Some Poetry, but within “The Kimono”

“The Kimono” is a novel I have been working on for about 1.5 years.  Not long by any measure, but there’s a lot of poetry in it, and since a friend asked, I thought I would post a small chapter here.

Lady Nyo

Chapter 4

That evening, after ceremonies welcoming Lord Tokugawa to the castle, Lord Mori and Lord Tokugawa sat in a private reception room, quietly getting drunk.  There were many open and rolled maps on the low tables around them.  Lord Tokugawa was contented,  knowing  his own samurai were outside the door. He was amongst an ally and could afford to relax.

Lord Tokugawa was a daimyo, a nephew of ‘the’ Lord Tokugawa in Kyoto Castle.   He was a middle-aged man, massive with robes of state but no adornment.  He was also samurai and carried the long and short swords in his sash.  His appearance in this small castle was for a purpose, for Lord Tokugawa in Kyoto needed the support of the twenty-three western daimyos and their vassals.  There was trouble brewing amongst the population in certain regions. Some of the daimyos had used their power to tax the people to extreme and enrich themselves and their supporters.  Already granaries  had been looted. This would lead to more disturbances around the countryside.  Lord Tokugawa sent his nephew to sound out Lord Mori. He needed his support in putting down the rebellious bands of peasants.

They had been discussing the present situation for hours and now the sake was making a pleasant blur of their work.  Lord Mori presented a scroll of poems to Lord Tokugawa.

“Ah! These are excellent, my friend.  Are they new?”

Lord Mori smiled and inclined his head in agreement.  “They are very new, my Lord, but they are not from my hand.  They were written by a woman.  She shows an ability that is remarkable for her origin.”

“A woman!  These have much deepness for a mere woman’s thinking.  I would like to hear this woman recite these poems.  Is this possible, Lord Mori?”

Lord Mori knew Mari would be over her head with Lord Tokugawa, for he would challenge her with his own renderings on the same themes.  He knew he dare not refuse his Lord, but he wondered at the decorum of Mari.

“ I must warn you, my Lord. This woman is rather strange.  She does not have the cast of beauty we know in our women.  She might come from the north, from Hokkaido. Those people called Ainu.  They look strange to our eyes.”

Of course Lord Mori was not about to reveal how Mari came to him, for the magic of the Yamabushi was not to be bantered. Lord Tokugama was powerful, but only a  samurai.  No Yamabushi magic to him at all.

“Then let us hear this woman recite her poems.  Surely this is a good way to entertain us, neh?”

Lord Mori could only agree.  He called over a man and within a short time Mari was ushered into the presence of both lords, accompanied by Lady Idu and the younger  Lady Nyo.

Lord Mori was surprised at the appearance of Mari, but managed to conceal it. What Lord Tokugawa felt was not immediately obvious, but he did look at the  Lady Nyo with appraising eyes.

When Lady Idu was informed that Lady Mari was to appear before the two lords, she went to great pains to make sure that Mari was turned out to her perfection.  A very rich uchikake, now gold and silver silk brocade was the open layer that adorned her undergowns.  Her hair had been brushed out and fell like water around her white painted face.  To Lord Mori, she no longer looked gaijin.

Lord Mori dismissed Lady Idu and Lady Nyo and Mari was left standing there by herself. To Lord Mori she looked like a fragile flower.

“Lady Mari, the great Lord Tokugawa commands you to recite your poems of yesterday.  It is a great honor for him to do so.  Pick six at random and let us hear them now.”

Mari had been informed by the Lady Idu the purpose of her appearance, and asked Lady Idu how to retrieve the poems. She was a lucky girl, Lady Idu said tersely. Lady Nyo’s husband was Lord Mori’s chamberlain.

Mari looked down at the long piece of rice paper in her hand.  Her knees were knocking under her voluminous robes and her mouth dry.  Casting her eyes at Lord Mori, she showed her fear and discomfort.

Lord Mori watched her closely. A cup of sake would steady her, for she looked about to jump out of her skin.

“Here, Lady Mari.  You are in the presence of Lord Tokugawa.   It is natural you appear the little bird before the hawk.”   He came to her, winked and handed her the cup.

Mari trembled a little as she took it from Lord Mori’s large hands.

“Thank you, my lord.  That is kind of you.”

“Well, girl, for you look not much older,” said Lord Tokugawa, “drink your wine and give me a poem.  You may kneel in front of us.  Come Lord Mori, let us get comfortable.  Perhaps this woman will please me.”

Mari sipped from her cup and put it down on the floor beside her robes.
Ah! She was nervous and knew that she had one chance to capture Lord Tokugawa’s favor.  She steadied her nerves and began.

“A modest woman
Does not seek comfort with thieves
Emptiness is fate.
Better her eyes turn upwards
To Heaven, soul comforted.”

She kept her eyes cast down and only hearing a grunt of approval did she dare look up at the men.

“Not a bad start.  Good enough for a woman’s poem.  Give me another.”

“This is the problem!
Do not give over your soul
It returns tattered.
What tailor can mend the rips?
The fabric too frayed by life.”

“That is a good poem from a woman.  It shows some sense.  Another.”

“Human frailties
Wounds that bleed such heated blood
Leave a dry vessel.
Without the moisture of love
The clay reverts to the ground.”

“Ah! Better and better, Lady Mari.  You show some more sense.  Have you another?”

Mari thought hard.  She took a sip of her rice wine and turned her eyes to Lord Mori. She could not read his eyes, nor his expression.

“The morning wren sings
I stand in the moonlit dawn
Kimono wrapped tight
Last night I have made my peace
Now free from all attachments.”

Lord Tokugawa sighed deeply.  Mari could see that he was deeply drunk and tears gathered in one eye.

Lord Mori smiled and asked for one more, just to end her labor.  She could see Lord Tokugawa was tired and his drunkenness compounded his sadness.

“Shall an old gray wolf
Subdue a woman like me?
I shall be born soon.
The wolf head I will cut off
And nail the pelt to the cross.”

Lord Tokugawa might have looked drunk, but his eyes flew open and he stared hard at Mari.  Lord Mori’s body tensed, aware his lord’s mood had changed radically.

Suddenly, Lord Tokugawa threw back his head and laughed.  He turned to Lord Mori and spoke.

“Hah!  If you bed her, my friend, I would sleep with one eye open.  She has spirit beside being a decent poet…..for a woman.”

Lord Mori laughed with him, quickly pouring more wine into his lord’s cup. He picked up his own and looked pointedly at Mari.  She blushed and dropped her eyes, her hands folded demurely in her lap.  She could not avoid a slight smile.

That night she was called back to Lord Mori’s chamber.  He was again working at his table, his ceremonial robes discarded, now only with a quilted robe around him.  He looked up at her when she entered the room, accompanied by two samurai.  Nodding to them, they left, leaving Mari standing there.

“You did well, woman-called-Mari.  Perhaps I should employ you as a court poet, or perhaps you could travel with Lord Tokugawa and entertain him with your wit.  You know, girl, he was most impressed with you, regardless the cast of your features.”

Mari approached and looked up at him.  “Did I displease you with the poems I picked, Lord Mori?”

“Well”, except for the last one, you did well.” He grimaced at her.

“Should I sleep with one eye open now?”

Mari smiled, “No, Lord Mori, you should not worry about your sleep.”

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2009

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2 Responses to “Some Poetry, but within “The Kimono””

  1. Susan Says:

    I enjoyed reading this chapter of The Kimono. I read early chapters more than a year ago.

    No wonder he felt nervous – I love that last poem. The woman’s got balls, a scary customer in my book. Nailing the pelt to the cross, makes me see her severing the head, skinning the carcass and nailing it up. She’s covered in blood, and very matter of fact about the whole thing. Or maybe that’s just my reading.

    Subdue her! I think not!



  2. ladynyo Says:

    LOL!…Susan, you are a scream!

    Well, you have some premonition going here…That poem has something that portends in the future of the novel. There will be beheading on a battle field, and the Lady Nyo will be involved. Ritual stuff. This is the 16th century in the novel….mostly.

    Mari is based on a dear friend who is Japanese, but fully Japanese, not 1/2 like my Mari. And the name is the same. Mari (the real woman) is a bellydancer, and a very beautiful woman. She was the visual image for my character. But she is not ‘bloody minded’.

    My Mari has the balls of a 21st century woman, because that is where she comes from. She is amongst some amazing and dangerous characters and she doesn’t know how to act at times. A husband has total life and death control over his wife, and of course, Mari doesn’t have a husband here…he’s back ‘there’.

    I think Lord Mori is as confused as she is, because of her ‘ways’. By the way, I found while writing the book, the perfect reasoning why she looked ‘as she did’….the Ainu people on the top island in Japan were very …Caucasian looking….until around the late 19th century…This has to do with migration (across waters) of another race…

    So, there are many cracks by Lord Mori and others as to her ‘ugliness’. She just looks …different.

    Thank you, Susan for reading this chapter….and the poems. I hadn’t realized that the present series of “Lady Nyo Poems” came so heavily from the plot of “The Kimono” until I went back and read.

    Mari is quite a pistol.


    And that “Nail the pelt to the cross”?
    That’s totally me. The writer…that poem is my “Death Poem” something that was done by samurai before death, when they composed a verse to leave behind stating their opinion on life.

    It has a rather obvious history to some particular friends, and when I posted it on ERWA, there were a few chortles. They knew where it originated.


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