Monday, May 13, 2013

A Kyoto Spring


During the 7th through the 9th centuries, Japan's literary culture flourished through the poetry of court ladies who composed verse incorporating themes of love, nature and loss. Some of these women were prominent members of royal households and others served as ladies-in-waiting to the Empress. My work takes the unfinished verse of Lady Shigama and employs it as the dominant and haunting force of the poem. The modern tenant of an apartment house, built over an ancient, royal dwelling, is possessed by the revenant of its previous owner, who resided on the grounds over a thousand years before. She is hesitant to complete the dead woman's wish, writing an ending to the last poem she penned before suddenly expiring in the Spring of 871, but is drawn to the influence of her lonely and looming presence, which extends to the park outside.  It may be assumed the 9th century poetess lost her life to deep sorrow or as the traditional folktale states, "a broken heart". In her opening lines, she confesses how "the night has grown too quiet and dark". Even her loom shudders at the loss of stars" and apparent lover or husband.  As though the mechanical device, itself,
will not go on or perform anymore tasks of weaving. The threads of growth and union are thwarted, they simply vibrate with the emptiness of dusk and futile space.

The night grows too quiet, dark.
My loom shudders
at the loss of stars and you. .

                An unfinished  poem by Lady Shigama,
                 who died suddenly, May, 871 A.D.

 The walls are papered with sea grass
and sliding screens lend privacy
to each room.

Open then shut, open then shut, each shift
feels like someone’s breath
is  being forced out of me.  

 A fear or sigh
from another world. A House
under this house. Centuries old.

I stand on the balcony
overlooking a wet  park
where cherry blossoms splatter
the wide sash of dusk.

A wren sings in the branches
then a woman cries. I cringe
at writing her poem (the rest)
for which I have
no  words or memory

but feel her loneliness, the long
shadow of goodbye.

For the sake of the poem's theme and mystery,  I have taken poetic license in estimating
the date and season of  Lady Shigama's death and the "unfinished aspect" of her poem. The original text is complete and is expressed in the form of a lament.

The night grows too quiet, dark.
My loom shudders
at the loss of stars and you
No more weaving,
I am scarcely a bride.
Is anything sadder
Than a bed with soft sheets
And no lover to share
The wren’s song
And blossoms padding
The mountain air with Spring.




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