Wednesday, January 28, 2015






Fujiwara no Sanesada

When I turned my look
Toward the place whence
I had heard the cuckoo* —

All that was there
Was the moon of early dawn.



I rushed to open
to someone's knock --
in frosted grass

before the door,
no footprints. 


Fujiwara no Sanesada was a Minister of the Left and poet active in the 1100s C.E., and a relative of the compiler of the 100 Poets.  His poem is on a traditional subject, the call of the Japanese cuckoo at dawn, and evokes what a painter might call white space -- a significant absence.

Hokusai's Old Nurse, who has little patience with traditional poems on subjects traditional mainly for the ruling classes, shows us not the gentleman who wrote the poem but a lady with a case of morning-after. She has one shoe off and one shoe on, and needs to arrange her robes -- and where is her lover? The hototigisu has sung its song and day has begun. "This bird has flown."

Risa thinks of a time when she lived away from the others in a tiny room she had built for herself in the barn. In the middle of the night, there was a raucus pounding at the door, which she threw open only to find there were mo footprints in the glittering moonlit frost -- in any direction. This mystery went on for weeks until she found that the rooster, living with his flock in the other end of the barn, went through the motions of crowing yet without giving voice, every night about four in the morning. The improperly secured roost was banging against the wall. These eventful nights remain strong in her memory: the forthright nightly visitor who made no tracks in frost and who was not there.