Two years ago this November Marge Chester died. The night before she did, she called to discuss this last episode of what was to become “The Nightingale’s Song”. She said these words of Lord Nyo, ‘this grieving ugly warrior’, had made her cry. She followed the series of poems and had ‘become close’ to Lord Nyo and his transformation, his struggle to change in thinking and behavior. Marge was a friend for over 24 years, the mate of my cousin Bobby who also died. I couldn’t have had a better and kinder friend. She was the strongest woman I have known. This end espisode is dedicated to Marge.
Perhaps a strong man
Should not offer love without
Having love returned
But this grieving ugly warrior
Still finds his love is growing
Lord Nyo stunk with the blood of battle
As his bow and swords cut a swath
Through men in service to another,
When the battle horns went silent,
With tattered banners like defeated clouds
Limp over the field,
Acrid smoke stained everything
And the piteous cries of the dying
Echoed in his ears.
He wondered if his life would end here.
But the gods he didn’t believe in
Were mercifulHe lived,
And his thoughts turned from fierce, ugly warriors
Towards home and a baby.
It took a month
For Lord Nyo to lead his remaining men,
Battle-weary and maimed
Some not destined for further life,
But to die in the arms of women
In the shade of Gassan mountain.
No shame in this,
They had fought like devils
And only their daimyos
Could claim ‘victory’.
Lord Nyo pushed himself,
His aging war horse,
Only stopping to bathe
Once in a cold mountain stream,
To wash the dust of battle
From his eyes,
The soot of many fires from his face.
He still looked like a ghoul,
would frighten any baby.
Finally he came through the wicket gate
Of his house,
Saw the assembly of servants, women
And Lady Nyo on the veranda,
All bowing to the ground
In honor of their lord,
Though Lady Nyo held his new son
Like a Madonna before her,
And Lord Nyo, ugly, old warrior that he was,
Felt the sting of a woman’s tears fill his eyes.
He bowed to his wife,
A deep, respectful bow,
And went to view his son
In the arms of his lady.
His son was blowing bubbles,
Cooing like a turtle dove
But when he saw his father,
His leather armor and helmet still on his head,
His eyes widened in fright
Then shut tight
As he howled like a dog
Greeting the full Moon!
The women all shuddered!
What a greeting to a new father,
And what would their lord do?
Lord Nyo narrowed his eyes,
Threw back his head
And gave a great howl of his own.
Tsuki stopping in mid-yowl,
Staring at this leather-clad stranger
Who would dare howl louder than he!
It was not seemly
For a great warrior,
Just back from a long battle
To show such interest in a child,
But Lord Nyo put all that aside.
A tender nature came forth
And no one would laugh or smirk,
For he was a new father,
Though an aged one,
And would by rights,
Enjoy his only son.
He fashioned leather balls
To roll under bamboo blinds
To entice Tsuki
Like a kitten to chase,
even poked a small hole in the shoji
Of his lady’s rooms so he could watch
Unknown (he thought)
Of the servants and even his wife,
But all knew and whispered
Behind their sleeves
And noted his curious love.
No one thought the lesser of him for doing this.
Lord Nyo made
By his own hand
A tiny catalpa-wood bow,
With tinier arrows,
Fitted with feathers from a hummingbird
And arrow heads of small bone,
Something to shoot at birds,
Or perhaps cats,
But Tsuki only gnawed on the gleaming wood,
His teeth coming in,
And all he could reach
Was his personal chew-toy.
One day soon after his return,
Lord Nyo peered through the shoji,
Watched the old nurse bathe his son
When Tsuki climbed from his bath
And started to cross the tatami mat.
Lord Nyo saw the tail,
And almost tearing the shoji off its tracks,
Stormed into the room.
What little devil have your spawned!
What malevolent kami have you lain with!”
Lady Nyo, writing a poem in her journal
Rose quickly from her low table
And rushed into the room.
I am told this little tail
Will disappear in time.
It marks our son for now
As a gift of the gods.
This little vestigial tail
Portends great deeds to be done
By our Tsuki.”
The old nurse shrunk back,
Well familiar with the temper
Of her lord,
Praying at this moment
For the kindness of a stray kami
To turn her into a bar of soap.
Tsuki, for his part
Saw his father
And with a great squeal of joy
Crawled as fast as his fat little legs couldcarry him,
His tail a propeller going round and round
Not at all helping the situation.
Lord Nyo staggered back against the shoji
Ripping even more of the delicate rice paper
And the frame asunder.
Lady Nyo rushed to pick Tsuki up,
Wrapping him and his offending tail
In the long sleeve of her kimono,
Holding him to her breast
But Tsuki wanted his father
And cried, “Baba, Baba!”
With a piteous tone,
Not knowing the proper name for Father,
As the nurse rolled her eyes
Cowering behind her lady,
Wondering if this ugly, old warrior
Had lost his wits in battle.
We know Tsuki was a gift of the gods,
Or at least Tsukiyomi,
The god of the Moon.
When Tsuki was in his basket
And the moon was full,
Lady Nyo and her old nurse
Placed small lanterns around his cradle,
To lessen the glow of her son,
As he slept in the moonlight.
It was unearthly how much Tsuki gleamed at night
But how pale tofu-colored he appeared during the day.
One night of the full Moon,
Lord Nyo lay besides his wife
And was awakened by Tsuki gurgling
From his basket.
His son talking to the
Moonbeams which danced into the room
From the high window above his cradle.
The small-wicked lanterns had burned out
And the moon and the moon child
Brightened the room.
Lord Nyo watched his son weave strands of moonbeam
With his feet, cooing and laughing,
Clear crystal ribbons of light floating
Out the window
And up to the moon.
He saw the benevolent face of Tsukiyomi above,
Looking with obvious love at his son.
Lord Nyo felt the weariness of years fall away;
Felt tender love for this Moon-child,
And yes, both of them blessed by the changeable gods,
A gift for an ugly, old warrior
A gift of life in the midst of such death,
A gift for the remaining years of his life.
Copyrighted, 2012, 2013
Tags: 'The Nightingale's Song', end episode of the series, Jane Kohut-Bartels, Japanese samurai culture in the 17th century, Lady Nyo, Lord Nyo, magic, Marge Chester, poetry, to be published in Australia early 2014, Tsuki