Posts Tagged poem

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, 7

Kaori spends much time sitting in the garden, despite the slush and snow. When it gets too cold or too wet she stares at the cherry tree from her window, wet black boughs against a gray sky. Her writing desk is bare, even though she grinds the ink-stone every time she sits down and then doesn’t use it. It is Kimiyasu who comes to her first, after three days without one of Kaori’s spontaneous poems that the family is grown accustomed to. She next to her on the cold stone bench, wrapping an old quilt around the both of them. It was made for winter, from scraps of wool and silk, its chambers thick to bursting with cotton, the colors all harmoniously arranged so that it spirals gently from a cool green to warm purple. The wind blows the clean scent of icy air and frozen ground around them. For a time, Kimiyasu simply stays inside the blanket close to her sister. Finally, as she can feel the bone-chill of the stone seeping through even the thick quilt, she speaks without looking at her sister.
Sluggish black water,
even fountains flow in circles
outside of winter.”
Kimiyasu waits for a response verse from her sister. With no response other than Kaori’s glance in her direction, Kimiyasu continues: “We’re worried about you, sister.”
“I’m fine.”
Kimiyasu’s fan comes out, the blanket slipping down her shoulder, and points at her sister’s obvious untruth. “I’m not so sure. You spend most of your day out here in the cold, staring at the frozen pond. Mother worries that you’ll get sick if you keep this up for much longer.”
“She gave me a lot to think about, I’m thinking about it.”
“Father didn’t want to give you a choice.” Kaori looks at Kimiyasu, inadvertently pulling the quilt more around herself. “He said that this sort of decision should be theirs to make in your best interest. Having lived through it, Mother argued vehemently that you should be given a choice. Father did not believe you were strong enough.”
“Maybe he was right. I don’t know what to do anymore. Both of my choices are right answers, in a way. But they cannot both be.”
“Why not?”
Kaori looks at her sister before repeating her father’s words. “’The path of virtue is clear to the virtuous.’”
Kimiyasu shakes her head. “That doesn’t say anything about choice. Or what to do when two virtuous options present themselves.”
Kaori’s brow furrows. “No, but that’s what Father always said to me when I had to make choices…”
“Perhaps, then, what you need is a different opinion. Father will not always have the answers. You must learn to interpret the verses for yourself, in the context of your own life, dearest sister. Come let us go to the temple, the changing scenery always helps when I must puzzle out a vexing situation.”
Kaori smiles slightly at Kimiyasu. “I fear I would do much the same thing at the temple as I am doing here, sitting and staring, lost in my own mind. Or worse, distracted by the colors there at this time of year.”
“But there you will have the wisdom of the place and the austerity of the monks to guide you.”
Kaori has no response for her sister’s seemingly infallible logic.
“That settles it then,” Kimiyasu claps her hands and Mikan comes after a short while. “Mikan, have one of the others prepare my cart. Kaori and I are going to visit the temple.”
“Of course. Oh, Kaori.” She looks at the older woman. “Your mother wishes to tell you the fabric has arrived from town.” Kaori nods, and Mikan continues towards the front of the house.
“Sister, I should get to work on the clothing I’m to make, I know—”
“That I mean well?” Kimiyasu sighs. “I think you would try and get distracted, or worse yet, make so many mistakes you’ll ruin the fabric. You need time to still your mind before you begin the project Kaori. Isn’t that what Father always told us? That we should begin our works clear of mind and spirit, that we might give full attention and full… what was it he used to say?”
“The better to give our projects full attention to the spirit of their purpose.” Kaori supplies the missing answer for her sister.
“Yes that, now go, grab your coat, and come with me to the temple. I will not discuss the matter further.” Kimiyasu looks rigidly into the pond. Kaori opens her mouth a few times, and realizing her sister is serious, gets up to go and choose a coat, and possibly do up her hair. For the first time in three days, Kaori’s mind turns to the simplicity of dressing appropriately to go outside and sheds itself of the choice her mother gave her.
Kimiyasu stares at the recently raked furrows in the snows of the garden, subtly reflecting the overcast gray sky, until Mikan comes to tell her the cart is ready.
“Do you think our Father asks too much of Kaori?”
“I would not presume to know Huiren’s actions.”
Kimiyasu looks over at Mikan, one eyebrow delicately raised. “And yet… you refer to him by first name and very obviously have an opinion on the matter, or you would not have been watching from the overhang.”
Mikan nods. “Well of course I do, child. I helped raise the boy. That does not mean that even our families cannot be mysterious, full of hidden depths, or that we do not worry about the well-being of our charges. Just that, as the chick that is stuck in its shell, sometimes we must let things be.”
Kimiyasu nods. “I am too young to ignore my sister’s hardships. But I hope I can help her find her own answers.”
Mikan shuffles towards the doorway that will lead her towards the warmer kitchen, she finishes the conversation over her shoulder. “Then I have raised you to be a good sister.”

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Community Poetry Corner

We’re all laughing. Car full of boys, literally boys, none older than 18. I’m driving them to the carpool for the reading tonight. We’re having a blast. I know these kids. I’m as much as part of this supergroup of kids as you can be at 25. When we get there we have more than enough time to shoot the shit before we have to organize into the cars and head out. There’s precious few drivers, three tonight including me, all together the group ranges from 12-20; I get to ferry everyone to the drop off point. I chose to, I’m not doing anything else and it makes me feel alive to have a community. They call me Charon, but they pronounce it char-ON instead of KAR-on. I’ve given up on correcting them; I’m happy that they know the reference in the first place. I don’t even know what I’m getting myself into.

When we get to the café there’s enough time to order drinks and sit down. The lights dim, spotlight on the stage, and the kids start going up. The happiness and the excitement from when we were dividing into the cars is gone, but the vibrancy of these kids is undimmed. There is no list, no predefined order, they just go up when they know its their turn. They go to the mike and they unburden themselves of their pain, their troubles. The pour themselves out in word and song, rhyme and instrument, rarefied for it. So much pain… I can’t help crying after one particular poem:

And it hurt, and it hurt, and it hurt
until it became math,
until it became
simple subtraction.
Pain became numbers at some point.
It became “I have lost this much.”

The crying is cathartic, helpful. Other go up, and these kids nod and sympathize. The group takes on the burdens of the individual and as a whole purges them. It is beautiful and bittersweet.

My friend comes up to me afterwards, she is the organizer. She is holding a notebook to her chest, the cardboard back covered in pen illustrations. When I ask her about it she tells me they are doodles that she was drawing while the kids performed: an abstraction of their words. The drawings are intricate, detailed, impossible to conceive she could have done them in the span of each performance. I praise her skill and pull out my phone, I’ve made notes of each of the performances, quick typed one-liners to remind me of the pain these kids bear…

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