A review of Indecent Hours by James Fujinami Moore

Reviewed by Mike Panasitti 

Indecent Hours
by James Fujinami Moore
Four Way Books
February 2022, Paperback, 112 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1954245129

Although I’m a former academic who considers himself well-read and has sporadically ventured into the arena of writing poems, I don’t make a routine of reading recently published modern poetry collections by first-time authors.  If I were to look at sales figures for contemporary poets new to publishing, I’d guess most people are more likely to bless their Instagram feeds, and not fledgling poets, with their evermore scant attention.

Indecent Hours, James Fujinami Moore’s inaugural volume of verse, makes me glad I occasionally have the decency to break bad habits. What provides Indecent Hours its thematic coherence are the specters of cruelty that haunt its pages, the major and minor traumas Moore documents with an economy of words as refined as it is brutal.  

Moore, an American of Chinese and Japanese descent has crafted a work divided into three parts, each commencing with an interstitial quote from Lafcadio Hearn, a historical figure responsible for introducing the culture of Tokugawa Japan to the Western world.

The introductory poem, placed before the first interstice, introduces us to “the man on the street,” our first perpetrator of cruelty, who has ignored the teachings of Hearn and his erudite descendants to make a wounding and oft-used epithet against Asians.

Moore almost immediately situates the speaking self as target of, or witness to, cruelty, but this passive role does not last.  In “in the dormitories after dark,” the speaking subject is a youth complicitous with cruelty.  This poem has a Lord of the Flies-like pathos and while the speaker confesses of his participation in a hazing ritual of sorts, the experience leaves him bearing a heavy burden of guilt.

In “the animals,” it’s both the human perpetrators of a beastly slaughter of classroom pets, and the innocent creatures themselves, who are referred to in the title.  

The ending of “in the dormitories…” leaves readers cold with the honesty of the speaker’s remorse, the final line of “…animals” leaves us frigid with the monstrosity of cruelty’s tenacity: “A week later,” the poet says of the grisly event, “it happened again.”

Despite introducing us to a menagerie of cruel actions, Moore manages to depict speakers who remain valiantly sensible or sensitive before the fusillade of everyday indecency.

In “big chicken,” we are introduced to an uncle who frightens his nephew with tales of a monstrous bird—an act of familial and unquestionably cruel love—and, like in “the animals,” the title is a double entendre as well as a commentary on the sometimes-targeted nature of oral storytelling. 

Much of Indecent Hours is marked by the dread that accompanies the existential predicament of not measuring up to a hero’s narrative when faced with aggression—whether petty or monumental.  

Moore documents other quotidian indecencies like that of falling into the trap, almost unavoidable in these days of Instagram and Tik-Tok voyeurism, of repeatedly watching a video capturing a moment of infanticide.  

In “25 apologies” the poet is once again unabashed about his being a person capable of, and perhaps destined to, carry out harmful acts, an actor compelled to play a part in the microcosmic staging of cruelty: “…I said I / was sorry when I wasn’t / sorry.  I wasn’t as sorry / as I should have been. / In school I pushed you / down.  In school I pushed / you down and liked it.”

While animals can often lash out in ways that are instinctual, if not cruel, in Moore’s poems they are largely victims of human wrongdoing and, despite the innocence attributed to children, they are often animals’ victimizers: “…I tried to kill / the fish,” Moore writes in “tetra,” “I poured soap in the tank, dripped in / bleach, strangled it for a minute / in air before returning it to where / it swam cheerfully on…”

The poems of Indecent Hours suggest that, like our animal kin, the human species abides by an unspoken social contract that guarantees that we all, at one point or another, will be victims as well as perpetrators of behavior that causes pain or suffering.

Racial stereotyping is a pernicious form of such behavior, one all contemporary global citizens are subject to.  This can take micro-aggressive forms such as when the speaker of one poem is asked if he is “one of those musical Asian children.”  In another a belligerent drunk at a urinal more overtly accosts the speaker, asking him if he knows Bruce Lee.  The victim walks away, hands balled into fists, demonstrating not only how unforgiving we can be with ourselves when we’re victims of bullying—our wounded egos adding to the suffering as they scourge us with shame—but also that victims of racial insensitivity often wish with all one’s might they could live up to racialized stereotypes of pugilistic prowess in order to teach a perp a lesson.

Moore’s treatment of stereotype is nuanced, and he even confronts the obligation placed on people of all colors to acknowledge the role of cruelty, the role of victimization in the formation of not ethnic, but racialized, identity—a stereotype of a politically correct sort.  In Moore’s case it is the history of the Japanese internment camps, and their burden on identity that discomforts Moore: “I am so tired of talking about Manzanar,” the speaker says questioning perhaps the post-modern requirement of founding much ethnic identity on historical trauma.

The final part of Indecent Hours is a poetic account of the boxing match between Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini and Kim Duk-Koo, a contest which proves cruelty is most excusable when consensual.  When it is, it becomes something quite different than victimization.  If this match can be considered a crowning metaphor for the book, cruelty morphs into “… a panorama of / low, dirty, happy, brutal, sentimental / courage, nothing but magnificent courage” where there are no victims, but duelists in thrall to the contest.  A reader immersing themselves in Indecent Hours can bask in Moore’s compassionate recounting of the cruelties and courage we’re all capable of.

About the reviewer: Mike Panasitti s ia published poet and exhibiting artist from the Orange County area, whose achievements also include publishing fiction and creative non-fiction on the Reedsy writer’s platform.