Ono no Komachi, Call and Answer.

February 22, 2021

Ono no Komachi, Call and Answer.

February 22, 2021

These answered poems are just a part of a larger collection. I learned so much from this 10th century Japanese poet….one of the Immortal 100.

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

…..Komachi

How long will it last?

I know not his hidden heart.

This morning my thoughts

Are as tangled as my hair.

My blushes turn my face dark.”

……Lady Nyo (from “Kimono”, work in progress…)

When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

……Komachi

No moon tonight

Only a cold wind visits.

Murasaki robe

Stained the color of grass

Invisible on this earth.

……Lady Nyo   (Murasaki is the color purple.  it is also a grass that has dark lavender tops.  It was used as a dye.)

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

……Komachi

Come to me, my man,

Part the blinds, come into my arms,

Snuggle against my warm breast

Let my belly

Warm your dreams.

…..Lady Nyo

One of her most famous poems:

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

…..Komachi

When my need denied

Burns my breasts-torments me

I tear open robes

To lie naked in moonlight

The wind your hands, caressing

……Lady Nyo

A Fortunate Fate

February 20, 2021

A FORTUNATE FATE

   Hana Tanaka was seventeen years old, a courtesan in old Edo. When she appeared in public, men’s eyes turned like sunflowers to her sun.

   Lovely Hana had bones of melted butter and skin shaped from powder.  She was a creature so luminous a flower of purest jade could not compare. When she rose from a nap, wearing a simple gauze robe, free of paint and perfumes, she was a vision of culture and desire.  Her laugh was a tinkling bell, her hair of bo silk, her movements like cool water.

   One day during cherry blossom time, she was entertaining, her robes folded open like gossamer wings, her rouged nipples admired by another. A young daimyo was admitted to her rooms by mistake.  This new lover was so angered he cut off the head of his rival with his long sword in one swift blow.

   Hana knelt before him, head down, exposing her swan neck, awaiting death.  Seeing her trembling fragility, her obedient meekness, he could not take her life and disappeared to write some bad verse.

   She became known as “The Immortal Flower”, a courtesan of first rank. She prospered and grew fat.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008, 2021

A Winter Prayer

February 18, 2021

A Winter Prayer

February 18, 2021

A Winter Prayer

Snowfall on trees

(Snowfall in Atlanta)

O, Mysterium Tremendum!

Winter’s palette stark, unadorned

Devoid of the juiciness of Summer,

The prismatic beauty of Fall

Yet still, the perfect backdrop

For cardinals, nandina berries,

The holly and the evergreens.

We rejoice in Nature’s gifts

Of silence, stillness

When Earth has tucked in,

Burrowed down with pallid

Earthworms and things

That survive underground.

Above, mystical, blurred

A sudden snow storm has

Softened the brittle edges of vision

And brought about a mystery

This season only provides.

The flash of a cardinal

A blood-red streak in the sky,

The heart lifts and follows.

Nandina berries have changed

From orange of autumn

To brilliant Christmas red

When all humanity watches

For the return of the Sun and

The lengthening of days.

O, Overwhelming Mystery,

Tucked in your bosom

With faith we will survive

The winter storms,

The howling winds

The hoarfrost,

The biting cold,

The darkness lasting too long,

The haunts in the attics

Shivering in hambone frenzy–

The wolves at the door.

The Earth will turn again

To be warmed by a new season.

For now we are grateful

For the gifts of silence and stillness

This season demands.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

A tanka…

February 14, 2021

A tanka…

February 14, 2021

Autumn wind startles–
lowered to an ominous key

Ah! Mournful sounds!
The fat mountain deer listen,
add their bellowing sorrow.

May be art of nature and tree

rom the novel, “The Kimono”, 2018, Amazon.

“The Kimono” chapter 38

February 14, 2021

“The Kimono” chapter 38

February 14, 2021
S

ince the threat of the namanari, Lady Nyo and Mari did not wander far from the temple grounds. After surveilling the skies and surrounding forest for some time, they finally decided she probably wouldn’t return. The namanari had no reason to do so, unless one of the temple priests had abandoned her. Lady Nyo was of the same mind and said that this abandonment was not such a rare occurrence. It must get lonely in these mountains, thought Mari. The priests were men and celibacy was not demanded of them.

Mari and Lady Nyo had their tea on a low rock wall surrounding the front of the temple. From there, they looked out over the valley and saw waterfalls in the distance. They scanned the hills and mountains in the distance. Autumn had arrived with winds whistling down the mountain carrying the sound of bellowing deer. Mari thought of a poem she had read:

Autumn wind startles–
lowered to an ominous key

Ah! Mournful sounds!
The fat mountain deer listen,
add their bellowing sorrow.

No, she hadn’t read this poem. She had recited this poem to Lord Tetsu one night when he challenged her with his own verse. How strange that now this poem would return in her thoughts. She had forgotten so much of that time with Lord Tetsu but she did remember some of the verse she had struggled to compose.

When they walked through the temple entrance, Lady Nyo clung to her. Mari thought it was because her broken arm had thrown her off balance. Soon, though, she realized Lady Nyo was clinging to her because of fear. She feared the namanari coming back or maybe an even worse monster. It took days for Lady Nyo to calm down.

At dusk, they sat in the entrance of the temple, in the alcove where travelers would seek cover when the rains swept the valley. The walls of the alcove were of polished wood, dark, scented with oil. They had a little wooden table, nothing elegant or finely made, more a stool for their tea with two cushions for them to kneel upon. The priests did everything in their power to make them comfortable but having women in the temple disturbed them. The women were aliens to their life. These men would not approach them. Only the head priest, an ancient and wizened old man, would speak to them and enquire as to their comfort.

The darkness of the mountains was peppered by the light of the moon and the stars. Lady Nyo insisted they go back to their room and prepare for the night. Her superstitions were even more pronounced at nightfall. This was the time when evil spirits, ghosts and ghouls walked the earth, looking for innocents to sink their claws into. Lady Nyo had a rosary. When night fell, she would whisper sutras for protection.

The next morning, a heavy fog rolled up from the valley. It swirled like smoke around the temple. Lady Nyo didn’t like it and she was sure that there were all sorts of invisible yokai creeping up under the cover of the fog, but Mari was enchanted by the soft glazing on the trees. The valley had disappeared, filled with the fog, like a magic kingdom in a fairytale.

When Lady Nyo settled next to Mari, she asked her a question. “Forgive me, my lady,” whispered Lady Nyo. “I heard Lord Tetsu refer to you as ‘Mari-who-is-Married.’ I wasn’t supposed to hear this, I am sure, for my dear husband has never mentioned this to me, but were you married?”

Mari thought of how she should answer. The truth was best. “Yes, Hana, I was married before. I left my husband.”

“I ask, my lady, because there was much gossip in the castle when you appeared and then later.” Lady Nyo looked down at her hand in her lap. She appeared embarrassed even asking such a thing. “Our Lord Tetsu threatened the women who were gossiping that if they didn’t stop, he would start taking heads. Of course, the gossip stopped, but it is rather unfair, don’t you think? We have nothing much to do and, in any case, gossip is deep in our nature.” Lady Nyo played with the hems of her sleeves and avoided looking at Mari.

Mari laughed. She had experienced the days and weeks dominated by that old crow, Lady Idu. Gossip was one of the few things that broke up the monotony of their days. “I am sure Lord Tetsu wouldn’t have taken heads, Hana. He doesn’t strike me as such a barbarian.”

Lady Nyo still looked worried. “No, perhaps not a barbarian, but he is a man and accustomed to being obeyed.” She spoke again in a whisper. “My lord tells me of a time when Lord Tetsu cut a man down before him. Took his sword and sliced him in two. It shocked us women because we were there behind the screens.”

While Mari digested this bit of history, Lady Nyo adjusted her kimono over her legs and fiddled with the hems. “But as to what we were discussing before, my lady? It is no sin for a man to take another’s wife. If the wife is willing, there is no obstacle in the doing. Even emperors can steal their brother’s wives and make them wives or mistresses. There is no shame in this.”

Mari thought of the vast differences in their times and culture. In her century, such behavior would cause an uproar. Lawyers, reporters, all the hounds of hell would be on the chase.

“I guess the main topic of gossip came down to who was the father of my baby?”

“Oh, my lady! I didn’t mean to pry.”

The hell you didn’t, thought Mari. However, it was a natural question and of great importance to someone. “My husband was the father of my baby, Hana. He didn’t want children and probably never would. He tried to make me have an abortion. I refused and ran away.” You could never guess how far I’ve run, thought Mari.

“Oh! I understand. Here, if you don’t want a baby, when it’s born, the midwife will take a long needle and push it into the back of the baby’s skull at birth. Then they are either buried or burned on a pyre.”

This shocked Mari into silence. Is abortion in my century any more humane?

During their morning tea, Mari spied a man walking up the path. Even at this distance, there was something familiar about him. Then she knew. It was Lord Yoki. That very strange bird. He looked like a court official, dressed in an elegant robe with the sleeves pulled back to show the silk embroidery of the lining. Mari snorted with disdain at his vanity.

He wore a high stiff cap on the top of his head, with strings tied under his chin. The closer he came, the more Mari was convinced it was Lord Yoki. His nose gave it away. It might appear normal to some, especially men who drank too much sake, but it was clearly the nose of a Tengu. Long and red.

 He had thrown a glamour of magic over his form. Only where his sandals peeked from beneath his long robes could one tell that his magic hadn’t worked completely. His feet were still bird claws, the nails curving to the ground.

“Who is it, Mari?” asked Lady Nyo, agitated and fearful.

“Oh, Hana! I believe it to be Lord Yoki. Do you not see the telltale signs?”

Mari had expected him, the sooner the better. She wanted to thank him for the feather and the flight, but she also wanted more than that. Seeking the protection of a Tengu was not a bad idea. He had his own forms of magic. This was comforting. And he was the only one around who had at least some understanding of her century. There was a bond between them, beyond magic. He was the only “real” creature in her very long dream. Most of all, she wanted news of Lord Tetsu. Her appearance at the temple would evoke strong emotions, even from a man who put on a poker face. Would Lord Tetsu want her back in his life? Whatever he wants, she was here and would probably never return home. This could be her home, a new start in a strange land. Whether she would be alone or not was something she couldn’t answer but she was hopeful that something could be salvaged from their former relationship.

The two women watched as the man made his way up the steep path, leaning on a heavy staff. Faced with each other, they bowed. Mari could see the glamour didn’t take with his hair, either. Instead of being jet black, his hair was iridescent. The colors of the spectrum streamed forth and dissolved into feathers if one looked long enough.

Mari smiled. The first time she met Lord Yoki was after the séance at Miyo’s when she was walking home. Sitting on a wire, under a street lamp, was a large bird. He barked at her to go home and get out of the cold. His feathers shone like jewels from Solomon’s mines.

The glamour was fading and Lord Yoki appeared in more of his Tengu features. The feathers in his ears stuck out under his hat, his nose became redder, bending downwards, more beak-like. Mari saw bird feathers at his ankles. She couldn’t be more pleased at his sudden appearance on the path, feathers or not.

“My ladies, how fortunate to find you this morning in my rambles around the mountain. I see, Lady Nyo, your arm is recovering. Are you in much pain?” He looked like a hungry bird of prey as he addressed plump Lady Nyo.

Lady Nyo finally recognized Lord Yoki and again bowed to him. “Thank you, my lord, it is a great honor to have you join us. This temple is so isolated, never yet a visitor and there is little to occupy our hours.”

“And the Lady Mari? I see you have arrived safely.”

“Yes, Lord Yoki,” said Mari with some surprise. “Perhaps you will accompany us on our walks?”

“I would be most pleased to do so. The season is lovely and the views from here enchanting.” He waved his hand about. There were several rings on his fingers. Even in the wispy fog, they sparkled like stars.

 “May I attend you, my Lady Nyo, should you have great pain? I have remedies for pain and other discomforts. I would be honored to attend to you, if you wish.”

Lady Nyo bowed to him. Would she want to be nursed by a Tengu? Would that mean she was embroiled, at least on some level, with demons? What would Buddha do? What would Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, do? But the pain was unrelenting and she had been unable to sleep soundly. It showed in her face. Dark circles beneath her pretty eyes. Oh, her husband would put her aside to see her like this! “Please excuse me, Lord Yoki. I am feeling weak this morning and would like to withdraw. I will be fine, Mari. My servant will be there for me. Enjoy your morning. I am sure that you will be safe with our Lord Yoki in attendance.”

Mari thought this rather sly of Lady Nyo. Of course, they both knew the possibilities of gossip but there were no people around so it was not a sin…yet. Mari laughed to herself. She must do more study of the men of this climate and century. It might be a matter of keeping one’s head.

Lord Yoki walked Lady Nyo up the path to the temple porch. She was met by her servant who quickly disappeared into the darkness of the hall.

“So, you made it,” said Lord Yoki.

Mari laughed. “Obviously. But I am not sure this isn’t still a very long and epic dream.”

“Oh, it is real enough, my girl. You will find there are things not so different from your own century and you will find things totally alien, too. But tell me, you have broken with your husband?”

Mari thought this a fair question. “Yes, Lord Yoki. I am divorced. I am free of our marriage.”

Lord Yoki sat down on a rock, propping his chin on his staff. “And you are about to step into another mess?”

Mari was a bit annoyed at his questions. What other reason would she come back to this century if not for Lord Tetsu? This was her reason, if she would be so honest. “I don’t know about stepping into another mess, Lord Yoki. I hope to find a life here and to start over again, without my previous entanglements.”

“Oh, don’t get rattled, girl. I am only curious. As a samurai and daimyo, Lord Tetsu is a handful. Have you any idea what awaits?”

Mari thought about what might happen. Of course, she thought more of the man and not so much of his position or his responsibilities. This was probably nothing she could share in. Shaking her head, Mari realized that she knew almost nothing about the role of a daimyo. Those meetings with Lord Tokugawa and Lord Tetsu gave her a taste of what two powerful men could concoct, how they behaved as polished barbarians and how the presence of women in this century meant little in the toll of things.

“You will have to learn quickly, girl.” Lord Yoki laughed and then snorted. “You are going to need friends.”

“Oh, Lord Yoki, certainly you are not going to fly away and leave me to make all my mistakes by myself.” Mari laughed uneasily.

“No, I had no plan of that. But you do know that Lord Kiyama is going to march on Lord Tetsu soon enough and any preconceptions you have about life in this century are certainly going to disappear.”

Mari had to agree, though she didn’t want to concede the point. She hadn’t even seen Lord Tetsu yet and now she had even more doubts. Where was her place in this strange land?

“Were you with Lord Tetsu on the mountain?” asked Mari.

“Ah…no. Each mountain has its own nests of Tengu. Think of the territorial disputes between birds. That is what awaits an alien Tengu. We are, after all, only birds.”

“So, you were not allowed to climb Gassan Mountain?”

“Not if I wanted to keep my tail feathers.”

“Then how did you come to the temple?”

“I knew of the plans to leave you women there and to bribe the priests for their protection. I figured it would be good form if I showed up and made sure things were honky-dory.”

Mari laughed at that. One thing that had drawn her close to Lord Yoki from the beginning was that he had reference to customs and language in her century. That was an unexpected comfort.

“And…our Lord Tetsu sort of suggested I appear. He entrusted Lady Nyo with your education and comfort and now she is impaired, so he gave the honor to his old friend, Yoki, to be your companion and protector.”

Mari was glad for his protection, but a companion? Lord Yoki could get tiresome. Perhaps merely entertaining would be more hopeful.

“Lord Tetsu would have my head on a pike if anything happened to you, Lady Mari.” Lord Yoki bowed from his seat.

“He has high regard for you.”

“Or he would wear my head on the top of his war helmet. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

At that moment, the sky darkened. Lord Yoki was suddenly thrown onto the ground and Mari was knocked backward from the rock. Righting himself with the help of his staff, Lord Yoki muttered a few curses and said, “I wondered when Shon-oni-gawa would appear.”

As Mari watched, Lord Yoki transformed. His embroidered kimonos and funny hat disappeared and he stood naked in full feathers. He grew feet in every direction. His eyes turned yellow like those of an eagle and his nose became a cruel, wide beak. Shaking out his feathers, which made him appear even more enormous, he mantled over to the rock, jumped up and gave a series of terrible shrieks. Mari thought it wise to cower in the bushes behind her.

With another fearsome shriek, Lord Yoki took to the air. Mari came out from hiding long enough to see a terrible battle above her. Locking talons, the two Tengu rolled over and over in the sky, only breaking when they were a few feet from the side of the mountain. Feathers floated down to earth and the shrieks between them were frightening. All the birds of the forest stopped their chatter, the monkeys went quiet, even the waterfalls seemed to silence their torrents.

Suddenly, they broke apart and the Tengu of this mountain, Shon-oni-gawa, flew off to the west. Lord Yoki made a thump of a landing on the rocks beneath the path. Mari saw him, tucked up her kimono and tried to get to him. The straw soles of her sandals slipped on the rocks and she fell a couple of times before she reached him.

Lord Yoki was now a man, dressed in his stained and patched kimono, his right shoulder bleeding heavily. He looked dazed and was almost unconscious when Mari cradled his head in her lap. Tears coursed down her cheeks and she heaved with sobs.

After a few moments, Lord Yoki opened his eyes and spoke. “I ain’t dead yet, girl. Stop that snuffling. That was a mean old bird but so am I.”

Lord Yoki struggled to stand up. Mari put her arm around his waist and helped him back up the path to the temple. She did not see the sly smile on his face, now turned from her.

The Kimono…..

February 13, 2021

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