Saturday, October 29, 2011






Oe no Chisato

Gaze I at the moon,
Myriad things arise in thought,
And my thoughts are sad –

Yet, 'tis not for me alone,
That the autumn time has come.


Autumnal thoughts
drift to me;
petals browning,

leaves. New
wrinkles in my hands
are well matched

to those in yours —
Now we have loved,
we cannot die.


Chisato is said to have been a nephew of Yukihira and to have been influenced by Chinese poetry. The Old Nurse, in Hokusai's unfinished print, visualizes heavy-laden peasants moving about the paths among the fields beneath a harvest moon. Age is given more than it can carry, perhaps, but the harvest is nevertheless brought in.

Risa is thinking here of the discovery by lovers that they are no longer young. On the same topic, she also has written: 

g r a c e

They do not always sit with an easy grace,
the aging: in afternoon light, even in October,
cracks invade her clear skin,

showing in relief, and he knows dismay,
seeing her, his own once simple face
crowding itself, as when a life within

doors runs out of thought. Yet, sober
as this renders him, he will not turn away
from her to seek some easier play:

there is no win or lose, no hunt, no race,
no battle. His eyes would disrobe her,
for she is to him more than she has been,

and he would know all, even here,
as passers pass, not seeing what his eyes see;
but he will wait on her clear sign

that this is welcome, even from his gaze,
for she has known most men hold themselves dear;
known too long their avarice that she

should shape to their dreams, their ways,
their endless drawing round her of sharp lines,
their wrapping an arm carelessly round her days,

their failing, in this many years, to touch the key
moment of her heart, that movement lacking fear
when she might freely give, without design.

Placing her hand in his, she shifts and sighs;
a not unhappy sound, considering the hour
and how late, as well, this man has come to her:

five decades they have lived apart,
as though all meaning had to be deferred;
as though autumn alone might show love's power;

as though some god, having hated happy hearts,
had suddenly relented, offering them this prize.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011






Bunya no Yasuhide

Since 'tis by its breath
Autumn's leaves of grass and trees
Riven are and waste –

Men may to the mountain wind
Fitly given the name, "The Wild."


You must know
the mountain wind
comes to me —

speaking your
wild thoughts.


There is almost no information on the life of Yasuhide; he is however listed among the Six and Thirty-Six exemplary poets. Hokusai's image, unfinished, depicts the winds interrupting a mountaintop festival.

Risa remembers a love whose thoughts and actions ranged wide and unpredictably, like a mountain wind.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011






Sosei Hoshi (monk)

Just because you said,
"In a moment I will come,"
I've awaited you

Even until the moon of dawn,
In the long month, has appeared.


I went to a place
of waiting. People
passed, and glanced,

curious. I did not
mind; you might
arrive or you might

not. What to do 
was what to do.


Sosei, son of the author of poem eleven, was a court officer before becoming a monk. Many of his poems remain extant, and he is one of the Thirty-Six poetry Immortals

Hokusai's Old Nurse seems to focus on the speaker as female. Is the man being led by torchlight up the path in a different direction her lover? And why is he carrying a set of keys?

Risa also remembers waiting at night for one who promised to arrive. On this occasion (perhaps unusually so) she was able to compose herself -- whatever was to be, would be. Perhaps she was, that night, remembering times when she herself had been unkind.

Friday, October 14, 2011






(Prince) Motoyoshi Shinno

Now, in dire distress,
It is all the same to me!
So, then, let us meet

Even though it costs my life
In the Bay of Naniwa.


From me to you,
some three hundred
miles of ice? —

It's not so much.


Two syllables short of a haiku, Risa's response to the Prince's waka recalls a journey she undertook on a motorcycle during an ice-out. Madness, but, then, so is love.

The Prince (active 900s C.E.) was noted for affairs of the heart, and a number of his poems appear in the Tales of Yamato.

Hosukai's Old Nurse depicts Motoyoshi (or perhaps his lady friend) en route to an assignation along the shores of Naniwa (Osaka) Bay, disguised as a sheaf of grain. Ladies appear to avert their gaze, tipping their umbrellas so as not to see the strange sight -- perhaps everyone saw through him?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011






(Lady) Ise

Even for a space
Short as joint of tiny reed
From Naniwa's marsh,

We must never meet again
In this life? This, do you ask?


How beautiful
your hands, tapping
my door, thirty

years ago.
Your heart knocked,
a fist against

my ribs. Whispering
my name, your lips
brushed mine. You

have been dead
almost half those years,
and, no — no time

has passed.


Lady Ise, active at the beginning of the 900s C.E., was a concubine of the emperor. Educated and talented, she was a noted poet in the Imperial style, and many of her poems were published in her lifetime.

Hokusai's Old Nurse depicts the lady watching, perhaps in vain, from a window across Osaka Bay (Naniwa). Time for her now seems to stand still, though she is well provided for; she has an attendant, a gardener is working below the window, roofers are tiling her roof, and the farmers in the rice fields carry on as they have always done. A fog is rolling in from lower right.

Risa remembers a love who has died. She, too, in a sense, feels left behind, frozen in time, as life goes unheedfully on around her. All tragedy ultimately is felt in a terrible solitude.