Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Honey is poison:
drink it in your cold water;
drink it anyway.
If you protect your stomach,
your tongue will never taste it.


I wish I were a character inside a book--
I'd never wonder whether something would occur
that I could call extraordinary. If I took
the opportunity, it's certain I could spur
myself to save the world, to fly, to rescue her...
In such adventures, I know home's supposed to look
relaxing, safe, desirable--but I suspect
that I'd be happier away; as if I were
aware of my good fortune, I would not object.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


All the world is cheap,
busy with squeals and with shrieks,
drunken on itself,
forgetting that happiness
can never be found
and ought not be sought at all.
And I say nothing,
knowing I will be condemned
and called judgmental,
but the reason I don't want
to be part of it
is that it's so sad, so sad,
so empty and so painful.

Villanelle: Shizuka

Peace, Shizuka; it is done.
I know you will never admit
the enemy has won,
but you will exhaust yourself if you run
forever and never quit.
Peace, Shizuka, it is done;
the dance that blotted out the sun
belongs to them now, all of it:
the enemy has won,
and now there are none
but you to balk at the bit.
Peace, Shizuka, it is done.
You knew it as you labored, as you spun,
as you stung them, as they took him, as you spit:
the enemy has won.
History will return what you lost; it has already begun,
so die calmly, your belly slit.
Peace, Shizuka, it is done.
The enemy has won.


After the end,
when they all pass out of our lives,
and we are left
all alone together at once,
will there be words?
Will we sit and stare at the wall?
When we're alone,
when it's only us, will you like
me? Will I like
you at all? Well, maybe I will.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


In all the years of the imperial reign,
his life will be remembered as a spring
when all at once, as pink as blood, were plain
a thousand cherry trees, all blossoming
together like a wild and careless thing.
And he explodes through history, a stain
of color in a timeless, carved jade frame,
born late in March with petals scattering,
and falling dead before the summer came.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sonnet LXXIV

Varley, in this book I'm reading,
says that, when Atsumori died,
it was like his unstopped bleeding
symbolically showed how the pride
of the court-folk was defeated
by the warriors, who greeted
the dawn of their own day. He writes
that they were meaningless, these fights;
this was a beau geste that neatly
displayed his lovely face so long
but had no consequence. He's wrong:
Atsumori changed completely
Naozane's integrity,
and then Naozane changed me.


Because I was never allowed
to smudge it with my dirty hands,
I treasure that lavender cloud;
I chase away any who crowd
too close to its reflective sands
because I was never allowed
to touch it myself. I am proud
to live if its bright sunlight stands.
I treasure that lavender cloud
because it is all he endowed--
that god who gave us sacred lands.
Because I was never allowed
to ruin it, stitching my shroud
with emblems of its shining brands,
I treasure that lavender cloud
and cherish the vows I have vowed,
protecting all those shimmer-strands.
Because I was never allowed,
I treasure that lavender cloud.

Sonnet Cycle: Nanshoku ōkagami

I. The ABCs of Wakashudō

Asking whether it is painful,
you put your trusting hand in mine.

Something small like this?
Disdainful of pain,
I keep our pact divine.

We are wings that share a feather,
two trees grafted tight together;
we are always side by side,
a set that no one could divide.

All will worship us who hear us together,
playing on our flutes;
Atsumori himself salutes our skill.

Who can choose when near us between us?
Who would rid his rooms of autumn leaves or springtime blooms?

II. Within the Fence: Pine, Maple, and a Willow Waist

life is like the lightning that strikes in daylight,
deft and fleet,
and I dare not face what's frightening:
the wait until next time we meet.

Violating all conventions,
you bestowed your kind attentions.
I'm lost in this confusing mood,
and I pour forth my gratitude.

All your acts amid my illness made me believe you were in love
(unworthy as I am thereof),
and if in the evening stillness,
you whisper that these things are true,
please let me give myself to you.

III. Love Letter Sent in a Sea Bass

The vow I gave was an eternal vow,
so should our lord himself desire me,
ought I surrender?
For then and now my very self is not my property.

Since from the start,
when I first loved and said,
“This body will no longer be my own,”
I understood that we would both be dead
the minute our obsession became known.

I'm deeply hurt that you should hesitate to die beside me,
even at my whim—
but if it's been decided as my fate,
of course I will succeed in killing him.
And after that,
I'll turn that very blade on you,
who betrayed.

IV. Implicated by His Diamond Crest

Daiemon on the river's bank was naked in the shadow of the reeds;
he entered in the river,
and he sank.
Though it is deep,
desire for love exceeds.

Tannosuke's garden must convey that he was crying uncontrollably—
oh, even for a dream that would not stay,
that was too sad to bear,
too hard to see.

Tannosuke pressed the dripping chest of Daiemon to him in relief
and took him in to whisper and to rest;
Daiemon soon forgot his grief.
When morning brings its treasonous routines,
at least we meet again in nightmare scenes.

V. A Sword His Only Memento

Birds left the sky for me when I exclaimed;
if I disliked a man, there was no need for me to speak to him;
if I proclaimed a crow a heron, everyone agreed.

When I had gone to sleep in disarray,
he slipped a pillow underneath my head,
and if my coverlet had slid away,
he covered me with blankets from his bed.
His kind attentions came to me in sleep,
reality impinging on a dream.

We swore our faithfulness,
a pledge I keep like still-green pine,
a pledge of my esteem.

These privileges were born from his embrace,
the consequence of his indulgent grace.

VI. Though Bearing an Umbrella, He was Rained Upon
Korin 1

Korin's answer did not show him the gratitude one might expect of a boy
(so far below him)
granted favor and respect.

“Forcing me to yield to power is not love.
I will not cower;
my heart is mine,
and if one day someone should come to me
and say loving words in true reflection,
I'd welcome him inside my room.
I want to love someone on whom I can lavish real affection—
and if your love were something real,
I'd know it in the way I feel.”

VII. Though Bearing an Umbrella, He was Rained Upon
Korin 2

Cut off my strong right arm;
cut off my left—
but I will never say for you his name.
You'll never have it on your lips to shame me with your lips again,
to shame by theft my lips,
to shame my fingers with your deft, unyielding fingers
and your blunted aim.

I warned you at the start,
and so the blame will rest on you when I'm reborn and you're bereft.

These hands are hands that touched;
these arms are arms that held;
this mouth has kissed—
so chop me up and show them that they must obey you, too.

Remember you have stolen from my charms;
remember you were drinking from my cup,
and know that I did not belong to you.

VIII. His Head Shaved on the Path of Dreams

A copy of the temple garden at Shōun-ji in Sakai was to be constructed,
and I often sat and watched the workers set the scene abuzz.
on the evening when the Sago palms were planted,
I was perched upon a rock.
I cupped some water from the spring,
like alms within my hands,
to drink before my walk.
I threw the extra water on the ground behind me,
not perceiving anyone was standing there,
but then I heard the sound of laughter,
and a soft, low voice made fun:
one day I was hoping to be rained upon by you,”
he merrily explained.

IX. His Head Shaved on the Path of Dreams

This afternoon,
when we were on the road,
I carried you.
You seemed to me too small to walk alone,
too beautiful to crawl along the earth—
much better if you flowed like clouds across this floating world.
I showed my inner self to you and laughed to call myself your slave.
with your soldier doll,
pretended duels,
pouncing when I slowed.

when we were in my room and flames lit up your face,
we cuddled side by side;
I carried you;
I watched your clothing swish;
I called you General—
these were just games,
but knowing of the skill with which you ride,
I'll gladly call you anything you wish.

X. Grudge Provoked by a Sedge Hat

If everyone perceives the way I feel,
the ways I show you favor,
I don't mind,
because I feel the world must not stay blind to sunlight
and your innocent appeal.

If everyone sees through the way I kneel beside you,
I don't mind;
I make this kind of gesture to untie the cares
that wind around your ankles,
pulling you to heel.

And if you know I love you,
I don't care—
unless it brings you sadness or distress;
so if you wouldn't like to understand,
please think of what I do as nothing,
air that drifts and doesn't muss your hair or press too hard against you,
tugging at your hand.

XI. Grudge Provoked by a Sedge Hat

A spiteful word was spoken out of turn,
and he whirled 'round with fury in his eyes,
the set of his too-yielding lips unwise as passion,
firm as thunder,
quick to learn the promise of vendetta,
quick to spurn in pure disgust the man who mocked his cries,
and cold with indignation at the lies he told in company without concern.

He doomed himself who spoke those words.
This boy did not take insults lightly;
whispers of his many lovers would not be begun.
Though men by hundreds used him as their toy,
his virtue lived,
and while he may make love to thousands of them,
he loved only one.

XII. The Sickbed No Medicine Could Cure

“Friend of memory,
your condition is poor,
and this is bound to show;
if you're in a bad position,
don't let me be the last to know.
Are you shamed to love another since you loved me first?
No other fulfillment of my vow is there than pleasing you;
let me declare all your love to him.
I'll handle it all exactly how you'd like.”

Samanosuke forged the spike that Uneme used for scandal;
he left when Uneme had gone and said that he could not go on.

XIII. He Fell in Love When the Mountain Rose Was in Bloom

Directly to the castle of his lord
at daybreak Shume took the scroll and went.
“A man has fallen deep in love and spent his life in longing,
and he was ignored.
My honor tells me that I must reward his adoration,
but if I relent,
I leave my gentle lord without consent.
I cannot choose;
please kill me with your sword.”
Shume produced the scroll;
the lord received it from his hand.
To read its pages took an hour.
The lord considered Shume's whim and asked the boy to wait.
“Don't be deceived,”
said Shume;
“If I go home now,
one look and I will act improperly with him.”

XIV. Tears in a Paper Shop

One of the heartless dandies
saw the sprig of cherries in Hatsudayū's hand.
“Give me those blooms!”
He swaggered,
cruel and big.

A handsome stranger heard this rude demand.
“Please let me settle this,” in soothing tones he said.
“Give them to him,” he told the child,
then grabbed the bully's sleeve and,
hard as stones,
told him to give them back—
and dryly smiled.
“Some day when you are sober, visit me;
I'd like to set you straight.”

He gave the right address,
but Hatsudayū could see the dandy planned to start an unfair fight.
“I'll go,”
he swore,
“I'll stay on the alert—
I'll die before I see this man get hurt.”

XV. A Huge Wine Cup Overflowing with Love

your papa loved him madly,
beyond his means,
beyond his strength.

Some say purple shows up badly at night,
but even at this length,
it is lovelier than ever,
that wisteria,
the clever and handsome symbol on his crest.

isn't he the very best?

No one can predict the turning of worlds;
I thought the very least that I could do before he ceased breathing
was convey his burning
and beg a message of release to help my husband die in peace.

XVI. The Man Who Resented Another's Shouts

“You risked so much for my sake”—
a caress—
“It makes me very happy”—
and without a pause to change to ordinary dress,
he bound himself in love that did not doubt.

Sanzaburō gave himself away,
lost interest in his work,
scorned other men.
His lover sobbed and vowed,
but went astray,
and he would never hear from him again.

Through every day,
he yearned to hear his voice;
when nighttime stopped his ears,
he merely tried to live 'til dawn;
and then,
as if by choice,
as happens in this floating world,
he died like blossoms in hard rain and frozen dew
or moonlight veiled by cloud-mists from our view.

XVII. Fireflies Also Work Their Asses at Night
Iori & Handayū

The skill of Yoshida Iori and Fujimura Handayū is remarkable:
they quiz their patrons playfully;
without a strand of weakness,
they are pliant.

Soon unmanned,
Iori's patron frenzies in a fizz of words,
abandons on the pillow his life's fortune at those words and in that hand.

Handayū stays too cold and still,
not snuggling,
and makes the gentleman start wondering
what he's done wrong to raise this temper.
Then he whispers, with a thrill,
a single,
beautiful suggestion.

Can a man forget such skill in all his days?

XVIII. Fireflies Also Work Their Asses at Night

I am like the firefly,
but it shines only in the night.
Here I am 'til dawn.
Keep going and never rest at noon;
If you wish to rent or borrow,
I'll be on display tomorrow.

only secretly,
he comes at night,
while I beat drunken drums,
to where I am entertaining,
releasing fireflies—
so I'm told.

People wondered whom the gold lights were meant to touch,
complaining of mystery.
But now I see that they were meant to glow for me.

XIX. An Onnagata's Tosa Diary

“Master Han'ya,”
he called out loudly,
“Loving you is brazen,
too outspoken,
but accept this proof I give you proudly of sincerity,
this modest token...”
Saying this,
he made as if to linger on the stage.
He pressed his hand securely to the floor and cut his little finger off
with five or six sword strokes,

Han'ya said, calm and kind,
“Devotion is an honor to receive,
and later I will surely sweeten that emotion—
now, the stage's pull on me is greater.
So the play today is not diminished,
wait for me backstage until I've finished?”

XX. An Unworn Robe to Remember Him By

He did not really need to die, they said:
he killed himself with an inflated sense of honor.

When the grandiose events of New Year finished,
someone went ahead to say the play was starting,
but his bed was chaste fidelity,
and the expense of not playing the whore to malcontents
left Hayanojō without a thread.

His servant had no choice now but to tell the truth,
and he was frightened,
but the strings that held the boy broke softly.

Laughing low, he said,
“So promises of love won't sell.
Why is it in this floating world that things go
never as we wish that they would go?”

Friday, March 19, 2010


A doll collection
lying in a basement room
lovingly caressed
by a single, gentle pair
of discerning hands;
only the most beautiful,
and each is replaced
by the next, more beautiful--
where did you throw out their souls?

The Firefly Also

The firefly working at night
dies early, and your life
is torn by human tongues,
for you are vulnerable;
real beauty always is.
The firefly working at night
is calling out for its mate;
you focus as your face
is torn by human tongues
and never wander; they search
for substitutes and find you.
The firefly working at night
is shoved in carriages, fed
rich nothing that in turn
is torn by human tongues,
a gift for bored connoisseurs.
Like you, using its tail,
the firefly working at night
is torn by human tongues.

Monday, March 15, 2010


My two ugly hands,
the dead skin cracking off them,
do not prevent me
from understanding beauty.
I know very well
never to touch purity,
and yet I struggle
each moment, without success,
to keep my hands to myself.


Caterpillars wait,
eating in preparation
to become something,
to live just a few moments
without that hunger, in flight.

Floating World

This beautiful world
is fragile.
Love with all your heart,
a thousand times in succession,
and cherish
this beautiful world:
for each beloved dies like a butterfly,
or cannot
love with all his heart,
or grows out of beauty.

How lovely,
this beautiful world--
how sad and how sacred!
What joy to
love with all the heart!

And I would give everything,
this beautiful world,
though my kind are not welcome there.
But I can
love with all my heart,
a thousand times in succession.
To remake
this beautiful world,
love with all your heart.

On Youth

Flowers mold and brown;
rain is allowed to cloy them
if no one cuts them. So humble,
the gardener, such fuss...

Press that precious gown
deep in the book. Employ them
in stark bouquets, in a tumble,
their nectar a sweet pus.

Let us cut them down
while we can still enjoy them,
before they harden and crumble,
before they become -- us.


Selling my possessions for a lentil--
why should I not go on riding, riding?
Why should I submit to life in hiding,
in my father's tent, content and gentle?
All that I inherit is a rental
I can never buy, and I am biding
time until my chance goes gliding, gliding
past my fingers, real and fundamental.

I will take it down, and we will wrestle;
I will be the master of the center,
she who owns, the muscle-maddened maven,
sleeping, pausing to bear down the pestle.
Any tent I fancy I will enter,
eating any meal in any haven.

For Fair Welcoming


I wait, Mignon, by the kitchen stair,
while you listen to the aprons chide.
While you sit in the dining room chair
and imagine yourself gone, untied,
I envision the world, long and wide.
Together, our visions flash and flare;
alone, they are more convincing still.
I like waiting--the world is untried!
The view from the stair looks past the hill!


If you are trapped in the air--
if they watch you with great care--
if this is all that you dare,
I will wait for you outside,
welcoming you with more rare
welcome to wear,
as you did me, starry-eyed.
Even with no fruit to bear,
I'm glad to swear
to you my oath to abide,
because I would rather share
this daydream with you than pair
my joy in you with despair
in circumstances of pride.
If you are trapped in the air--
if they watch you with great care--
if this is all that you dare--
I will wait for you outside.


Fair as are the worlds that fill
the roads we ride,
Fair Welcome is far more fair.
In him, all my own dead chill
I will confide.
Fair as are the worlds that fill
the roads we ride,
I like better the soft thrill
of tears that slide
down his cheek, into his hair.
Fair as are the worlds that fill
the roads we ride,
Fair Welcome is far more fair.