japonisme: 8/31/08 - 9/7/08

06 September 2008

becoming lily pond


I have minded me
Of the noon-day brightness,
And the crickets' drowsy
Singing in the sunshine...

I have minded me
Of the slim marsh-grasses
That the winds at twilight,
Dying, scarcely ripple...

And I cannot sleep.

I have minded me
Of a lily-pond,
Where the waters sway
All the moonlit leaves
And the curled long stems...

And I cannot sleep.

Adelaide Crapsey (1878–1914)

people change their names for many reasons: for luck, to hide, to reveal...

For Thais, names are loaded with significance and having the wrong one can bring untold misfortune. Over the past 10 years, the trend for changing one's name has grown alarmingly. Last year in Bangkok alone more than 50,000 people registered new names. And they weren't just changing their first names. Thais can also change their surnames whenever they like, as long as they choose an entirely unique name.

Unlike the West, where parents often choose a name for their child well before it's born, Thais name their children when they know the exact date and time of birth, consulting books, monks and astrologers. Some dates are particularly auspicious - such as the King's and Queen's birthdays. Those lucky enough to give birth on those dates can apply to the Palace for a name. If you're not willing to trust to luck, doctors are more than happy to book you in for a Cesarean in advance.

--Sarah Strickland

many jews changed their names when they first arrived at ellis island. or had them changed. then after the second world war, many first generation American-born jews went into an all-too-understandable hiding, and names were changed so success may be pursued.

but for me, it was instead a revelation. since i was 14, tigerlily had been my secret name. maybe i got it from peter pan. it just felt more like my real name than the one i had been given (which, not coincidentally, had been yelled so often i wanted never to hear it again). nine years pass, and i am a hippy in san francisco. i've left the haight behind and now live in the castro near a wonderful health food store named agapé.

i needed to be free of some people i had gotten involved with, so i moved, left no forwarding address, and changed my name. since i had a friend staying with me at the time whose name was now fern blossom, i decided now was the moment to take my 'real name.' i needed a last name too, so i became lily pond.

it was 1973. it was around this time of year so why not?: today marks the official 35-year anniversary of my name. but wait -- i said something about revelation. isn't this just as much about hiding too? it was at first. but the name took root, and the symbol became increasingly important to me. i went to kyoto to tour lily ponds. i built one.

my name was revealed to me, and, thankfully, i listened.

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04 September 2008

travelling along the contours


Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak,
sweet gum, tulip tree:

our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the ex- panse and contours of grief
along the edges of
a big Norway maple?

Have you winced at
the orange flare

searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching
gravel roads,

and felt a moment of
pure anger, aspen gold.

I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.

And I have traveled along the contours
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool,

I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.

Arthur Sze

From The Redshifting Web:
Poems 1970-1998

published by Copper Canyon Press, 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Arthur Sze.

i discovered a cool blog today; its author and i sometimes think alike.

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02 September 2008

i wear purple too

today is the second anniversary of my first japonisme post!!

i have learned so much, and met so many fascin- ating people!

thank you all for the many treasures you've added to this blog.

it's also the 16th anniversary of beginning my 12-variety iris garden!

dead my old fine hopes

and dry my dreams
but still...
iris, blue each spring

shushiri 1


kakitsubata yori ano niji wa okoriken

where that rainbow
starts from

Issa imagines that the rainbow has arisen from blooming irises--the intense, showy colors of the flowers continuing in bold streks upward, into the sky, forming the rainbow. It's interesting that "iris" derives from the Greek word for "rainbow." Issa could not have known this, but he intuits the same connection that exists in many Western languages. The rainbow is a flower in the sky; irises are rainbows on earth.


waga io ya hana no chiisai kakitsubata

at my hut
an iris with the tiniest

Issa bends down low to acknolwedge and appreciate a small flower. There is a world of meaning in this simple act of paying reverent attention to things that other people ignore. The tiny-petaled iris is as precious as the big, bold chrysanthemum. Issa's approach to the living universe is democratic.


sekirei wa kami no tsukai ka kakitsubata

running messages, wagtail
for the shrine's god?

The wagtail (sekirei) is a bird with long, wagging tail feathers. Though he doesn't say so explicitly, Issa implies that the setting of the haiku is a Shinto shrine. 2

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31 August 2008

laborers day


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride
from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide
her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor
that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands,
your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips.
"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse
of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus


There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.

She went to the union hall
when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come 'round
She always stood her ground.

Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking
to the union,
I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union.
Oh, you can't scare me,
I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die.

This union maid was
wise to the tricks of company spies,
She couldn't be fooled by a company stool,
she'd always organize the guys.

She always got her way
when she struck for better pay.
She'd show her card to the National Guard
And this is what she'd say

You gals who want to be free, just take a tip from me;
Get you a man who's a union man and join the ladies' auxiliary.
Married life ain't hard
when you got a union card,
A union man has a happy life
when he's got a union wife.

Woody Guthrie (1940)

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