02 May 2009

Kimiko Hahn

[from Kimiko Hahn's The Narrow Road to the Interior, Norton, 2006]

The Orient [excerpt]

. . .

The zuihitsu, spatial in every way, differs from the nikki, a "poetic diary" which differs from the Western -- that is, differs from documenting fact unless we mean an emotional fact. Differs from what is really true.

Translated at running brush, I love the way the zuihitsu runs with the content.

But even with a hint of narrative, the form also relies on sensibility and spatiality -- and a way to identify with the most important writers in the world, who happened to be Japanese women. I love them.

Like some teas? she asks. Or drinking your usual? I smile and reply, the usual -- but I do like the tease. She grins back.

I love the unabashed first person -- it almost risks the confessional quality that a diary exudes, or that diary-like information can contain in a conventional poetic form. Even the tone becomes altered by the form.

(What is true here?)


I return home after rewriting a short story. Peel off a sweaty unitard. Shower and slip on a velvet skirt and loose cotton top. I sit at my computer to see where the words have taken the heart. The brain enters now.


From Ki no Tsurayuki we know that kokoro and kotoba combine as the basic dynamic in Japanese poetics: the heart and the words produce passion, even if subtly placed.


On my way to Harvey's book party I stop by the cafe for a takeout decaf. It's evening. Cicely remarks from a table of girls where she's hanging now, off hours. You're confusing me, she continues. I smile and reply, Sweet.

From confusion to clarity. From clarity to ambiguities, blurs, fuzziness. Haze.

In her Gender Trouble, Judith Butler asks, How does language construct the categories of sex? Does "the feminine" resist representation within language? Within a language of presumptive heterosexuality, what sorts of continuities are assumed to exist among sex, gender, and desire? Are these terms discrete?


I am wired from Cicely's caffeine-mixed decaf.

Otherwise -- what?


Maybe I am attracted to this elegant mongrel because it blurs categories: those "grade B" forms of the Western canon: letters, diaries -- even gossip. Plus lists, fiction, criticism, online sites. I love blurs. I appreciate categories but as I grow older, have less of a need for the absolutes I sought in my twenties. The form suits this desire to blur.

She asks what I'd like. I ask for more caffeine. To wire the whole room.

Let me get something straight: I love cocks and often men to whom they're attached; and I've never even slow-danced with a woman. But I'm increasingly drawn.

the pulse --

the impulse --

The impulse is to categorize: bi, lesbian-wannabe, a gay man in a straight woman's body, queer but straight --

Maybe she thought that ex-boyfriend was a girl? Or a gay man? Is he?

Curious how crazy straight guys are about lesbians -- as if women's sex and sexuality are destined to be about the male. For me there's no quiver in seeing a gay porno flick. It isn't about my desire.

And this isn't about coming out. But emotional truths. . . .

Conspiring with Shikishi
     tanka inspired by Shikishi and her predecessors
     — with grateful acknowledgment to the translator, Hiroaki Sato —


     Looking at the moon, I feel sad in a thousand ways, though the
           autumn isn’t mine alone
               — Oe no Chisato

     Evening mist forming in the depths of my heart, the autumn as it
           wanes is mine alone
                                        — Shikishi

The evening mist dampens his heart, I know. He will not see his
           way through this missed.

The evening mists and my face is wet — ah, to be both mother and
           daughter; bereft.

The evening mist forming in my heart: the one daughter runs off
           into that dark. The other watches.


     Loneliness is the habit of this house: I gaze at the leaves with frost
           spread over them
                                         — Shikishi

Loneliness is the habit of this apartment — this bowl of flowers that,
           outside, would still root in the frost.

Spring is the habit of this apartment: each morning I rub the mist
           off the bathroom mirror so I can see us both brushing and


     The reality of the dark, of leopard flower seeds, wasn’t at all better
           than reliable dreams!
           — Anonymous from Kokinshu

     Not even knowing the reality of the fleeting dark, I wander along
           from dream to dream
                               — Shikishi

The reality of day lilies twisting into brown froth — I can cry for my
           mother in any season.

The seeds of those leopard flowers I do not know — nor what takes
           root in your breast that you pluck out — in order to live with
           me, my daughter.


     Painful to think of her without her knowing it: I wish it would
           show in color like the safflower!

                                         — Anonymous from Kokinshu

     My sleeves are wet and I keep this secret, yet how would I deal with
           the safflower?
                                         — Shikishi

Painful to think the safflower already knows: soon I will leave one
           man for the other.


     You must have seen the high plum branches of my house; so unex-
           pected has been your visit
                     — Taira no Kanemori

     At my house, since high plum branches flowered I’ve been waiting,
           though for whom I can’t say
                     — Shikishi

The blossoms on the highest plum branch cannot be seen from
           here — but the daughter who looks back may recall them in
           years to come.

The blossoms on the highest plum branch — I can just see them. I
           can worry about her distance.

The uppermost plum blossoms cannot be clipped — except by the
           downpour forecast and arriving. I wish she were home.

She writes of the highest branch — but what are they — those


     I’m waiting, I tell others, for the moon to rise above the foot-
           wearying mountain, but it’s for you I wait

                                         — Anonymous from Manyoshu

     Waiting for you I do not go into my bedroom. Do not shine on its
           cypress door long, moon near the hills
     — Shikishi

Who cares about the moon after all — the street lamp over the
           corner pay phone is bright till dawn.

Who cares about the moon over the skyline — who cares about
           him — and who cares about what I thought was my heart —

The Narrow Road to the Interior: Poems

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