Posts Tagged ‘17 th century Japanese tales’

‘Moon Baby’, from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part 10

September 16, 2013


"Moon Child" from "The Nightingale's Song", Part II


There are three more episodes in “The Nightingale’s Song”. This is the first one.

Lady Nyo 



“Moon! Glorious Moon!

Shine on my empty belly

Give me a sweet child.

—Lady Nyo


Lady Nyo was barren.

Once there was hope of heirs,

Babies to raise and coddle.

But fate provided nothing

Not even a stillborn to mourn,

Buried under the snow

With the fog of incense rising

To a leaden sky.


Many times Lady Nyo

Passed the temple of the humble Lord Jizo,

Riding in her palm-leaf carriage

Drawn by white oxen adorned with ribbons, bells.

Many times she peeked through curtains

At his simple, stone statue,

Bedecked with babies’ bids, knitted hats,

The offering of a grateful mother, or

A mournful one.


Ah! To be as much a woman

As her lowest servant with a swelling belly!

How she wanted to leave her own offering

Of her child’s garment at his feet!



Lady Nyo decided to make a pilgrimage.

She would walk barefoot through the fragrant murasaki grass,

She would wear a humble hemp gown,

She would seek advice from temple priests.


Lady Nyo and her old nurse set out one morning,

And though her old nurse grumbled and groaned,

Lady Nyo was the vision of piety walking

Through the delicate morning mists –

Two  frail ghosts of nothingness.


The priest had a long, red nose,

Wore a robe none too clean,

And he scratched at lice

Under the folds of his gown.

He had feathers growing in his ears

And feet like a large bird.


A Tengu!

A trifler of men and women!

But they were staring at his nose,

And missed his feet.


“When the Moon grows full,

Row out in the bay,

Directly under the Moon

And climb up a long ladder.

You will be pulled by the Moon’s tides

To its surface,

And there you will find what you want.”


When the Moon blossomed into a large

Bright lantern in the sky,

They rowed out in the bay,

Two trusted ladies to steady the ladder

And one to spare.

Lady Nyo kicked off her geta,

Tucked her gown into the obi

(exposing her lady-parts),

And ignoring the remarks of her old nurse,

Climbed directly under the Moon.


So powerful

Was the pull of the Moon

That fish and crabs,

Seahorses and seaweed,

Octopi, too

Rose straight up from the waters

Into the night’s air!

Lady Nyo’s hair and sleeves

Were also pulled by the Moon

And her kimono almost came over her head!


With a summersault

She flipped onto the surface

And found her bare feet

Sinking into the yellow-tofu of the Moon.


She heard a gurgling

And gurgling meant babies,

So she searched on spongy ground

Followed by a few seahorses who were curious

And a few fish who weren’t.


Past prominent craters

One could see from the Earth,

Lady Nyo found a baby tucked in the Moon’s soil.


Ah! A fat little boy blowing bubbles,

Sucking on toes,

Bright black eyes like pebbles

Black hair as thick as brocade!


Lady Nyo bent down,

And lifting him

She heard a sucking noise.

He was attached to the Moon

By a longish tail

That thrashed around like a little snake

As she pulled him free.


She placed him at her milk-less breast

But soon he grimaced and started to howl,

 So she tucked him in her robe,

Aimed for the ladder,

Somersaulted back into the night,

Where she and her ladies rowed for shore.


The baby, now named Tsuki,

Was put to a wet nurse

His tail mostly disappearing,

Shriveling up like a proper umbilical cord–

Though there remained a little vestigial tail

That wagged with anticipation when placed at the breast,

Or when the full Moon appeared

In the black bowl of night.


The Tengu had flown the coop,

Never to be seen again.

But Lady Nyo no longer envied ladies

With swelling bellies,

For her own arms were full and heavy

With this yellow Moon-child.


Through fragrant fields

Of murasaki grass,

Lady Nyo and Tsuki

Would walk alone,

Where they would lay

Offerings of knitted bibs,

Strings of money, toys

And a feather

At the feet of Lord Jizo,

When the Moon was fullest

In a promising sky.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012, 2013





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