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."