Wednesday, January 14, 2015






(Lady) Suo no Naishi

If, but through the dreams
Of a spring's short night, I'd rest
Pillowed on this arm,

And my name were blameless stained,
Hard, indeed, would be my fate.


Starting from sleep,
I turn; see
you resting.

But, no. It is
a trick of the light.
I remain one

of those who
live alone.


Lady Suo was a lady in waiting in the courts of three emperors. Such a one's career, if not life, depended on her reputation, so when a lord overheard her asking another lady for a pillow, his jest, putting his arm beneath the room divider and offering it as a pillow, must be rejected, but with the deferential gentleness owing to his rank. She is said to have spoken the poem extempore.

Hokusai's Old Nurse shows her with her hand to her mouth, as though deciding whether to actually take the offer. The other lady could well be saying: "So, do you want this pillow or don't you?"

Risa, who worked for years in the woods, often lived for weeks at a time in a tiny travel trailer. It had a double bed, but often her beloved was many miles away. She would awaken in moonlight and look groggily at the empty pillow beside her, as if expecting it to be occupied.