Archive for May, 2016

Second Daughter, 11

Bright stars and chill winds,
shaking loose peach blossoms
Where do the seeds fall?

Saplings prepare to flower,
As nearby trees prepare fruit.

Kaori had carefully folded the reply into a small flower, and gone to her box of curious and chosen a pressed, preserved peach blossom. She sent it with the messenger when he departed before dawn. She burned the mound of failed poems as offerings to the household. She thought of every brush stroke, was that one too light, or this one too heavy? In fact, thinking about the poem to the Governor ate up most of her time, while thinking about Tsubasa ate up the rest. She found herself so easily distracted that the act of working around the house or even on her artwork had become tedious. She could no longer find her center, no longer could she dissolve into the task at hand.
Mikan draws aside the door and steps into the room to gather Kaori’s clothes. Kaori sighs and Mikan speaks. “I did not see you were meditating, little miss.” She turns to leave.
“Its fine, Mikan. I’m not doing it very well anyways. Ever since this nonsense with the Governor and the marriage and Tsubasa I haven’t been… calm.”
“I would say you’ve been very calm. Distracted even.”
“Well that’s the problem. ‘A distracted mind is unaware. The wise man seeks to see all things, to know every inch of the world around him, but to be removed, without judgment or interference. He who does nothing, accomplishes everything.’”
“I hear the words of the Sages from you, little miss, but I do not hear the wisdom of their meaning.”
Kaori cocks her head, staring at the old woman. Another commoner would have been reprimanded for such a statement. Kaori speaks slowly. “The words of the Sages are wisdom in themselves.”
“’Life is true Wisdom. Wisdom which can be taught is not wisdom, it is dogma.’” Karoi turns brilliant red. She should know better than to engage Mikan by now, but something in her won’t let her back down.
“It is the Emperor’s will that we all come to know the words of the Sages for their advice and importance to right action and civilized society. Are you say-” Kaori stops herself. By using that question she would imply sedition or blasphemy in Mikan, she rephrases quickly and continues, “You are not saying that his advice is ill-considered.”
“I am saying that we are all only human, though we strive for the greatness of Sages. We must know the wisdom of the Sages to know how to react, but the lives we live must always be the greatest teachers, and also the greatest tests.”
Kaori nods, her face turning out the window. Mikan continues around the room, picking up Kaori’s discarded clothing for washing. She is at the door when Kaori speaks again.
“Mikan…” Mikan turns. “What did you mean when you said you didn’t hear the wisdom in my quoting.”
“Exactly what I have said, little miss. We must live in order to learn. Of course you’ve lost your center. Nothing had really challenged it before, and now your parents have decided that you are ready for the world. And about time too. Now you must learn what it really means to dissolve into your work, to meditate and find peace.” She turns and walks out the door, leaving Kaori with her own thoughts, sitting on the bed still in her nightclothes, sheets and clothes pooling around her with her hair.
The room smells of sandalwood from the incense Kaori burns to help her meditate, but she is not at peace, her mind flits from topic to topic, a disturbed songbird continuously chirping into the silence. Disruptions like the ripples from fish wave across her concentration. The conversations yet to come with Hideki Hensei becomes a reminiscence of Tsubasa’s appearance, as well the concern that she may be romanticizing. This then becomes a wonder as to who Kimiyasu is marrying, and what he’s like and how he’ll treat her and what if it secretly is Tsubasa? And how dare Mikan tell her she didn’t know the meaning of the words. Very clearly she knew the quote by heart and could tell her what those words meant in that order.
But at the same time, Mikan is right. Now Kaori must handle things that previously she could so easily ask her mother what to do and how to do it, or her father if it dealt with art or swords. Now though… now her family has trusted her to make her own decision and carve as much of her own fate as she can. And still she is at her brother’s mercy, in the sense that his idea has landed her in this jumbled mess. She breathes deeply of the incense, trying to achieve, to rediscover, that balance where nothing in the world matters except her breathing and the feeling of emptiness. She pushes through the distractions, focusing in on the feeling of emptiness, the non-beng of getting sucked into her work, or the work of the day, or any work really. Having lived it for so long she must be able to recall it, wisdom dictates; except states change. Kaori knows from her lessons that things change all the time, even when one is not an alchemist. It’s one of Kaori’s favorite things, watching the seasons change, and she has seen how even between two summers things are… different. It brings her restless mind to bigger questions beyond comprehension: are things different between two summers, or do I notice the two summers differently because I have changed? The words grow within her thoughts until they’ve overrun Kaori’s other distractions and Kaori vigorously shakes her head to loosen them from their perch. That way is not the road to balance, to peace. And yet, Kaori is uncertain she truly knows the road to balance. Does one know how to return home, if they’ve never left it?
It does not take much before the enormity of the questions now rumbling through Kaori’s mind are exhaustingly unanswerable, and so she gets dressed, and goes to help around the house, for the sake of motion and busyness.

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Second Daughter, 10

Wildflowers, Spring fields.
A Songbird chirps its last notes
Amid sudden brightness.

A songbird never wastes its notes,
Nearby a nest full of chicks.
~Tsubasa Changfu

Kaori is confused when she receives the letter, complete with its budding branch and folded into a lotus flower. The poem speaks of bleak death, but the flower is enlightenment and the buds hope. She paces her room, trying to decode the subtle nuances of the message that Tsubasa has sent her. Trying also to bring her heart-rate down as it sings out with possibility. Frequently she is distracted by daydreams and visions of what life could be like living in a foreign province, of what he would be like as a husband, of what they would be like as a couple. Would there be love? Would he care for her? Would there be concubines? What would their house look like, what would there kids look like, would they have the finest silks, or the poorest cottons? She looks out the window into the garden and sees Weili and her father talking, she takes in their clothes, their stance their state of dress: they’ve just come back from town, judging by the way their clothing hangs a little loosely and a few loose strands of hair are flying in the wind, not to mention their swords at their belt.
New questions enter unbidden into Kaori’s mind. What if Tsubasa is secretly a warlord for a foreign liege? Would they be safe from the war? Would he be called away after their marriage? Would he die on the battlefield, or from a wound afterwords? Would she ever know the difference, or would they lie to her to preserve his honor. She turns back to the note in her hand and reads it again, forces herself to focus on the meanings he has sent her, and in the back of her mind sees a little of the wisdom of her father’s words: “War is a demon that steals men’s minds.” And women’s… she thinks.
The buds and flower are major symbols, hope and enlightenment… but then this poem, about the beauty amid death… Suddenly she gets it, and as she sits at her desk a knock comes from her door.
“Sister?” The door slides open. “I heard you got some— Your face seems flush, are you alright?”
Kaori’s fan comes up with such quickness it almost flies out of her hand, for a brief second it completely obscures her face, then settles calmly. “Brother! What are you doing just barging into my room? You have no idea what I could have been doing!” She knows its irrational. “And I most certainly am not blushing. Or if you saw one it is from surprise and fear at the sudden intrusion.”
“I only thought—” Weili stops. Having grown up in a house of a majority women, he knows when to bite his tongue. “I apologize sister. I only wanted to see how you were doing and if there was any good news recently.”
Kaori takes a deep breath, stills her fan and closes it as she brings it down. Weili notes the smoothness of the motion, and thinks briefly on how much his sister is growing.
“There are letters. Tsubasa has sent me a poem folded into a lotus flower with a budding branch, the others were much more sedate. I was just puzzling out his meanings and about to compose a response to him when you came in.”
“What was it?”
“Hmmm? Oh, a lament at the harshness of my initial letter warning him to keep to proper traditions in our correspondence, but a belief that we could eventually speak past propriety. It was… heavy-handed? I actually think he’s taking it to be a sly poke at my original heavy-handedness.”
“You think he’s making fun of you?”
“I think he’s critiquing me, with a smile and a laugh.”
Weili takes a moment before responding. “What do we know about this Tsubasa, Kaori?”
Kaori’s fan comes back out, its pattern displayed at her chest and fanning lightly. “I know that he is a man of stature from a neighboring province. He is a fan of the arts, and a friend to Hideki Hensei, a friend of our family. I also know that father has approved of our correspondence. In fact, he had to tell me how it was folded, since of course he read it first.” Weili nods, and Kaori knows that look, her brother is unsatisfied. “What, Brother, are you thinking?”
“I just think we should know more about him, in the interest of propriety. Perhaps I will go politely ask questions of Hideki… tomorrow of course. Or perhaps the day after, Father doesn’t like going out every day. Perhaps it would do for you to come with us, Sister. Weren’t you talking about seeing his gardens?”
“I do not like the feeling that I am now a piece in your schemings, Brother.” Kaori’s eyes narrow over the fan, which has come up to hide the rest of her face.
Weili spreads his hands, palms out, and raises his shoulders. “I have no schemes, just the desire to better know your suitors. Can you blame a brother for that much.”
With a sigh the fan comes down and closes again. “No, I guess I can’t. We’ll see what the weather is like in a couple of days, and I will go with you to speak to Hideki Hensei about his gardens and Tsubasa. But please brother, don’t visit him without me.”
Weili smiles, “Knowing your concerns now, I would never dream of it. I’ll let you compose your letters,” as he nods his head and turns to walk out the door.

Beavers dam the stream
Pools and eddies they live in.
Still the water flows.

Downstream young girls wash clothing
In between a village lives.
~Inaba Kaori

She attaches to it a small porcelain charm in the shape of a mask, and folds it into a sunburst.

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