Tourist, who gave her eyes
to the fishes and the sharks.
Ingenue queen of the lingering darkness.
Tourista, chain smoking in the rain.
Perfumed winds blow from her mouth
dizzying the Phoenician sailors with longing for her shores.
And the moths circle,
searching for her cable knit heart.
And I will go back to my darling,
my darling tourista,
when you my darling are gone.
Us being strangers of the night
and enemies in hollow places.
Tourista prays to ooze juicily
at last round the bearded lips of God.
Tourista swallows sleep
and swallows deep.
Tourista lost in translation
between valley girl slang and punk rock idols.
Pushing pushing pushing, push em.
Tourista of the long white neck, neglected.
Free of love nibbles and nicotine kisses.
Though she longs for their ghosts
and strokes the scars of their cousins.
Her screaming, rolling head full of tinder and ready to ignite.
Like the loveliest of hand grenades.
Tourista who's heart swells and empties with the tides,
all Jackson Pollucked up inside.
The punch line of every joke. The object of every desire.
And tourista rattles with wheezing.
Tourista vacant. Accepting reservations.
Calling dimply she prays to the highway dogs
and hound dogs and squealing pups.
Tourista of the pure soul, sprinkling virgin lamplight
like vestal seeds.
Though she implores every living thing to dampen the flame.
Hold tight, says tourista, happiness is surely near.
But she hides it away in her bedside table and hopes she will forget.
I told you to Lend me your lips
and I'll teach you what love is, I said
I'll let my eyes become your moon
if you'll lend me your collarbones
so I can use them to build a bridge
to the mountains inside my heartstrings
Love, I wrote you an anthem
for all the nights you made my knees sing
and I swore on every dying man's last breath
that I would never change the tune of that song
I was a fool for letting you love me
I knew I would break you in
You told me in life we can't always win
but I thought we were
Because winning was found in the mornings
when your skin looked like feathers under lamplight
and nights when your eyes glistened from that red wine
and I swore I would never let you drink it with anyone else
I told you I couldn't catch a break
and you told me life wasn't a baseball game
I don't have to catch anything
but oh did I ever want to catch you like a firefly
in my glass heart
The day you left I whispered that I would never stop writing you poems
you were always giving me inspiration
You still are
Yesterday I breathed a ghost out of my lungs
and I swore the cigarette smoke could fill up the sky
I thought maybe you'd see my signal fire
telling you it's time to come home
Telling you it's time to listen
time to listen for the last night
When you pressed your cheek against mine
and told me not to call
and I thought the words were poison dripping from your mouth
I was screaming but nothing was coming out
and I knew I couldn't live another day the same ever again
Because now that you're gone
my lipstick can't even stick right
and my sonnets are words numbed by hopelessness
and this poem is a poem I never wanted to write
You were right here standing over my shoulder
just a few weeks back
I have no idea where I lost track of the time
but it's gone
just like you
you've become the safe moments
in which to whisper silver secrets
across a shared pillow,
lamplight glowing through your window.
you're the time of day most anticipated
with every piece of me that feels
and wants and yearns and burns
to be the cause of your slow smile.
maybe you think it's just your touch-
and although I crave every blissful kiss
and the way you trail each finger
across my skin, still I'd linger
for hours in your company
just to take a swim in your eyes.
The yellow lamplight,
and the silhouette of a dark grey sky.
He had sat at his desk with intent to write to her. And he had not. He had sat and let his mind wander. He wanted to write if only to capture something of her he had yet to capture. It was as though by trying to find words to describe her everyday self he discovered it was often extraordinary, and it filled him with more tenderness that he could reasonably deal with. The other day he had written her a letter. It was rather ordinary, full of unplanned thoughts and descriptions, a day-to-day letter, but he had written it by hand, taking care with the curl and mark of his pen on the little sheets of laser-copier paper he felt suited him best. Once he wrote expansively (though never to her) on large sheets of thick, fine paper with a calligraphic pen and Indian ink. Now he felt more comfortable with a fine roller-ball nib and a light touch, on paper of a dimension and quality that seemed appropriate to the size of his script.
Today, as he thought about the letter he might write, he had imagined her finding his most recent letter as she came home, a letter with his careful handwriting on the envelope. It would be lying on the doormat with the brown envelopes, the circulars, the bank statement and one of the many journals she subscribed to. There was a letter too from her ‘pen friend’, someone who had invited her to correspond having been so touched to find a late relative’s letters full of the minutiae of life, but properly described and not the ad hoc jottings of what now passes for communication on social media. So this friend, who was not then a friend but an acquaintance, had set out to recruit a group of like-minded people she might write to properly, in proper sentences – and had, it seemed, fixed on her. He had been a little jealous at first that she should write, and write properly to this ‘friend’ she hardly knew, and since then she had so very rarely written to him. He had so wanted her words, on paper and not just her end-of-the-day thoughts on the telephone. But he had soon got over this jealousy realising how valuable this letter, written once a fortnight, would be for her. An opportunity no less, of the kind and value he could no longer provide.
It had changed the way he had continued to write to her. He stopped the hand-written caress of a letter on paper and took up what he called the Ten-Minute Letter composed at the computer. Not an e-mail, but a proper letter as an attachment she could print out. Written each day just before he stopped for lunch, he set an alarm on his phone and wrote for ten minutes only until the sampled chimes of Big Ben struck. It was a challenge, and to meet it he would prepare his ‘daily subject’ in those transient moments between the demands of work and other people’s needs, as he walked to work or cooked supper. He felt that by doing this he would eradicate that falling into passionate contemplation, the downloading of his memory’s thoughts, his often-intense feelings and emotions. He thought she would prefer such brevity, as she now had so little time for reflection, except when travelling.
In imagining that picking up of his letter he sought to imagine further. Would she open it straight away? Would she put it at the bottom of the stairs on a pile of things to take up to her bedroom, and read before bed? Occasionally there was a little time stolen during the day when, before the necessity to go at her desk and ‘get on’, she would sit on her bed with her cats and be conscious of her physical self. She would think of him beside her, kneeling on the floor in one of those occasional preludes to their passionate moments she knew he so loved, when he was full of tenderness, and he would kiss and stroke her, their quiet voices caressing each other in the lamplight. He thought of her carefully pulling the envelope flap open without a tear (whereas he could hardly contain himself, when a letter did arrive, from pulling the envelope apart). And she would read his careful writing, his late afternoon thoughts written after a long day’s work, before returning to more time at his desk.
She would read quickly, rather impatiently sometimes. She had to ‘get on’, attack the list, get things done. But just occasionally he surprised her. He would catch her attention. There was some phrase, some reflection that made her feel warm and loved. He would make an observation about her, and she would feel treasured and honoured by his words and be grateful for the time he had put aside to write them. And then the letter would be returned to its envelope, placed on the bookshelf beside her bed, and she would feel secure that she was loved, and could then put all that away for now and ‘get on’. But just once in a while she would recall the pit-in-the-stomach thrill of his first letters, as letter by letter he declared himself, saying what he thought of her, what he felt for her. She was often overcome with his play of words and would touch herself to sustain those rich feelings that would gradually envelop her; that someone could care about her that much. And for a while she was transformed . . .
Today, as he continued to hold his pen away from composing that first sentence, he had wanted to return to writing of her and for her. It was his small gift, his almost once a day gift. With words he knew he was on safer ground. He struggled somewhat in his lovemaking; he worried that he disappointed her with his awkwardness and never being sure if he was doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. Perhaps in reading his thoughts rather than responding to the messages of his physical self, she felt safer too. He wanted her to know something of the intensity that she brought to his ‘being aliveness’. He remembered a recent phone call when for once he seemed able to say pretty much what he meant. ‘I hope I don’t presume in saying,’ he had said, overtly formal as so often, ‘ that one of the reasons I think we are the companions we are is that we have so much in common; we love the same things, we share the same joys and pleasures.’ And she had agreed. He felt this was true, and he wanted to celebrate this somehow; but they were apart, being on the phone, and he could not. There was less and less time for the joy of coming together, of that celebration of being-together that had once seemed beyond magic and the stuff of dreams and fantasy. There was now the ever-present awareness of the clock, of having to do this, needing to do that, and at a certain time. Their life together was changing and he needed to rise to the challenge that this change would bring, no matter how busy and preoccupied she became. He would write, he thought, and tell her that he knew this would be so, that she should never be concerned for him if there wasn’t time. Hadn’t she said she loved him, this young woman who had once been so diffident about speaking such endearments? She had already given him so much that he never imagined he would ever receive. Perhaps not for always, he was so much older than her, but for a long time to come. He must acknowledge the receipt of such gifts, and let her know he loved her all the more for her industry, her ambition, her preoccupation, and the beautiful, gracious person she was.
It is that time before bed
When the day says stop
But still there are things to do
As talk and chat winds down
We give our attention
To the News and Weather
As couples do before bed
Before the sorting of cats
Locking the doors
Before going upstairs
To brush teeth and
Peek at the children
(Oh the way the heart’s
love leaps as
the landing-light falls
on those dear faces -
sleep gathering in
what the day has grown)
Now the promise
Of bed’s lamplight
The click of the switch
And the slow radiance
Of the low-energy bulb
Spreading across pillows
Into the shadows where
As I lie in bed and melt
you remove your clothes
Such careful unbuttoning
before the limbs’ balletic
Moves in sequence
Drop fold pile place
A jigsaw of curved forms
in a dance of shadows
And now the final gesture
When if naked or not you
Stoop to pull the cover back
In exquisite shudder
Fall and sway
As the smooth fruit
Of your beauty’s
Tree is revealed
So startled by the shadow's silent sound
etched clearly on the cobblestone,
by lamplight lost ambitions can be found,
oh- my thoughts were not my own.
But your words hung in the air like a mandolin tune,
And fell sweeter each note with the light of the moon.
Forgive me I knew not what to expect,
From one so sensible as you.
See, sense is catalytic for neglect-
It forgoes passion deep and true.
But your words belonged to dreams of the past,
And filled me with hope of an age that would last.
The windowsill was not my place,
My task was to inspire flair;
And save you from a fall from grace
While braving tightropes through the air.
But the passionate words that spilled out of your pen,
was the swindling voice of an artist long dead.
We bring rapture unto the night,
As we venture forth
Under orange lamplight.
Join our merry quest
To sell a good time,
And glide through the streets
On a high that's divine.
Drop a line,
The movies taught us
Adventure was never a crime.
No longer do we face rejection,
Now we are the stuff of legend.
When night falls
this city is mine.
This is what we know,
What the rejects of a generation find;
It's not crime,
It's adventure time.
Though the road is long and hard,
I do not walk alone.
With your lamplight at my feet,
I'll run swiftly to your throne.
Yes, I'll only look to things above;
I'll only look to home.
And 'til the day you call me there -
Where you lead, I'll go.
Fukiko had woken before her accustomed time. She was alone and would have prefered to sleep, and sleep on until Narumi had lit the brazier in her room and brought tea. But she had woken, and was aware that outside the world had changed. The world, her world of Yukiguni, where the mulberry fibres for paper-making were laid out in the snow-bleached fields. Her world where men from the cities sought the kind of woman she was, a woman uncultured in the ways of geisha, but possessing a freedom no city-bred geisha could possess. She had been schooled by an aunt, was accomplished as a performer on the samisen and though her voice was thin, it held a quality of understanding, it had a fine texture, though thin. And yes, this morning a change had come over the world outside her small house that looked over Hikachi Lake, that looked towards the southern flank of the Central Mountains where during the previous day and night the snows from across the seas had fallen on the landscape. She imagined the roofs of the monastery across the lake were heavily white, and as she sought the image in her mind’s eye so the large brass bell of the temple sounded, no, it throbbed across what she knew would now be hard-frozen water.
I am floating she thought, like the snowflakes I glimpsed in the reflected lamplight when last night I opened the shutters for a moment before bed, before sleep and descent into my dreams. For days now she had been dreaming like never before. She seemed to enter a dreamstate; she would then wake purposefully; she would then fall instantly into quite a different world; over and over this seemed to happen until she found herself wondering if she was dreaming within a dream; she would become aroused, her skin glowing with the ministrations of hidden hands and fingers; she would feel that presence on her upper thighs, a kind of perspiration born of that bodily sensation that, when awake, would sometimes steel upon her.
The coming of the deep snows before spring was always a delight, an excitement carried her from childhood. The way its coming turned daily life upside down. She would enjoy choosing her very warmest garments, the bringing together of layers, her rabbit-skin mantle perhaps, a bright warm scarf over her hair, which she would not today ‘put up’ but allow to flow comfortably next to and down her back, then the hood only if the snow and the wind persisted. She could tell from the warmth of her bed that this was not so, that outside there was a stillness. Even the birds were subdued. Only the brass bell broke the stillness born of this deep snow of spring.
She heard Narumi rise, heard her piss in her chamber pot, heard her roll her bedding away, heard her bring the stove into life and fill her mistress’ brazier with the few precious coals brought across the mountains. There would be tea soon, and this young girl, appointed by her aunt to her charge, would appear to kneel beside Fukiko and give the morning blessing her mother had given Narumi since infancy. Then, she would say, ‘Madam, the snow is deep this morning. We are bound in snow today. Our path has disappeared.’ Still a child’s voice, and still a child at thirteen winters, such a slight girl. And she would retire to the warmth of the kitchen and Fukiko’s cat who was not allowed into her mistress’ presence unless requested.
Fukiko could feel the warmth from the brazier. It was as comforting as the thought of the silent snowscape outside. Gathering her cloak around her, kneeling on the covers of her bed, she held the bowl of tea in her hands, letting its warmth caress her fingers. Standing up, she stroked herself as though to bring her body awake - her flanks, the front of her thighs, her stomach, her slight breasts, the long curve of her bottom and then the back of her thighs, her right hand stroking her left arm, her left arm stroking her right arm from shoulder to fingers. She was awake, and placing her feet on the cold matting found her night cloak of deepest blue with the ornamental sash of red and white. She would open the shutter and gaze out into this fresh world of snow and light.
It seemed quite miraculous that a covering of snow could so change this view across the lake to the monastery and its attendant village and then to the mountains beyond. She had once seen a woodcut of this scene, in snow, and had been mesmerised by what it revealed. Despite her status, her profession, such as it was, any ambition she might have harboured to dwell in a city, evaporated at this vista, this snow country scene. It was as though she was living in a story book where she could imagine herself as a concubine of some favoured lord, even better, a princess groomed for a fine marriage, a marriage she knew she would be unlikely to experience. There was one, a land-owner beyond Huchin whose business brought him past her domain, who, widowed and childless, had been advised to seek her presence. And she had been charmed by his shyness, his lack of experience with such as the woman she was, or thought she had to be. And it was often that she would find herself thinking of his presence, and imagining her body melting to his careful touch.
Suddenly, out on the lake figures moved. Was the hard frost of the last week really able to sustain figures on the ice? The brothers from the monastery were tentatively moving too and fro, they were suketo, skating. She would summon Narumi. Her girl should see this sight. The brothers in their crimson robes moving to and fro across the ice, their robes flowing. ‘Narumi’, Fukiko said, ‘a sight so rare. Come and look, the monks are skating.’
So Fukiko and Narumi opened wide the shutters and let in the whole landscape, the lake, the monastery, the snow-roofed village, the mountains beyond into the room. The snowlight dazzled, the hard cold air rushed into the warm room filling its very corners with an enervating freshness. Narumi knelt beside the brazier in her best purple cloak, her hair already pinned for the day, her eyes wide at the sight of these figures dancing with movement on the ice. Although cold, Fukiko would not pull herself away from this play of forms, this wholly pleasurable sight. Just below her window her camellia bushes were in bud, almost budding, their dark redness, bloodlike, enhanced by the vivid snow white. And then the bamboo, snow on the bamboo, as though carefully layered on the fragile stems and branches. This morning no wind and a period of snow falling that had laid flake upon flake upon flake giving the bamboo a wholly different form and weight and body. Its stems bent as though in supplication, as though in prayer to bless the landscape of this snow country.
One must bend
In the floating world -
Snow on bamboo
Kaga no Chivo (1701-55)