‘Lord Nyo’s Moon Child’

from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part II

(woodblock print by T. Yoshitushi/ a classicaday.blogspot.com. 

(Notes:  Tsuki means Moon/Tsukiyomi is the Moon God/ kami is a god/devil/spirit/’baba’ means grandmother/Gassan Mountain is “Moon” Mountain, in Akito province (west/north Japan)/daimyo is the term for “Great Warlord” and Samurai were servants of the daimyo)

Perhaps a strong man

Should not offer love without

Having love returned

But this grieving ugly warrior

Still finds his love is growing

(from the Man-yoshu)

.

When the news of Lady Nyo

Birthing a son

Reached Lord Nyo

He was far from home,

To the east,

Over mountains;

Dangerous, alien territory.

.

A general in the service

Of his lord,

The gore of battle,

The issue of ‘dying with honor’

Began at first light,

The air soon filled with sounds of battle-

Dying horses, dying men

Drawing their last gasps of life,

Churned into the mud of immeasurable violence.

.

Death, not new life

Was before his eyes at dawn,

And death, not life

Pillowed his head at night.

.

He stunk with the blood of battle

As his bow and swords cut a swath

Through men in service to another

And 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 that he didn’t believe in

Were merciful

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 in  body, all in spirit

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,

His men,

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

Though he knew he still looked like a ghoul

And 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 stopped in mid-flight

Stared at this leather-clad stranger

Who would dare howl louder than he!

.

It was not seemly

For a great warrior,

Just back from 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 hands

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 bath his son

When Tsuki climbed from his bath

And started to cross the tatami mat.

Lord Nyo saw the tail,

And almost tore the shoji off its tracks,

He stormed into the room.

.

“Wife, Wife!

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.

.

“My Lord!

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 could,

His tail a propeller going round and round

Not at all helping the situation,

As Lord Nyo staggered back against the shoji

Ripping even more of the delicate rice paper

And the frame asunder.

.

Lady Nyo rushed to pick up him up,

Wrapping him and the 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 unearthy 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

Around him

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.

.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

Tags: , , , , , , ,

31 Responses to “‘Lord Nyo’s Moon Child’”

  1. Yousei Hime Says:

    Love this. Wonderfully woven.

    Like

  2. Nick Says:

    Hi Jane! I thought this was a delightful addition to the series, however, I felt it was too long, especially in the first half. I think consider tightening this piece to about 2/3 or 3/4 of its current length, hone it down to the essentials. The pace picked up nicely in the second half, though, and there were some wonderful moments of humour which I really enjoyed. The poem traversed sharp contrasts – from scenes of death to scenes of childish play – with ease. The imagery of the Madonna bothered me because it threw a Western religious icon into an Eastern story, which didn’t feel like a good fit. Overall, it was a good development for Lord Nyo to meet Tsuki!

    Like

  3. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Nick!
    Thanks…in general I agree with you….tooo long by far….I can cut some of the beginning, but I think perhaps it should be TWO pieces…perhaps something longer of Lord Nyo’s suffering in battle, etc….

    However, this is EXACTLY the kind of critical view I need for these things. when something is too long, people will not attempt to read it…I know that I do. And (unlike someone we know…)
    I think all our work is open to criticism and revision. LOL!

    I can certainly cut down the beginning….I wanted to speak to the horrors of war….and it was….it reminded me…reading some of the battle stories….of WWI…the mud, the death, the personal part of war.

    The Madonna thing? I agree…I could take this out. It is glaring and also, Lady Nyo would be bowing with the rest of the women….and a nurse or some other woman would be holding the baby.

    Thanks Nick! You have such a fine and critical eye in general, and I agree with what you have written. I had a sneaky suspicion that there were things in there…(and too long by far…perhaps for the book I can split and elaborate the first part??? with more poetry….his yearning to return home and ‘normal’ life???) that I needed to change.

    Hugs!

    Jane

    Like

  4. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you Yousei Hime for reading this poem….I think it too long….when I wrote it….but now am thinking of actually splitting it into two parts….because I think the first part actually tells an important story on its own.

    Thank you again for reading this very long piece.

    Jane

    Like

  5. Yousei Hime Says:

    Hmmm. Your call, but I liked it as it was. You may need to alter it a bit two create more of a story in the first part yet tie it to the part that follows. Are you going to see The Secret World of Arrietty?

    Like

  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Yousei Hime.

    I have already started a ‘top poem’ from what I wrote in the beginning, but it is difficult. I would like to leave it alone, but I think Nick is probably right. People don’t read overly long poems, but perhaps this is a ‘special case’? It’s a saga I think, and perhaps this is beyond the usual poem I write?

    Yes, I agree…I have to alter it a LOT to create more of a story. What I started to do was have him bewail his fate as to clan and status, he’s a general and is sick of war. He’s also in his 60’s which is old for a warrior of that time.

    I just don’t know right now, but the opinion of poets is what leads me in these things….and I very much thank you for yours.

    Lady Nyo

    I am not familiar with “The Secret World of Arrietty”, but will google it.

    Thank you, for your comments and reading. I appreciate your view very much. I would like to leave it alone, perhaps in the new book I am planning for this summer, it will not be such a long poem there.

    Like

  7. katiewritesagain Says:

    Jane
    I absolutely love this poem/story. I smelled the blood in the field, the clean bamboo and paper shoji, even the scent of the bathwater. I saw his lined, scarred face, the flowing lines of her gown, the roundness of the baby’s cheeks.
    The way Lady Nyo stood up to her husband to sweep away superstion, the Lord’s own love helping him toss the remnants of fear made me wonder how little of that real love exists wihin families-anywhere, at any time. It makes me long for a world where we aren’t afraid of change, of difference, of acceptance.
    This story is about more than a father and husband adjusting to a new baby. Thank you for writing and posting.

    Like

  8. ladynyo Says:

    Dearest Katie,
    I think you are right: about wondering how much of that real love exists in families…as you and I well know from personal experience.

    Lady Nyo is also covering her own actions, here. LOL! That tail!! She had to make up lies to cover it all. But that Lord Nyo can accept Tsuki, regardless the tail….is the ‘moral’ of the story IF it has one.

    And I agree: I yearn for that world where we aren’t afraid of change, difference, and yearn for acceptance. perhaps is it….harder for poets, for creative people as Carl Jung says?

    I am so glad you love this story. It came too easily, Katie, and that always me suspect my stuff. LOL!. I do know that revision, tightening up, etc. is the necessary work, and right now I am thinking that I have actually written two poems….the top poem of Lord Nyo’s battle experiences and his weariness….and the introduction poem to Tsuki.

    I felt that humor was necessary, and a logical extension of the very human actions in the plot, so included these things…these little snippets of things.

    The response so far to this series has made me look further afield and decide that ther is a lot more to write on these two people…and now with Tsuki.

    Thank you, Katie…as always, for your encouragement, your support and I can’t wait for your visit here this Spring before you are off on the Trail!!

    With Love!
    Jane

    Like

  9. Yousei Hime Says:

    Nick is right. I don’t particularly like long poems. But there are a few that I had to finish, that’s how good they were. This I would consider as one. But … I think your decision to wait is good. Time brings a fresh set of eyes. I also think your general will have something to say in the matter. 😉

    The movie mentioned is out in theaters now. It is the latest Miyazaki film, a version of The Borrowers. It is a bit slow, but so lovely and tender. Might want to wait for the dvd if you’re not very interested.

    Like

  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Yousei,
    I think both of you are right. Nick is usually an infallible critic! But I will take your advice and wait on this. Lord Nyo will have something else to say, LOL! we can depend on that!

    I don’t go to movies, but do wait for the dvds…LOL! But this one I will research, and I thank you so much for allerting me to it. This is something I would definitely want to see. I have missed so many good movies because I hate movie theaters….My husband worked as a set designer/fabricator in movies for years, and I never went to see his! He made “Interview with the Vampire” in New Orleans those many years ago, and was there in the swamp heat of August for 5 months. Never went to see it, but did by the video. LOL! Amazing movie, too.

    I love Japanese movies but am so behind on these cultural things.

    Thank you.

    Jane

    Like

  11. Yousei Hime Says:

    Ugh. New Orleans in August. I don’t know if there is any worse place to be in the States. I don’t really like going to theaters either, but I love Miyazaki. Just didn’t want to wait. It won’t be long before its out on dvd, since Disney is the Ghibli distributor. Something to look forward to. I’m watching another episode of the Chihayafuru today. I would love to learn to play the card game on the show, but may Japanese will have to improve exponentially before that happens since it requires memorizing 100 poems in Japanese.

    Btw, I love chatting with you. Nice to have someone to share interests with.

    Like

  12. ladynyo Says:

    And I with you, dear.

    It’s hard to find people who have such rarefied interests! LOL!

    Funny, right after you mentioned “The World of Arriety”, I read a review in a local small, independent paper that loves it. And I will possibly venture out soon to see it in a theater. That will be a first in years, if I remember right!

    Japanese language: Ugh. I have been studying the language for two years plus, and can only remember and pick out words and a few sentences now., but I found that changing the program I was originally using (only audio) made all the difference. Seeing the text, the words on a page makes all the different for me. Apparently, children do well just hearing a language but not this bird I need to see text! LOL!

    I paid $127.00 for the one that didn’t deliver, and $13.00 for the one that did. All from Amazon.com. Love that site…and buy a used book about every week. LOL~!

    I am settling down to read a book on Japanese Mythology…with lots of pictures! LOL! I have some vague idea for another installment on this series…where Tsuki is old enough to have a tutor, and I think our old friend, the dirty-kimono clad Tengu will be hired by Lord Nyo to be the teacher. LOL! I LOVE Tengus and all the trouble the create, and their attitudes…and would like to use them more broadly in work. Have, and they are fascinating creatures.

    I am intrigued by this series you mention, and have mentioned before… Chihayafuru….and will try to catch up, Yousei, but right now I am under water.

    And I love chatting with you. I know others read our comments back and forth, but that’s fine, and probably creates interest in what a fascinating culture Japan has going, especially the mythology. By the way, with your permission, I would like to have you on my blogroll. I find your work so good, you are an amazing poet, that I want readers of this blog to read you!

    Jane

    Like

  13. Yousei Hime Says:

    Believe it or not, I have a Gameboy DS game that I thought pretty good, at least until it started getting into verb conjugation. Being an English major helped me work through that part. Still, I don’t “play” it often enough to make much progress. Ought to have a daily study plan if I’m really serious about going to Japan someday.

    Which mythology book do you have? I have one too, though I’ll have to find it to see if it’s the same one. 😉

    Tengu sounds great. They are used in all kinds of ways in anime–lead, villain, plot device, council, etc. I can definitely see that lending some spice to the story.

    Don’t worry about Chihayafuru. I may mention it from time to time, but don’t feel pressured to watch it. I know what it means to have too much to do to add one more thing. Me, I just choose the wrong things to do, lol.

    I am honored to be on your blogroll. I’ll return the favor, if you don’t mind. I feel the same way about your writing, especially the depth of culture you have in it.

    Like

  14. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Thank you! I will link your blog on my site as soon as I get back from lunch.

    I am very short on amine, but I do see the fascination of the medium.

    As for books on Japanese mythology….I have a bunch. LOL! I started 5 years ago, writing ‘The Kimono” where time warp travel holds forth in the story line, and Tengus and onni-babas are omnipresent…and samurai don’t seem as they are, LOL!

    I would recommend a couple: “Japanese Mythology” Juliet Piggott/ “In Ghostly Japan”, Lafcadio Hearn/Japanese Tales, Royall Tyler/ “Japanese Poetry: The “Uta”, Watley/ and for pure poetry,…
    “A Future of Ice”, by Miyazawa Kenji/ Mirror for the Moon” Saigyo and many others…especially Komachi etc.

    This is a short list but I can’t say that it’s definitive. I think it’s really just starting with something and adding to it as you go or fancy interests. I think all these can be bought at Amazon.com. They generally are used books except for a few that I got from Japanese publishers….beautiful binding and color and paper! Really works of art.

    Lady Nyo

    Like

  15. brian miller Says:

    seriously you can sure spin a tale…him away in battle and the fight to get home…the initial reaction, then disgust at the son…and then once more falling in love with him…this is gorgeous…

    Like

  16. Elizabeth Young Says:

    What an absolutely delightful piece! I enjoyed every word, every nuance, such as the old Nurse hoping to be turned to a bar of soap! I feel this added a huge piece of culture, of joy to my day Jane. Thank you for this unexpected blessing.

    Like

  17. ladynyo Says:

    Dear Elizabeth!

    LOL~! That bar of soap thing made me laugh, too. I had a lot of fun, and sweated bullets, too, with this piece.

    If this added some joy to your day, Elizabeth, this is the finest praise a poet could get. Thank you so much for your heart-felt comment and your reading this very long poem.

    Jane

    Like

  18. ladynyo Says:

    Oh Brian…
    sometimes, seeing our work through other eyes….eyes that have more distance, space and experience, brings the ‘good’ in what we write home to us. Your comment certainly did for me.

    I think you have helped me make a decision here: I will keep this poem intact….for I did think that the struggle to get home, get past the gore of battle, this contrast with the domestic scene to come….was important to the entire work.

    Yes, I think it was disgust with his son…a tail!! In any culture this is alarming, alien territory. But it was his own superstitious fear, more than disgust that was boiling within Lord Nyo. Or so it seems to me.

    He saw the love that Tsukiyomi felt for this child…the face of the moon, and perhaps he felt challenged or more territorial then? I don’t know, but I am very grateful for any reader who stays the course of this long poem to the end.

    Your comments make it all for me. It gives me such vision into my own works where I really don’t have much analytical evaluation.

    Jane

    Like

  19. jenneandrews Says:

    Captivating– the vestigal tail– wonderful. We have other vestigial things as I’m sure you well know~! I admire your ambition in this wonderful series! xxxj http://parolavivace.blogspot.com . x

    Like

  20. hedgewitch Says:

    This is just so neat, Jane. I loved seeing Lord Nyo transformed, and the battle scenes leading up to it, as well, making it all the more vivid and charming. I’m left smiling at the final image of the child glowing and cooing in the moonlight, the blessing of innocence and light brought into tired and tried lives.

    Like

  21. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Joy…

    You know, you never know how these things will turn out. I was convinced that the battle part in the beginning was too long, but I don’t really know how to do this poem without it, and even shortening it would lead to gaps I think.

    You know what?? (And I think you of all poets would understand this…) so much of it was ‘written’ in that sleeplessness, where we are mulling over the story line, and at 2am it’s all developing so clearly, or at least with pathos, and we just gotta get up and attempt to write it down. That last scene was how this came about….and the entire poem over two days…or actually, two sleepless nights….LOL!

    Thank you, Joy, for reading and your encouraging comments. I deeply appreciate your take on these things.

    Hugs,
    Jane

    Like

  22. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Jenne, for reading this and your encouraging comment.
    I will make the rounds tomorrow and read your site. You are an exceptional poet and every time I visit your site I come away inspired by your work.

    I am so grateful for the poets of dverse, those that read my work, because I am in an element that is embracing and encouraging…and that is not the way of the literary world in general.

    Jane

    Like

  23. CZBZ Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this, Jane.

    I like keeping the battle at the front of the poem and comparing his battle to Lady Nyo’s child who is the result of her battle, her service to another. (Maybe that’s a female perspective or just my own peculiarity). Plus, the opening battle referred to Lord Nyo’s battle loving ‘his’ son.

    “His tail a propeller…” hahaha! I loved that!

    Hugs,
    CZ

    Like

  24. ladynyo Says:

    Hi CZ!
    I am glad you got a chance to read this poem….and a longggg one it was!

    I thought you would like the humor in it….as we have discussed the value of larding our work with humor….LOL!

    I tried yesterday to shorten the front part, the battle scene, but I couldn’t without losing a lot of the pathos of that part…so it remains as is.

    I did give a reading of it today and god, it is a long piece to read outloud, but it can be done.

    I had such a clear picture of Tsuki crawling across the tatami mat towards his father, and Lord Nyo backing up in horror. LOL! That propeller of a tail fit the scene so well.

    I am so glad you enjoyed this poem, CZ. Next week will be a different kind of poem and a MUCH shorter one!

    Hugs,
    Jane

    Like

  25. ayala Says:

    Jane, this is wonderful . I love it !

    Like

  26. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Ayala!

    Thank you for reading and your comment….

    Hugs!

    Like

  27. claudia Says:

    such a wonderful tale..you’re such a master with telling highly emotional and magical stories…love that they howled together, love how he played with the moonbeams…love it all..magical and spellbinding write jane

    Like

  28. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Claudia….and it will be the last for a while. Empty of ideas now and drifting off.

    Thanks for reading and your comment, Claudia.

    Jane

    Like

  29. marousia Says:

    Wonderful narrative…

    Like

  30. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Marousia!

    I am so glad to ‘read’ you! I have been stuck in my chair for about two months with a bad ankle and haven’t gotten around much to other sites….You are one of my favorite poets, and I will, must visit you today.

    Hugs,
    Jane

    Like

  31. Jacquline Cutforth Says:

    Its fantastic as your other content : D, thankyou for putting up. “To be at peace with ourselves we need to know ourselves.” by Caitlin Matthews.

    Like

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