These two poems were written after a trip to Japan in December 2003. The first, titled Uji, refers to a town with a famous bridge where the late 12th c. hero Yoshitsune fought a legendary battle and where Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th c. shogun initiated the Zen cult of tea. Uji is famous to this day for its tea but its earliest claim to fame was the Phoenix Hall or Byodo-in built by a Fujiwara aristocrat in 1053. This building, so called, because it seems poised for flight with outspread wings (while simultaneously plunging into the underworld through its reflection in water), replicates within the perfect world of Amitabha Buddha holding this aspiration for the world’s future. The second poem, titled Taikan’s House is about the home of the famous nationalist (Nihonga) painter Yokoyama Taikan. Taikan’s house in the Ueno suburb of Tokyo is now a museum of his works. When I visited during a brief stopover in Tokyo, the curators were exhibiting Taikan’s wate-related paintings.
Cars flowing across Uji bridge at sunset
Fail to see the ghost of Yoshitsune
Grimacing in his exotic and bloodied armour.
And here now appears Hideyoshi
With his long spoon dipping for tea-water
As in a moryoga painting laughter fading around him.
The sighing wind ripples through tea branches
Fields once strewn like fruit with felled bodies
The mind hollows with the earthy scent of Zen.
Like a sorrow-mad and tongue-uprooted stork
Mourning its dead lover, on the desolate shore
A girl runs back and forth aimlessly.
The rapids swallow the restless sound of her steps
The spare and lonely trees gesture weirdly
White sand cools the fevered brow of Time.
Above, the moon, like an enormous golden lantern –
Byodo-in like a phoenix poised for flight
Its slender legs anchored in still water.
As it pulls upward its perfect replica shadow
Prepares unceasingly for the plunge below,
Sleeplessly the Fujiwara nobles witness.
Along the rim of stillness only their sentinel eyes
Behold the shimmering incandescent country
Spilling like dawn across the extended earth.
2. TAIKAN’S HOUSE
Tokyo machined without excess
Light and shiny as aircraft
Manicured to atomic precision.
Patterned city of tamed matter
Standing still and speechless
With the erasure of personality.
The aesthetic of machined minimalism
Machine no longer the braggart of yesterday
Shy machine which hides its name
Hides its process.
Shy machine or sly machine
Submerges the senses the feelings
In pure visibility
Design that stops the mind
And conditions aesthesis.
The city is design
Turning the still mind in unexpected constellations
Turning a corner a new pattern a new meaning
A new machine.
Machine within machine
Clock within clock
Fractal within fractal
Taikan’s house a green ticking gear
A magic throb in the still heart of the beating.
Bamboo and the wind of silence
Shino on the threshold human and ephemeral
Corridors shining with rain, fish, boatmen
The stillness harvests everything.
Inside is outside
As outside is inside
Nature is painting
Painting is Nature
Nature is machine
Machine is painting
Catalog the fruit of amazing print technology
Green tea, plum and sticky rice on table
Boy-haired red-jumpered Tokyo adolescent
Framed against the window
The textured trunk snaking upward
The cicadas’ raucous violins.
The anime of temporality
The touch of tears in transient things
At the foot of Mount Fuji different actors
The same play – interminably.
The slow hour aches to its close
Shino walks me through Ueno Park
Tall unruly sedges and lotus leaves like elephant ears
Nod and sway
Ducks glide aimlessly children play
The deafening cicadas from Taikan’s house
Claim the day.
Blue sky above
Patterned clockwork the houses the cars the traffic lights
The street clean as a whistle
The call of the superfast train
The waiting aeroplane
The kaleidoscopic turning of the world
Taikan the avatar of painting