“Sea Eagle”, jane kohut-bartels, watercolor, 2001
I’m taking a chance in posting these pieces. They will not be liked, understood or embraced by many readers. But I think this is part of our creativity: daring to write or even develop some rather outrageous pieces that go against the grain of what we are known for as writers, as poets.
Breaking open myths and creating new ones…..
These segments of “The Shibari Series” speak to transformation, and a rather weird tale at that. I started them in 2007, when I was sorely pressed with many issues and some dangerous influences. They are rather a personal story, and though they came to me in a rush, it took me years to understand their significance. Perhaps we have to grow into what springs out of our unconscious, even distasteful and confusing things, perhaps this is part of the path of creativity. We have to take chances.
People can look up what Shibari is if they are interested. However, in my research, and my study of Japanese culture, shibari means to ‘tie’ (as in packages) but it earlier meant a military procedure: soldiers or police would carry a small length of jute, hemp rope, and depending upon the status of the criminal, would tie the hands as he was brought into police review. If the ‘criminal’ had high status, he was loosely tied, or not tied at all. If a common criminal, his hands were secured tightly. Also, shibari was never seen as a sexual proponent until the beginning of the 20th century in Japan (though there is doubt about this) but in the West, shibari has been very much sexualized in the practice of bdsm. My husband and I both studied shibari and did some practice, but it’s intense and it takes a lot of consideration. And ….a lot of work to do it safely and make beautiful designs with the body as a canvas and the rope as ‘paint’. We decided it was better to write about it as fiction than to practice it. In some cities of Japan, the police still carry a short length of jute, probably symbolic of former usage of shibari.
The series details the transformation of a woman to different species, her empowerment and finally back to human.
These tales are also about compassion and empathy…and the form is just a unusual vehicle to ‘tell the tale’. Nothing to be afraid of, though many will reject these short pieces because of their own moral and religious beliefs. I hope others will try to have an open mind.
The Japanese words used to describe the shibari practice can be looked up easily enough. Tengus are shapeshifters from Japanese mythology.
Japanese hemp coiled about the torso, creating diamonds where there was once only skin, looping back upon itself, over and over. Breasts now defined by a rope cut-out bra, while waist, love handles, now enclosed in more diamonds, thighs entwined. Added turns and thin jute split my cleft with a hard caress, the large knot on the bottom shifting upward. It would tease in mid air.
Dance comes from the earth, through the feet, up and out, giving shape to song. This time I would dance in flight, the pull of ropes challenging gravity, compounding my efforts.
Movements liquid and extreme startled me, the kikkou and hemp anchored me in space, my first taste of freedom in the ropes. Suddenly I felt the sting of a whip and I jerked out of time to the beat. I fell deeper into the dance, determined to continue. Again the whip’s sting and I faced a split reality: pain or pleasure. I went inward, deep into the music and rhythm, where movement was birthed and pain banished.
I flew, hollow bird bones filled with joy. Cradled within the ropes I spiraled up from heavy earth.
Restrained by the hemp to a beam above and to posts at my sides, I was secure in a blue rope karada. It bunched my skin where it bound, creating its own mountains and valleys, distorting my natural figure.
Pain was the door, the portal, the whip applied until I cried “Mercy!” I had slipped into an altered state, far from where pain ate at my flesh. Just back from subspace, I had dangled in the infinite where time stopped and a crude salvation was born.
Looking up at the ropes I was now in a spider web, frozen at all points, the fly caught, splayed in a hemp web 360.
I glanced behind me. The spider was a big one, gently stroking my welts, drinking a glass of water, or perhaps it was green goo. He smiled, now aware I was conscious and with a questioning expression, picked up the single tail and shook it at me.
I smiled slyly. Such gluttons we were, the spider and the fly.
Again, I am restrained on all sides, a fly trapped in the stickiness of a dismal fate. I can hear the spider behind me, warming up, flicking the whip, marking his targets on my body, my wings too shredded for further flight.
What am I searching for? I thought salvation, but there was little of that. Perhaps transcendence? At this point, I would settle for any transformation out of here.
The whip caught me by surprise. I jerked forward, lifted six inches in flight with a high scream, the sound pairing pain and confused need. Blackness poured in like oil and I went limp.
I awoke, the burn deep in my feathers. Looking to both sides, my eyes now two sharpened orbs with 6x vision. Hooked beak, my feet wicked talons. A furious shake and I was free of the web, free of the ropes. Extending strong wings, I flew to the top of the beam. With a loud hawk hunting call I surveyed the ground, hungry, need fulfilled – almost.
The spider saw me, only a moment of fear crossed its black eyes before bowing his head to fate.
I flew high but it was spring, and the weak thermals did not support my flight. I was hungry, without food, except for the spider. A freshly fledged hawk must learn how to fend for herself. Beginnings are dangerous.
Cupping my wings, I hovered over a stream, watching the ice break apart far below. Three days of freedom had left me weak, confused and with a troubling need. Breaking my bindings I was now lost, abandoned to nature, cold and alone.
“Hep-Hep-Hep”. I heard the ‘call-in’ of the falconer below me, as I floated over the landscape. Seeing the whirling lure with a rabbit head was too much. Starved, I spiraled downwards, landing with a thump.
“Good Girl” I heard as the man beckoned me to his glove covered with fresh meat. As I mantled over and stepped up, he slipped a jess upon my left leg, another with silver bells on the right.
“Good Girl” I heard again as he tied me tightly to a perch.
“Good Girl” as the hood slipped over my head.
At least no one whips a hawk. And there is always the sky.
For the next week I remained in the mews. During that time I was prodded, examined and weighed. The Falconer was experienced and knew to avoid my feet when I was restrained. I would slice him, even with bindings securing my wings and the hood blinding me.I was to eat only from his glove. He cooed, watching me as I greedily swallowed down the sparse meal, his dominance enforced.
When I was a woman I yearned for the ropes. I wanted them tightly around my body, ‘tender is the bight’ so to speak, yet now I pecked, pulled at my leather restraints. One day the Falconer found me hanging upsides down, like a bat, hooded and unhappy, but I gleefully bit him as he righted me on my perch.
Soon after, he put me to the glove and launched me into the air, I screaming in delight.
If I thought I had freedom I was fooled. The Falconer had tethered me with a long hemp rope. He jerked hard and I thumped back to earth.
“Good Girl” I heard through my outrage and humiliation.
“Good Girl” I heard as he pinned me to the ground.
I remained in the mews for my fall back to earth broke my wing. The cage was large, one I shared with a goshawk only allowed to a Master Falconer.
One day Master claimed me from my perch, set me on his glove and launched me. This time I had no tether and made my escape. Screaming into the wind, I climbed high until he and the hated glove were invisible. I flew with the currents, my eyes bright with freedom.
Suddenly, I was changing, feathers dropping from my breast and wings. I spiraled, awkward in my descent, landing by the same brook once choked with winter’s ice. Instead of talons I had a woman’s legs and slowly my feathers molted leaving me naked, shivering, my limbs white as the remaining snow peppering the early crocuses. My cry now a sob instead of a hawk’s high shriek.
Instinct made me start at the sound of the hunting call and there was the Falconer, a blanket in his hands. He threw both of us down and took his rights, my cooing not of doves. Later, collared in steel with long jesses I walked behind his horse.
The spring was gentle, tender rains like warm tears coursing down on sullen earth. I looked skyward and saw the palest of blue, everything fresh and transparent. Sometimes, when I knew I was not watched, I spread my arms and called out to the wind. My voice was too thin, my bones too solid for flight, chained also with gravity.
One morning I brought meat to the goshawk in the mews. He sidled away refusing my meal. Admiring his powerful wings, thinking of the past, I called to him in chirps as I did when a hawk and he swiveled his head to me. Looking deep into his eye I could see my former freedoms as I passed over mountains and rivers, hunting and soaring, all given up for earthbound comfort.
Freedom and hunger traded for slavery and food.
I knew then what would happen. Captured, I had the power to free. Slipping on my Master’s glove, the goshawk stepped up and I worked the belled jesses from both legs.
A launch and he soared over me, screaming his delight. I raised my arms, my spirit in flight, my chains now looser for his freedom.
The Falconer, now my Master, was not a cruel man. I found this out when he realized his goshawk gone. He did not question me as I served him his dinner, nor did he ask anything of me when we slept that night.
Only at morning did I find him watching me with a quizzical look on his face.
“Do you understand the point of keeping a goshawk, girl?”
I shook my head. Rarely did I use my voice in answering him. I did not trust it after so many changes
“Well, let’s say that in freeing him, you have upset the balance of nature.”
I looked at him curiously. What balance of nature?
With a slight smile he asked: “What do you intend to cook for dinner tonight?”
Of course! The goshawk hunted and we ate what he killed.
“Know you goshawks are called ‘the pot bird’? And since he ate from the glove as you did he will probably starve. That is what I meant by upsetting the balance of nature, girl.”
I looked for the goshawk all day until my neck was stiff. My dreams that night were full of broken feathers.
(Introduction to the Tengu)
It was weeks of anxiously watching the skies for the goshawk before I gave up. I never saw him again. I learned to trap rabbits and put offal on the roof of the mews in case he flew over.
My Master sometimes watched me from the window, never saying a word about his goshawk. I now set the traps and killed the rabbits and in effect I was the goshawk.
Trapping rabbits is tricky, but soon the spring would bring fiddlehead ferns and tender green dandelions to vary our diet.
One day I passed the mews and there sat a huge bird. I quickly entered, my basket of offal in my arms. He turned his head towards me, and I screamed, the first real sound I made since my capture
It was a beautiful iridescent bird, having a man’s head with a long, red nose. He shook his feathers and crept towards the offal and wrinkled his nose.
“Girl, even a Tengu eats better fare. Get me some meat and sake.”
I backed out of the mews, and ran to the house. Transformations be damned, this was a strange one!
I ran into the house, panting with shock and exertion. A Tengu! Sitting in the mews.
No sake, just my Master’s single malt I dare not touch, but found sherry and some cold pieces of rabbit. I wondered if a Tengu, bird/man such as he was, would rather have raw fare. A bird of prey would disdain the cooked rabbit, but he did have a man’s face. The leftover rabbit would have to suffice.
My Master was gone, expected at dusk. I walked slowly back to the mews, hoping my mind was playing tricks. There he was, as big as, well, there was the Tengu scowling at my approach.
Human hands appeared from under his hummingbird colored feathers and he greedily grasped the sherry bottle and drank a long gulp.
“Not sake, girl, but good for a thirsty bird.” He grinned and his nose got even redder.
“You are thinking, ‘why is he here now’? Ah girl, deep cosmic issues. You and me in the mix. One last chance for me to throw off some bad karma.”
He finished the sherry, belched and leered at me.
I heard my Master return on his horse.
I ran out of the mews with my offal basket over my arm. I must have looked funny to him because he kicked his horse to hurry to me. Looking down he peered into my eyes and an expression of concern crossed his face
“What is wrong, girl? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
My eyes wandered back to the mews and his followed mine. Dismounting, he let the horse wander into the barn and walked quickly into the mews. I followed him with quick steps.
He pulled on the falconer’s glove and approached the Tengu, now looking very much like a large, normal bird. He looked for bands, jesses and bells but found none of course.
“Strange, girl, he would find his way here. Well, perhaps he has promise of hunting if he is young enough to train. I don’t know though, he looks rather old to me.”
Telling me to draw water and feed him some raw meat, he headed to the house.
The Tengu watched my Master retreat with hawk eyes.
He had a nasty cackle. “Your Master has no idea how old. Feed me well girl, I’ve got magic to conjure. Scram!”
I came back with the Tengu’s dinner that I filched from my own. He wasn’t in a pleasant mood when I entered the mews, but certainly ate what I brought him with relish.
“Good”. He belched, wiped his mouth with the cloth that covered the basket of food.
Leering at me, he winked one eye.
“Sir,” I asked, “What am I to call you?” He had started to pick lice from his feathers, crush them and drop them on the ground.
“Sir will do nicely for now.”
“Where did you come from?”
“Ah, the eternal question! Well, I came from Mount Kurama, all Tengu do, but I prefer to haunt Toyko. Like to be a pigeon in a park and look up the skirts of the women there. Nothing more, just like to see muffs and thighs, favorite parts.”
I was a bit taken back. I read something of Tengu. “Don’t you hang with Buddhist priests?”
He barked a short laugh. “Picked on the wrong one. Powerful Yamabushi. Bad karma
now. That’s why I’m here. You need me.”
He wasn’t the pleasantest of Tengu, but he certainly was the first. Perhaps need went both ways.
The spring warmed up and Tengu and I took walks through the countryside. He adopted the guise of a large, golden eagle in case my Master saw us walking in the fields above the house.
The soft air nuzzled my arms and legs and the Tengu shook out his wings, opening and closing his large beak, drinking in the sweet air.
I told him of my past, the strange transformations from woman to bug to hawk and back to woman. His eyes got big with surprise.
“You have one fucked up karma, girl. And I thought mine was shitty.”
My Master had placed me in light chains, and I caught the Tengu contemplating them.
“Ah”, he said, reading my mind, “I’m wondering if they will interfere with your wings.” I was afraid to ask anything, but my heart started to race.
Later that morning, he twisted my chains into a tighter bondage. He now used my soft body for ikebana, fertile soil for him to place the stems of spring flowers and twigs in my hollows, fill my lap and hair with long grasses, giving new meaning to gardening and beauty and gentleness.
The End, so far…..
The “Shibari Series” was previously published in “Seasoning of Lust”, Lulu.com, 2009