After a traditional Japanese story
He knows she must have been a bird,
the same white crane he saved,
returned to flight. And now she has returned to him.
As wife. At night, he brings his face
near hers to watch the unexpected sheen,
white on white, her skin against the pillow.
And when she slowly combs her tangled morning hair,
her lifted arms seem to him like wings.
Once he found a feather on the stair.
Her husband is to her the sea.
He tastes of salt, his unwashed hair
a net that holds an ancient, briny catch.
In sleep, she breathes him deep.
And flies. Again she sees the coast,
sees the way the sun breaks waves
to shards of purple, gold, and rose.
She sees the squares of planted rice
serene beneath a muted glaze.
She finds a perch within the darkness of the trees.
They love their simple life, their house.
A flowering branch. A lacquered box.
Life comes to life when juxtaposed.
Each meal they share seems an emblem of the past.
A bit of rosy fish curls shyly on a tray.
A boiled custard in a plain white cup
nearly overflows like the moon’s white light
inside a narrow room. They drink their tea
in somber bowls, neither green nor gray.
Like two old friends, they tell each other tales,
but never once their own —
the startled hunter, wedded to his prey,
the wounded bird, would-be wife . . .
But should a traveler someday pass
beyond their gate, the scene he’d see
could bring to mind a half-remembered song,
could bring to mind a Master’s inky wash
wherein a single tree, a stone, a stream
find a home within an emptiness.
The painting’s untold story feels like home.