japonisme: 12/9/07 - 12/16/07

15 December 2007

solstice III: the emergence into the light

the japanese winter solstice celebration includes the witnessing of the first sunrise of the new year. "According to Shinto legend, Amaterasu, the Sun goddess, hid herself in a rocky cave in heaven, causing darkness and chaos to cover the world.

She was eventually enticed to peek out by the laughter and dancing of the other gods. A mirror was used to reflect her light as she opened her door, enticing her out.

The cave was then closed off to ensure she could not return." 1

and the release of the light from the cave, the summer from winter, the birth from the womb, plays over and over.

"As she was gathering flowers with her playmates in a meadow, the earth opened and Pluto, god of the dead, appeared and carried her off to be his queen in the world below. ... Torch in hand, her sorrowing mother sought her through the wide world, and finding her not she forbade the earth to put forth its increase. So all that year not a blade of corn grew on the earth, and men would have died of hunger if Zeus had not persuaded Pluto to let Persephone go. But before he let her go Pluto made her eat the seed of a pome- granate, and thus she could not stay away from him for ever. So it was arranged that she should spend one-half of every year with her mother and the heavenly gods, and should pass the rest of the year with Pluto beneath the earth." 2

our arts mimic our bodies and ourselves, our beliefs and our visions.

something so fundamental that it shows up in out symbology on every level: the return of the sun, the birth of the son, the festival of lights.

we are here facing the solstice, the return of the light. here, even in our modern age we feel it in our bones. the is nothing so profound as the darkness growing every day, and then stopping so the light can return again. it's a rebirth.

i began to see all of the corollaries, and i see them still.

the words are different but the themes continue to repeat, over and over, in countries all over the world there are echos of each other's myths, of the cycle of birth and death.

a number of years back i reached a crisis of faith, i suppose, and read quite a few books (like 80 or so) on psychology, philosophy, biology, and religions. one night i woke up in the middle of the night and said: they're all saying the same thing! live not from fear but from love. move from the darkness into the light.

in the musical 'hair' the wrong person marches off to war. but aren't they all the wrong person? so fervently we sing again with open arms, let the sun shine in.

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14 December 2007

solstice II


But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands

gloved with green. You can have the touch
of a single eleven-year-old finger

on your cheek, waking you at one a.m.
to say the hamster is back.

You can have the purr of the cat
and the soulful look

of the black dog, the look that says,
If I could I would bite

every sorrow until it fled,
and when it is August,

you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,

though often it will be mysterious,
like the white foam

that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys

until you realize foam's twin is blood.

You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,

so solid, so doll-like.
You can have the life of the mind,

glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,

never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you

all roads narrow at the border.

You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,

and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave

where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,

but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands

as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful

for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful

for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels

sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,

for passion fruit, for saliva.
You can have the dream,

the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.

You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,

at least for a while,
you can have clouds and letters, the leaping

of distances, and Indian food
with yellow sauce like sunrise.

You can't count on grace
to pick you out of a crowd

but here is your friend to teach you
how to high jump,

how to throw yourself
over the bar, backwards,

until you learn about love,
about sweet surrender,

and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind

as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,

you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond

of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas

your grandmother gave you
while the rest of the family slept.

There is the voice you can still summon
at will, like your mother's,

it will always whisper, you can't have it all,

but there is this.

Barbara Ras

From Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras,
published by Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
Copyright © 1997 by Barbara Ras. All rights reserved.

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13 December 2007

song of ducks


I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,
but I was still surprised when I found the painting
of his mother
at the Musée d'Orsay
among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes
of the French Impressionists.

And I was surprised to notice
after a few minutes of benign staring,
how that woman, stark in profile
and fixed forever in her chair,
began to resemble
my own ancient mother
who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.

You can understand why he titled
the painting
"Arrangement in Gray and Black"
instead of what everyone naturally calls it,
but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,
I imagined how it might have broken
the woman's heart to be demoted from mother
to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.

As the summer couples leaned
into each other
along the quay and the wide,
low-slung boats
full of spectators slid
up and down the Seine
between the carved stone bridges
and their watery reflections,
I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.

It would be like Botticelli calling "The Birth of Venus"
"Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,"
or the other way around
like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color
"Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn."

Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe
where I now had come to rest,
it would be like painting something laughable,
like a chef turning on a spit
over a blazing fire in front of
an audience of ducks
and calling it
"Study in Orange and White."

But by that time, a waiter had appeared
with my glass of Pernod and a clear
pitcher of water,
and I sat there thinking of nothing
but the women and men passing by—
mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs—
and about myself,
a kind of composition in blue and khaki,
and, now that I had poured
some water into the glass, milky-green.

Billy Collins

Poetry (January 1999)

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11 December 2007


10 December 2007

artificial flowers

gotta be one of the strangest pop songs ever. but memorable. couldn't get it out of my head.


In the Royal City spring
is almost over;

Tinkle, tinkle—
the coaches and horsemen pass.
We tell each other
“This is the peony season”;

To follow with the crowd that goes to the Flower Market.
Cheap and dear—
no uniform price;

The cost of the plant depends on the number of blossoms.
To flaming reds,
a hundred on one stalk;

The humble white with
only five flowers
Silk is spread as an awning to protect them;

Around is woven a wattle-fence to screen them
If you sprinkle water and cover the roots with mud,

When they are transplanted, they will not lose their beauty.”
Each household thoughtlessly follows the custom,

Man by man, no one realizing
There happened to be an old farm labourer

Who came by chance that way
He bowed his head and sighed a deep sigh;
But this sigh nobody understood

He was thinking, “A cluster of deep-red flowers
Would pay the taxes of ten poor houses.”

Po Chü-i (772–846) Translated by Arthur Waley (1889–1966)
via The Columbia Granger's World of Poetry

so much of art is like that

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