Saturday, July 30, 2011






Yozei In

From Tsukuba's peak,
Falling waters have become
Mina's still, full flow –

So my love has grown to be
Like the river: deep.


The deepening river
flows toward sea:
it can then be enough

to sit together
without words.
Couples pass, smiling

despite hard rain.


Risa's thought here is possibly slightly different from Yozei's, who was producing a simple but striking simile, reinforced by a play on words. Risa is thinking of the way a relationship can envelop a couple in their own space. Troubles seem smaller, perhaps, when shared in this way. The photograph she has chosen for this poem does not show a river, though a brisk mountain stream has its source in the crater of Broken Top Mountain. She took this picture on her honeymoon.

Yozei became Emperor at eight, in 877. Attacked by mental illness that made him prone to violence, he was forcibly deposed at fifteen by his courtiers and lived in retirement to the age of eighty-one. Hokusai's picture for this poem is an unfinished drawing of common people near a stream, presumably the Mina River, with mountains in the distance. They are both men and women; and Tsukuba, the name of the mountain, is written with the character for "man" and "woman."

Saturday, July 23, 2011






Sojo Henjo (monk)

Winds of Heaven!
In the paths among the clouds
Blow, and close up the ways,

That we may these virgin forms
Yet a little while detain.


When first we came
to the country fair,
strange players wove

their spell round us
in lazing noon:
no one thought to leave

or that the day
should end — had we
all turned into crows,

who would have been


A ceremonial occasion such as that attended by the monk Henjo, or an entertainment, such as that given by a famous magician, which Risa attended, can be transformative. Henjo was impressed by the dancing of the young women, and Risa was amazed when an audience member became a crow and flew away into the trees.

Sojo Henjo, a member of the royal family, served as an officer of the Court and, upon the death of the emperor, became a monk. He was active in the 800s CE and is regarded as one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. He is said to have been one of the lovers of Ono no Komachi.

Hokusai shows A quite literal rendering of the scene as Henjo might have remembered it. Two young women of high rank are performing the "heavenly" dance, and one of the courtiers, presumably Henjo, instead of looking stolidly ahead of him like the other ranking men present, is rather slyly peeking.  This dance is influential in Japanese dance and music to this day.

Thursday, July 14, 2011






Sangi Takamura

O'er the wide, wide sea,
Towards its many distant isles,
Rowing I set forth.

This, to all the world proclaim,
O ye boats of fisher-folk!


I walk on sand
and think to join
the gulls. We'll seek

a route across waves,
leaving behind
so many troubles.

The dory-boatmen
launch through surf,
their eyes

picking a way
through rocks ahead.


Active in the 800s BCE, Sangi Takamura, an Imperial counselor, displeased the Emperor and was banished. Will the ama divers and their rowers remember him to the people? Hokusai's "nurse" appears to be somewhat skeptical.

Risa is thinking of the fishing fleet at Pacific City, Oregon, where she often walks the beach alone, sorting through her thoughts and feelings. The dory-boatmen launch directly into the surf, then turn round and go straight out into the Pacific -- toward Japan. Sometimes one can walk for three hours without meeting anyone but a few sea lions; it's a good way to appreciate exile for a moment.