Posts Tagged poetry

Second Daughter, 9

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.

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“Pilgrims pack their things,
their faith is commendable.
You stay in taverns.

The ivy that grows outside,
Grows strong because of your care.

~Kaori”

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.

~Inaba Kaori”

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?”
Kaori laughs.
“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 what?”
“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.”

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Second Daughter, 4

“Yes, Shinobu, I believe it has. Henghai, you’ve been quiet for much of this visit. Would you grace us then with the first verse?”
“Only if Noboru will grace us with the second and Inaba pays for the tea.” The men smile again. Kaori’s father gestures to the shopkeep and speaks to him softly, yet loud enough to hear. “It seems I have lost this round of exchanges. Would you be so kind as to set us up with a pot of the local tea.”
Hensei aims a question at Huiren, Kaori has seen that look before, and falls prey to the shot before her father can respond.
“The character of a place is in its tea. For art, the best way to capture the essence of place is—” In a flash, Kaori realizes she is lecturing men twice her age on a man’s art. She finishes the thought quickly, “in the drink chosen to accompany the writing.” Changfu tilts his head, but has not stopped smiling at her. Indeed, Changfu, Kaori notices, has not taken his lime green eyes off of her. She is uncertain if her father has noticed his gaze, or the way his eyes clash ever so slightly with the emerald of his clothing, or if Huiren is simply acting as though he has not noticed it. The other men however, strangers to Kaori, shift in their seats. Inappropriate behavior settles awkwardly, an ill-fitting bed sheet for the table. Several fans, variously painted, reveal themselves, their motions blocking sight towards the exchange, but leaving the view open for Hensei to respond. The shopkeep quickly retreats from the table; Hensei turns to the other men. “Her father has taught her so well, she even reminds me of my lectures some time. You are absolutely correct, Miss Inaba. Thank you.” He nods his head to her and she bows slightly. Kaori returns to hiding behind her fan as the conversation swirls around her. Verses fly back and forth between the men, their cadence predictable, their laughter soft, but genuine. Her father and Hensei, knowing her so well, both look at her expectantly every time she has thought up a rejoinder to the current verse, but Kaori does not contribute. She is still too embarrassed.
Instead, Kaori carefully studies the men at the table. Most of their names are long gone, and most of them are subdued, quiet, proper. Their clothing is drab, and like her father’s plain colored in darker shades, simple. Except for Changfu. His clothes are just a couple shades too bright to be proper, and as he shifts, she could swear there was embroidery in it, invisible in this light and likely done with the same color as the rest of the fabric.
“Newly grown grasses cut down.
The oriole cannot blend.”
The verse flies from her like a songbird as soon as the cage is opened. She looks at the one who is writing, Shinobu? But her gaze lingers on Chengfu for a brief moment. He smiles a half-smile, and her father leans in slightly towards the table, interrupting their view of each other. Everyone has turned to Zheng, who has watched and judged the exchanges. “I see, Miss Inaba, that you truly have imbibed the art of this place. The verse is rustic and pointed, but so appropriate I cannot help but say yes.” Kaori bows towards him, and catches a wide smile from her Father while Zheng continues: “Perhaps one day Tsubasa will have a wife make him more appropriate clothing for his travels?”
Changfu smiles, “One day, perhaps when Hideki gets too old to show off his gardens.” The men laugh. The verses continue. Kaori leans back, sipping her tea slowly. She notices the river on one of the screen’s moving, and the elderly woman gets up to leave. Searching her face for any sort of clue as to what transpired, she notices the elder shake her head just slightly, breathing deep as when Kaori is preparing her mind for a new task. Weili and her mother continue sitting at the table, Katai’s fan barely moving. They speak few words to one another, but neither is frowning. In fact the two look enviably calm. Her father apparently sees them as well.
“Well gentlemen, the work is nearly finished, and this old man must go rest his weary bones in his own house. Good health and safe travels unto all of you, it was a pleasure to meet and contribute.” Huiren rises and bows to all of them, as does Kaori. Several of them express their desire to correspond with her Father, to which he agrees with a casual but meaningful “Of course, of course.” Changfu also rises.
“It was also a pleasure to see all of you again. I hope we can meet again soon, perhaps when the roads aren’t slurry and the crossings dangerous? If you will excuse me however, I have other business to attend in town. Thank you all.” Changfu bows to the men in turn, finally bowing to her father and then to Kaori herself. She hides her blush behind the fan; surely she is not worth such recognition? As Changfu exits, Kaori and her father approach the table with her brother and mother. Her father speaks, his voice resonant surrounded by wood and paper.
“Let’s go home.”

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Second Daughter, 1

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.
“Just business?”
“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.
Fallen offerings.
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.

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Second Daughter, Ch. 7, sc. 3; Ch. 8, sc. 1

Kaori grinds the inkstone, sets the papers, and begins writing her letters. The first, she writes to the Governor, as is appropriate:

 “Winter snows cover
A humble garden with ice.
A single shoot sprouts.

The stars are unconcerned,
But the Sun takes interest.
~Inaba Kaori.”

She folds it into the shape of a sunburst, attaches a pressed camellia blossom, and sets it aside. She pulls forth another paper and addresses her second letter to Hideki Hensei.

 “Pilgrims pack their things,
their faith is commendable.
You stay in taverns.

The ivy that grows outside,
Grows strong because of your care.
~Kaori”

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, now that Kimiyasu has reminded 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.
~Inaba Kaori”

She folds 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 would not 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.”

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 excellence, if not beyond. I hope you weren’t too hard on him though?”

Kaori shakes her head. “At least, I don’t think so. I want to continue the conversation. There’s something about him.”

“Mother said his kimono 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 status.”

“As though perhaps he is a little forgetful and left 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?”

Kaori laughs.

“That’s what you like about him though, isn’t it?”

“The off-color kimono?”

“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.

“You’ve cut to the heart of it, yet again, Kimiyasu.” Kaori has not turned back to her.

“I’m sorry, Kaori. I didn’t mean to imply anything. You are young, and an artist, you are not expected to know yourself, you are expect to explore the arts and through them learn of yourself. But everyone likes knowing they aren’t alone.” 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 what?”

“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.

***

“I see you’ve been corresponding with Tsubasa Changfu, Kaori.”

Kaori turns to her Father, standing just outside the circle of branches of the cherry tree that Kaori is sitting under. “We have. It has been… proper, in all things. Several conversations, in fact, about the nature of art and the benefits therein. Tsubasa is a font of contradictions, and I think he does so just to get a rise out of me, but I’ve taken to turning his criticisms aside.” Her fan is quickly working in Kaori’s hand. “Has he written you, Father?”

“He has not.” Huiren looks down as he says this, and Kaori’s fan slows. He looks back up at his daughter, his face is smooth, but his mouth has pulled down and his eyes threaten to start glistening.

“What is it, Father?” Kaori moves to one side to allow Huiren to sit down on the bench.

“The plum tree on the hill has started budding.”

“There is no word from the Matchmaker then?”

“And no word from Tsubasa means…” Huiren cannot finish his thought. Kaori’s fan slowly stills and drops down to her lap, still open. The only sound comes from the wind over the eaves.

“I will be prepared to marry Tsukino Baichang.”

Huiren finally walks over and sits next to his daughter. “That is your final decision?”

“I would bring shame to our family if I didn’t follow tradition. I bring shame to our family by not trusting in your wishes and following them, but no one will know that shame, where everyone will know the shame of not committing to the marriage.”

“You aren’t wrong, daughter. I wish you did not have to shoulder such a burden.”

“I will not be shouldering it alone. Kimiyasu and Weili both choose the same path as I do, and now we will all share the private shame for having disobeyed your wishes. Honestly, I wish this also wasn’t the truth, but I do what I do for our family.”

“Our family… yes.” Huiren looks over the pond, he slaps his sigh. “It is supposed to be my responsibility to take care of and decide what is good for our family. But you are not wrong in feeling that such an obvious breach of tradition would be bad for our family. I only hope that the burden of my shame will not drive us apart.”

“Nothing could drive us apart Father, you raised to believe in harmony and the truth of right action, and that is what we will naturally gravitate to.”

“I certainly hope so. You bring honor to me by following what I have taught you. Perhaps one day the honor you children bring to our household will be enough to overshadow the personal shame the three of you shoulder from disobeying me.”

“I should certainly hope so Father… we are making good progress. You are building a pillar of peace within the valley by marrying my sister… and I… to the Tsukino family. Weili’s marriage will also help the valley to prosper. Oh, and I almost forgot! I received another letter from the Governor today.”

“Oh? Any good news?”

“Not particularly, but I’m pleased that Kimiyasu was right and that he is genuinely interested in corresponding and exchanging verses.”

Huiren smiles. “I am pleased to see you forming connections that are appropriate, but also I am pleased to see you making friends, and that your skill is strong enough to make the Governor forget you’re a woman that is writing to him.”

“I know better than to bring it up. I do find it somewhat annoying that these men see me as childish and naive as to the workings of the world of art.”

“But daughter,” Huiren pulls her close to him in a half-hug, “you are childish.”

Kaori taps her father’s thigh with her fan. “You know what I meant, Father.”

“I do, I only hope you do not hold it against them and try to understand their perspective.”

“I do, Father, I do.”

Kaori and her Father sit on the bench quietly, both enjoying the simple smells of winter, the black waters in the pond contrasting with the warm lacquered wood of the house and the white of the last snow on the shadowed corners of the garden. The soil itself, moist and black from its time sleeping through the winter, is ripe for the work the garden will taken after the Spring festival. Eventually the two of them begin discussing the plans for what Huiren will do with the space after the garden, what flowers he will plant and where, the paths and the borders of herbs and ferns, the beautiful colors when the flowering time comes. Kaori nods, enjoying the time with her Father. Landscape is one of the arts Kaori did not take to, mostly because of the exertion involved, the aesthetics that recalled obscure points in the past, and in truth, everything about it was not something Kaori found easily comprehensible, or even remotely exciting. Slowly, the conversation shifted to the wedding of Kimiyasu and Baichang, and the meeting that would have to take place soon. Here, in the garden, Kaori felt calm at the prospect… She was not certain how she would feel later, but for now, she was calm.

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Second Daughter, Ch. 6, Sc. 2

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.

Finally alone,
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.

Silence.

“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.

“Kaori?”

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.”

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Second Daughter, Ch.1, Sc. 1-2.8

Kaori looks out over the quiet winter courtyard. The lone cherry tree came up near her window, affording her a similar view from her writing desk in the winter as from the stone bench underneath it in the summer. A light slurry dusted the ground of the garden, mixing with the dirt to produce a gray that was slightly more brown than the rest of the black-and-white landscape. Kaori notices that someone, likely her father, has taken the time to rake the snow as one would have done for sand. The whirls of the snow creates pathways that say more about what he would do with the courtyard in the summer than where things were now. Kaori turns back to the writing desk and stared at the blank page in front of her. She knew she could not force the poems to come, but she also knew that if she did not write, she could not give them opportunity to come.

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 out through her window as her brother crosses the courtyard. She waves at him, and he waves back smiling. Kaori brushes off the sand, and quickly folds the poem into a crane. She 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 into almost serious, she pulls the fan from her sash and flutters about to hide the slight smile.

“Inaba Weili. So good of you to come visit me.” Her brother smiles at her formal play.

“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, balanced delicately on the fan.

As Weili takes it, “And so we must fly. Mother wishes us to go with her into town.”

Kaori’s hands drop and with them their playacting. Her shoulders slump and she tucks the fan into her sash, turning towards the standing mirror. “Did she say why?” She looks at both of them in it.

Weili takes the opportunity to tuck some 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 adjust their clothing. Kaori pulls her elaborate sash up slightly from where it has 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 sash and muted clothing contrast with Kaori’s bright patterns and elaborate costume. She pulls her hair upwards and looks at him. Weili goes and rings the bell for a servant to come and assist her.

“Just business?”

“I’m guessing that means business with the weaver, but she was surprisingly vague about it.”

“Mother can be… difficult to read, sometimes. From her time at the provincial court.”

“This was different, she wasn’t just concealed she was… vague?”

“You, brother, will never be a poet if you can’t express these simple thoughts with the appropriate words.” She smiled at him as she said this.

“But that, dear sister,” he opens the letter, “is why I rely on you. I’ll let her know you’re getting ready.” Weili leaves as the servant comes in, tucking the letter and twig into his sash.

****

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 peasents 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 will risk going towards the side of the road so as to let the Inaba trio pass them.

As they walk they pass by a large bowl that has spilled over the cobbled road. On one side of the road a father breates his son for his clumsiness in dropping the bowl, gesturing angrily to the other side of the road and a large, wooden gateway. The archway is painted red, faded and indicates 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.
Fallen offerings.

She tucks the poem away into her mind. 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, even if one wanted to go, so the traffic through the town is peaceful. Kaori prefers it this way, as it allows one 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. 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 an overhanging walkway from which shop owners can call out at those walking down the street. Several are doing that now, but most are simply talking amongst themselves, discussing the latest gossip.

“Did you see that group of strange men at the tea shop?”

“I heard one of them is visiting from a nearby province.”

“Who would visit from that far in this weather?”

“It seems someone with great business to attend to.”

“Junue said they were diplomats, here to arrange for local participation in the war.”

“But, the governor—!”

“Said there would be no war, but how much can the governor guarantee? The war is everywhere now.”

“Almost everywhere.”

A voice calls out to their mother. “Ah, Inaba Katai! Always a pleasure.” The shop owner bows deeply to her.

Katai nods back, “Tenshu Ichigo, I hope the winter is treating you well.”

“As well as it can, please please, come in, we just received a shipment from a neighboring province, with some beautiful fabrics you’ll love.”

“I’m sure, come along Kaori. Weili, will you wait for us here?”

“Of course mother.”

Ichigo turns to Kaori and bows to her as well. She bows slightly back. “Your daughter grows quickly, Inaba Katai. Are we here for her, or for you today?”

“I’m here accompanying my daughter today, Tenshu Ichigo. She said she absolutely needed new clothes for the Spring festival, so I decided to bring her.”

Kaori looks at her mother as Katai pulls out a fan and begins lazily fanning herself. Kaori is well aware that she has said no such thing, but the subtle ease of her mother’s fan makes Kaori think that perhaps there’s a bigger purpose?

“Uh, yes. I heard rumors that some men had come into town and had hoped they would be merchants bringing shipments in.” Kaori is about to say something about the fabrics from the next province over, but quickly realizes that if she is wrong the shopkeep, of all people, would be the first to know. She waits for him to speak as she browses the fabrics near the front inattentively.

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Second Daughter, pt. xviii

Elder sage halo,
black fights with white and loses.
Your beard needs trimming.
Kaori brings the fan up to cover her smile. Hensei catches the movement of the fan out of the corner of his eyes. He picks up his tea as Kage does, and they both sip. So much history in teacups, Kaori thinks, watching the two match each other gesture for gesture, while each one’s eye is fixed onto the table. Hensei catches her watching.
“I feel eyes on me, and cannot help but notice.”
Kaori’s father leans towards her, “Fetch your writing box, and a servant to play the flute.”
Kaori smiles, stands and bows to the two men while backing out of the sitting room. She races back to her room, grabs the writing box and rings the bell. Miruna approaches and sits by the open door. “Grab my flute, Miruna, and come to the sitting room. Art is afoot.” She catches Miruna’s smile as they pass in the threshold, and finds it mirrored.
She bows as she enters, and sits down. The table has been cleared and her father turns to Hensei. “Honored guest, would you grace us with the first verse?”
“Of course dear friend, if Kaori will create the second?” Kaori nods, not looking up, Hensei will wait for her to finish preparing the ink and the paper before he speaks, taking solace in the grinding of the ink stone, the soft music of the flute.

Evening skylarks sing,
branches creaking in the wind.
Too much to enjoy.
~Hensei
Kaori is a little surprised that Hensei would set a season that wasn’t the current one, but she accepts it and continues in form.

Distant mists surround the tea fields.
Tea cup history begins.
~Kaori
Kaori’s father smiles, looks at Hensei.

Pilgrims pack their things
their faith is to be lauded,
I stay in taverns.
~Hensei
Hensei and Kage share a look and a brief chuckle.

Drink brings joy and merriment.
Never finding peace in cups.
~Kage
His daughter jumps to the next verse quickly.

Crying from the loss,
lovers, goodbye, and depart.
New moon rains down stars.
~Kaori
“You’re too serious, Kaori.” Hensei chides. “Beautiful images, but so serious.” The table turns to look at Kage.

He brings the sickle and stubs
of cut paddies, dry, cracked

On a long voyage
to the farthest autumn sea,
So the sun travels.
~Kage
Hensei chuckles again. “We will read this and will easily know who taught whom, won’t we old friend?” Kage smiles.
“A good student takes the work of their mentor and turns it into their own. My daughter is just getting warmed up, but be warned, her lighter notes can be just as cutting as the best of critics.”
“You sound like the voice of experience.”
“Everyone has to learn somehow, no?”

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Second Daughter, pt. xv

Kaori sits down at the writing desk, not bothering to change. Careful of her long sleeves, she mixes the ink in the ink stone, retrieves a dry brush, places the paper with wooden blocks holding one edge down and smoothing it out with another. For now she uses regular writing paper while she works out the shape of her calligraphy and the style of paper she wishes it to have. She knows the poem must do two things: impress the governor and grant a favor. More accurately, Kaori thinks, the poem must impress the governor enough to grant the favor.

There is a knock at the door, Kaori’s candle is less than a finger length lower than where it was when she started. She gets up to answer it and her brother is looking slightly down at her.

“Are you finished?”

“No. I can’t help thinking about what happens if he denies and accepts that I will not be there.”

“You will be here for your sister’s wedding, where you should be anyways, and the family goes on. I know it also means that you will not be a formally recognized poet of the prefecture published in the works ordered by the governor, but you are young enough that there will be other chances. Either way, the family will be here for you.”

Kaori looks hard at her brother. “You aren’t helping. If I fail, life goes on, if I succeed, the family prospers, I prosper. You’re forgetting the fact that I also become more marriageable.”

He smiles at her, tilts his head to the left slightly. A gesture taken into adulthood from when they were children. “You are plenty marriageable enough Kaori, believe me when I tell you that. And keep in mind there is always a state of being too marriageable, so desirous that no man could pay your bride price.”

Kaori breathes in deeply. “I do not know that I will finish by dawn. Please invite the messenger to stay until I have completed my response.” She closes the door. Good practice for when she becomes a wife. This time Kaori changes into simple woolen clothing, suitable for relaxing at her writing desk. She works out several drafts while the sky is still dark; the lights in the house, across the garden, have gone out. There is another knocking at her door.

“Mistress?”

“Yes?”

“I have brought you tea, your favorite mix from your aunt.”

Kaori goes and slides open the door and takes the tray. The servant looks slightly up at her, she is slightly younger than Kaori, and the youngest daughter of their majordomo. “I know you are under a great deal of pressure, mistress. I just wanted to wish you luck.” The servant bows deeply, Kaori stares for a long moment.

“Thank you, Miruna. You’ve just helped me a great deal.” Kaori turns to set the tray by the writing desk, as she pours her tea the door closes behind her. When she sits back down, she begins composing in earnest.

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

Saplings prepare to flower,
As nearby trees prepare fruit.

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Second Daughter, pt. viii

Kaori wakes up surrounded by a long-form poem. The sheets of abandoned verses, some half-written, shift and slide off the bed of rumpled sheets. Yesterday’s clothes mirror the paper as a result of being slept in. She reads through most of what she has written, and finds much of it distasteful. It is too emotional, too direct. The subtlety of her work is gone, and replaced with a vicious knife-edge of anger and betrayal. She uses much of it to stoke the fire in her room, shivering from the cold. The first verse she puts back on her desk. Kaori pulls the bell-string by her bed and a servant kneels by the door, “Yes, mistress?”

“A bath, please.”

“Yes, mistress.” The servant scampers off to retrieve the washing basin, and Kaori sheds the clothes from yesterday as though that will let her shed the events that have happened. Now that she is not blinded by her emotions, she can more accurately direct her anger, focus it into something workable, a piece that is emotional, while still being indirect, subtle. Kaori considers verses while bathing.

White lantern shifting, rippling
black waters casting shadows.

She likes the sound of the second line, but it doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps lightning, instead of shadows?

Oriole singing,
pure white blossoms surround her;
etched in rose wood.

When she has dried off, Kaori adds these verses to the one from last night. If she must begin her life anew, she will begin her poem anew. Now that she knows what is to come, she can be prepared. The servant kneels by the door.

“Mistress? Your mother, she requests your presence for breakfast.”

Kaori nods, and leaves her room. Her mother is already seated at the table. The scent of a jasmine and peach tea comes from the teapot.

“Mother.” Kaori sits down. She does not see her mother’s sadness, it is gone quickly and gracefully in the flourish of a fan.

“Kaori, I apologize for the abruptness of the news I delivered last night. I see that it has upset you. Just know that it is happening, and that I will not bother you with it again until I believe I have found someone suitable.” The muscles in her mother’s face tense into a concerned smile, breaking the mirror-glass mask. “You have every right to disagree with whomever I find in the hopes of finding someone better, Kaori. I can only present to you what I believe will be a loving husband, you must walk into his arms yourself.”

Kaori brings up her fan to cover her face. She is still angry, and will not let her mother see how her words affect her. She brings the fan down and focuses on tea and breakfast. “Thank you, Mother. Is there anything specific for today?”

Kaori’s mother sighs and begins preparing her own plate. “I had thought we could work on your new clothes. The shop brought the cloth over late last night, but you grow so quickly… I will need to take new measurements. We can sew them up together.”

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Second Daughter, pt. vii

“I do so love Auntie’s tea, and it is is good she has much in common with her husband.”

“One day I hope you as well have something in common with your husband.”

Kaori pauses, picks up her tea, drinks. “Is that day soon, Mother?” She hopes the jest is well received.

“I have spoken to the Matchmaker, yes. The same one that found your Uncle, even. You are old enough, experienced enough in the ways of a household, I think it is time that you made someone a lovely wife.”

She sets the cup down. “Oh…” She looks at what little tea is left, overwhelmed by the thought of leaving her household and knowing she has no power to contest this decision. Her eyes shimmer in the candle light, but she notices her cup is almost empty and her mother’s is. “More tea, Mother?”

“Please.” Kaori’s mother waits until she is done pouring, until the tears spill down her face. Her voice is gentle. “I will not let you be married to a bad man, my lovely daughter. It will be hard away from the house, but there are always letters, and festivals and visiting. Soon you will have a family of your own to raise with your husband-to-be. It will get easier my lovely little bird.” Uncharacteristically, Kaori’s mother reaches across the table and holds her daughter’s hand.

Kaori does not know what to think. She has come to love this house, her place in it, helping her mother with the house, serving her father, his rare but extremely rewarding affection. She will miss most his wit and guidance, his insight into the world around him that she has mined so often for her own work. She will miss her mother’s direct instruction; Kaori panics for a moment. She is suddenly incapable of leading a household. What if she forgets something? Even now she can feel everything her mother has taught her slipping out of her mind like tea from a spilled cup. Even now the image is retained for poems. She feels her mother’s hand and looks up at her. The sadness turns to anger. She pulls her hand back, focusing rage to force tears into stop. Kaori sits rigid.

“May I be excused? I have some work to do on a long poem before bed.”

Her mother pulls back, looking down at her tea cup. It is her turn for her eyes to shimmer, briefly, before her face composes itself into a mask she never thought to use with her children. “Of course. I will finish the tea.”

Kaori leaves the sitting room, she does not see the hallway, the lights, the other rooms. She sees the desk in front of her when she finally reaches it, and the cherry tree outside. She uses her tears to grind the ink, though she knows it is bad for the brush, she does not grind much, enough for a first verse.

Small cups fall from hands
fire and water poorly mixed.
Tea spills on long grains.

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