Friday, August 26, 2011






Chunagon Yukihira

Though we parted be,
If on Mount Inaba's peak
I should hear the sound

Of the pine trees growing,
Back at once I'll make my way.


We planted 
fir seedlings
across icy slopes.

Trees not yet logged
scraped and worried
in moaning winds,

showering us with
bark and cones.
I thought: will I

see you again,
should one of these
fall while my back

is bent?


Ariwara no Yukihira, here called by his title of Chunagon (Councillor), was brother to Narihira. Their poems were often published together. The pine trees wait patiently for the right conditions to open their cones, showering the mountainside with with spiraling seeds -- this makes a sound like rain.

Risa remembers planting trees in rain along the top edge of a clearcut with fir trees towering above her, with wind shoving the trees back and forth, showering her with twigs and cones. The thought occurred to her that she could die here, and thus her love would never see her again.

Hokusai does not appear to have made a print for this poem; here is the one by Kuniyoshi. Peasant workmen, as well as the lord, appear to hear the pines of Mount Inaba.

Saturday, August 20, 2011






(Emperor) Koko Tenno

It is for thy sake
That I seek the fields in spring,
Gathering green herbs –

While my garment's hanging sleeves
Are with falling snow beflecked.


I watched the nurse's
blue spoon
badgering our nana.

The old woman
stitched up her mouth
with what will

she had — she must
choose her time,
her place, her way.


Emperor Koko wrote during the 800s CE. Here he is said to be viewing the snow for a shut-in relative. Hokusai's exploratory drawing for this poem languishes in a private collection and has never been reproduced so far as we know; it is said to resemble this one by Kuniyoshi. Although the poem by the emperor is a snow poem, Risa has chosen from among her photos some sea grasses from Pacific City, Oregon, as seen in the early autumn. These are an emblem for her of approaching death.

Risa's grandmothers both died of pancreatic cancer in their eighties. One put herself on a death fast in the rest home and is the subject of Risa's response poem here. Risa went to see her when she had about a week to go. She asked: "They don't understand, do they?" The old woman shook her head slowly.

The other grandmother is also worth telling about. Risa was tree-planting on a Forest Service contract in the 1970s, high in the Calapooya Mountains. Late at night she dreamed a young woman came to see her, surrounded by an aura of many colors. Risa asked if the woman was okay, and her visitor answered, "I'm fine now."

Grandma had been a hard and unapproachable person. Risa worked up the courage to really speak to her for the first time. "I never told you I loved you."

"It's all right. I knew it just the same."

Risa woke up in tears and skipped work the next morning, driving to town to place a long-distance phone call.

 "Did Grandma die last night?"

"Yes, she did, about four o'clock in the morning."

Saturday, August 6, 2011






Kawara no Sadaijin

Michinoku print
Of Shinobu's tangled leaves!
For whose sake have I,

Like confused, begun to be?
Only yours! I cannot change!


I have been lost
enough in love
not to know:

am I coming to be
or coming to end?
Wherever this is,

you are the fixed point;
though flooded
by all this emotion,

I am smooth
river basalt —
indestructible for you.


Grandson of an emperor, Minamoto no Toru, active in the 800s CE, is listed under the title of Kawara no Sadaijin. A member of the Genji clan, he is said to have been a model for one of the characters in Murasaki's Tale of Genji. In Hokusai's unfinished drawing for the print for this poem, travelers appear to be asking the way to somewhere and a local farmer is pointing into a vanishing distance; perhaps their destination is Shinobu in Michinoku, where the dyeing-stone for the "Michinoku" fern-pattern prints lay. Its present name is Fukushima City.

Risa, when reading Poem Fourteen, was struck by Toru's title, "Minister of the Left Bank (of the River)" and by Basho's account of having sought out the Shinobu dyeing-stone. So she compared her love for her beloved to a basalt river-stone.