Posts Tagged art
“I mean it all in good fun,of course. I’ve never had reason to complain about your father’s kindness before… and he’s always paid his taxes.” A smile ghosts across Hensei’s lips before the teacup reaches them. He turns towards Kaori. “What did you think, little songbird?”
“I think I have never truly seen your gardens before Hideki. Truly as though my father’s verses were brought to life by… well life. I am astounded.”
Weili, eager for the subject change, jumps in, “What verse?”
“’War is a demon that steals men’s minds.’ Is it really such a concern that you would have devoted a section to it, what a year ago, two?”
Hensei smiles, but his expression remains serious, his balding pate angled towards her as he studies the tea in his cup. “Two years. And yes. Our mountains defend us, but we are a hardly-accessible border district for some of the year. The earth that cradles us also hinders us.”
“And yet your visitors came from, all over? I did not get to talk to them as my sister did, but my father spoke highly of your work and the attention that it brings.”
“A pity, Weili. Several of them were notable officials in a variety of governments. It would have done well for you to meet them. Not that your sister does not also benefit.”
Kaori nods her head. “Several of them, not all?”
Hideki shakes his head. “Not all, songbird. Two or three of the most recent visitors were old students of my instructor, now teaching their own students. They had several critiques of course.”
Kaori draws back, her fan moving quickly, yet briefly, “I can easily recognize my inability to critique this work, from skill and general knowledge, but even still Hideki, traveling that distance to talk down about something seems… petty.”
Hensei laughs. “Oh dear Kaori, not at all. We must all strive to constantly improve. Besides, many of their critiques were about the distance, and how much easier it would be for me to find a student if I were closer to a major city, not the mayor of a border district.”
“I am at a loss to think of possible improvements.”
“As am I, Hideki. Hopefully Tsubasa was not one full of critiques, he seemed… out of his depth.”
Hensei’s left eyebrow moves upward slightly. “No, he is still young.”
Kaori sees the opening her brother has given and jumps in. “Certainly too young to be a master artist. Unless he was a prodigy.”
“Quite so. Then again, you heard his poetry Kaori, how do you feel about his skill?”
“I am too inexperienced to judge another’s work, I haven’t even traveled.”
“That could be arranged you know. And a life of work does not mean you could not critique someone of roughly equal skill.”
“Would you say we were equal, though he is older?”
“I would say he practices less than you do, he is quite busy.”
Weili takes over to give his sister time to regroup and refocus from Hensei’s deft deflection of their questioning. “Ah, so he was one of the government officials you were speaking of.”
Hensei smiles his teacup balanced on the flattened fingers of one hand. “Oh yes, indeed.”
“For Governor Danning’s court?”
“How young the two of you are, that you assume all government to be from Danning’s court. The Empire holds 57 complete provinces and a number of districts within that.”
“Is not the Danning court far?”
“I would not, having traveled in polite company, place the court far enough to earn a visitor distinction just for traveling through. But no, Tsubasa is a friend from a different court, he traveled here while he was originally under tutelage from Zheng Quishui, now he has taken up post elsewhere, thanks to Zheng. Your father tells me you’ve gotten quite good with a sword, Weili?”
Not wanting her brother to take the bait of boasting about himself, Kaori again takes up the offense, initiating a string of questions that give Weili a chance to sip his tea. The three continue for a few good hours, quips and questions skirting matters of propriety and proper social conduct, while still trying to find as much information as possible. Hideki is an official of the government though, and his skill in this proves an appropriate challenge for the two siblings. By the end of their visit they have learned nothing more than Tsubasa’s artistic studies and lineage of teachers, his presence as a government official who has reason to travel from his home province to Governor Danning’s court, and his rough age. Kaori and Weili are both exhausted, and seeing their state, Hideki feigns a yawn behind his fan.
“How rude of me, children of my friend. It seems the shadows have grown while we’ve talked. Perhaps we could continue this conversation later, I would not wish for the two of you to travel in the darkness?”
Weili nods. “Thank you, Hideki Hensei.” Kaori bows as well.
“Of course, come by more often, my door is always open to the Inaba household.”
“That’s very nice of you Hideki, I may find my way here more often, especially in the new seasons.” The two bow again, and leave.
Hideki’s garden. Past the walls of his house, which is also the government compound, it is the first thing you see. Previously Kaori just assumed that Hideki was simply more attentive to his plants than others. Her father also chose the layout almost a year in advance, which plants would go where, the arrangement of furniture, everything with an eye towards harmony and balance. She had previously half-listened to the principals, but the thought of such strenuous organization had dulled her, and seeing his daughter’s lack of interest, Huiren had not pressed the issue.
Now, knowing the ability of Hideki to bring admirers in the winter, even though it was past the first snow melt, brings her pause in the gateway. She looks around at the curving pathways, snaking through winter greens that were actually a very dark teal, brown woods and bark wet and almost black, around bright red winter flowers and purple-leafed vegetables. All more brilliant against the background of white, powdery snow packed into gullies away from the leafy sections. Archways, carefully covered by wintering vines, segment the garden, that they eye might only be required to take in a little a time. From the gateway, Kaori sees the various segments, each one a different path into the house. Weili has walked forwards a few steps as Kaori takes it in, and realizing she is not following he stops.
“Are you all—” Seeing her expression he does not need to finish his question; instead he grips one hand with the other and stands waiting.
Kaori takes a single step forward. She continuous tracing the path of least visual resistance, following the curve of stone and green arch, gully and fern, plant, decoration and yes, even furniture as she spies the stool hidden near the entrance. Curious she sits in it, and the very scenery suggests something different. In the hiding and revealing of itself, of different accent pieces in how the garden is arranged, Hensei has established a story, and even in this stool, where through one archway a riot of reds across the path from a flood of winter-flower whites, while through the other two simple scenes of almost-black and white, the story tells itself. Perhaps just as stunningly, the layout of the garden allows for easy maintenance as well, the gullies of snow watering and wetting the soils as it melts, the excess funneling into water features; or so Kaori presumes from the gurgling of a brook in the background. She moves off the stool and peers through the archways at the other paths.
In the first a few clusters of stately pink-purple flowers grow, slightly smaller than the one which stands down the path from them, upright and bearing a single flower on its stem in brilliant white against petals of a light green. The path curves out of sight and Kaori moves to the next one, where through the arch are seen pairs of like flowers of different varieties. All throughout Weili waits, the servant who went to inform Hensei of his company returns looking curious. Weili waves him away as Kaori moves to the third archway, then follows her through it. His larger stride crossing the distance quickly, then slowing down as Kaori takes in the vista within.
Highly segregated in the beginning, as the two of them walk through the twists of the path and its gullies, some wild growth from ferns and pollination of the flowers themselves has led to two a less divisive spread as they continue. In some red and white exists on the same side of the path, with one side larger than the other. In other sections a few white flowers stand taller than the mass of red, undone by the closeness of the reds competing for too-scarce resources, where the spread of the white flowers has given them the advantage for growth. The end of the path, a small courtyard with a fire pit, low table and seating, is surrounded with pink flowers. Kaori sinks into one of the cushions as Hensei approaches from inside the house, carrying a tea set.
“Welcome.” He bows to Weili and Kaori, sets three places at the table and sits. Weili follows suit, and Hensei addresses him.
“Your father decided not to come?”
“On the contrary, my father was pulled away by one of our tenants en route here. The snowmelt and mud has caused some problems for their fields, so he wishes father’s leniency with the taxes for the growing season.”
“I’m certain there is enough time left for them to adjust. Your Father is too nice sometimes.”
Weili smiles quickly into his teacup, glancing over at the flowers, and then Kaori before looking back at Hensei.
Sorry for the delay, I’ve decided, in this draft, to change some pretty major things, and this is the divergence point, which naturally required a rewrite. Updates might slow down a bit to once every 2 weeks as I slog through them.
“Pilgrims pack their things,
their faith is commendable.
You stay in taverns.
The ivy that grows outside,
Grows strong because of your care.
She folds Hensei’s letter into a simple, locked triangle. He will recognize it as a mountain fold, and attaches to it a small, shiny pebble with some string. She writes more letters to the others that were present in town that day, after Kimiyasu reminds her. The tenor places her as a demure young girl taking uncertain steps, yet the humor is in the possibility that she knows more. She hopes they will be well received. Finally she writes a letter to Tsubasa Changfu, the last in the list of names from her Father through Kimiyasu.
“A single swan sings,
Praised by the one watching.
Empty sake cups.
Best to speak of what is known,
To those who would listen most.
She folds the letter into a swan, and to it attaches a stick of temple incense. The subtle message shouldn’t scare him off, but perhaps, Kaori hopes, force him to consider whether or not his undue interest in her presents a problem of etiquette. Although… she wouldn’t say he wasn’t handsome…
“Sister?” Kimiyasu enters. “I waited a few minutes after knocking, but you didn’t respond. Are you all right?”
Kaori turns around. “I’m sorry sister, I was writing letters, I didn’t hear you.”
“Shall I go then? I don’t want to interrupt.” Kimiyasu takes stock of the letters, folded and ready to go. She looks at the one that Kaori was tying. “Purity and loneliness? Is that for Tsubasa Changfu?”
“Is it too obvious?”
“From what Father said of the way he behaved towards you? Not at all. I think you’ve done…” Kimiyasu stops herself from saying surprisingly, “Well.”
“I would hope for excellent. I was unsure if Father had noticed or not, but since he did not respond as I expected, I presumed he hadn’t.”
Kimiyasu smiles at her sister. “We all hope for excellent, and since the only thing I have to go by doesn’t include the verses within, I’m certain you’ve managed to reach it, if not beyond. I hope you weren’t too hard on him though? Certainly the beginning of a correspondence is also the hardest. You want to make sure he is not chastised into sending you letters through our Father.”
Kaori shakes her head. “At least, I don’t believe so. I would certainly hope he doesn’t scare easy, but I have a feeling there’s more steel underneath the silk than Father and I perhaps give him credit for. There’s something about him.”
“Mother said his clothing was off color?”
Kaori pulls back just a touch and squints at her sister. “I didn’t think mother had noticed.” She tilts her head. “Which is silly really, when has Mother not noticed someone’s clothing? It wasn’t upsettingly off, just a couple of shades too light to be appropriate for the season, or his station.”
“As though perhaps he is a little forgetful and left it to bleach in the sun last summer?”
“As though he does not have a wife to choose the correct colors and fashion something for him on a regular basis.”
“How is that different from what I said?”
“That’s what you like about him though, isn’t it?”
“The off-color clothing?”
“The fact that he’s not certain about how to belong.”
Kaori turns back to her writing desk. Sometimes her sister’s wit can be a little too sharp, too quick. If words were swords, Kaori was certain Kimiyasu would give her Father a fair challenge.
“That was sharp, sister. You’ve cut to the heart of it.” Kaori has not turned back to her.
“I’m not sorry, Kaori. It is good that you are finding an attraction in your memories of him especially if… but be careful not to… well, you do have a tendancy to over-dramatize things, little sister.”
“I do not.” Kaori responds, her bottom lip jutting out as she fires the comment back over her shoulder.
“I did not say it was a fault. Just something to be aware of. If Tsubasa is to be a candidate for marriage, then it is good that you are discovering feelings for him. But potential and action are as yet very separate, and you must be prepared for either eventuality. At any rate, you are young and an artist, you are not expected to know yourself, you are expected to explore the arts and through them learn of yourself. But everyone likes knowing they aren’t alone, either in their manner of appreicating off-color clothing, or in their feelings.” There is a pause, filled with the evening notes of songbirds. “Shall I take these to be delivered through post?”
“If you would be so kind, Kimiyasu. I should get ready for dinner. Thank you, sister.”
“For reminding me of these letters, for these illuminating conversations of ours. For being my sister.”
“Your welcome, Kaori. And thank you for much of the same.” Kimiyasu leaves, carrying the seven letters with her.
After she leaves Kaori has time to stop and listen to the songbirds. She wonders about Tsubasa, about what her sister has said. She cannot deny that her heart beats ever-so-slightly faster when she sees him, or that she is excited to know his response; to correspond with him. However… Kimiyasu is right, and for a brief moment, the crushing weight of being a concubine bears down on her and forces her to sit back in her chair. What would she do? How would she help her sister? Would she still have time for art? Kaori shakes her head and grinds more of the inkstone with a little less water. She changes her brush for something thicker and begins putting it to the paper, outlining mountains and rivers in weighty, bold lines. She knows it should be lighter, even just a touch, but the goal is to bring her peace, to bring her the stability and solidarity of this mountain valley. Soon she is adding the colors, the greens of grass and pink of flowers. Along the sky she writes a simple poem:
“Soft, loamy, clay riverbed,
Only finite streams can join.”
Kaori stares at the paper, still wet and heavy. In the morning, when it is dry, Kaori takes the picture and rolls it up. Tying it shut with another piece of paper, she places it gently into the embers in the fireplace, and with her fan, relights it. She can hear her Father’s voice from the first time her showed her this:
“This is how I am strong, Kaori: I learned to burn away my weakness.”
Being the final draft, before publication. Feel free to comment with helpful criticism, and keep an eye out for something to buy just in time for Christmas.
Kaori looks up from her writing desk at the winter garden. A single black bough frames the top of the window, with a dusting of light gray slurry raked into whorls and furrows away from the paths. There are no plants growing now, her father does not believe in fostering winter growths. But Kaori can still see the etchings of future designs in that snow, a whorl where he would plant a statement, furrows around it indicating the accent pieces like clever turn-of-phrase in one of their poems. She sighs, and looks back at the blank paper before her, brush dripping ink back into the bowl.
She knows she cannot force the poems to come, but lack of inspiration is no excuse for lack of practice. Besides, her father’s words ring through her concentration, “Art is gardening, if you do not give the words the chance, they will never grow.” She wets the brush again, making sure the ink is even, and sets it to the paper. The words come as bold brush strokes, soft edged but steely-cored. A verbal riposte to the cold of winter and good common sense.
Frozen pond hides carp
sludging through frigid water.
Spring sap through the trees.
Waiting for spring festivals,
Ferns gather strength from each other.
Pouring sand over it, Kaori looks up as her brother crosses the courtyard. She waves at him, and he waves back. Kaori brushes the sand away and quickly folds the poem into a crane, then goes over to her curio cabinet and grabs a small twig with two buds coming off of it. She is tying the twig to the crane when the knock comes. Kaori opens the door, composing her face, she pulls the fan from her sash, the one painted with two colorful fighting fish and flutters it about to hide the slight smile.
“Inaba Weili. So good of you to come visit me.” Her brother smiles at her formality. It fades as quickly as her fan flutters.
“Inaba Kaori. I wish I was here on pleasant matters.”
Kaori’s fan slows and her eyes narrow. “I wrote you a letter.” She presents the letter with a flourish, the crane now delicately balanced on the fan. The thought of how many nights she spent practicing comes without hesitation. The time it took to get the point where the motion is reflex stings with promise of other arts she could have practiced instead.
As Weili takes the crane: “And so we must fly. Mother wishes us to go with her into town.”
Kaori’s hands drop with her playacting. Her shoulders slump and she tucks the fan into the sash along her waist, turning towards the standing mirror. “Did she say why?” She looks at both of them through it.
Weili takes the opportunity to tuck a stray hair back behind his ear, clearing his sharp, but still soft, features and removing a barely visible irritating black line from his vision. “She says she has business.”
The two of them take the time for minor adjustments to their clothing. Kaori pulls her elaborate sash up slightly from where it slid, and secures it even more tightly. Her brother runs his hands along the edges of the deep-V of his own outerwear, pulling them more slightly closed, briefly obscuring their house symbol. His much simpler cream-colored sash and muted olive clothing contrast with Kaori’s bright white snow-flower patterns and elaborate five-piece outfit. She pulls her hair upwards and looks at him, urging him to action. Weili goes and rings the bell for a servant to come and assist her.
“I’m guessing that means business with the weaver, but she was surprisingly vague about it.”
“You know how she is, especially after her time at the provincial court.”
“Yes, dear sister, I’m well aware of our mother’s quirks. This was different though, she wasn’t concealing but she was still… vague?”
“You, brother, will never be a poet if you can’t express these simple thoughts with the appropriate words.” She smiles at him as she says this.
“But that, Kaori,” he unfolds the crane, taking care not to rip the delicate wings, “is why I rely on you. I’ll let her know you’re getting ready.” Weili turns, reading as the servant comes in. He folds the letter in quarters and tucks it, and the twig, into his sash.
Within the hour, Kaori, Weili and their mother walk down the country road towards the village. They keep to the drier areas in the middle of the road, where much of the snow has melted in the sunlight and run off down the sides. Occasionally the three of them must step to the side of the road along a dry patch as peasants driving heavy loads pass them by along the cobbles. They bow profusely and thank them graciously for allowing them to pass, while Kaori’s mother and Weili nod their heads. Kaori keeps her face behind a parasol, fan, or simply staring at the ground. The lighter carts that can, risk going towards the side of the road so as to let this portion of the Inaba family pass them.
As they walk they pass by a large urn that has spilled over the cobbled road. On one side of the road a father berates his son for his clumsiness in dropping the urn, gesturing angrily to the other side of the road and a large, wooden gateway. The archway is painted in fading red, indicating a temple, but the grounds are surrounded by cypress trees and difficult to see from the road. Kaori tilts her head.
A single white line
in a network of black cracks.
She releases the poem from her mind, an offering to the temple in place of the spilled rice; she hopes the spirits will accept. Soon the trio approach the nearby town. Not many merchants filter through the gates today. Several nearby areas are still inaccessible due to the snow and rain, so the traffic through the town is peaceful. Kaori prefers it this way, as it allows her and her family to really engage with the shop owners and the people who live here. In the spring and summer, the town becomes a mad house so dense it is almost impossible to push through the crowds in the street, let alone have a leisurely conversation. In the autumn, women send the men to deal with the town as everyone prepares themselves for the coming winter snows. The simple wooden buildings feature a raised walkway from which shop owners can call out at those walking down the street. Several are doing that now, but most are simply talking among themselves, discussing the latest gossip.
The family is sitting down together. Dinner has just passed, and tea is almost finished. Kaori’s sister turns to her.
“Sister, will you dance for us?”
Katai nods, as does Huiren. “It will be good for you. We know the Governor’s decision was hard on you, this will be a good distraction. Go on.”
Her sister jumps in, “Yes, and I will play for you.” She claps, and a servant comes by. Kaori thinks. It has been most of the day that she has been thinking about the Governor’s letter. About her failure. About her brother’s gambling, how dare he! It takes her mind a long moment to switch tracks, to think about dances, about stories, about artwork. Kaori realizes everyone is looking at her. Except her brother. He has not stopped looking at the table since dinner began.
“Play… play The Lone Swan.” Katai and Huiren glance at one another. Kaori’s sister stiffens.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Yes I am. Play the song.”
Kaori rises and moves towards the side of the room, where there is more space. She closes her eyes. Her sister plays the first few notes. She focuses on them, clings onto them. Her father did not raise her to get distracted by the everyday, he raised her to achieve selflessness through artwork. To contribute and produce and change the world. Kaori knows she cannot do that if she cannot forget herself in her artwork. She takes a deep breath, centering and calming herself. The movements begin, almost of their own accord. She feels them, really feels them with everything she has. She does not let herself think, she only lets herself move and hear. She is to become the music, and in becoming that, tell the story of the Lone Swan. After only a few bars there is no more Kaori, only The Lone Swan.
Once, there was a swan
Who traveled with his own flock
And yet was alone.
The swan cried out to the moon,
Why must I be so lonely?
The moon heard the swan,
Lighting a path in the dark
The swan was led away.
Soon, there was no one nearby
Only wind, and wood, and moon.
The swan sang out in the dark
But no one could hear.
The moon turned its face from swan
The wind dies and the wood rots
In his loneliness
The swan does not hear approach
An old and great man.
Why do you sing so loudly?
No one has come to hear you.
I sing to find my way home…
The dance ends. Kaori’s outstretched hand falls back into her now seated lap. Kaori realizes that her sister has cried throughout the whole dance, and played without missing a note, as far as Kaori could tell. Even her father’s eyes are glistening. Weili is no longer in the room.
“It pleases me that both my daughters have such dedication to art. Now go. Your mother and I have much to discuss. Kaori.”
“Yes?” Her voice is as though she has just woken up, raspy and strange.
“Go apologize to your brother.”
Kaori bows instead of trusting her voice, and leaves the room. She walks down the hall, taking the time alone to clear her throat. Her brother’s room is only one on this side of the house with the light on currently. She knocks politely.
Weili opens the door. His eyes are red, but dry. “Yes?”
“I came to apologize. I don’t hate you, Brother. I know you did what you thought was best. I’m just…” Kaori has time to realize that there is a waterfall ahead of her, and then she is cast off. “I’m tired of not being recognized, of not having strangers praise my work. To have the Governor do that was a thrill I didn’t even know I wanted. More importantly though, it was terribly improper of me. The point of my work should be the finding of myself, the finding of my way, not the praise of my peers or even of strangers. You acted within that knowledge, and have proved yourself to be the superior person. I should not hold that against you, or imply my displeasure.” She falls before her brother, bowing deeply to him.
“I had hoped your art would be sufficient to bring honor to our family.” Kaori flinches as though he’s kicked her in the ribs. “But it would seem I too, lost sight of your art’s purpose.” He bends down and picks her up. “It is I who should be apologizing, dearest sister.” He smiles at her. “Can you forgive me, Kaori?”
“Of course, Weili.” He places a hand on her shoulder and smiles warmly at her. Standing like that for a few moments longer, Kaori finally nods her head, and turns to go back to her room.
Several strides down the hall, Kaori turns to look at him.
“One day, you will be the most famous poet in all the land.”
“One day,” Kaori responds, “I will find myself in one of my poems, and be completed.”