In the shade of a huge chestnut tree at the edge of town, a monk made his hermitage a refuge from the world. Saigyō’s poem about gathering chestnuts deep in the mountains refers to such a place. I wrote on a slip of paper: The Chinese character for “chestnut” means “west tree,” alluding to the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha; the priest Gyōki, all his life, used chestnuts for his walking stick and for the posts of his home.
Almost no one sees
the blossoming chestnut
under the eaves
An excerpt from Bashō’s Narrow Road to the Interior, trans. Sam Hamill
It is resting to read about Bashō’s account of his travels through Edo period Japan during this fever pitch time of ours. He quotes famous poetry and writes his own, recounts the weather, mountains, landmarks, legends, and friends he visits along the way.
His haikus are numerable and they begin to sink into the soul. Nature becomes a deep, rich place, the surest area to connect with the finest thoughts and feelings.
And when I look up from reading, I remember one moment in earlier in the day. I was driving along and I beheld: the black arm of a streetlight become a tree branch of iron beauty, a perfect blue sky hung like a backdrop behind it.
I drove underneath the iron tree and was full of gratefulness that I was alive enough to see such everyday wonder.
I wish the same for you.
Artwork: Lingering Snow at Asukayama (Asukayama no bosetsu), from the series “Eight Views in the Environs of Edo (Edo kinko hakkei no uchi)”, c. 1837/38, by Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川 広重, color woodblock print, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/25293
The cool dry weather had shifted during the night and when I went outside in the morning, I walked into a sauna. The front welcome mat was soaked like an old rag but the cement steps were dry. The cracks in the driveway were damply dark but the road glinted white grey in the sunshine. I strolled down the street, fierce pleasure flooding over me when the sun poured down onto my wide brim hat. I felt the heat through the hat’s crown and on my arms but underneath the umbrella of my brim, my face and shoulders remained cool. I gave up on the Pokémon game that everyone’s crushing on and instead, took pictures of the maple leaf shadows on the street. The leaves were pointed like stars, too eloquent for language. I heard them rustling overhead but down below, I studied them through my phone’s window, marveling at their everyday foreignness. They are closer to something, more pure and true because they are closer. What they are close to? I am not sure but I can guess: a land I live in but can rarely see, a melody I strain to hear in the breeze and on good days, I catch one chime or two. I glide further down the street, away from the maples and towards the oaks, red and bur. They do not cast shadows on the street; they are too dignified for shadow play at the noon hour. Maybe later when the work hours are over and they feel free to let down their hair. They are strength; they hold up the sky, push down the earth. They are closer to something but we don’t talk about these things together. We listen instead. Oaks are strong because they are tuned into things that I can barely see and songs I can barely hear. I would like to see more, like to hear more. I would like to hear them. When I arrive back home, I take off my hat and the wind ruffles my hair. I climb the dry cement steps, take one step on the ragged doormat, enter the house, and close the door. H is for hearing. S is for song. T is for time.
(Influences: LaRose by Louise Erdrich, Lucky Romance starring Ryu Jun Yeol, The Pillow Book by Sei Shonogan)
This is the opening quote in White is for Witching. Here is the full poem with title:
my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell
I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.
Sometimes the brain needs a rest, a small vacation enjoyed with the night. Tonight the vacation is with Prince and his first album, “For You.” It’s a sweet groovy album and as he plays, I sew, my fingers darting with need and thread as my mind stills.
Now playing — So Blue by Prince
The difficulties loom large as I transition out of survival living and into a living where I am able to take the time to look around me. A large part of being a survivor is ignoring large swathes of life for sanity’s sake. The terrible occurrences and ongoing abuses are glossed over so that we can survive. A grave side affect to this is that slowly but surely the day to day annoyances are skimmed over too– the cooking, the cleaning, the self-care. Soon everything is lumped under horrible things to ignore and by then, everything is ignored and hardly any living is done at all. Surviving is happening. Reaction is happening. But not interaction. Nor action.
Even when the abuse and the abusers are left behind and the baggage has been unpacked, the half-living continues. It hurt to look at anything for so long, it was not possible to live and look and still function, and now the habit runs deep.
One way of lessening the fear of living is looking at art. Art can be like honey, it can be the healer, it can look when we’re too scared to look but would still like to. It takes what could could be an image of every day grimness and it can make the image sweet, make it worthy of examination.
This is Garrowby Hill by David Hockney. It is just another hill in Yorkshire, England, one that has to be driven along to get from Point A to Point B. It stands in the way for a lot of drivers who just want to get to their destination. The boredom of driving along this road day after day must be interminable and undeniable. But under Hockney’s gaze the road and landscape become joyful and alive. For Hockney, this is a view of rich possibilities. The possibilities here are endless, the life is endless, and the joy is endless. Hockney’s art teaches that looking with an open heart is worthwhile and can be a palliative to our sadness and pain. It’s scary to look so joyfully at anything with a wounded heart and so his art looks for us. The art beckons us forward to new kind of living.