Haibun Monday – The Shadow Knows

Monday I am doing the prompt for Haibun Monday over at dVerse Poets Pub. Years ago I read In Praise of Shadows (陰翳礼讃 In’ei Raisan), an essay on Japanese aesthetics by the Japanese author and novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. It deeply influenced me and caused my immersion into the Japanese culture. So I am prompting people to write about shadows today in classic Haibun form – actual shadows, shadows in our lives, walking after dark in the full moon, the fireplace flickering in a dark room, shadows of clouds racing over a meadow, mountain or lake. Come visit us and find out the reason for this quote by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki: “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”  The Pub opens at 3:00 pm EST

Moonlight, kendo, and love
Midsummer. The moon was full to bursting and it lit up our bedroom like a klieg light. My lover was sleeping soundly, softly snoring. I was rolling from one half of the bed to the other – the night was hot and moist and redolent with the smells of roses, jasmine, gardenias, magnolia….the rich musk of freshly mown grass floated over the flower smells and made me sneeze. I gave one look at the sleeping man, muttered “bah” and got out of bed. I looked down into the garden in the back yard – the scene was almost surreal, flat with the look of no contrasting shadows. Every detail stood out in sharp detail. I pulled on a tee shirt and shorts and went downstairs. I decided if nothing else, I would practice some kendo forms I had learned the previous week. With my shinai in hand, I began. I started to sweat but continued. Soon I relaxed and to get into the motions. Clouds blew across the surface of the full moon and shadows drifted across the koi pond and the graveled area. A soft breeze began cooling me and I closed my eyes and drifted with the forms. Suddenly, my arms were gripped by strong hands and my lover began to improve on my motions.

I turned to look at him. Taller than the average Japanese man with a beautiful swooped nose and full lips. I loved his mouth and his nose. He smiled. “Dancing in the shadows?” I melted into him and we began the kendo dance. Shadows began to shift as the moon began to dip in the sky. The branches of trees grew longer and one of the koi broke surface, thinking the moonlight on the water was a bug. I watched the shadows from the moon slowly glide along the walkway. We became still, me wrapped in his arms. “I love the shadows on a full moon night,” he whispered. “I love you on a full moon night.” And he started to caress me. Soon we disappeared into the shadow of the dogwood tree, making love in our garden. Fully sated at last, we went to sleep on the grass each holding the other close. We woke just before grey dawn and lay there looking at the sun rise. The koi began to roil the surface of the pond clamoring for food. I fed them and watched them as they swam in and out of my reflection. Shadows shifted as the sun rose higher. I kissed him. “I love you” I said. And he smiled.
flowers scent the air –
midsummer dreams – shadows on
a pond – koi jumps high.

dVerse Poets Pub – OLN #191

Today is Open Link Night (OLN) over at dVerse Poets Pub. Gayle is our host today and sadly, this is her last go as Pubtender. She is an amazing talent and is one of the kindest people around. She will most definitely be missed. I know I will miss her. So come by the dPub and read some excellent poems. Today I am doing a haibun in order to get in on Frank’s prompt last week of writing prose poetry. https://dversepoets.com/2017/03/09/open-link-night-191/

The Samurai and the Sparrow
Hot summer in the South – a feeling of walking around in a bowl of hot oatmeal when one ventures outside. But the air was sweet with magnolia, honeysuckle, night blooming jasmine, roses…my life was obsessed with smells that year. But this Saturday there was to be an exhibition of Kendo; several Hachi-dan Hanshi sparring against each other. I had just started dating a man who was arrogant, thought his long blonde hair made him look like a Nordic badass, and he was also into Kendo, at a higher level than I. He wasn’t great but he was an amusement. One of the men in the exhibition line caught my eye immediately. He was truly one of the most beautiful men I had ever seen. The participants all bowed and when he looked up at the sparse audience, I gasped. He looked me right in the eyes. You could have walked on the bolt that shot between us. The man beside me heard me gasp and looked at me with a frown. “What’s so great about him?” he muttered. I turned and looked at him with a sniff. “Other than he is gorgeous and dressed in a black silk hakama? Other than the fact that he is obviously good?” I had to laugh. My date got up and left. Fine with me.

I watched the Japanese man avidly. He was a bit taller than most Japanese me and he had his hair pulled up into a warriors knot (not those silly “man” buns of today) and in his belt were tucked the two swords – katana and wakizashi. He was carrying daisho – literally “big little” referring to the two swords. Every once in awhile, he would slightly break his concentration and find me in the audience. I shivered. I clearly had an admirer. Why I do not know. I was plain. My long dark hair was worn in a braid down my back, I was wearing glasses. I was under five feet tall – four feet 10 inches. He was gorgeous and moved like a tiger on ball bearings. Swift, graceful, lethal, powerful, passionate. But something in me spoke to him as something in me answered. Do you believe in love at first sight? Never ever put it down. Something started that day that after 35 years still resounds. It is hidden now but it is still there. I heard when he returned to Japan, he never married.

magnolias scent the
summer air – moths come to the
flame – wings become singed

old snapshot taken in Duke U Medical Library

And finally, the beginning of The Story of the Samurai and the Wren

Samurai Kiss     I have to say, the first time I saw him, I gasped.  I told my friend Jackie, “That is the most beautiful man I have ever seen.”  She looked over my shoulder at Daniel and said, “Yes he is one gorgeous piece of humaness….wish he’d dump you for me.”  I looked up at her in confusion and realized, we were not looking at the same man.  I turned.  “Oh. Him. this is our second date and I can say, it will be the last.  Total….and I meanTotal Jerk. In fact, this date is ending now.  One and a half dates – he’s history.”

Jackie laughed and said, “I love you!  Does Daniel know he has been dumped and are you going to point him in my direction to be comforted?”

“No, but when you see him act like the jerk he is, you will know he knows.  Get ready to be picked up.”

Daniel was beyond excellent with saber.  Seriously into epee’, saber, kendo….if it had any type sword, he was into it.  He was average height but blade thin and whip quick with wheat blonde hair he affectedly wore in a braid  – the kind that was anchored on top of his head and brushed above his shoulder blades.  He hoped it made him look like a Viking badass.

The man with whom I had become transfixed looked like he had stepped out of a time machine:  Tall for a Japanese, black hair pulled into a warrior’s knot, katana and wakizashi in his obi,  and dressed in a black silk umanori hakama. Later, when I was closer, I saw black on black embroidery of cherry blossoms.  I just sighed and shook my head.

I had been on one date with Daniel and when he asked me to accompany him to this competition, I was happy to say yes.  I had always been interested in such arts and was looking forward to watching the several hours this would take out of my day.  Daniel was the center of an adoring group – those impressed with his prowess, his good looks, – his whole being.  To this day I could never figure out why he had asked such a plain, short female to go out with him but in truth, I think it was because I made him look so danged good.  He was a Major Planet and I was but a satellite.  He gave a disdainful glance to the man sitting beside him in combatants row – he had never seen the Japanese man before and took him for a minor combatant  – one to be crushed and tossed aside while his friends and followers cheered.  Looking at the man, I had my doubts this would happen.  Daniel felt me looking and turned and snapped his fingers.  I pointed to myself, “Me?”  He motioned me over.  I stood there frowning….I’m not a dog. I’m not his lackey…..He snapped again and anticipating ugly, I decided to go.  To put an end to the ugly.

“Got to my car and get my bag. I forgot to bring it in.”

“You have 10 minutes, get it yourself. I want to get seated.”

Like a sidewinder, his hand shot out and grabbed the long braid of my hair and pulled me down close.  “get my bag.”  Another wrap around his fist and a stronger, more painful jerk.  “I need it.”  Well, what an empasse.  He’d continue to pull and if I wanted to continue experiencing pain, I’d try to pull away.   I didn’t want to make a scene.  I just wanted to be away.  I had already decided the date was over before this based on our first date but now, I was determined it be over.  Low voiced I said, “please let me go.  I’ll get your bag and bring it. Then I am getting a ride with Jackie or James and I am leaving.”  Another wind and jerk of my braid.  “You don’t end this, I do.”  I was finding the ugly side and rumor of Daniel to be uglier than I knew.

The man to his left turned and began to gently unwind my braid.  “No, I think I will be ending this.”  Soft voice, sure hands, calm demeanor.  I looked into his eyes – gentle as his voice but steady and kind – and steely.  He smiled slightly.  “Fly away tori hanashidesu (little bird).”  I stood and I could tell Daniel was enraged although he dared not speak.  I bobbed my head at the man in thanks and went back to the bleacher seating.  I told Jackie what had happened.  She rolled her eyes and said, “You realize of course, this means war?”  I sat with my arms folded on my knees.  “I hope the Samurai beats the crap out of the Viking.”  She shook her head.  “For such a little person, you make Big Trouble.”  I just shrugged.  Being two inches shy of five feet nothing, what could I say?  That I lived for trouble?  That I enjoyed antagonizing dangerous men?  To be honest, I tried to capitalize on being short by trying to have my shields up and to be invisible.  Oops.  Missed on that one this time.

We watched as men were paired off and the losers went to one bench and the winners to another.  It was of course, inevitable that the Viking and the Samurai ended up being last ones standing to spar.  A break and then the last match.  I stayed put.  I had caused enough trouble.  I was invisible.  I was tori hana-something or other.  I had flown – right.  In my dreams. Now I had become a target.  I told myself how stupid I was to put myself into such a situation.  I told myself that the gorgeous man had a gorgeous girlfriend/wife and was simply a rarity – a true gentleman and he didn’t like seeing women treated badly.  I kept looking at him and told myself…….in your dreams honey, in your dreams.  I was not living in one of those 1930’s romance movies, I was living in the big bad 80’s and fairy tales were no more.  At least I could look at him until I left the place….I didn’t hear anything Jackie was saying to me.  She nattered and I dreamed and looked.

The two men faced each other.  The crowd began that susurration that means:  Something Is About To Happen.  It appeared they had decided to use live blades, first blood wins.  Oh my.  Jackie looked at me – “Dumbass, dumb dumb dumbass,” she hissed.  Oh my my.  I wished myself away in another universe, hopefully being brain sucked by Darth Vader or something.

It was quick.  One would have almost missed it had not the crowd seen Daniel’s braid drop to the floor.  One pass of the katana, before Daniel barely had a chance to complete his blow.  it was over.  They stepped away from each other.  The Samurai hilted his sword with a soft snik and bowed slightly.  The Viking turned and stomped away.  I looked at Jackie, “If you want him, you’d better move.  The girls are gonna be on him now like white on rice to give him comfort.”  She took off running.  I was out of a ride but I didn’t care.  I’d call my roommate.  She had broken up with her girlfriend last week and was at home licking her wounds.  I was standing in line for the phone.  The gentle voice, “do you need a ride?  I seem to have……changed plans for you.”

I turned and looked up.  He was a lot taller than I.  I smiled.  “No, I changed that plan myself.  I can call my roommate.”  I saw then the black embroidery on black silk. That was when I sighed.  “Thanks anyway.”  I continued looking up at him.  “Oh and by the way, gorgeous hakama”  He blinked.  I hastened to explain.  “that’s all I know, trust me. And, what is….tori hana…..?”  “Little bird.  You look like a little wren, misosazai.”  he cocked his head.  “Misosazai, would you like to come and join me for tea and conversation?”

Okay, I knew variants of that line and it showed.  “On my honor, tea and talk.  After all, I saved your braid.” and then, “Mitsouko.”  I blinked.  He grinned.  “Your perfume, Mitsouko.”  “Yes, it is.”  and thus began The Story.  The story of the Samurai and the plain brown little wren.

Moonlight, Kendo, Coffee spoons, Perfect Cherry Blossoms, and Springsteen

 

Regret, melancholy, walling oneself up alive,
Breaking down the wall,
Blowing that spark into a fire,
Doing kendo in the dark.
 
We make choices
We make sacrifices
We love deeply and intensely
We seek perfection and only at the last moment
Do we realize a thing was perfect all the time.
 
Living life by carefully dipped measures
Afraid to move to take chances to open up again.
But being brave enough to let the wind of change
Turn that last spark in us into a conflagration.
 
Turning up the MP3 full blast
Springsteen in all his rampant pounding wailing.
Dancing in the moonlight,
Doing kendo in the dark.
 
Lifting my shinai to the moon
And laughing aloud.
I remember when I taught my love how to dance
How to rhumba to jive to hustle
How to move his hips and shake his butt
He taught me how to do kendo in the dark.
Now I’m learning again.
 
I’m not bricking up that wall again.
I’m piling up perfect cherry blossoms
In all the cracks of my days.
Decadent display of pink and white.
I’m driving too fast and listening
To Springsteen too loud.
(Oops girl, slow down – that county mountie
Looked too hard at you whizzing past!) <huge grin>
 
I’m not measuring the moonlight
By coffee spoons.
I’m bathing in it and being profligate.
No regrets, no retreat, no surrender.
I’m starting a fire.
I’m relighting passion
I’m thinking of love
And doing kendo in the dark.

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