Posts Tagged ‘“The Kimono”’

“The Kimono”, Chapter One.

November 29, 2018

Kimono Cover

“The Kimono” was published this October, 2018 and is available on Amazon.com

It hung in the window of a shop as Mari walked around old Kyoto. The shop looked out on a very small, shaded garden. With the sun overhead piercing the fan-shaped leaves of a gingko, the ground beneath looked like a yukata’s repeat pattern. Mari’s gaze was drawn to a slim beacon of light. It was enough to make her enter the small shop.

“Ohayo!” The shopkeeper came from behind his counter and bowed respectfully to Mari.

“Ohayo.” Mari bowed back.

Mari was Japanese-American, married to an ex-military man and this was their first trip to Japan. The only Japanese thing she knew was food. This culture was no more hers than being American. She felt she would forever be caught in the middle, a tug of war between two sides, and neither to claim her.

Behind the counter, Mari saw what had caught her attention: a kimono, a black, formal tomesode that a married woman would wear, not dyed with the usual flowers worn by young, unmarried women. Winding around the hem in mountains and valleys and up in a serpentine path high on the left front was a wide silver band. Looking closer, she saw the intricate handwork of what looked like stitched, silver cloth.

“That is surihaku, embossed silver sewn foil.”

The voice of the shopkeeper startled her. She blushed, not hearing him approach.

“How old is this kimono? May I look at it closer?”

The shopkeeper took it down from the pole and carefully draped it over his arm. Mari traced the river of silver from the hem to where it stopped. She noticed the kimono also had five white crests stamped on the front, shoulders and back. The shopkeeper opened the left panel of the kimono. Mari saw black knotted embroidery around the tan, the part that encircled the hips. The silver was only the outside decoration. The embroidery inside was heavy and patterned.

Mari could not restrain from touching the embroidery. She wanted to close her eyes and read it like Braille. She had never seen a kimono quite like this. It wasn’t new but it couldn’t be too old, perhaps no more than sixty years. It seemed in excellent condition. Even the white thread that was used when the kimono was washed was still fresh.

“Do you know anything about this tomesode? Where it came from, perhaps?”

The shopkeeper sighed. “No. I am a widower. My wife must have bought it. I found it after she died, in a chest.”

Mari decided to purchase the black kimono. The shopkeeper wrapped it in a box and she brought it home.

Four years ago, she had married Steven. They had never really settled down, for his company sent him for long stays in different countries. She went along because it was what was expected. It was never clear to her what he actually did, something to do with numbers and systems and computer codes. He was an expert in his field and the company was happy to uproot them both and send them afield.

Mari was not unhappy in the marriage, just restless. Steven had his work but she had nothing to do except knock about the streets and look at people, read and think. Mari’s mother thought her malaise was over the issue of children but Mari didn’t think this was such a big issue for her. Steven complained children would complicate their movements and Steven was all about keeping things simple. Mari put up little resistance to whatever her husband wanted. Perhaps her mother, who was a traditional Japanese wife, had influenced her attitude. Her mother always submitted to what her husband wanted. Mari did likewise.

It was two days before she tried on the kimono. After carefully untying the string and opening the box, she took it out and held it in front of her. The weight of the winter crêpe felt heavy. Mari laid the kimono on the bed, kneeled, and again traced the silver river, this time with her face pressed on the cloth, her eyes following the winding course of silver. It was as cool as water on her skin. Laying it open on the bed, she looked carefully at the black embroidery, wondering if there was a pattern in the high knots that coursed around the silk. She couldn’t tell because the pattern was like hieroglyphics, perhaps a secret language sewn into the silk, something indiscernible.

Mari stripped and pulled the kimono around her, binding it to her firmly. It was heavy on her body, clinging like a second skin. She sat on the floor feeling suddenly overwhelmed with a heaviness her legs could not support. She held out her arms, the dull silk rippling like water. It fell into the form of her breasts and she felt her nipples harden. It must be the cold of the crêpe, she thought.

Sitting on the floor, Mari hugged herself. She watched the river of silver course up her leg and disappear into the interior of the kimono. She wondered about the course of her own life. What would the years with Steven bring and could she endure this dullness inside? With a start, she realized that was exactly what she was feeling, a leaden dullness that leached out all color around her. Perhaps that was the attraction of the kimono now wrapped around her, the silver surihaku that led to her noticing it in the shop, the brightness of something to catch her eye and fire her imagination.

Mari didn’t know how long she’d been sitting on the floor. Her thoughts spiraled inward like the design of a nautilus shell. She looked at the clock next to the bed and was amazed an hour had passed. She stood and dropped the kimono on the floor. It puddled into a landscape of black hills, valleys and rivers.

Mari touched her left hip and discovered a series of indentations in her skin. In fact, all around her hips, stretching from one side to the other, there was a definite pattern pressed into her flesh. She thought of the weaves of a basket, the marks of a rope, the binding of her flesh to something stronger than her own mind.

When Steven came home, she showed him the kimono.

“Why a black one, Mari? You will look like an old crow in that.”

A less than flattering characterization but Stephen was sometimes rather critical of how she dressed. Mari did not go for floral designs and bright colors. She picked colors that were neutral, earth tones, colors that made her disappear.

“Married women in Japan always wear black kimonos, Steven. It’s the unmarried women who wear floral designs.”

“Well, get a red one and I’ll be interested in your choice of bathrobes.” Stephen was not taken by Japanese culture. His whole purpose in life was to do his job and move on.

That night when they went to bed, Mari was cold. The weather had changed and fall was becoming chilly. She got out of bed and padded to where she hung the kimono. Pulling it around her body, its heaviness and drape comforted her. She returned to bed and fell asleep.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“The Kimono” Chapter 3….Warning: Sexual content.

October 21, 2018

The_Kimono_Cover_for_blog_use

Mari was captured within the web of a warrior with two swords under his sash, probably a very violent man, but one who wrote exquisite verse. Lord Tetsu caught her watching his face and abruptly ended his recitation of a poem. Without thinking, she reached out her left hand to his arm, her eyes swimming with tears. She was moved beyond measure with the contradictions of this man. She felt a tenderness she had not been able to feel for a long time.

He grabbed her hand and pulled it into the breast of his kimono, staring at her. She, realizing he had mistaken her gesture, tried to pull back her arm, but the deed was done. Lord Tetsu stood up, pulling her to him. She shook her head. “No, I am married.”

Laughing, he threw back his head. “Yet here you are in my chamber, naked, and you expect me to let you go? Remember you were brought here by magic and for my usage. Did you think the morning would be spent in poetry alone?” He grabbed her hands and the quilt fell off her shoulders. “I can smell your scent. You are aroused by your curiosity. You wonder what it would be like to be taken by a samurai, Woman-called-Mari. You will find out.”

He threw Mari on the futon and dropped his swords, laying them out of her reach. Untying his various kimonos, he discarded the two outer ones and left the white linen undergarment. He wore the trousers of the samurai and, with his eyes on the woman cowered below him, untied the drawstring and let his pants fall to the ground.

Mari’s eyes widened. He was a large man in life and equal to that beneath his kimono. He threw himself over her and in a low voice whispered, “Idu-go, Idu-e.” (“One moment, only once.”) He trapped her face in his large hand, his eyes holding her gaze. “The pain will be only one moment’s worth, you will fill with me and be grateful. Now, Woman-called-Mari, kiss me without struggling, for I like a docile woman in my bed.”

Mari was pinned beneath him and could only claw his shoulders. He raised himself and laughed, trapped both of her hands in his and pulled them above her head, grasping them with one of his hands. He crushed her mouth with a hard kiss. Mari moaned and spat at him, outraged at this treatment. He reached over the side of the futon and picked up a sash. Looping it firmly around her hands, he tied them to a pillar at the top of the futon.

“Stop it, stop it! I am a married woman!”

“Yet you are naked under me and aroused without my touching you.”

It was true. The sensible modern Mari was outraged at this behavior but her body was provoked in spite of her. Something stronger was at play than feminist convictions. She felt her body was abandoning her mind. Surely he knew she was not a peasant woman or a prostitute who would spread her legs for a few coins.

With a mixture of tenderness and wildness, Lord Tetsu worked his way down her body, kissing her neck, her breasts and finally, her sex. Mari’s plea for him to stop had changed to moans, the sounds of a growing desire. Her husband never made love to her this way, in fact, he avoided all such foreplay. Mari could not help but moan louder. Her face was a stretched frenzy, her eyes fluttering back into their sockets.

Lord Tetsu then entered her. Mari gasped and bucked but he kept going until he was like a sword sheathed to the hilt. Her passion was now fully inflamed.

“Oh, untie me, untie my arms, please, let me embrace you,” Mari begged.

Lord Tetsu untied her arms but held them firmly. He moved in her slowly as she adjusted to his fullness. Mari gasped, the sensations so strong she couldn’t hold back. The power of his thrusts increased as she tipped to the edge. With a yell, she climaxed, her body shaking, her voice something she didn’t recognize as her own. Moments later, Lord Tetsu joined in her delirium and with a groan, released himself inside her. Joined together tightly, they lay panting on the futon. Mari had never experienced such intensity with a man. She curled into his arms and sobbed softly.

“You are a lovely flower. Your husband has riches he cannot count.”

Mari shuddered at the mention of her husband. She had never opened to Steven like she had to this man. It took a stranger for her to experience such arousal.

The rest of the morning and into the evening they made love and wrote poetry. Mari composed haiku and recited her verses. He was tolerant of her efforts and threw back his head and laughed at her attempts to best him. At one point, he went to the chest where the black kimono lay and carefully placed it on the stone floor of the room. He brought back a quilted kimono and wrapped Mari with his own, now gentler hands. She thought it best not to ask whose kimono it was and was just grateful for the warmth. They drank the rest of the broth and warmed a bottle of sake.

Lord Tetsu was working on papers when there was a voice outside the shoji. He called out and two men came in, bowing deeply. They were carrying more scrolls and didn’t seem to notice Mari sitting on the futon. After bowing again respectfully to Lord Tetsu, they backed out of the room. He put the scrolls on the table and started to unroll one of them.

“Lord Tetsu,” said Mari from her comfortable place by the brazier. “It seems we exist in a parallel universe.” This seemed to be the only explanation for the situation in which Mari found herself.

Lord Tetsu grunted and shrugged his shoulders. “I have no confusion. I live now. You also live now. There is no riddle.” He dismissed her words with another grunt and sat down on his stool to read.

Mari thought it prudent not to interrupt him and looked around at the room. It was rather large, obviously a room for an important official. On one side, there was archery equipment, with bows of different lengths. There were lances and other swords and what she believed were maces. If Lord Tetsu was a bureaucrat for his Shōgun, he was also a warrior.

Earlier, Lord Tetsu had opened the wooden lattice of one of the windows but the light was feeble. Mari walked over to the window and looked outside at a rolling landscape that appeared medieval. There were men and woman in distant fields, looking like tiny models of humans, working with oxen-drawn plows and mattocks and hoes. They were planting some crop but what it was, she couldn’t tell. Obviously, it was not rice, for the fields were not swamped. Perhaps it was barley or millet. There was a small village in the distance where a few plumes of smoke rose sluggishly in the air. In the distance, there were mountains rising one upon the other, the atmosphere playing tricks with the color of the ridges, fading from a dark color where nearest to a misty gray far away. Outside, well within her line of vision, flew three white cranes, rising in the sky like dull stars. She knew nothing was right or sensible today. She had appeared almost on a magic carpet, far from home and time. She felt a strange calmness, almost as if this was a natural part of her life to be savored, not dissected.

Early that evening, servants brought bowls of food. As they ate, Lord Tetsu talked of archery and the legendary Lord Tokugawa. Mari had noticed red oblong objects on the arrows where the heads should be. Lord Tetsu explained that these were “whistling arrows” used to announce the opening of battles.

“If you ever hear one, duck,” he said with a chuckle. “I have seen a man’s head split in two like a ripe melon. We shoot dogs for practice but first we scare them and they run. More sport in this.” Mari winced at his words but this was his culture, not hers.

Lord Tetsu poured heated sake into two cups and offered one to Mari. She liked the taste but two cups later could feel the effects. Lord Tetsu was an old hand at sake drinking, for cup after cup disappeared down his throat. He didn’t seem to get drunk but Mari knew she could not chance doing so. Turning over her cup, she signaled that she would drink no more.

As darkness fell, they talked quietly together, sitting on cushions before the table. Mari knew this interlude had to end and asked a question. “Lord Tetsu, I know now how I came to be here, in this room, but how do I go back?”

“I wrap you in the kimono and you go to sleep. You will wake up next to your snoring husband. He will be none the wiser for your adventure. What has been a day in your life with me will only appear to be seconds for him.”

Mari looked down to her hands in her lap. Almost in a whisper she asked him, raising her eyes to his, fearful of the answer. “Will I ever see you again?”

Lord Tetsu sat back and looked at her. His eyes searched her face and he replied in a low and gentle voice. “Mari, Woman-who-is-Married, would you chance a change in heart? Would you leave your husband to become the woman of an old samurai? Would you wish such a thing? Think carefully, girl. My world is not yours. You might wither and die here. Would you chance leaving all you know for such a fate? Can a life be built on poetry?”

Mari’s eyes were now swimming with tears. She didn’t know the answers to what he asked but she knew something in her heart had opened. Something new had startled her and brought a glimmer of a different beginning. For the first time in a long while she was feeling alive and there was no way she could explain this to him. She didn’t understand it herself.

 

 

 

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Lord Tetsu was not just a samurai under the authority of the legendary Lord Tokugawa, but a powerful sorcerer, a Yamabushi steeped in the magic and writings of the legendary En no Gyōja, the “Japanese Merlin”. Lord Tetsu had learned potent magic at the hands of masters. The kimono was enchanted by his sorcery and obeyed his commands. However, this was the first time it had snatched a “modern” woman. Lord Tetsu was surprised but pleased at its choice. Usually it was a woman afraid to meet his eyes or one who sobbed in disbelief. There was little sport in tumbling such women. He had been involved in war maps for his Lord and had been too busy with samurai life to use the kimono’s charm of late. Mari’s attempts at haiku and other forms of poetry pleased him, as did her sexual nature. She was more adventurous than the usual Japanese woman but then, of course, she was “modern”. To him, she had a rash openness, an honesty that went beyond the usual behavior of women. Where that would be condemned in a woman and chastised severely, he applauded her courage, at least in this room, for this time. There were not many women who would argue with a samurai. Most had the sense to know that death could easily follow. No, this Mari was interesting enough to bring back. The magic was limited, though, and only a day’s duration was allowed without compounding the magic. He would have to think about this, for it was risky for both.

The black kimono fluttered its edges, like a skate or stingray skimming the bottom of an ocean. Its magic energy was building, waiting for the moment when it would wrap about the woman and transport her home next to the sleeping husband. The roadmap would be the indentations the embroidery left on her hips. The kimono would know the way.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“The Kimono” part of Chapter 2.

October 19, 2018
 

This must be a dream, thought Mari. I am kneeling on something cold, hard. I smell charcoal… Where am I? It’s so dark my eyes can’t pick anything out. My arms! Why are my arms tied behind my back?

She was kneeling on a cold wooden floor. Her eyes were barely able to pick out details of a room with little light. She was shivering, now naked except for the kimono over her shoulders. She heard a grunt and a low voice.

“So. What have we here? A young maiden lost on her journey through life?”

Mari lifted her head and saw a man, or what appeared to be a man, for the room was still dim except for a low burning brazier. He certainly had a voice like a man. He rose, moved around in front of her and stared down, a bemused look on his face.

He had long, black hair, tied in a topknot, and seemed tall for a Japanese man. His forehead was high and Mari realized his hair was plucked from the front of his head. He was dressed unlike anything she had seen in modern Japanese styles for he wore what looked to be numerous robes and had a dagger in the sash at his waist.

“Catbird got your tongue?” He leaned down and raised her chin up in a hard-skinned hand. Mari shivered from fear and cold.

“Where am I? Why are my arms tied? Who are you?” Mari was stuttering, forcing her questions out, shocked as much with fear as cold.

“Ah, I see I have summoned a young woman who has no manners. Perhaps I will teach you some. Perhaps you can learn to address your betters with respect.” The man took the draped kimono off her shoulders and folded it carefully, placing it on a wooden chest by a wall.

Mari started shivering harder, her naked body exposed to the cold room.

“As to your rude question, I am Lord Tetsu Hakuto, in the service of the Shōgun. I am of the clan Minamoto. That is all you, girl, need to know.”

“You s-s-still haven’t answered my question. Where am I? Is this a dream? Please, I beg of you, I am freezing. For the love of God, give me a blanket or s-s-something to warm myself.”

Lord Tetsu looked down at her, his face a mask. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed loudly. “I see I have a challenge before me. Well, good, I am up for a challenge, even if it is in the insignificant package of a woman.”

Lord Tetsu lifted her by one secured arm and roughly dragged her to a low futon. He pushed her face down and threw a silk quilt over her. At first Mari lay still until, wiggling like a worm, her head cleared the quilt. She could not sit up but at least she could see.

The man was kneeling before a low table. He was writing something on a paper scroll with a brush he dipped in ink. Mari watched silently, knowing he was watching her from the corner of his eye.

“Please untie me, Lord Tetsu Hakuto. I am very uncomfortable and would like to sit up.”

“Why would your comfort be of my concern? You make silly demands of a superior.”

Mari struggled not to show tears. She was uncomfortable and afraid.

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto. I have to pee badly.”

Lord Tetsu grunted and put down his brush. “Well, that is natural. I also have to pass water first thing in the morning. Come, girl.”

Mari wasn’t sure she wanted help but she had little choice. He threw back the cover, pulled her to her feet, and walked her to a small alcove where a squat clay vessel was placed. He pushed her down and walked away. Mari was glad for the privacy. Of course, with her hands tied she had to carefully balance herself but at least her bladder didn’t hurt.

Mari padded to where he was, blushing because of her nakedness. She wasn’t sure this was a dream for she felt wide awake. She edged towards the low brazier for warmth.

“Lord Tetsu, it is unnecessary for you to keep my arms tied for I am not a threat to you. I am a modern woman who is not violent and I have no intentions of grabbing your sword and using it against you.”

Lord Tetsu looked up from his scroll and listened, his raised eyebrows expressing his surprise. “You could not grab my sword, as you put it, without losing your hands. I have no fear of you harming me. It is rather the other way around. However, since you are about to tip into the brazier, I will untie you.”

He drew his dagger and whipping her around, cut her ropes. Mari almost sobbed in relief. Her arms were numb. Then the pain hit her and she moaned as she tried to rub them, a pathetic, naked woman in great discomfort.

The sight of her must have moved Lord Tetsu for he drew her to him and rubbed her arms. Mari was grateful for she was shivering with cold. She felt exhausted and leaned her head against his chest with a sigh. Then she fainted.

When she recovered her senses, she was covered in the quilt on the futon. He was sitting next to her and smelled of sandalwood and male sweat, real enough.

“This isn’t a dream.” Her voice sounded soft and flat where she leaned against him, her face buried in the fabric of his robes.

“So, you have come back to me, little one?” His voice had a touch of humor. “No, this is no dream, but it is time for you to answer me.”

“Please, Lord Tetsu. Please first give me some water?”

“I will give you some broth for these things can take strength out of a woman. Wait.”

Rising, he drew the quilt over her body. He brought a bowl of hot broth simmering on the brazier. Her hands shook as she reached for the bowl.

“Better you are fed than scald yourself.”

Mari sat next to him, wrapped in the quilt, while Lord Tetsu fed her the broth with a china spoon. It was hot and spicy, tasting like seaweed, but it warmed her.

“Now,” said Lord Tetsu when she had eaten enough to stop shivering, “tell me where you found the kimono.”

“In a shop in Kyoto on Dezu Street. It was hanging near a window and the silver decoration caught my eye. I brought it home and when I slept in it last night, well…something happened, and either this is a dream or it isn’t.”

Lord Tetsu grunted and exclaimed, “Kyoto! It is a long journey from where it was last.” He was silent, thinking, then spoke. “What is your name girl, and are you maiden or wife?”

Mari almost laughed, surprised by his quaint wording. “I am very much a wife and my name is Mari. My husband is a systems operator for a worldwide communications company.”

“What? You speak in riddles! Plainly, girl, for you try my patience with your chatter.”

Mari ventured a question. “Lord Tetsu, what date is it today? Where am I in history?”

“What date? Today is today and as far as this history, you are in the castle of a daimyo who is under the protection of a most powerful Shōgun.”

“What is the name of this Shōgun, Lord Tetsu?”

He looked at her in surprise, his eyebrows arching. “None other than the great Lord Tokugawa.”

This still didn’t give her any idea where she was but the broth was good and she had stopped shivering.

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto, do you have a woman’s kimono for me to cover myself with? I am not used to walking around naked.”

“You will get used to it. girl.”

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto, I would remind you that my name is Mari, not ‘girl’. I am an educated, married woman and well respected in my field.” This last was not true for Mari had no field to speak of.

“Ho! You are prideful for a woman and forceful, too. Perhaps your husband does not beat you enough. That is a failing in many young husbands and you look to be young enough. Perhaps I can help him in this.” He raised his arm as if to cuff her.

Mari spoke fast. “Lord Tetsu, violence is the mark of a barbarian. Surely you are not such a man. You write and that shows you are civilized.”

A sly smile crossed the face of Lord Tetsu and he allowed it to broaden. He lowered his arm slowly. “You think quickly for a woman, Woman-called-Mari. Does your education extend to the brush?”

Mari looked at his table and rising from the futon with the quilt wrapped tightly around her, she went to it. She looked at the finely drawn calligraphy there and shook her head.

“Lord Tetsu, I write with a pen, not a brush, and I also write with a keyboard, something I am beginning to think you have no knowledge of. I do write some haiku but perhaps it would be better for me to recite one for you? You would not be able to read my script.”

“Why, are you so bad with the brush? Then your education is very low. Perhaps you dance or play an instrument?”

Mari smiled. “No, Lord Tetsu. I play violin but I suspect you are not familiar with this instrument. I do, however, write a lot of poetry. I write tanka, choka, sonnets and much free verse. I write haiku when I am able.”

“Ah! You are very boastful. Obviously, your husband is a weak man.”

Mari smiled. “Perhaps, Lord Tetsu, perhaps, or maybe he lives by different standards.”

Lord Tetsu stood at his table, his arms crossed over his chest, looking curiously at the woman before him wrapped in his quilt. “Then, if you dare, compose a poem and let’s see if your boasting has merit.”

Mari thought hard, trying to remember some she had recently written. There were a few, though they didn’t follow the classical forms.

 

Cold rain sweeps the streets.

Even ducks seek shelter.

Feathers drop in haste.

 

“Hah! Not very good, but a beginning. Give me another.”

Mari thought this next one would be more of the classical form but then she wasn’t really sure.

 

A glance at a wrist.

There! The pulse of a river–

tiny beat of life.

 

“Better! Perhaps your husband has taught you something.”

“My husband has taught me nothing, Lord Tetsu. He is not interested in poetry. I have learned this myself.”

“Not interested in poetry? You have married a barbarian then, for a man who does not write poems is indeed a savage. Give me some more, Woman-called-Mari.”

She thought of a few others she had written, though she could only partly remember their lines. She had little option except to admit failure but something in this rude man brought her mettle out. Pausing only a little between poems, she closed her eyes and recited what she could.

 

A woman in bed,

kimono revealing breast.

Snow on Mt. Fuji.

 

Snow falls on meadows.

Crows pick at last harvest seeds.

Spring now far away.

 

A swirl of blossoms

caught in the water’s current

begins the season.

 

Fall’s crispness compels

apples to tumble from trees.

Worms make the journey.

 

I chase one red leaf

across dry and brittle grass.

Juice of summer gone.

 

She kept her eyes closed thinking back to what she had just recited. Opening one eye, she saw him contemplating her with a quizzical look.

“For a mere woman, you have a fertile mind. If you had been born a man, you might have made a name for yourself.” Lord Tetsu gave a short nod of his head, a measure of respect. “Come, woman, learn how a man writes poems. You have shown yourself capable of learning at least something. Perhaps you are the rare woman who can rise above her nature.”

What a pompous ass, thought Mari. Obviously, this dream is about humiliation.

For the next hour, Lord Tetsu composed haiku and longer poems, mostly in honor of his Lord Shōgun. Mari listened to his low monotone and the sentiments that poured out like warm sake. She was lost in the tone of his recitation but was not blind to his beauty. His black hair fell down his back and the vigor of this man before her was evident. Even when he rose and went to make water, it seemed the most natural of things. She was not embarrassed nor discomforted. He was an inventive poet, even when she didn’t understand most of his references.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018, now available for purchase at Amazon.com

 

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“The Kimono”, Chapter One

October 17, 2018

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It hung in the window of a shop as Mari walked around old Kyoto. The shop looked out on a very small, shaded garden. With the sun overhead piercing the fan-shaped leaves of a gingko, the ground beneath looked like a yukata’s repeat pattern. Mari’s gaze was drawn to a slim beacon of light. It was enough to make her enter the small shop.

“Ohayo!” The shopkeeper came from behind his counter and bowed respectfully to Mari.

“Ohayo.” Mari bowed back.

Mari was Japanese-American, married to an ex-military man and this was their first trip to Japan. The only Japanese thing she knew was food. This culture was no more hers than being American. She felt she would forever be caught in the middle, a tug of war between two sides, and neither to claim her.

Behind the counter, Mari saw what had caught her attention: a kimono, a black, formal tomesode that a married woman would wear, not dyed with the usual flowers worn by young, unmarried women. Winding around the hem in mountains and valleys and up in a serpentine path high on the left front was a wide silver band. Looking closer, she saw the intricate handwork of what looked like stitched, silver cloth.

“That is surihaku, embossed silver sewn foil.”

The voice of the shopkeeper startled her. She blushed, not hearing him approach.

“How old is this kimono? May I look at it closer?”

The shopkeeper took it down from the pole and carefully draped it over his arm. Mari traced the river of silver from the hem to where it stopped. She noticed the kimono also had five white crests stamped on the front, shoulders and back. The shopkeeper opened the left panel of the kimono. Mari saw black knotted embroidery around the tan, the part that encircled the hips. The silver was only the outside decoration. The embroidery inside was heavy and patterned.

Mari could not restrain from touching the embroidery. She wanted to close her eyes and read it like Braille. She had never seen a kimono quite like this. It wasn’t new but it couldn’t be too old, perhaps no more than sixty years. It seemed in excellent condition. Even the white thread that was used when the kimono was washed was still fresh.

“Do you know anything about this tomesode? Where it came from, perhaps?”

The shopkeeper sighed. “No. I am a widower. My wife must have bought it. I found it after she died, in a chest.”

Mari decided to purchase the black kimono. The shopkeeper wrapped it in a box and she brought it home.

Four years ago, she had married Steven. They had never really settled down, for his company sent him for long stays in different countries. She went along because it was what was expected. It was never clear to her what he actually did, something to do with numbers and systems and computer codes. He was an expert in his field and the company was happy to uproot them both and send them afield.

Mari was not unhappy in the marriage, just restless. Steven had his work but she had nothing to do except knock about the streets and look at people, read and think. Mari’s mother thought her malaise was over the issue of children but Mari didn’t think this was such a big issue for her. Steven complained children would complicate their movements and Steven was all about keeping things simple. Mari put up little resistance to whatever her husband wanted. Perhaps her mother, who was a traditional Japanese wife, had influenced her attitude. Her mother always submitted to what her husband wanted. Mari did likewise.

It was two days before she tried on the kimono. After carefully untying the string and opening the box, she took it out and held it in front of her. The weight of the winter crêpe felt heavy. Mari laid the kimono on the bed, kneeled, and again traced the silver river, this time with her face pressed on the cloth, her eyes following the winding course of silver. It was as cool as water on her skin. Laying it open on the bed, she looked carefully at the black embroidery, wondering if there was a pattern in the high knots that coursed around the silk. She couldn’t tell because the pattern was like hieroglyphics, perhaps a secret language sewn into the silk, something indiscernible.

Mari stripped and pulled the kimono around her, binding it to her firmly. It was heavy on her body, clinging like a second skin. She sat on the floor feeling suddenly overwhelmed with a heaviness her legs could not support. She held out her arms, the dull silk rippling like water. It fell into the form of her breasts and she felt her nipples harden. It must be the cold of the crêpe, she thought.

Sitting on the floor, Mari hugged herself. She watched the river of silver course up her leg and disappear into the interior of the kimono. She wondered about the course of her own life. What would the years with Steven bring and could she endure this dullness inside? With a start, she realized that was exactly what she was feeling, a leaden dullness that leached out all color around her. Perhaps that was the attraction of the kimono now wrapped around her, the silver surihaku that led to her noticing it in the shop, the brightness of something to catch her eye and fire her imagination.

Mari didn’t know how long she’d been sitting on the floor. Her thoughts spiraled inward like the design of a nautilus shell. She looked at the clock next to the bed and was amazed an hour had passed. She stood and dropped the kimono on the floor. It puddled into a landscape of black hills, valleys and rivers.

Mari touched her left hip and discovered a series of indentations in her skin. In fact, all around her hips, stretching from one side to the other, there was a definite pattern pressed into her flesh. She thought of the weaves of a basket, the marks of a rope, the binding of her flesh to something stronger than her own mind.

When Steven came home, she showed him the kimono.

“Why a black one, Mari? You will look like an old crow in that.”

A less than flattering characterization but Stephen was sometimes rather critical of how she dressed. Mari did not go for floral designs and bright colors. She picked colors that were neutral, earth tones, colors that made her disappear.

“Married women in Japan always wear black kimonos, Steven. It’s the unmarried women who wear floral designs.”

“Well, get a red one and I’ll be interested in your choice of bathrobes.” Stephen was not taken by Japanese culture. His whole purpose in life was to do his job and move on.

That night when they went to bed, Mari was cold. The weather had changed and fall was becoming chilly. She got out of bed and padded to where she hung the kimono. Pulling it around her body, its heaviness and drape comforted her. She returned to bed and fell asleep.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

 

Haiku and Tanka from “The Kimono”

September 12, 2018

Kimono Proof Copy photo

I am sitting here with the proof copy of “The Kimono” in my hands.  It looks beautiful, and in a week or so will be on Amazon.com for purchase.  I decided to post some of the poetry from the novel.  Some are haiku, some are tanka, and tanka in many cases are a call and answer between Lady Mari (a 21st century Japanese-American and Lord Tetsu, a 17th century warlord.  They haggle in verse.  Over the course of this novel, there is a lot of verse -haggling between them.

Lady Nyo

Haiku

So lonely am I

my soul is like floating weed

severed at the roots.

A glance at a wrist

There! The pulse of a river-

tiny beat of life.

I chase one red leaf

across dry and brittle grass

Juice of summer gone.

A swirl of blossoms

caught in the water’s current

begins the season.

 

Tanka

How long will it last?

I do not know his heart.

This morning my thoughts

are as tangled as my hair.

How can a woman

know a warrior’s heart?

We have the sound of

war drums that drown

out weaker sentiments.

Who attends to the wounded

but women?

Our hands are soft and strong

the best medicine after war.

A woman only knows

a man’s heart

by her silence.

Who knows the depth of my hidden heart?

Perhaps a ravine in the mountains?

No matter. A firefly of love is flashing.

What can dispel the

blackness of a man’s heart?

Never mind. Even the torch of a firefly

lends its light.

The fireflies are bright this evening,

They light up the night

and make me remember

your laughter.

 

 

 

“The Kimono” to be published soon.

September 4, 2018

The days are long,
longer still the nights.
The nightingale sings
to herself.

Above is some of the poetry in “The Kimono”. The book has gone to Proof Copy, with 340 words and 60 chapters. Whee.

It took 12 years to write and there are times I didn’t look at it for months. Maybe a year. But those 12 years propelled me into a deep study of Japanese literature and poetry forms and that was enlightening.

There’s a lot of my poetry in there, as I learned tanka and haiku.

Nick Nicholson, a friend and collaborator came in towards the middle of the book. He was reading the book and where I had ended it on Chapter 30, he wanted me to continue the story. I didn’t think I could and this led to a massive fight which isn’t unusual for us. LOL! But he was deeply involved in the storyline and didn’t want it to end. So I kept writing and after 30 more chapters it was finally finished. And Nick was right. It’s much better as a story with the extension.

Nick sent me the final proof yesterday and I have to read (again) those 60 chapters. But knowing that it’s completed is the charm.

We probably will get it out on Amazon.com by October or perhaps a bit earlier. Nick has formatted and produced 4 of my books in the last few years. Without him, this book probably would be still in manuscript form and never have seen the light of day. Nick also designed the cover.

 

Image may contain: one or more people
Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2018

The Kimono, Chapter 43

July 16, 2018

Geisha

After 12 years, “The Kimono” is finished and I am aiming at a publication date of September, 2018.  It’s been a long haul, where I studied Japanese culture, mythology and language for all those years.  This will be my first full length novel, though I have published 6 books in between this one.

Lord Yoki is a Tengu.  Tengus are big birds, originating from China but very much tied into Japanese mythology.  They are shape shifters, and bedevil arrogant Buddhist priests.  Lord Yoki figures greatly into this novel.  He also, as does the main female character, Mari, travel from the 21st. century Kyoto  to 17th century Japan.  Over the course of a year, this Tengu has fallen in love with Mari.

Lady Nyo

Lord Yoki perched on the window ledge. He felt most comfortable perching. A Tengu was just a big bird, after all. He was still dressed in an old linen kimono, badly patched and stained. It was this or feathers. It was harder and harder to maintain the glamour. He had to concentrate on those parts that were reverting, his hair and limbs, but he could do nothing about the feet. They would always remain clawed.

He was conflicted. This was the first time in centuries that his heart hurt. He was racked with emotion from the time he awoke until the time he roosted. He thought he might be in love. And, of course, his beloved had to be someone who was out of his league: a mortal woman.

How could he have fallen to such a state? Lord Yoki prided himself on being a tough old bird. He looked at the world through a cynical eye. He only believed in the warmth of the thermals and sake. And a few pretty trinkets, for he had a magpie nature. Now he found himself in love. How could he reveal himself to her? Would she find him distasteful, ridiculous, insane? He pecked at a flea amongst his breast feathers. He had fallen in love and knew she would be horrified if he revealed the truth of his form. He was a skinny, molting old bird and a scrawny old “man”. A devil cannot hide in the form of an angel for long. Nature rebels. He remembered the story of Lucifer. He certainly felt like Lucifer, the Great Deceiver. Could she overlook his appearance to see into his heart?

He was fooling himself. His opposition was too powerful: a mortal man. Even without the magical advantages of a Tengu, the man would surely win any battle between them. He also knew that he had much more to lose than a friendship. His rival would wear his severed head on his battle helmet. He had joked to his beloved about this but he knew this man was still a barbarian at heart.

No, his love, his admiration for her would have to remain concealed in the bottom of his heart. He chanced losing both of them and that would be unbearable, even for a stoic Tengu. If not through love, how could he protect her? Only the mystical gods knew what would happen and even they sometimes faked it.

Bah! He wished he was back in San Francisco, in that park, in the form of a pigeon. Then he could look up skirts as he strutted around and there would be no complaints. Still, he knew why he mourned. She was the only one who knew what the world was about. The parochial mentality of the people around him drove him nuts. They waved their amulets in the faces of the sick, smoked up the room with incense until the sick couldn’t breathe and brewed noxious potions to make them swallow. They usually died, perhaps because of these ignorant customs. A little common sense and some soap and water would work miracles. She knew this. She also knew nostrums that could save lives. Further, she was the only one he could talk with about history. He couldn’t read, there were no schools for birds, but he could ask questions. And he did. She told him about the world before this century, and of course, the centuries after. The world was an immense place, and though his eyes were closed as he flew by the moon, he knew something of this.

These generals! These nobles! They thought they knew about warfare? Hah! They knew nothing. As a pigeon walking around San Francisco, he had watched television in store fronts. His hackles raised at the inhumanity of people! Nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, these were just some of the arsenal of these modern warlords. These 17th century daimyos who went to war against each other may as well have hurled rocks and sticks at the opposition considering what was to come. This century hadn’t seen real guns yet. They only had the blunderbusses that the Spanish had thrown away. The men of this century were savages. They killed for the sport of it. The only laws were those that came from Edo and most of those were ignored. The real law lay within the two swords carried by men and there were enough of them to go around.

Even if his beloved could come to love him, where would he take her? Tengus lived in mountains, in nests, where they fought other Tengus for territory and tripped up arrogant Buddhist priests. What would she think of that? She didn’t lay eggs and wouldn’t know how to clean a nest properly. And she didn’t have feathers to fluff in the cold months. She would be disgusted by the food she would have to eat. It would be a bitter life for her. He loved her more than that.

He knew she was a pawn in a bigger game. Lord Tetsu was an ambitious daimyo and he needed her knowledge to increase his power and build a larger life for himself. Could she deliver what he wanted?

Lord Yoki realized that if his beloved tied her wagon to Lord Tetsu, he would have to secrete her away from court life. She would always live in the shadows of the castle. Was that any better than living in a nest in the mountains?

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

tengu.jpg

Tengus are warriors, martial arts experts and teach the Yamabushi (mountain- yama, bushi-warrior) their skills at warfare.  They are shapeshifters, and have magical arts. They also don’t like arrogant Buddhist priests and cause trouble for them.  Over the centuries, their ‘pr’ has changed.

“The Kimono”, Chapter 27

May 4, 2018

Kohut-Bartels-LS-10

THE MOON PEEKED THROUGH the distant trees below Gassan Mountain in the east. This low to the horizon its color was a dark coppery-pumpkin as it hovered in the evening sky. The rising moon caused the drunken men to pause in their good-humored noise. How many times had the full moon risen yet the beauty of its appearance, the miracle of its closeness, always produced awe? A servant came around the screen and whispered something to Lady Nyo. She, in turn, went to Mari and in a very low voice said that Lord Tetsu had requested her company. Lady Nyo fussed a bit with Mari’s face, patted rice powder over her features, combed out her hair and gathered it halfway down her back with a twist of red paper. From a small wooden box, she brought out a flask of scent and applied it between Mari’s breasts. With a nod and a sigh, she was finished and bowed to Mari with a small smile.

 

Mari followed a serving girl to the lake where she found Lord Tetsu. He gave a slight nod in greeting and turned, walking further down to a small stand of cherry trees. Here, there were no lanterns hanging from the branches. Only the brightness of the full moon and a small brazier gave light. Quilts had been placed for them on the ground. The servant disappeared, fading silently into the shadows surrounding the grove of cherries. Dragonflies dipped and swooped along the shoreline. The sound of the water lapping at the beach was amplified by the silence around them.

They were far enough away that they could not hear the others. The sky darkened and rose-tinted clouds appeared over the water. Lord Tetsu sipped his sake and said nothing. Mari didn’t want to break the beauty of the young night with conversation. It was enough to enjoy the silence and the moon reflecting in the water.

Suddenly, Lord Tetsu made a soft exclamation and pointed to some rocks at a distance, farther down the beach. “There. Do you see kitsune? She has come for her own hanami.” Night was replacing dusk and the shoreline was dissolving into shadows. Mari could barely make out the small form of a fox. She darted back and forth, from rock to rock, rolling over those at the water’s edge and pouncing on something, probably a crayfish. A few moments later, the moon had risen a little higher and beamed across the water. Mari could see the russet coat of the fox. It had a tail that looked tipped in gold, illuminated by the moonlight.

“Kitsune has a long and gilded tail.

She comes at night down to the glistening lake

The moon rises to light her way.” 

Lord Tetsu’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. Mari was caught, spellbound by his words. How exact, how clever was his tanka, within a breath’s sighting of the fox! Mari knew she would have struggled with her thoughts, cast aside her impressions and lost the immediacy of the moment. With Lord Tetsu, it was as natural as breathing. She turned her head to look at him as the moon went dark with a flock of passing clouds. Lord Tetsu’s features were silhouetted against the shadows of the grove behind them.

 

How serene he appeared. Mari touched the silk of his sleeve. He looked down at her small white hand and smiled as the moon reappeared with its soft brilliance. The water was like a black mirror reflecting the moon, so still and calm. Lord Tetsu drew Mari close and stroked her hair. She could smell sake on his breath and the scent of sandalwood from his gown. Mari put her hand inside his kimono, on his chest, and felt the soft beating of his heart. With all the strangeness of her present world, with all that was unknown before her, this – the warmth of his skin, the scent of him – at least was real, with no unsettling magic. She’d had enough of magic and the superstitions that plagued this century and place. Mari shivered. Lord Tetsu chuckled and drew her closer.

“The moon is clear.

I escort a lovely girl

frightened by a fox.

Mari knew the verse to be Bashō’s, and a famous one at that. She also knew Lord Tetsu had changed the word “boy” to “girl”. Lord Tetsu loosened the string of his trousers and pulled aside his robes. He laid down on the quilt and pulled Mari over him, making her straddle his hips. Without a word, he pushed her carefully arranged kimonos up over her hips and off her shoulders. He held her breasts, now exposed to the moonlight, in his large hands and bent her to him. Only her obi kept her robes around her. It had been so long since they had made love, right before her miscarriage months ago. She groaned as desire flooded her, making her aroused. Lord Tetsu, his own desire evident, wasted little time. Pulling her arms around his neck, he held her to him like a vise, rocking Mari with his motion. Seeking her mouth, he finally kissed her as their coupling ended.

Later, Lord Tetsu wrapped them together in quilts. Mari slept, her head pillowed on his shoulder, the warmth of his body a further comfort. It was still spring, not near summer at all, and the nights were cold this close to Gassan Mountain.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

Slipping in some photos of roses in the new front rose garden.  Tsuki stalking a chipmunk in last photo.  Mimi on the hunt.

Roses East 3Front Door House Spring May

 

A Few Paintings.

May 2, 2018

These are not new but I am thinking of taking a break from writing after “The Kimono” gets published.  And painting more and finishing watercolors I have started and haven’t finished.  LOL!

Lady Nyo

Kohut-Bartels-LS-17.jpg

 

kohut-Bartels-LS-8.jpg

DSCF2570.JPG

Savannah Birds

All these, except the first one, are watercolors.  The last one was the cover of “Song of the Nightingale”, published on Amazon.com, 2015.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

Kimono Cover

 

“The Kimono”, Chapter 28, Earthquake!

April 13, 2018

Sesshu painting

The painting above by Sesshu is in my opinion a brilliant usage of ink and imagination. It takes years to even approach such a technique and I am firm in my belief that in order to even begin such is worth while of a life time of effort.  There is so much ‘good’ in this painting that it enthralls me.  There is a depth and simplicity in this painting that demands attention.

 

“The Kimono” be published in a matter of months….

Plum Blossom Snow

The present snowstorm

of white plum blossoms

blinds me to sorrow.

They cascade over cheeks

like perfumed, satin tears

too warm with the promise

of life to chill flesh.

Lady Nyo, circa 2016

MARI DREAMED OF SNOW falling on her face but somewhere in her mind she knew it was spring, now too far from winter. She woke up, cold, as Lord Tetsu had turned in the night and taken all the quilts. She sat up, pulling her thin kimonos around her. The dawn’s light barely infused the bay. Only thin tendrils of light skimmed the sky above the distant mountains. Something was wrong. It wasn’t snow, but cherry blossoms. They covered the ground. There was a deep humming beneath the soil.

Mari placed her hands on the ground and felt the vibrations. She wondered why Lord Tetsu had not woken. Mari stood to get a better look at the bay but even standing was difficult. She felt drunk, unstable on her feet. Something was definitely wrong. The water in the bay looked as if something was punching from beneath with a million fists, causing it to
roil and churn.
  

Lord Tetsu woke with a start and sat up. For the first time, Mari saw fear on his face.

“Do not try to stand. Throw off your geta and run!” he shouted. He grabbed her hand and they ran half-crouching up the hill towards the others, Mari gathering her robes above her knees. The tremors of the earthquake knocked them to the ground several times and each time Lord Tetsu covered her with his body. They heard screams and shouts in the distance. Nothing seemed real. Cherry trees were uprooted and tossed in a jumble against each other. Lord Tetsu saw Lord Nyo scrambling towards him and shouted for him to get back to town and get their horses. They must ride to Gassan or get as high as possible. They were in the lowlands and after the earthquake a feared tsunami could strike.

A brazier had turned over and started a small fire on some quilts. Lord Tetsu stamped it out and then looked for survivors. Lady Nyo and her servants were trapped under some branches of a fallen cherry tree. Lord Tetsu and some of the men lifted the tree and pulled them out. Blood mixed with soil streamed down Lady Nyo’s face but other than a flesh wound, she would survive. Others were not so lucky. A few servants from the inn had been killed by fallen trees. Lord Tetsu’s men dragged their bodies out and laid them together on the ground. Someone covered them with the half-burnt quilts. Lady Nyo sat against a fallen tree. Mari scrambled to her and wiped the blood from her face with her kimono sleeve. Why didn’t Lord Nyo free his wife first before he obeyed Lord Tetsu’s orders to fetch their horses? Clearly, such were the rules of this century and culture. “I am fine, don’t worry about me, please,” whispered Lady Nyo. She was in shock, her face pale with trauma. “Is my Lord Nyo alive?” Mari nodded her head and told her that Lord Tetsu had ordered him to bring the horses from the town.

Lady Nyo looked doubtful. “Surely the town has suffered what we have here. The horses might have bolted and he will not find them. We can only hope he does. Lord Tetsu wants us all to ride to Gassan Mountain. He said the higher we are, the safer we will be.”

Suddenly, a man appeared over them. Startled, Mari looked up. It was Lord Yoki. “Do not fear, my ladies,” he said, bowing. “Lord Tetsu is right. The higher we get, the better our chances of surviving will be.”

Another tremor rumbled beneath them. It lasted only a few seconds but Mari screamed in fear. Lord Yoki laid his hand on her shoulder to steady her. Mari buried her face in his robes. Either he had very hairy legs or she felt feathers through his clothing. In any case, she was glad he was there. Lord Tetsu was off directing the men, gathering what they could that would be useful for their flight to Gassan Mountain. He was not around to comfort a hysterical woman. Mari continued to wipe the blood from Lady Nyo’s face, using the other sleeve of her kimono. Lady Nyo chanted something in a low voice. Mari thought she was praying.

Suddenly, Lord Tetsu bent over Mari, pulled her to her feet and led her away from the others. He put his arm around her waist and drew her to him. “You must leave. If you stay, you will die.”

“Yes,” said Mari. “I will die with you.”

Lord Tetsu grimaced and put his hand around her neck, close to her chin, and bent her head back. He increased the pressure on either side of her jaw. The last thing Mari saw was his eyes, two black pools to drown in.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2018

Kimono Cover


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