“The Stillness of Death” from “Song of the Nightingale”

Japanese Lovers II

 

THE STILLNESS OF DEATH

Kneeling before her tea,

Lady Nyo did not move.

She barely breathed,

Knowing tomorrow depended

Upon her actions today.

Lord Nyo was drunk again.

When in his cups

The household scattered.

Beneath the kitchen

Was the crawl space

Where two servants hid their heads-

A third wore an iron pot.

Lord Nyo was known

For three things:

Archery-

Temper-

And drink.

Tonight he strung

His seven foot bow,

Donned his quiver

High on his back.

He looked at the pale face

Of his aging wife,

His eyes blurry, unfocused

And remembered the first time

He pillowed her.

She was fifteen.

Her body powdered petals,

Bones like butter,

Black hair like bo silk.

The blush of shy passion

Coursed through her veins

Like a tinted stream.

Still beautiful  was she,

Too fragile for his tastes now.

Better a plump courtesan,

Not all delicate and saddened beauty.

He drew back the bow

In quick succession-

Let five arrows pierce

The shoji.

Each grazed the shell ear

Of his wife.

Lady Nyo’s life hung on her stillness.

She willed herself dead.

Death after all these years

Would have been welcome.


This started out in 2011 to be a single poem but had weaved itself into a story of 13 episodes. In part I was greatly influenced by the tanka (poetry) of the great Man’yoshu, an 8th century document (collection) of over 5000 poems by lovers, emperors, court ladies, peasants (represented in their songs), priests and others.  It was a great literary achievement not done at this time anywhere else in the world.

It became a story of a middle aged couple, he much older, an arranged marriage.  He is a general in his daimyo’s (warlords) army and has forgotten the love of a normal family.  Her patience and devotion breaks open his crusty heart. Both are samurai, she from a titled samurai family.

Song of the Nightingale” was published by Amazon.com in 2016.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted , 2019

Song_of_the_Nightingale_COVER

Painting by the author.

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