William Doreski is a poet whose work has been published in various electronic and print journals, most recently in A Black River, A Dark Fall.
Another long bridge arching
over a timid little river,
trestles spiked into the mud
and women twirling parasols.
The great Sanjo Bridge straddles
the clean, clear River Kamo.
Kyoto, city of temples
and shrines, embraces us despite
the road filth plastered in layers
of sweat and dust all over us.
The emperor lurks somewhere,
but he won’t receive pallid
strangers like us, our long walk
clinging like a haunting. Only
after a trip to the public baths
will the cool dark of a temple
restore the many dimensions
we lost in contemplating landscapes
simplified by an aesthetic
too gray and blue to resist.
Lake Biwa, the largest in Japan,
lurks unnoticed in the background.
I watch men drop buckets down a well
to water oxen harnessed to bales
bundled onto pairs of wheels as tall
as the draymen waving little sticks.
Then I enter the shop that sells Otsu-e,
folk pictures sketched locally.
They depict draymen leading oxen
to the well, and some include me
in the background, my western clothes
a humorous distraction from
the workday world too busy
to enjoy a dip in the lake.
A green, house-shaped palanquin.
Another one, open to reveal
its occupant crouched like a toad.
In the background, the rice-cake shop
serves a dozen customers,
their faces anonymous with hunger,
traveling clothes rumpled and dusty.
Here the road to the mountains forks off,
confusing those lacking maps.
The porters toting their loads
are almost naked, allowing their sweat
to grease the roadway and smooth
the way for those who follow.
Not all the rice cakes in Japan
could make their labor worthwhile.
We watch a woman and two
children hang out strips of gourd
to dry in the friendly sun.
This is an elegant foodstuff
in nineteenth century Japan.
We’re not of that century,
not Japanese, but appreciate
her enterprise, which continues
in rural places even today.
But why is her face a cartoon?
Do we also look simplified
by the woodblock process, victims
of time-warp and aesthetics?
Look at those strips of gourd-meat
dangling on the green fencing.
Have you ever seen anything
more authentic? Surely
you and I are at least that real.
Famous for its rain, a rich
gray shroud, this place seems
determined to embalm me.
The weather sluices down in lines
so finely drawn they knit like
spider webs, snagging everything
in the scene. Tall cedars conceal
the Tamura Myojin shrine,
a plain and boxy structure
dedicated to the memory
of an eighth century warrior
whose name I can’t remember.
Travelers crouch under their hats
but I lost mine days ago
and have never owned a red or green
raincoat like theirs. However,
in the thrill of this stark depiction
I feel waterproof and buoyant:
the indigo river flooding
with brilliant conversation
in a language I understand.