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.


Slothrop said...

I keep re-reading this one b/c it bothers me somehow. The sadness, yeah, but also b/c it connects w/ a superstition I've always had that I'm generating parallel lives. After every close call I can't shake the feeling that in another dimension I'm dead. It's the same w/ every big decision. I thought I was the only one who felt this, & then I read a short story by Mark Haddon, "The Gun." A simple object that forces you to an edge where you feel the huge stir of choices. Possibilities.

"The pinch of the sword's tip" is going to be very hard to forget.

Shows what I know; I thought your Jackson was named for Jackson C. Frank!

Slothrop said...

Think I located another source of the unease I get from this - when I read your novel I kept thinking, "This reminds me somehow of Jim Shepard." Your utterly assured command of a seeming infinity of real-world facts, the concision w/ which you unroll them, & something in your voice too. Worldly, chastened. But, Shepard wrote a story called "Classical Scenes of Farewell" about Gilles de Rais. Your line about losing children to a castle...I'm seriously not a helicopter parent, but I do feel a pang of fear during drop offs at new places.

I've reread half of your novel, was meaning to finish it long before now, but things are such a struggle now. My strongest feeling on the second read is that I want a sense, much earlier, of what Malone wants. In your first chapters she seems well-drawn, yet vague about what drives her. And that drive is what hooks the reader. I kept following her because I was so interested in her life & this world I felt plunged into, but how much more powerful would it be if she were full of a vivid, relatable desire?

Maria Padhila said...

I'm sorry things have been rough for you! All the yoshiwara poems are about stolen children--they stole or sold them to the prostitution district. There were of course a lot of deaths by childbirth and the work created a need for a lot of abortions, herbal and "surgical." I'll eventually finish this out with a poem on the "throw away temple" outside the district, where a lot of the women are buried in mass graves and where some set up altars to their children, at whatever stage they lost or had to lose them. As for the novel...I don't have a clue what to do with it! I'm hustling for rent now and really chasing my tail in all areas. Lookin for a sign. Your comments are as always so appreciated and welcomed.

Slothrop said...

I am really sorry that things are so hard now. I can relate 100%. I've had to face up to the fact that the publishing company I work for is at death's door, and I'm scrambling wildly for a way to pay the mortgage. This would almost be okay, but my young cat Joe is very ill & doesn't seem to be responding to treatment. It's hard to deal w/ the suffering of such a sweet & innocent friend, & if he goes it will break my nine year-old's heart. Funny, Summer used to be my favorite season!

Maria Padhila said...

I'm so sorry about your cat. It's hard. (Summer always makes me think of horror stories!) If you have any interest in freelancing, write me a message via Facebook for details.

Slothrop said...

Thanks, Maria! I'm looking for a sign now, as well. And the cat seems to be almost back to normal now - trying to steal my seat again!