“The Kimono”, Chapter 17

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European Eagle Owl, watercolor, something I imagine what would be Lord Mori in bird of prey form.

 

images (8)

 

For my friend, Kanzen Sakura.

This is a book in progress.  Actually there is a ‘corrected’ version at Dropbox, but I don’t seem to be able to copy and paste it here.  So it goes.  I am no computer whiz.

I hope to have this ready for publication in this fall, 2017.  Nick Nicholson is a dedicated reader and much more:  his intelligence and eagle eye has made this  a much better novel.  

I know it’s not easy to post a chapter mid flight in a novel…lends to confusion. But I am now, after 4 months, beginning to finish it…”The Kimono” has it’s origins back in 2007 or so, so it’s a novel of 10 years writing.  

Short course as to the theme of the book:  Mari, 21 century Japanese/American woman, married, buys an antique kimono and donning it, is transported back to 16th century Japan….northern region, Akita,  to the domain of a warlord, a samurai and a daimyo, Lord Mori.  Plot thickens….

Lady Nyo

 

CHAPTER 17, THE KIMONO  

Mari stood at the window, a copy of the Man’yoshu in her hand.  Love poems, and of course in a language she couldn’t read.  Literally “The Collection of a Thousand Leaves”.

Some scribe had taken the time to carefully illustrate this book with erotic drawings.  They were exquisite, though rather pornographic in her opinion.  Compiled during the 8th century, this book was considered the pinnacle of Japanese verse, even in this more ‘modern’ 16th century.  But eroticism to these Japanese didn’t seem to have many boundaries.  Sex was very natural to them, and even nudity. They did not have a concept of sin, at least of sin she understood.

Lady Nyo was ordered by Lord Mori to teach her to read and write.  He was of the opinion, according to Lady Nyo, that Mari should be entertained while learning a difficult language.  Therefore he gave her this book.

Entertained!  How different their cultures, stretching across the centuries, two oceans separated by mountains and sand.  It was now two months since the miscarriage, but her mood had not greatly improved.  Her heart was a mass of confusion. She would wake in the night, sweating.  She dreamed constantly but could not remember much, just disjointed scenes in clashing and violent colors. Dreams before were fathomable, but now?  They were strips of some unrolling and unending painting, without words or knowable meaning to her.  Just confused sensations with a hidden terror.

With patient instruction by Lady Nyo, Mari was beginning to recognize some of the words.  She still couldn’t construct a decent sentence.  There were all sorts of issues with the Japanese language, and her attempts in forming a sentence sent Lady Nyo into peals of laughter.

Well, at least she was entertaining to someone, if not exactly entertained.

 

The house was a flurry of activity.  Lord Mori was to visit sometime in the afternoon, and Mari felt anxious. He had not visited her since her miscarriage, but Lady Nyo said he had come. Apparently,  she  was asleep due to the medicine prescribed by the doctor.  The only evidence was a short poem inked on his fan. Something about laughter and fireflies.

Mari turned from the window.  There were two small women kneeling outside the entrance to the room. They bowed with their heads to the wood floor as soon as she saw them.  Lady Nyo came up behind them and bowed to Mari.

“So sorry to disturb you, Lady Mari.  These women are here to attend to the house.  Would you please come out to the rokka and view the niwa?

Mari nodded and put her book down on a small chest.  She recognized the words rokka and niwa as the porch overlooking the garden and niwa as garden.  She was beginning to recognize the names of her environment.

“Oh, Lady Mari!  If you would like, I will come with you and we can read together those wonderful poems.”

What she really meant, thought Mari, is I can read these poems, because you are still stupid about our language.  Of course, Lady Nyo was the picture of decorum and would never say such, but Mari was foul in mood and took offense secretly at many things.

The house was more like a cottage, with small, bare rooms constructed from a central passageway, closed off by shoji screens.  They walked through the house towards the back where kneeling, Lady Nyo pushed a screen open and they faced a narrow platform looking out upon a small garden.

Enclosed by a low stone wall, the garden  very old with a misshapen tree in the middle.  There were raked pebbled paths and small green bushes with buds and a few open flowers beneath.  Upon the wall were small plants growing out of the rocks.  The cherry blossoms were almost beginning to bloom. This event was as important to the Japanese of this century as much as it was in Mari’s.  She heard how beautiful they were on the castle grounds when in full bloom.

 

The morning mist, kasumi, had lifted but there was a possibility of rain.  Mari liked the rain, it fit her moods.  She could withdraw from the company of Lady Nyo and look out her window, wrapped in a silk quilt against the cool air.  As she recovered, she spent less time sleeping late and would get up earlier.  She liked the kasumi, it comforted her.  It put a barrier between her and the world.  Any rain or mist was welcomed by the people around her.  There had been a drought for a couple of years. Lord Mori had mentioned the rice production had dropped.  Famine was always around the corner.

Mari sat on a wooden bench on the rokka overlooking the garden and above the pebbled paths.  The mists had all gone from the morning, replaced by a gentle wind.  White cranes lifted off the water down by the shore, their black legs trailing like stiff ribbons behind white bodies.

It was peaceful.  She felt her nerves untangle, fall away.  Breathing in quietly, she could smell the scent of plum trees within the garden wall.  The wind made cascades of plum-snow litter the raked pebbles.

“Lady Mari, I have bought your book outside.  If it pleases you, may I read aloud a few poems?”

Mari could not refuse this simple request.  Lady Nyo’s role was to educate her in these finer arts. It was not as if it were her idea to do this.  Clearly,  it came from Lord Mori.  Mari could see Lady Nyo was obediently following orders.

“Oh, Lady Mari!  Here is a poem by the Princess Nukata.  She was very famous many centuries ago for her lovers.  She was wife to Prince Oama and then the Emperor himself!”

“As I stay here yearning

While I wait for you, my lord,

The autumn wind blows,

Swaying the bamboo blinds

Of my lodging.”

 

“Oh, isn’t that the most romantic of poems?”  Lady Nyo clasp the book to her flattened bosom.

“Well, I would think it would be a matter of taste, my Lady.”  Mari didn’t want to sound sour, but the poem did not move her as it obviously did the reader.

“Oh, Lady Mari”, said Lady Nyo plaintively.  Perhaps the part of the poem that is more obscure is a key here.  The autumn wind in this poem represents the visitor….or builds yearning for him.   And this morning we have such a lovely, gentle wind blowing.”

If she is referring to the Lord Mori, she got him all wrong, thought Mari.

Lady Nyo looked at Mari hopefully.   Mari laughed and asked her to read more.

 

“Tonight, too,

Does my woman’s pitch-black hair

Trail upon the floor

Where she sleeps without me?”

 

Mari sat up straighter, her interest piqued.  Now, that poem had interest and so modern in sentiment.

But why were they separated? There were more secrets than answers in this sort of poetry.

 

“Read more.”

 

Lady Nyo smiled and looked for another poem to please her.

“Though I sleep with

A single thin rush mat

For my bedding,

I am not cold at all,

When I sleep with you, my lord.”

Lady Nyo smiled over the book, again clasped to her bosom.  “She must have been a poor woman to be only able to afford such bedding. But here’s another poem that speaks to men.”

 

“Though I sleep beneath

soft, warm bedding,

how cold my skin is,

for I do not share my bed

with you, my woman.”

 

“Now, that is nice”, said Mari wishfully.  And how modern. A man who shows his main concern in bed:  warm feet.

 

Lady Nyo read another.

 

“Brave man like the catalpa bow

That, once drawn,

Does not slacken—

Can it be that he is unable to bear

The vicissitudes of love?”

 

As soon as Lady Nyo read this particular poem, she blushed deeply.  Mari saw her reaction.

“Lady Nyo.  I am a stranger here.  I have no history among your people.  Clearly that is obvious.  But please tell me.  Does Lord Mori have a wife, or children?”

Lady Nyo’s face went sad.

“Ah, this was a long time ago, but Lord Mori still mourns, I think.  It is hard to tell with men, but Lord Mori, though powerful daimyo, is still a man.”

Lady Nyo moved closer on the bench to Mari and dropped her voice to a whisper.

“Years ago, before my Lord Nyo and I were vassals to Lord Mori, he lost his young wife and children to the sea.  They were travelling to a city on the southern coast and a terrible storm took hold of the boat and all were lost.  Lord Mori was not with them, being on land.”

Lady Nyo sighed.  “I understand he travelled to a sacred mountain and for years lived in the forests.  He talked to their ghosts and shunned all men.”

Mari felt her breath catch in her chest.  Perhaps this was key to his personality.  He was certainly a strange man.  Even for a 16th century daimyo.

 

“But surely he has remarried? Does he have a wife in the castle I have not seen?”

Lady Nyo’s eyes widened.  “Oh, no!  To my knowledge, Lord Mori has never remarried.  Certainly she would be amongst the women with Lady Idu.  Oh, it would be hard to ignore a daimyo’s wife!”

Mari thought, yes, she would be first among all the women in the castle.

“But perhaps he has a wife that lives apart from him?”

Lady Nyo shook her head. “No, not that I have ever heard, Lady Mari.”

“But of course men and women many times do not live together.  So that would account why we know nothing about a wife.  However, surely my husband would tell me.  But in all these years, he has said nothing.”

The expression on Mari’s face took Lady Nyo by surprise.

“A man and wife don’t live together?  How strange.”  As soon as Mari spoke, she realized her mistake.

“Oh, Lady Mari!  Surely the married people where you come from don’t live together after marriage?”

“Well, actually they do.  Except if the husband has to travel for his…ah….business.”

“Oh! People are so different it seems.  Only the farmers live together, but that is because their women are needed in the fields.

That morning Mari learned that among the upper classes, and especially within the aristocracy, men and women lived apart.  The visits were planned, and each was notified by a messenger.  Now that poem of autumn winds and the bamboo blinds blowing made sense.  These marriages were conjugal visits.

“No, no wife I think, but the finest courtesans do visit him….or he them, from time to time.  It is only right and proper. He is not a hermit.”

“Who?  Tell me, Hana, do you know the women?  What do they look like, have you seen them?”

Lady Nyo, touched Mari would use her name, blushed and shyly touched Mari’s hand next to her.

“Well. There was the beautiful courtesan Midori last year.  Oh, Lady Mari!  You should have seen her kimonos! Such silks and colors!  She looked like a beautiful butterfly!”

Lady Nyo giggled like a girl and rushed to explain.  “I was passing from one hall to another on some endless errand and I saw her with attendants.  She was so beautiful!  Her skin was as white as a lily and her hair was as glossy as a blackbird’s wing.  Long, too.  She wore it unencumbered and it swept her hems. “

Mari chuckled to herself.  So, Lord Mori wasn’t the hermit he appeared at first to her.  He was man enough.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to ““The Kimono”, Chapter 17”

  1. Gay Reiser Cannon Says:

    I was completely taken in by this. All of your writing is poetic, but what is meant as prose is lilting, compelling and clear. It doesn’t have the feeling of being painted, it has the feeling of walking into each scene. There is vitality and color but not so much as to distract from the action and the emotion.

    I have seen your writing mature over time. It was always enchanting but now it is crisp, dimensional, solid and riveting. Excellent work my dear.

    Like

  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Gay! Thank you so much, Gay. I haven’t rewritten, proofed this chapter yet and it needs it. I have been away from writing on Kimono for 4 months and it was hard to get back to it. In fact, I have only returned to it over the last few days. 10 years ago I bought a tomasode… a black silk crepe kimono that a married woman would wear, with 5 crests and a river of silver around the hem and flowing up the left side panel. I was intrigued by this kimono, my first, and the story just developed around it. It is ancient kimono in the story…mine is probably 60 years old from Kyoto. The ‘tan’ (inside silk) is a camel color and I imagined a braille like patterning of french knots inside. This was the ‘generator’ of the kimono’s magic. When Mari pulls it on and wraps it around her body, it transports her to the 16 century Japan. I slept in my heavy silk kimono for a few nights to get the feeling but sadly, no travel for me. Intrigue, battles between daimyos, love and sex, and lots of stuff I have learned over the previous 10 years have gone into the making of this novel. I think I know how it finishes but I have at least 10 more chapters to go to the end. But novel writing always surprises you. I feel sometimes just the scribe and the characters pull all the action themselves. They come alive for me…most times. Thank you so much for your incredible review and praise. I deeply appreciate it, Gay. No one can dissect a piece of poetry like you and give a thorough analysis like you. I think that these characters ‘paint’ themselves for me….they take over the chapters and I just hang on…most days….gives the greatest thrill for me. right now it’s a little sticky because getting back to writing on this novel has had some serious interruptions….but the characters are waiting to live out their lives and history. I just have to get to work. Thank you again, Gay…It is the greatest pleasure for me that you have read and liked this chapter.

    Like

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