There’s a baby, Osome said.

A baby?

Floating in the shallows.

Ohasu and Oyuki followed Osome back to an inlet filled with rubbish and river foam. Servants at a nearby party had already waded out to retrieve the little corpse. It lay on the grassy bank, its umbilical cord still attached and the dead grey flesh spangled with cherry petals.

Osome clutched the front of her robe closed. It was a girl.

Yes.

Someone went to inform the abbot of a nearby Pure Land temple, and the others who were there soon began drifting off. Osome and Oyuki returned to the merchants’ party, and only Ohasu remained, kneeling beside the tiny body, the two of them within the blowing swirls of falling cherry blossoms as the evening wind continued to strip the trees.

The Old Master came up behind her, his carry sack hooked over one shoulder. You couldn’t leave her alone.

No.

She wouldn’t know.

I’d know.

Bashō told her he had waited all year for this day, determined to say what he truly felt about it. But all that had occurred to him were things remembered, phrases borrowed, images salvaged from previous failures. So his page remained blank. Perhaps it was better that way.

You don’t mean that, Ohasu said.

You’re telling me what I mean?

Ohasu gazed up at him then lowered her eyes. No, she said meekly.

If you love something in the way you describe it, then all you love is words.

Ohasu placed one hand on the baby’s chest. How would you describe her?

Old Bashō turned away and started trudging up towards the embankment road, and Ohasu called after him. They said you might need a housekeeper . . .

Who said it?

Ohasu looked down at her hands, embarrassed by her boldness.

I need no such thing.

I would do what I was told then just sit in a corner and learn from what you taught others.

About what?

The art of poetry. So I can write truly about my life.

Who would read it?

My mother.

Then what you want to write is a letter, not a poem.

She’s dead.

He looked back at her. And that’s what you think poetry is?

Because I had no chance to say I forgave her . . .

Old Master Bashō regarded her silently then said, We all need forgiveness.

But he also asked her if she understood the poetic requirements of the seasons, and Ohasu said she thought she knew most of them.

Only briefly
above the cherry trees:
tonight’s moon.

There was dancing that night, but it was the merchants who danced. They threw themselves about wildly, hopping and pivoting and waving their sleeves, executing clever steps and complicated figures, not all of which came off as intended.

Oyuki played the same tunes again and again, always willing to do whatever was asked of her; and Ohasu and Osome tapped on small hand drums and cried Hoi! Hoi! to encourage the merchants in their mad capering.

All poems in the text are translations by John Givens of haiku by Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694):

“Spring arrives / in the faint haze that wreathes / these nameless hills.”

Haru nare ya / na mo naki yama no / usugasumi. (1685)

“Clouds of cherry blossoms: / is the temple bell at Ueno? / at Asakusa?”

Hana no kumo / kane wa ueno ka / asakusa ka. (1687)

“How envious: / mountain cherries north of / this floating world.”

Urayamashi / ukiyo no kita no / yamazakura. (1692)

“Recollecting various things: / the blooming of / cherry blossoms.”

Samazama no / koto omoidasu / sakura kana. (1688)

“A bush warbler / shits on the rice cakes at the / end of the veranda.”

Uguisu ya / mochi ni funsuru / en no saki. (1692)

“Under the trees, / soup and fish salad too, / and cherry blossoms.”

Ki no moto ni / shiru mo namasu mo / sakura kana. (1690)

“The sound of the bell fades, / but the scent of blossoms continues / for an evening.”

Kane kiete / hana no ka wa tsuku / yūbe kana. (1684)

“Only briefly / above the cherry trees: / tonight’s moon.”

Shibaraku wa / hana no ue naru / tsukiyo kana. (1691)


John Givens own story —

Native Californian John Givens teaches fiction writing in Dublin. He earned his BA in English from California State University Fresno and his MFA in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Givens was a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea for two years, studied art and language in Kyoto for four years, and worked in Tokyo as a copywriter and editor for eight years. Givens was creative director at K2 Design in NYC; he later had the same role at Digitas in San Francisco; and he was director of digital branding for Landor Associates, also in SF (all this floundering around within the greasy coils of the ad game ending before “Mad Men” made such behaviour chic, regrettably).

Givens has published three novels in the United Sates: Sons of the Pioneers, A Friend in the Police, and Living Alone. An e-book version of A Friend in the Police was released by Concord E-Press in 2011. The Plum Rains, a collection of short stories set in 17th-century Japan, was published in Ireland by The Liffey Press in 2011, and a revised edition is scheduled for summer, 2012. Nonfiction publications include Dublin Day: Mirror to the City and Irish Walled Towns, and short stories and essays have appeared in various publications in the US, Asia, and Europe.