Thursday, April 30, 2015

All Sewn Up

Bury the Silk

You need to sink the silk into the muck
For three full moons--every fiber must
Suck in the mud to be transformed.
We have created this cloth
For hundreds of years on this island,
Just this way. The dirt smells
Like blood. It's rich. Iron, copper,
Silver. The cloth must be pressed hard
Under shovelful after shovelful
Of blackness, the cloth needs to drown
In this filth we would rush to wash
From our hands, until the cloth
Begins to feed on it, breathe
Only dirt. It becomes one
With the mud. Trust the process.
Its strength is reliable, its beauty
Incomparable, its hand fit
To touch the skin of gods.

On the island Amami Oshima they have made a type of cloth since at least the 11th century that's known as mud silk. The silk thread is soaked in mud or even buried for a few months in order to get the richest deep brown/black/blue color and a certain smooth but stiff texture, almost like silk leather. The iron in the soil is a mordant. In the 18th century, only people in the ruling classes were allowed to wear it. Designers still use it today.

This is it for National Poetry Month, but I have too much work to do tonight to wrap it up proper. I might do so tomorrow, or just let it speak for itself.

Today's judge is poet Jessie Carty, who among other things has a great Tumblr. Click that thing and you won't regret it.

Image: Kentaro Takahashi, New York Times, from an article on how it's becoming prohibitively expensive to keep making the cloth by hand.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pennyroyal, Parsley, Rue

The Yoshiwara's Daughters

We've all got a child no one knows about
Tucked away somewhere. In a castle,
In the country, in the ashes in a jar
In the temple. But most of our children
Take no more shape than memory: that time
We knew there was no hope of rescue, the time
We fell down laughing, or when we
Kicked the ball right over the wall, or
Slept safely, breathing in concert.
They are the ache of fear when the bone-dry
Tissue refuses to show any blood,
The flux and spasm after the herbs,
The bruises from your own fists,
The pinch of the sword's tip--
That last resort. And the triumph
You felt on waking up alive! That love
For your own life is your own
Most precious daughter: sad and fearful,
Willful, she's hard to raise.
Everywhere she hears that she's
Not wanted, but there's this whisper
That says: "Listen more carefully.
Stay up late." Tonight, my love will sing
The song she wrote for our daughters.
She changes the words a little, so the men
Will think she's singing about them.

Today's prompt: "nobody knows" poem.

Today's judge: OMG OMFG it's Marge Piercy!!!! I have at least 10 of her books within a few feet of me and more somewhere around here! I have all those crumbling paperbacks I bought secondhand when I was so poor in the early 80s!!! Like Small Changes where a woman lives with two men and I'm all, yes, it can be done! Why do you think I named a character in my mystery Jackson, huh? (Well, OK, that and Patti Smith's son.) And DAMN Woman on the Edge of Time!!!! Why didn't anyone found a religion based on THAT scifi novel, huh? Well? WELL?

I'm a fan.

Kickball was actually one of the big courtesan-ly accomplishments, right up there with calligraphy and blending incense. THIS IS TRUE.

Then of course there are those things that some people know but everyone ought to know. Like that a woman's life has value in itself, not only as a baby-bearing or pleasure-delivering or hell, work-doing machine.

Image: Harunobo. Night Rain at the Double Shelf Stand. Just having some tea and getting your hair did.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

You Make Me Feel So Real

The builders uncovered a mound of something that looked like bones, but with an old man and some old books, we pieced it all together. At the time before the invaders, the leader's engineers devised the most extraordinary type of automata. The secret was every once in a while they would do something you didn't expect: Fling the tea in your face, totter off to serve someone else, you know, show a little spirit. Not always something dramatic, no, sometimes they'd laugh behind their hands, cry quietly, whisper for you to please stay. You just never knew; that was the trick of it. The priests said the automata had demons inside them, but who listens to the priests when times are good? Everyone of style had to have one. As always, elegance tends to extremes, and it became the fashion to push their limits, give conflicting orders, that sort of thing. They'd watch them appear to go mad, repeating a movement or a word over and over until a spring burst. Of course there are always those who can't tolerate capriciousness in the first place, and these would take even such an expensive toy and smash it to bits after too much wine. When the invaders came, it put a stop to all that. We needed fighting puppets then.

Opted for prose poem today. Prompt was a twofer Tuesday, "matter and anti-matter."

Junot Diaz called the book by today's judge, Eduardo Corral, "wise and immense." Who could argue with that?

Monday, April 27, 2015


Learning to Look Back

Don’t neglect this glance in your arsenal:
The strategic turn of the head to one departing
Can serve to seal the deal. But here’s the trick:
Work quickly, lightly, as with ink on paper.
Take too long with it and your head will
Ache, you’ll start to see your childhood
And beyond, times gone and gone before
That, and you are ink, a dark puddle.
That was a fine piece of paper
You started with, and now it’s ruined.

Today's prompt was "looking back."

Today's judge was Okla Elliott, a poet who has a novel coming out soon. Looks scary!

Image: Harunobu

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The Other Wave

My every step is one across a sea,
A sea surrounded by a moat, within
Another sea. I wade and slosh and duck
From broken board to sand to rock, dripping
Tea, tears, wine, and the sweet relief of blood.
See, the surface reflects stars and lanterns.
You believe the bed is stable, so you sleep,
While I feel the slow roll and upheaval.
My home is the floating world, the realm
Of desire, which is unceasing,
And so of suffering.
You may be deceived and
Think you drank your fill but
Hear, how harsh your breath and
See the shore recede with
Every stroke.

Today's prompt was "across the sea," and I've been hearing Bobby Darin in my head all evening.

Today's judge was story editor for many episodes of Sailor Moon! and ! again! ! You can read six of Todd Swift's poems here.

Image: Utamaro, Abalone Divers, part of a triptych. I'm leaning pretty heavily on the Utamaro, because most of the other biggies from that time did almost all erotic, and during National Poetry Month you never know who's going to walk in on you.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I Don't Know What Was So Great About It.

Great Tenmei Famine, 1782-1788

I was sold after the locusts came.
I haven't been hungry since. This time
They blame the volcanoes, they blame
The leaders, they blame the priests,
Then they blame us. But they still come
Here and buy food. We arrange the dishes
So it looks like they're getting more
Than they really are. Everyone here
Knows that trick, same as we know
Everyone wants most what they can't get.
We're not too bad off, here
Behind the moat, not yet anyhow.
Soon enough, he says, they'll come down
Like a hammer on a nut. But today,
If the sun never shines, how am I
To miss it, shut up here? I do
Feel the cold. No one can warm me.
The men grow food in the small plots
Of ground given them. He brings melons
To feed the new young girls.

The prompt was to write a poem about a historical event.

Samurai were so badly paid that they had little gardens so they could grow enough food. They were kind of like the Walmart employees of feudal Japan.

The famine was thought to have been touched off by a series of volcanic explosions that caused a series of cold summers. This article has an interesting look at the worldwide Little Ice Age and points out that there was a relief food system in Japan for the starving.

Most women who worked in the Yoshiwara had been sold at around 8 or 10. Many felt it beat the alternative.

Today's judge is North Carolina's Kathryn Stripling Byer. I'm still so amazed that Writer's Digest got so many noted poets to read what has amounted to thousands of poems a day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Carry On

Sea of Trees

It's dirt in my mouth.
So tired, I had to let my head fall
To the floor. The dark hairline
On the back of your neck
Is my new horizon.

Viewing the leaves, the blossoms, the rocks
And the waterfalls--all beautiful, but
The innkeeper knows why lovers like us
Come to a place this remote. He doesn't look
Directly at us. The ones who bring the wine
Stand a little apart, a little in awe
As if we're from the stage, and we've come down
To walk among them a little while.
It's true. We have come down.

How many robes have been dropped
In this forest, how much skin
Dropped from bones, how many bones
Among the roots, how many instruments
Rusting in the leaves.

I have enough left to find a patch of sky.
The clouds are horses,
Tired and old. I don't believe
They could tote even another feather.
I like to think I'm a merciful person.
I won't ask them to carry me.

The theme of the love-suicide was wildly popular in Japan for centuries, and hit a height in the early 18th century. Many immediately see this as some sort of pathology, and these are sometimes the same who have no trouble with Shakespeare or Verdi. The most hopeful and exciting article I've read in a while was about a monk working to help suicidal people near the Sea of Trees, Aokigahara near Mount Fuji, a popular place for people to come to die. It's really beautifully written. Here's something he learned:

"Lying in the hospital, he spent a week crying. He had spent seven years sacrificing himself, driving himself to the point of breakdown, nearly to death, trying to help these people, and they didn’t care about him at all. What was the point? He knew that if you were suicidal it was difficult to understand other people’s problems, but still—he had been talking to some of these people for years, and now here he was dying and nobody cared.

"For a long time, his thoughts were too dark and agitated to sort out, but slowly the darkness receded, and what remained with him was a strong sense that he wanted to do the work anyway. He realized that, even if the people he spoke to felt nothing for him, he still wanted something from them. There was the intellectual excitement he felt when he succeeded in analyzing some problem a person had been stuck on. He wanted to know truths that ordinary people did not know, and in suffering it felt as though he were finding those truths. And then there was something harder to define, a kind of spiritual thrill in what felt to him, when it worked, like a bumping of souls. If this was what he was after, he would have to stop thinking of his work as something morally obligatory and freighted with significance. Helping people should be nothing special, like eating, he thought—just something that he did in the course of his life."

If you have come to this page through a search keyword and need help, please hit this link immediately, or call this number: 1-800-273-8255. Someone will be there to help you.

Today's judge is a lot more fun than this day's subject! But Justin Marks does have a poem called "Visit Me In My Grave," which begins: "My fear of being an asshole / leads me to / being an asshole..." Enjoy!

Image: Utamaro, from The Courier of Hell.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Walk Off!

My People, The River

Nobody says who owns this sand,
So I stole it, for us. No boundaries
For us; every day it's a new line
To cross. Swagger, sword: I stake my claim
Slant and watch it wash away with the next storm.
Every day there's a new story,
Another song and dance. Here by the water
You can't tell if we're daughters or sons,
Demons or thieves. Twenty-five years
Is long enough for us, my family.

Prostitutes and kabuki performers used to live on the riverbanks with the trash that washed up, because the land was always shifting so no one could own it. Kabuki is said to have originated with women performing with a lot of swagger, playing men's roles as well as women's. Then it became popular and moved into the brothels, then it became so dangerous only men were allowed to do it. Kabuki and the Edo superstars all come out of this kind of outlaw swagger. "25 years" is a reference to the inscription on the sword of too-fast-to-live Otori Ichibei.

And tell me this is not the perfect day for the surreal-est of punk poets Megan Volpert to be the judge!

The prompt was a title of "My [blank], the [blank]."

Image: Okuni, said to be the first Kabuki performer. They say she also invented the fashion runway.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Enforcement Isn't Selective Enforcement?

Courtesans vs. Censors

Who is the man who wins our tears?
Not the one who can keep five wives quiet.
He's the one who wears handcuffs as if they were silk cords.
Who is the man we drink to tonight?
Not the one who forces us to pass the bottle under the table.
He's the one who keeps the ink flowing freely.
Who is the man who opens all gates?
Not the one who makes laws against books.
He's the one who makes us laugh.

The censorship imposed under the Tokugawa shogunate had several prominent victims; artist Katagawa Utamaro and the comic writer, illustrator, tobacconist and all-around flaneur Santo Kyoden being two of the most known. The usual penalty was to spend 50 days in handcuffs. Kyoden did it and went on to marry a few more working girls of the Yoshiwara and to open a tobacco shop. I read in a few places that Utamaro's health never returned after he completed his sentence. Kyoden's story is featured attacked artist No. 3 in this Cracked magazine article. "Five wives" is a reference to the image that got Utamaro in hot water, a gorgeous pass-agg depiction of an historic leader viewing blossoms with his five wives, in a time when ostentatious displays of wealth were in danger of riling the populace.

It's interesting to me that the two big bouts of censor crackdowns in the 18th century came after famines in Japan.

Today's prompt was "authority." Today's judge is Dorianne Laux, an authority in a good way. I'm planning a trip to Oregon right now, so perfect timing.

Image: Santo Kyoden hanging at a mansion, by Utamaro. From what I can figure, he's the one at front left. He looks like he's having a pretty good time.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Right Here, Right Meow


Charcoal dawn's approach. Start to coax
A man's body away from warmth,
To yawn, to stand, to walk away
From a cat and a lady.
A boat bobs, no harbor.

Prompt today was use only two vowels out of the alphabet, with Y as a wild card. I read there's a Japanese idiom "all the cats and ladies" that means the same as "every Tom, Dick, and Harry" in English, so that's what that's about.

Today's judge: Christian Bok? You must mean Christian Rock! Cause that's what this experimental poet does. You can check him out here.

Image: The meow, the myth.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No Strings On Me

Bunraku Domestic Drama

I hope you're prepared to devote
A full day to this. It takes time
For this art to unfold. Begin
With a nod to the text and a pledge
To resist deviation. Every move,
From swinging fists to gentle daubs
Of her tears, is done with sticks.
The female puppets don't need legs,
But for this story, they constructed
One lovely foot for him to kiss.
These days it takes three masters
To manipulate just one of them, think of that.
They never hide themselves--we all
Know they're there, and we forget
They're there, as we're spun into
This month's variations of the beloved story:
The lovers love, transgress, and so they must
Die by their own hands, so artfully
Guided by the hands at their backs.
Love it while you're here, but don't
Live it or they'll shut the playhouse down.

Too much to explain on deadline, except to say love-suicide bunraku plays were so popular people started offing themselves and the censors banned the theaters from doing them. Also that Chikamatsu Monzaemon went back to writing bunraku cause kabuki actors messed with his lines too much and bunraku doesn't stand for that kind of thing.

Yeah, missed another day yesterday, I'll slip it in, comme elle a dit. Today's prompt was, god help us, "a swing poem." I tried to resist the obvious.

Today's judge is Boss, Todd Boss. Check him here. He works poetry in with public art and films.

Image: Masanobu. Now who's pulling the strings.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Scope Creep


Tell me, spyglass, what do you see?
I see tiny dutchmen waving at me.
I can almost hear them across the water:
"Children! Primitives!" they bark.
"You're doing it all wrong!"
They never fear to visit
Any indignity upon us, their hosts,
Yet they are so concerned
That all must be done correctly.
And all the power of the glass
Won't reveal what's inside their ships.
It must be so precious to hide it that way.
When the wind comes around,
It smells like death to us.
With their big noses,
How can they ignore the stench?

Dutch and Chinese traders were allowed into Japan, but only under strict rules. Rengaku, or "the Dutch effect," refers to the relatively fast way Japan was able to "catch up" with technology and even overcome the west after years of isolation. The theory is that some technology from the Dutch sort of leaked through and developed despite the obstacles. It's always funny to see the world as others see it, to paraphrase Burns. I don't know if there's a word for Rengaku in reverse, but there certainly ought to be.

I am a supporter of reparations, but I don't believe most programs of reparation are of sufficient scope and vision. It is not only American fortunes that were made on the trade of people as slaves, but European ones as well.

Image: Wiki Commons and it ain't sayin

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pull Back The Covers


Light changes color, I knew that
Even before they brought me here
As a child. I was tea and now I’m petal
And at night I am gold. I dreamed
The moat was full of enormous boats
Bobbing like jugs and buckets. Giants
Charged out and tore off the gates,
Smashed in the doors, broke screens
Like firemen, pressing us flat
Between leaves of paper. I was trapped
Inside a book and I was yellow.

When I was little, I could never figure out why they used the words for skin color that they did.

Today's prompt was to use an adjective as your title. Today's judge is a real poetic heavyweight: Alberto Rios. You can read some of his work here. I'm so psyched to be in the company of these National Poetry Month judges. It's like when I run a long race and I see the elites passing me, and they're on their way back to the base when I'm just starting out, and they're like, "good race, good job." And they're serious, because I'm old and slow, but they're so nice about it.

Image: Yellow Book. You know Wilde was never published in it, isn't that strange.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Truly, It Is A Lonely Planet

A True Guidebook To The District

Most of you are here to impress
Each other, not me. We’re lazy as cats
When you’re not looking. At your step
Down the street, the scene springs to life.
The cheap ones are thieves and the honest ones
Cost more, so you’ll pay the same either way.
The bad ones hurt your body, and the good ones
Hurt your conscience, so you’ll hurt either way.
I have a whole book of secret ways
To make yourself cry, and each style of sadness
Is distinct, with a name and a poem to go with it.
It’s very beautiful, but I’m not allowed
To show it to you. For years, I’ve saved
My greatest sadness, and I haven’t had to spend it
Yet. Yes, it could be yours. This wine is worth
Every bit you pay for it. Don’t be fooled;
I am the one true guide to the district.

Missed a couple days, have things scribbled, was running around. Will make up for it later, threat or promise ;)

Today's poetry judge is spell crafter Annie Finch. The prompt was honesty/dishonesty.

Guidebooks to the Yoshiwara were often produced and highly popular, with names and portraits of popular women and tips on how to conduct yourself there so you wouldn't (ha) get ripped off or look like a bama (or in their words, yabo or hankatsu. Hankatsu means you got only enough tsu to get that tsu matters but you don't really have the full tsu. You're half-baked.). Anyway, I saw similar guidebooks of Paris prostitutes from turn of the last century at the Museum of Eroticism in Paris.

Image: Hishikawa Moronobu, 1678, from Love in the Yoshiwara, a little earlier that what I've been focusing on but you get the gist. Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Four And A Half Stars In Your Eyes

Four Seasons At The Four Seasons

Blossom festival
Duties ended, princesses
Hit the hotel bar

Masked men dislodge a
Wasp's nest from the eaves outside
Room 237

Orange skies. Sheet-wrapped
Lovers huddle on sidewalks.
Just a fire drill.

Irish, neat. A low
Table near the window wall.
Footprints in thin snow.

Today's prompt was a seasons poem; the judge is haiku master Michael Dylan Welch. (I'm going to start linking the judges for the Writer's Digest Poetry Month project, because they're fuqing saints to put up with us, and some tiny promotion is the least I can do.)

I have a soft spot for the Four Seasons. It looks nondescript, like the dullest office building, from the outside, but inside, it's all luxury and views of the park. I interviewed Rita Mae Brown there one spring. Last year, we went ice skating Christmas Day at the waterfront rink, and DD fell and cut her hand. The drugstore was closed, no convenience stores around, but the front desk at the Four Seasons hooked us up with a full first aid kit. I told them we weren't guests, but they said they were happy to help current and future guests. That's how you do it.

Image: "Executive Chef Douglas Anderson’s decadent French toast is made with smashed chocolate croissants served with Nutella, black cherry compote, whipped butter and maple syrup. The dish is offered during breakfast Monday - Friday 6:30-10:30 am and weekends 7:00-10:30 am for USD 17 exclusive of tax." I got too many food allergies to get into all that, but I'll watch.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Answer Is: Good Intentions

How To Walk To Hell

The plum blossoms are fragrant,
And the pines are lofty
When did charcoal ashes turn to morning frost?
This is how you walk away from a difficult place;
Movement that is calm can also be swift.
I trusted the fickle world, I trusted people,
I turned without twisting, soft and supple, like a cat.
But a piece of gold is better than moxa for building strong legs:
All that was left was the final striking of hands.
The feeling is easy, like turning a key in a lock--
This is his own house,
But the threshold seems too high for him to cross.

This is a found poem built from instructions on how to walk “nanba aruki,” the walk/run of the express couriers and samurai, and from the kabuki love-suicide play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, The Courier For Hell, (tr. Donald Keene) about a courier-service manager in Osaka who steals from a samurai to buy out his courtesan’s contract, and then runs off with his love to the mountains, where they get caught and die.

There was a brisk business in distance-running couriers at that time, with all the money being exchanged and the messages that had to get among the three big cities, Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

It took much longer to put together this found poem than it does to write one!

Image: Still from Dolls, film by Takeshi Kitano. It's based on Chikamatsu Monzaemon's works and opens with a bunraku performance of Courier.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sweet Sixteen Tons

Prayer For Daruma

The mist from the fountain
Rises and settles
In soft beauty
Into the clouds
And returns to us
In the rain

The wisp of smoke
From my most expensive
Incense finds its way
Into the nostril
Of the horse

Like water and smoke
I work without ceasing
Even asleep
I am getting paid
And even as I sleep
All I earn vanishes
Before I see a cent
To pay for my bed, my food,
The smoke and water

Will I live to climb
To the temple and vow
To sit in silence
For my last days?
Observe, please
My serene unconcern
As I pour the wine
I have earned, and
As I am paid to pour.
In this moment, I am
A past master
Of non-attachment.

There was a fashion for Zen in Yoshiwara, but that's not why they called prostitutes "daruma." The founder of Zen was said in legend to have meditated until his arms and legs fell off. Daruma dolls, made for good luck, are modeled after this--they're sinply round faces and torsos. You can tumble them over, and they rock a bit and roll right back up again. A second visual pun is obvious above--the meditating master, seen from behind, looks like a phallus. It shows up in a lot of the art from around then. This image is from a hundred years later than the period I'm writing about; the artist is making a very old joke.

Image: Shaku Soen, late 1800s, Daruma Meditating.

"Fights And Fires Are The Flowers Of Edo"


I'm every bit as bad as any fireman--
The bell sounds and I hoist my standard,
Soak my dress and fall to dash the flame,
Lie back and light my pipe again.

I fight dozens of them every night--
Tear down anything standing
Near anything burning, it all folds.
Daylight: flat, damp, a curl of steam.

Image: Yoshitoshi.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It's Not The Golden Journey, It's The Destination

Love Sick

I love the tile in my bath
So cool against my skin, such support
When I can't fall any farther

Maybe National Poetry Month makes me sick. All I know is it happens every time, and I still get my poems up here motherfuckers ha. And it's not supposed to be a haiku mmmmk?

Photo: It's the one everyone uses for their inspirational quote about kintsugi, and that's cause it's public domain. You gotta have an inspirational quote about kintsugi every year or they take away your new age license.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Vanquishing Power Of The Two-Wolf Shirt

Nothing To Fear

Here is a song about creatures to fear
Though it may appear they mean no harm:
A tiger who howls in loneliness.
An ox that works through the night.
A pregnant rat.
A peacock dragging his tail in the dust.
A monkey vomiting wine.
A goat content to graze in the valleys.
A horse that shies and stops on the road.
A snake, still, on a sun-warm rock.
A dragon.

The prompt today was to write a things-not-as-they-appear poem. Given the theme I've chosen, almost anything would qualify.

Image: Wolf Hat by Utagawa Kunisada. I didn't know much about him, but Wikipedia says he was the most popular of his time. Lots of twisted stuff, really nice. This is from a kabuki play; most of his work was images from these.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

High Time for a Haiku

Spring Greenery

You take my tears when
You leave for grief. It's envy--
You are free to go.

The scholarship has caught up with the euphemisms around the Floating World. Here's a great article with extensive interviews of the curator of an exhibition currently at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. A few details: Most Yoshiwara prostitutes were sold into it as young as age 7, trained for several years, and were put to work by their teens. And they didn't last long; there's a mass grave from those times found outside the district, with the remains of more than 21,000 people "without connections," mostly women, mostly in their 20s.

If you'd like to learn more about human trafficking today, this group is a good source.

Image: From the Ukiyo-e Tarot, created by Koji Furuta. A really good deck, variation on the Waite so it's easy to learn, but carries its own meanings as well.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Time, Gentlemen

On the Clock

A clock must be constructed with wicked precision,
But the increments themselves can be sliced
As thick or thin as works within the measure
Of sun to sun. We behind the moat know
Time is our trade, but we incline to accommodate,
Make a few adjustments to the gears. It's only sensible
That the hour of the rabbit allow a greater span
For husbands to right their clothes, shove on
Their hats, and shuffle home again. It's right
That the hour of the snake should slip by
As smoothly as its namesake. If you hear me
Steal from the bed and ghost off barefoot,
It's not to take a rifle through your pockets.
I'm heading for the pillar clock in the hallway
To tilt a counterweight a bit, slacken the chain
On the machine. My hands know what to do
To make the bells go off, and send him scrambling
From my bed a little sooner, or buy some time
For us to breathe a little longer, disregard
What the light tells us and obey the engine.

Being isolated for a couple hundred years means you get to make your own time. The Utamaro prints on the "Hours of a Courtesan" are protected. This image of a Japanese Edo clock is from a site on karakuri, or automata, a very fine site indeed. The clockwork is the same in the puppet as the timepiece; it's just exposed in the latter. We've all got something inside us destined to run down.

Thursday, April 2, 2015



music, smoke, cats, piss:
these may take their liberties
flow the night streets
as they                   please
the rest of us are secreted

screen slats                    lattice
slats fan slats                    skin
a ritual glimpse                    the game
to keep you                    going
round every corner                    promise

rose, lily, lily, rose
item: six embroidered robes
layer, layer, layer                    flower

To be put behind a lattice was the mark of having achieved the middle-class of prostitution in the Yoshiwara. It's different from being put in an Amsterdam window display; the idea is that mystery is more valuable. Manufactured mystery. The more expensive you were, the more layers of robes you wore.

Photo: Took it a couple years ago and used it already, but it fit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Float, Float On

A Foot In The Door

The first two visits, I don't even look at you.
You've put out for a hell of a spread,
But I don't fill your pipe, and I don't touch
My cup. The house feasts on my refusals.

For these few days, the power of
My denial keeps this world afloat.

The house has done its diligence.
The spies report: a small income,
A small house; men respect you;
Good connections on the black market.
Your sword is legendary,
My maids giggle, even with all I've seen.

On the third visit, I can drink,
I can smoke, I can listen to your songs.
Two old warriors, we can't keep our hearts
Still at the smell of a challenge. My hands
Plunge beneath your robe, and I can drown.

So if you wanted the best of the Yoshiwara, you had to put some effort in. You had to fill out an application and go to two interviews and pay for a lot of treats, musicians, the whole shebang. The woman you were after wasn't permitted to eat or drink, but would just sigh and look devastatingly disappointed, I imagine. Sometimes she'd even say no on the third visit. But sometimes she'd say yes, and you'd become a regular. You still had to keep up the love letters and poetry and treats and cash flowing, and sometimes you'd have to fight off other regulars. You couldn't rest on your, um, laurels.

This is the first post for National Poetry Month. Last year, my theme was the Albigensian Crusades. This year, it's the Floating World, the Yoshiwara district in Edo, post-1750. I'm using this theme and combining it with the prompts from the Pad 2015 Challenge at the Writer's Digest Poetic Asides Blog. You can visit there or the NaPoWriMo site to find out more and do it too. Or throw them some cash, never hurts.

Image: Ripped off from someone's Pinterest, a vintage 1970s subway poster of Agemaki, the courtesan from from the Kabuki Sukeroku. "Don't forget your umbrella."