Posts Tagged ‘Japan in the 17th century’

“Tsuki”, Book Two of the Kimono trilogy.

September 22, 2019



I published “The Kimono” in October, 2018. There was enough interest in this first book to make this a possible trilogy.   Tsuki is the son of Lord Tetsu and Lady Mari…he is now 7 years old and quite a handful.  They have a daughter, Miu, and she will be the subject of the third book.

I want to thank those writers and poets who have read “Kimono” and have encouraged me to continue on with this story.  I am in the midst of research for the second novel.  I have written a few chapters, but I think this book will write itself.

Lady Nyo 


Dusk had fallen. Lord Yoki and Tsuki, ducked out the back entrance from the temple to the pond. There a stand of trees shaded the pond and covered their presence. Lord Yoki knew he would be in trouble if found, but the frogs were calling. Plus, the taste of frog legs was in his mouth all day.


Young Tsuki, the son of Lord Tetsu, was seven years old. Lord Yoki was much older and wiser, but he was bored with the recitation of sutras that held him captive every day. Lord Yoki couldn’t read, plus he was a Tengu, and birds don’t favor literature. Nor do they recite sutras. Lord Yoki was the tutor to the young Tsuki. Appointed by Lord Tetsu, the former daimyo who had abdicated his position to another long-time friend and ally, Lord Ekei. Now he was in exile on a western coast of upper Japan, low on the side of a mountain.


Lord Yoki’s kimono was wet from the pond. He fell in, overreaching with his gigging spear. Tsuki followed him, excitedly thrashing the calm waters with his. Pond scum coated their clothes and Lord Yoki, once back on the bank, looked at his charge. There would be Hell to pay if Lord Tetsu caught them.


“Come, young master. I’ll take the basket and have it delivered to the kitchen. You go clean up and change your kimono. Your mother will have my head if she sees you in such a state.”


Tsuki entered their house and looking for his father, saw him on the balcony. Bowing lowly, he addressed his stern father.


“Father, I am home.”


Lord Tetsu turned and looked for a long moment at his son.


“I see. And I also see that you have been in the pond again. What was it this time? Carp or frogs?”


Tsuki blushed and bowed even lower. “Father, I can’t help it. The frogs this time were calling to me.”


“Oh Ho! Were they looking to hear the sutras or did you read them to the frogs?”


Tsuki looked confused. “Father, you know that these kappa relatives don’t like to hear sutras. They only want to hear each other croak.”


Lord Tetsu started to smile broadly. His son was full of answers this evening, but his punishment would be mild.


“If that be the case, then you, Tsuki, recite a poem on what you and the frogs were doing out there.”


“It wasn’t only me, Father. Lord Yoki was with me.”


“So I have two to blame for this?   Lord Yoki is his own man, so he is to be excused….but you, my son are still under my thumb.”


Tsuki looked crestfallen and dropped his eyes to the floor. He had betrayed his friend Lord Yoki. He already knew that his tutor would never do this to him. He had covered his antics many times.


“Father, can I have some time to compose this frog poem?”


Lord Tetsu glared at his son. “You can have dinner after you compose your poem.”


Tsuki knew he couldn’t compose in such a short time. He was not too keen on poetry, even short ones. They made him cross his eyes and stick out his tongue in the attempt. Plus, he was hungry. He bowed to his father and went to his room. Ah, his father was a renown poet, as was his m other, Lady Mari. He, however, strained his brains to come up with even a short one.


“Bull frogs, Bull frogs”. Nothing came to mind. Perhaps he could seek out his tutor, as Lord Yoki was quick of mind.


Tsuki slipped down a hall where his tutor had rooms. When he was allowed entrance to Lord Yoki’s rooms, they always smelled strange. This time was no different.


He bowed low at the shoji and spied his tutor laying spread eagle on his bed. Even his bed was different and strange. It was like the futon was a pile of sticks and twigs with a quilt thrown over it all.


Lord Yoki sat up and nodded to the boy. He had not changed his gown and it still was stained with pond scum.


“What is it now, young master?”


“Honorable Tutor. My father perceived that I was gigging frogs again in the north pond.”


“And is that so unusual, son? You spend as much time in that pond as you do in the temple at your lessons.”


“Yes, that is true, my Lord. But frogs sing a different song than those boring sutras. Plus you can eat them where you can’t eat a sutra.”


“So! What is it this time? What is the punishment your Lord Father demands?”


“My lord, he demands a poem about bull frogs.”


Tsuki put on a sad, mournful face. “Honorable Tutor. Will you help me? My father has forbidden me to eat my dinner until I present a poem about frogs.”


“Well, we can’t have you starving, Tsuki. Let me think, son.” Lord Yoki looked up at the ceiling and then down at the floor.


“I will help. IF you think of the final line. Then we can attest that you at least had your hand in this.”



Bullfrogs bellow a different pitch

Autumn’s fast approaching.

And though they soak in a rocky pond……



“Your turn, Tsuki. Close out the poem.’


“They escape the sun?”


“Well, it has promise. What are the frogs trying to escape? Think a bit more.”


“Summer heat they can’t escape?”


‘Not a bad ending, son. You are not a seasoned poet, but that should get you dinner.”



When Tsuki presented himself for dinner, his father, mother and sister were sitting at the long, low dining table.


“Good. We await your poem as I am sure you await your dinner.”

His sister, almost 5 years old, sitting there and her head barely clearing the table. She was sticking out her tongue at him. Lady Mari pinched her arm.

Tsuki recited his frog poem and his father looked at him with one eye closed.

“It has the scent of Lord Yoki about it, but perhaps you had a hand in the composition?”

Tsuki nodded and blushed.

“Well, sit down. You have earned your dinner.”

Tsuki sat across his sister and tried to look in the pot as a maid made her rounds of the table. He was hoping there was something besides miso broth in it.

His sister crossed her eyes and tried to stare at him. This was what she had learned as ‘the evil eye’ from one of the maids. Tsuki glared at her and tried to look fierce. Lord Tetsu rapped the table with his spoon and Lady Mari pinched his sister again.

Miu was the name of Lord and Lady Tetsu’s daughter. She was tiny, her round head with her skimpy hair pulled into a topknot, she was a beautiful little doll. She glanced at her father, using her spoon to eat the broth. She got much of it down her bib.

She was the apple of her father’s eye, and she knew it. Even at her tender age she knew she had her father wrapped around her tiny finger. She smiled at him, her lips glossy with broth. Twisting her head around like a wood owl, he stopped eating just to watch her and tenderness appeared on his face. He glanced at his wife and smiled. From a fierce warlord, the sight of his two children had turned him into a tender nursemaid, not able to deny them anything. Many years before, he had a younger wife with two young children, a boy and a girl. He was on land, all three were off the coast returning from a visit to relatives, when a rogue wave dashed the ship onto rocks. All drowned. After the funerals, he climbed into the mountains and trained with Yamabushi ” the warriors who sleep on the mountains”. He was gone for three years.

Lady Mari turned to wipe the broth from Miu’s face. She had been surprised at the sentiment her husband had shown with his children. When she was finally introduced in his court she heard a shocking tale. Lord Tetsu had risen from his seat and cut a man in half with his katana. The whole court had witnessed this slaughter. Now, an ex-daimyo his children were the centre of his life. He had tried for more, but Lady Mari was growing older and no more children were born. She wondered if her husband would take a second wife for children. So far, there had been no discussion of this, but she already knew that these sort of things were not the concern of the first wife. It was a man’s decision.

Jane Kohut- Bartels

Copyrighted, 2019

Kimono Cover

“The Temptation of Lady Nyo” from “The Nightingale’s Song”

February 7, 2013
Japanese Ghosts

Japanese Ghosts

This “Temptation” is part of a series of ‘long’ poems, (not choka) that will go into “The Nightingale’s Song”. Hopefully I will be able to publish this 10 part series this summer.

Lady Nyo, but not the same one tempted…..

Haiku for today:

Fallen leaves crackle.
Sparrows add the treble notes.
Season’s musical.


Does he know?
Does he know?
Does he know about the letters?

The court of Lord Mori
Was a small one
Where the men,
Lord Nyo included
Sat and discussed business:
The pleasurable business of hunting,
Archery, drinking
And , on occasion,
just for form’s sake,
Wrote bad poetry.

The women of course
Were positioned behind carved screens,
Where the eagle-eyed Lady Mori,
An old and powdered dragon
Conducted her own court of
Writing more bad poetry, finger games
And layering sleeves and hems for the
Best effects…unseen by anyone else
Except the other ladies.

There was a break in this
Unending monotony one day:
Lady Nyo received notes
From some unknown admirer
Stuffed in different places where
She would find them:
Her screen at court,
On her silk, embroidered cushion,
And even penned on her fan.
She never knew who was so bold,
Never saw even a glimmer of him-
He could have been a ghost.
She recorded her answers in her journal
So she could have evidence of her innocence
Yet she buried his letters in the garden under
A bed of peonies.
She could not bear to burn them.

Yesterday I found a fan with a poem
Stuck in the screen.
Today I found another one placed
On my cushion at court.
Do you have a death wish?
Do you desire the death of me?
You know my husband is known for his temper.
Would I end my life so dishonored?

I see you are as persistent
As the rain in Spring.
Have you no fear?
What is your interest?
Surely I am just another painted face.

I read your poem.
I could do nothing else.
This time it was inked upon
MY fan.

“The wind blows from the north
Chilling my heart.
Only the thought of a touch of your sleeve
Warms me.”
Very nice, but my sleeves are not interested.

“I throw acorns
To the darting carp.
With each nut I say a
Prayer for your health.”
Lovely sentiment, and I am
Always grateful for prayers.
But do you think of my reputation
And what you risk?

I see no poetry this morning
Though I searched for your usual offering.
I knew your interest was as capricious
As a flight of moths.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

The Kimono, Chapter 15

November 15, 2012

This chapter is from a novel that is a work in progress. it’s a time warp, with Mari, a Japanese/American woman who is transported back to the 17th century Japan by a magic kimono she finds in Kyoto. Mari is of the 21st century, and Lord Mori, and the rest are of the 17th. Lord Mori manipulated the kimono to bring him a woman, but didn’t expect a woman from 21st century Japan. Lord Mori and the a few of the other men in this chapter are Yamabushi, mountain priests who also are magicians. Lord Mori is a daimyo, a warlord in the NW (Akito) Japan. Lord Yoki is quite the character, who appears as a Tengu, a large bird, but very human when he choses to be. Lady Nyo reveals characteristics of her personality that are rather…mean.

Chapter 15, The Kimono

On the first day of the month called Uzuki, or u-no-hana (flower), Lord Mori called a council of his closest advisors, minus his trusted carp. Fierce spring winds were whipping the cherry trees and petals filled the air, falling like late spring snow.
His advisors were Lords Ekei, Yoki and Nyo, with the requested attendance of the Lady Nyo.
Lady Nyo knelt behind her husband. She was not comfortable in the presence of these lords. She was not amongst Lord Mori’s advisors, and as a woman, of course was out of place. What could be her purpose for being here? She arranged her kimono hems and sleeves with little movement, and settled in to listen.
The morning was chilly –an early spring day. The fog had disappeared and she could hear the ducks and geese on the water near the castle.
She noticed an unraveling thread on top of the shoulder of her Lord Nyo. She would have to mend it before it got worse. Ah, men. They were like children without women around.
She bowed her head, as a proper wife should, but watched the men carefully. The movements of Lord Yoki caught her attention. This was a strange bird! He even looked a bit like a bird with a large, red beak. She thought he probably drank more than his share of sake. A red nose was a tell-tale sign of that. His kimono, though of a good quality, was filthy, splattered with stains. He had a disgusting way of hacking, spitting on the floor besides him. Lady Nyo shuddered. At least he could carry some paper handkerchiefs and use them.
The men’s voices droned on. She thought she should listen more closely, but by the Gods! These men were talking of how many soldiers they could gather, who was a vassal to depend upon and who would have to be nudged, bribed or threatened depending on their status. All of them were in obeisance to Lord Mori, but some had to be reminded of their obligations.
Lord Mori was a powerful lord, but these years had been peaceful. Lord Kiyami threatening Lord Mori would be a terrible thing. Lord Mori would have to wage war against Lord Kiyami.
Ah! There were so many obstacles to a quiet life!
Lady Nyo felt her head would crack. All this talking of war! By the Shogun’s decree, no daimyo could wage war against another. That was common knowledge. Exile or death would be the end for any foolhardy daimyo who dared to breech the edict of Heaven.
But the region was so far from the capitol! Akita faced the Ou and Dewa mountain ranges to the east, and the Sea to the west. Sometimes it took months before important travelers even came to the castle. If Lord Kiyami ringed the mountain passes with his vassals, well, there would be battles and hardships aplenty for all of them.

Ah, there were many obstacles to a peaceful life. It was quite the maneuver for Lord Mori to gather his vassals and men to make the trek to the capitol every two years. But it was demanded of the Shogun. It kept the daimyos from each other’s throats, but with Lord Kiyami, it might now not be working. She had gone on a number of occasions and her eyes had been dazzled by the splendor of the Shogun’s court. The silks and colors and sumptuous robes and elegant manners were enough to fill her head with dreams! She would admit, though, to be glad to go home to her more humble house back in the mountains of Akita. One could take just so much pomp and splendor.
She was descended from a powerful samurai family who was close to the Heian court centuries ago. Her family had suffered the swings of fortune and though she was from a minor wing of the Fujiwara clan, she could hold up her head. Her father had been a court official and her marriage to her Lord considered a good one. Though she had no children, she was still within the breeding age. She prayed and left small offerings at shrines.
Ah! Fate would rule, and the meek Lady Nyo knew she was a pawn in the larger game of life. Fate was on the side of men.
The men’s voices droned on. Lord Yori was still hawking and spitting. He looked like an unwashed goblin!
She fixed a small smile on her face. She had too much breeding to reveal her sentiments. She wondered though, about the Lady Mari. What kind of breeding did she have? Where did that woman come from? Her husband told her not to ask questions of the Lady Mari, but to serve with total devotion. She understood that. She had been given a great task and responsibility. Her Lord Mori had honored her with his confidence in her humble abilities. She still had her private, most inner thoughts, and no lord could stop her from thinking.

There were many things about Lady Mari that were a mystery. Lady Nyo could admit she was a bit envious of Lady Mari. How did she happen to capture the eye of Lord Mori? There were many other women who would be proper concubines, even a wife for this desirable lord. Why the rather plain Lady Mari? She was not educated as a court woman. No, she would embarrass the plainest court in the land. Only just in the last short amount of time had the Lady Mari even been able to kneel properly!
Where did she come from? Who were her family? She never talked about that, and that was of the most importance under heaven!
And she was rather….strange looking. Tall and thin for a proper woman, of course she had been sick with the breeding and the loss of the child, but there was something strange about her womanliness.
Lady Nyo smiled. She had heard the great Lord Tokugawa had even called her ugly! Of course he was drunk at the time, but this certainly was no stain on him. Most men got drunk, some every night and such a great lord as he would be above any reproach.
But he had called her ugly and she had been present! Oh, what a loss of face for the Lady Mari!
Lady Nyo’s brow furrowed. What could be the attraction of Lord Mori to this woman? Was it possible he saw something beyond her awkward, unpolished ways and had fallen in love with this creature? Was it possible the Lady Mari could cast a spell like a mountain spirit? Surely the great Lord Mori was immune to such things.
Her husband, when drunk on sake, once said Lord Mori had his own magic. Whether this was but drunken words or something else, her husband had smiled and rolled over on his back. He refused to talk further about his lord and fell asleep, snoring loudly.
Ah, there were so many mysteries in the air!
But….what is it that makes a man and a woman know that they, of all other men and women in the world, belong to each other? Is it no more than chance and meeting? No more than being alive in the world at the same time? Does clan and family, position and status mean nothing?
Suddenly she felt sad. She had a good marriage, but her lord was not of the best temper. No, he was a man, and little of the heart could be expected of them.

Year after year, it was as if she was holding her breath, waiting for something to happen, for life to change, for life to start, something she could not even recognize…to happen. The other women had children and she had none. They drew comfort from their babies, their growing children. She had none of this comfort. No, none of this comfort. And knowing how his mother was, her esteemed mother in law, well, she already knew what the baby’s name would be: Kusako, “Shit Child” if a girl, and Akoguso, “Cute Little Shit” if a boy. Her mother, too, would nag her until they were named such names. All to keep the demons away.
Lady Nyo sighed audibly. She threw her hand to her mouth in embarrassment, glancing at Lord Mori. He was listening to another. Only her husband twitching his shoulder showed he had heard.
Men. They were strange and cruel creatures, neh? Her lord was no exception. Who knew what repelled and attracted a man?
Finally the meeting ended. She rocked back on her heels and rose, now a bit stiff, bowing to the Lord Mori. He motioned for her to come to him, and with her eyes cast down she approached.

The Lord Mori looked down on this tiny, plump woman, her hair arranged in braids pinned around her head.
“How does the Lady Mari fare, Lady Nyo?”
Ah, she thought! This is why he wanted me in the room. Well, I can tell him what I know.
“To my eyes, she is well, my Lord.”
“Does she sleep well? Is she in pain?”
“She sleeps well, my lord. The doctor gave me a potion to give to her before she sleeps, but she is now only sleeping during the night with a long nap during the day.”
“And the doctor predicts that she will fully recover?”
“He is hopeful, my Lord, the Lady Mari will regain her full strength.”
Lord Mori grunted approval, and fell silent. Lady Nyo thought he had more than a passing interest in the health of Lady Mari and she was correct.
“Since these are matters of women, I will rely upon your experience, Lady Nyo.”
Lady Nyo bowed in gratitude.
“However, …..I am thinking the Lady Mari would be bored before long and as I have these issues with my Lord Kiyami to attend, I will not be able to give her much direction. You understand?”
“Of course, my lord. I was thinking perhaps Lady Mari could compile her poetry in a book. She could ‘talk to the paper’ and perhaps that will spur her interest in life.
“Do you think she is becoming despondent, Lady Nyo?”
“Oh, my lord! I am no one to have such powers of observation! However….given a task she would enjoy would hasten her health.”
Lord Mori grunted. Whether he was expressing approval or not was hard to tell. It was always hard to tell with men.
“Has the doctor expressed why she lost the child?”
She was surprised at the directness of his question. Men usually were not interested in such things. She had her own ideas why Mari lost the baby.
“If I may venture a thought, my lord, and it is only my own.”
“Granted. Tell me your thoughts.”
Lady Nyo knew thin ice when she saw it, but she would plow on.
“Perhaps the problem lay within the fifth month of her bearing, my lord. As you know, according to the Shinto calendar, the Day of the Dog celebrates the bearing and guards the baby from harm. Since the Dog is a messenger of the Gods and chases the evil spirits away, perhaps it would have been auspicious to present the Lady Mari to the temple and for the donning of the hara-obi. As you know, this sash would have protected her baby and kept it warm.”
Lord Mori’s eyes narrowed. If Lady Nyo had looked up at his face, perhaps she would have thought to have angered him.
True, thought Lady Nyo, this presentation to the temple priests was done within the company of both grandmothers and since the Lady Mari had just appeared out of thin air with no family and no known clan…at least known to her, well, it was all rather confusing….and improper. Of course, she could not express her opinion, except to her husband and maybe not even him.

COPYRIGHTED, 2010, 2012

“Lady Nyo Forgives Her Husband”…..

October 8, 2012

I found these poems in “A Seasoning of Lust”, published by in 2009. They certainly can be used in “The Nightingale’s Song”, a collection of poems about the marriage of Lord and Lady Nyo and their marital turmoil. I just have to figure a way to use them without unbalancing what I have already done. I do think they point to the power that Lady Nyo has in this marriage, even married to an old samurai.


Stop tickling me!
Yes, I forgive you,
but you take such liberties!
Your hands are not clean from
previous crimes.
Go wash them in the snow of
last year’s falling.
Then I will reconsider your request.

Look! There is a cardinal,
red as blood and as cocky
as a lord.
See his mate?
She is dull, but has her lipstick
on this morning.


My face still bears blushes.
You thought it was good health?
No, it just reflects the liberty
of dreams.

(My mind is still shattered
And my heart still sore.)
But I put on a fresh face
full of smiles and polite manner.
It would shock our friends if
they knew the turmoil of
my heart.

You came with a mouthful of ‘sorry’
and leave now with other parts eased.
Never mind.
Your coming and going has served a dual purpose.

The spring is so tender.
My heart blooms like the white plums.
Do you think our happiness will last
til apple time?

Off you go,
and don’t look back.
If you turn, you will see serenity.
But behind this mask,
is a well of longing.

Last night
I tied my kimono tightly,
bound it with a red silk rope
like an impassioned lover’s hands
around a wasp waist,
and kneeling upon a cushion,
awaited the rising of the moon.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2012

‘Lady Nyo’s Torment’….from “The Nightingale’s Song”

August 25, 2012

“The Nightingale’s Song”, to be published Winter, 2013

I have been slowed down this summer by some physical issues, and the series of poems that make up “The Nightingale’s Song” have suffered.  I am hopeful this fall I will be able to get back to this story, for in reading it, I find them to be as compelling  as when I wrote them at the end of last year. 

I was just at the point of starting to learn, or to teach myself sumi-e painting and wanted to lard the book with original paintings….in black and white, with perhaps a flash of red somewhere.  That fell apart when I broke my wrist…my dominant wrist.  Soon I hope I won’t have that excuse.

Much of the inspiration for “The Nightingale’s Song” came from my reading of the great Japanese “Manyoshu”, a document of over 4500 poems.   I have written a lot on this blog about this historical document, so I won’t go back over this territory.  Those interested in the Manyoshu can do their own research or find my blog entries on it.

This piece is not the first piece of “The Nightingale’s Story”.  I have some rewriting of several of them. This story is of a middle aged couple in 17th century Japan.

Lady Nyo (but not the one in the story….)

 “I stay here waiting for him

In the autumn wind, my sash untied,

Wondering, is he coming now,

Is he coming now?

And the moon is low in the sky.

The only company I have tonight,

Now near dawn, is the paling Milky Way,

And Oh, my husband!

There are not stars enough in the heavens

To equal my sorrowful tears.”


Hana Nyo threw the quilted robe from over her head.

It was just a dream, just a dream. 

Then why does my heart pound so?

Two nights before

Lady Nyo and her nurse

Spent the hours til dawn

Watching the flame rise and fall

Through the shoji of Lord Nyo’s room,

 Watched the candle

Consume the poems he was writing–

But to whom?

“Ah, he has another woman!”

Her nurse was loyal but leaned

On the privilege of time.

Lady Nyo’s heart took flight.

Fear and shame dueled

In her blood, pushing reason

From her head.

Did he know?

Did he know?

Did he know about the poems?

Did he know of the vanished lover?

For two days it rained,

Waterfalling   off the eaves,

Broke the stems of the chrysanthemums,

Scattered the flower heads,

Blew great gusts of wet wind into her room,

Blanketing an already sorrowful mind

With a seasonal fury.

Lord Nyo had ridden out

The dawn after

The Night of Burning Poems,

Dressed for hunting,

His falcon on his glove,

Not a word of farewell,

Not a baleful glance in her direction.

She watched him mount his horse,

And gallop away.

She watched from the slits between bamboo blinds,

Like a thief or a beggar,

She didn’t know what she was,

 felt the sharp sting of shame,

a particular loss of something she probably

Never had.

Lady Nyo spent the day journal writing,

Her misery reflected in an unpainted face,

Tangled hair,

Shunning food as a sacrifice:

The pain of her torment

Was not lessened.

Once I did believe

That no love could still linger

Within my heart

Yet, a love springs from somewhere

And forces itself on me.”



“My eyes have seen you

But I’ve yet to hold you close

You’re like a laurel

That is growing on the moon

And I don’t know what to do.”


Yes, and I don’t know what to do.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2012

‘Lord Nyo’s Moon Child’

February 21, 2012

from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part II

(woodblock print by T. Yoshitushi/ a 

(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

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