Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Nakasendo Highway

It climbs up into the sky
Curving at the point
Of the distant horizon
Where ideas meet emotion
Then vanishes like a wild animal
Between wooden houses in the
Overnight heavy snow.
In the morning it can only be
Recognized by occasional pugmarks
Of a pack of raccoon dogs,
Small clog footprints or
A lonely raven’s
Caw caw for food.

When the cedar forests
Are swollen with snow,
And their swooning pollen
Is caught
In the tight grip of winter,
When the buds of the
Peach, plum and cherry
Hide in their protective barks,
A dwarfish figure approaches
The barn, somewhat bent,
To clear the snow
Over the ishidatami
For no particular reason.

The snow
On the Hime No Kaido,
Apart from other
Nubile girls,
The princess Kazunomiya
Who also took this road
On her way to Edo
To marry a shogun,
Even while engaged
To another man,
Just to give more power
To the empire.

As her large retinue
Wound its way slowly
Through small towns
Making friends with people,
And rested on the shores
Of the vast blue Biwa Lake,
The princess looked back
Towards the wooden Kyoto
With wistful regret,
And had an inkling
Of things to come;
A married woman
Becoming a nun.

Hirosige’s floating world
Of 69 stations have
Now given way
To modernized expressways,
Streaking shinkansens,
And the distractions
Of the civilized world;
The beautiful post towns,
The secluded sukego villages,
The houses along the highway,
The old world of Nihonbashi,
The bookshops of Kanda,
Lie in ruin, or are nearly gone.

But the seasons remain and
The mountains of Sekigahara,
The Ise shrine of Amaterasu,
The snow of the Japanese Alps,
Come to life again in seasons
Of falling snow,
Of floating cherry blossoms,
Of cicadas chirping from trees.
And if your strain your ears
You can still hear the princess,
The daimyo and his horses,
The common people, breathing
As they negotiate the Nakasendo.

(Tokyo, 2006)

No comments: