So, if Michael Schlieman was not in Japan by now, as the evidence of the recent text was suggesting, where the hell was he? He was now miraculously restored to health and faith, secretly ensconced with his Yoko in a cottage overlooking Coniston Water? Or Wastwater? Or Sellafield? The heart is known to have powers to heal itself, it can re-fabricate the links in the spillways of arteries precariously feeding blood back to itself from the lungs.
Schlieman alive or dead, here or in Japan, why should I stay here? Lonely, suffering the overture to the Second Flood? I could be just as easily tracking his flights across the nohzone in my flat in London. Or could I? It seemed odd, but I sensed the manic morphozones of Schlieman's contrived non-world seemed more appropriate, more paradoxically 'real' here than, they would projected on my computer screen in my Battersea basement.
These thoughts coming forth to me while enjoying a nostalgic pot of tea (Earl Grey) in the hotel MS frequented, in total contradiction to what had come before, it suddenly dawned on me I was really staying here because I knew the poor guy was dead. And he had been murdered! His flippant style had quickly drawn me away from the real purpose of my mission, according to Webster. Find him dead or alive. Retrieve the Memoirs and he and Sister T would publish them on the web. Were they not already on the web? Merely needing the right encryption program to protect them from being erased by MI5?
From his texts it was evident his murder had tracked him down for a long time, foretold in the arms of his glamorous pack of threatening devouring women. But MI5? It was seeming more and more unlikely. I was fooling myself ... no detective story, this, but the laments of an incurable romantic, loathe to die in squalor and misery in the city, eager to give the impression he had gone out in style! I was listening to the mind of a murdered man, maybe, and I often sensed his body nearby, in a shallow grave under a stand of pines. Was his copse a real place I could visit, or imaginary? Only by finding this mutinous ancient mariner dead, hic habeus corpus, could I prove he had been alive, not merely a fictional 'voice' crying from the dying heart of wave-field that he, or someone else, had blithely imagined and unloaded into the ports of the collective consciousness, the R field as he had mockingly called it. "R" being the difference between copse and corpse.
Why had I overlooked the vexed question of his murder? Had I been too easily beguiled by his computer musings on his pastimes? Or was this diaspora of mercurial texts Schlieman's way of exploring a vaguely academic thesis that had always appealed to him, the nature of the fraught 'coincidence' implied by the kinship created in the virtual domains between author and reader, each of whom, before they met on the blanched plateau of the printed page, had colonized an elaborately dissimilar universe, drunk from wildly discordant tributaries of meaning and nourishment gorging out the valleys of the shadows of death ... yet, here, face to face, threatening to invade each other, parasites in love, haunted with plagiarism ... twin cannibals in bedlam.
Ah well ... back at the cottage to try another walk on the virtual wild side, enjoy another throw of the dice, chuck a loaded ball into Schlieman's spinning wheel in the gun-moll-ridden casino of his decomposing mind. Did the ball come to rest in number 28? Or 27? Depressed and despondent again, so much wasted time, I drank too much Islay Malt and inadvertently crashed out on the cheapo sofa. Typed this (later, which is now, but was 'then' at the time I was doing it) into my computer, fixed it onto digital re-accessible magnetic discs ... god knows why ... fell asleep, dreamt, woke, or sort of woke, compelled to trap something of the traces of a long numinous dream before it dissolved into the blue lake of forgetfulness, in which the sirens spin their yarns and choreograph irresistible betrayals ... 'But nothing happened! You imagined it!' Virgins the lot of them ...
A clearing in unspoilt original Caledonian woodlands. I was leaning against a tree. I had just visited Dove cottage, running my fingers over the wood panels of the sitting room walls stained with ox blood, trying to imagine De Quincey there with his entourage of doting women. Clearly his daughters adored him. (Did he dare to call one then Ann?) The Malay was at the door. Disorientated. The wind from the East was howling in the pines around me. I heard a voice, reminding me of Hamlet's father's ghost. I scribbled the words in my journalist's spiral notebook: 'He who dreams of being a tree will become petrified, he who dreams of being a river will become the sea, he who dreams of the white bird will become its spirit ... '
Cut. I was in a dark basement room. Soho. Frith street. Trying to sleep on a filthy rough sofa, a thin horse hair blanket barely covering me, unable to sleep, my throat as dry as a cork buoy in a dead Russian sea ... Cut: everywhere dead fish ... I am walking along the beach. A young peasant girl is approaching carrying a large dead albatross around her shoulders, her blouse open in the extreme heat, her breast naked ... suddenly she stops and turns, her eyes as bland as a baby seal, wild and staring, and I know she is blind, either that or she is seeing right through me. I speak to her ... 'Where am I?' She screams in fright. She is obviously blind, following the manner of the beach with her toes in the limin, the lapping edge of the water; she drops the bird at my feet and runs away, falling over bits of driftwood, old ropes, cages, towards a copse of dead trees bleached as white as a winter's tale ... and I shout after her: 'No! Wait!' She stops, petrified ... still as a statue. I walk as quietly as I can towards her. She is holding her torn white lace blouse tightly around her now, and her feet are bleeding ... badly. I stop. What can I say? What right have I to say anything? I hold out my arm, my hand, my shaking fingers ... and touch her forehead ... nothing. The image is instantly erased, all that remains is the dead copse of trees behind me, a dead sea, a dead bird on the sand. The wind is quickening. I know I must get back, back home, but I have no home ... I do not need a home, we of this generation, we are nomads, rootless, travellers ... it is not time yet for me to yearn for roots. I must drift with the wind's currents, follow the lines in the sand created by the entangled strands of dead seaweed looking like the stripped nerve fibres, with rancid round bulbous synaptic nodules, of a giant octopus ... I trace with my bare bleeding feet the trails between the wind-seeded well-tempered grass clinging to the spindrift devised contours of the sand dunes ... wondering where the girl has gone.
And I woke.
Damn! My dream? His!
I was lonely ... drinking too much ... why do we always and despite every effort not to (in my case anyway, introvert to the last), why do we always always need people? I switched on the laptop, went back to nohzone/matsukaze.jp. Anyone, even him ... Yes! Yes! The bastard sonofa bitch had added more text. Still ... I hear you Michael!
Yes, I was still on track.
The map taking shape on a cork board I had drilled to the pinewood wall; each website name on the back of a postcard. Local views! The lake mostly ... now frozen over.
I still like it but it is too long, alas: I need to abandon it:
Maybe keep it for my obituary?
Il sut aimer, quel epitaph!
How make sense of a man's whole life in a single book? When its embodiment is far from neat and bound and hard-edged, but that of a huge huge huge overripe stinking disintegrating onion: incalculable immeasurable membranous layers, translucent magnetic cell-uloid films binding to its satellites of auroral meaning and melting memories, mimicking the rings around Saturn. Why am I here? C'est moi! No more books! No more glued leaves of be-printed paper but clusters of digital data floating on the interstitial lattices of the ever-re-circling-re-cycling fields of the world-wide-web ... pre-Cambrian in its opiate-driven madness, the pivot word at its core the elusive epitome of mystery, the Isis Knot that links long term to short term memories, the self to history, even the twentieth century and its discontents, pasts lost forever, backbones of time trajectories become molten, hidden fibrils in the dank humus of a dying earth breeding a species of mushrooms (lapis lazuli flecked with crimson, indicating the genetic source in Amanita muscaria, soma, the elixir of immortality) which will appear everywhere ALL at once ... releasing trillions and trillions of spores that will wipe out the human race! Cheeky little buggers!
OPENS NOTEBOOK FOR FRAGMENTS
I opened the notebook I had brought with its optimistic label: "Useful Quotes." Useful to pepper like shrapnel from an exploding cluster bomb into arcane arguments between experts at the saloon bar, pithy questions to toss at ailing speakers in the hall, and even to enliven my own august lecture, clearly going to start with a bang and end with a whimpering morphine-induced performance of self immolation: hardly worthy of the memory of the invulnerable Yukio Mishima. Hic sunt leoni ...
Useful texts ... mere footfalls, autumn leaves, postcards from the heart of darkness, traces on a winding track into an impenetrable forest of endless night ... you are free to enter and listen but not free to leave. Nuances gleaned in absentia from the minds of others, painful jottings after midnight, scented candles, bird feather quills, underexposed photographs of a dawn that never comes, the birds extinct ... Damn, he'd arrived here and already he wanted to leave, eager as ever to find nowhere.
I read out my useful texts to myself, in disbelief. Why these and not any of hundreds more I had hobbled together, copulating on the page like drunken sticklebacks, over the past few months? Tell me! Too late to wait for an answer from the R Field recently dubbed the 5th Dimension by the physicists. Well done you guys! Ah ... I hear ringing in my ears! The adepts of the R Field on the line, with a special message to me, at least! 'Take 'em or fucking leave 'em!' Salopards!
Lonely in my hotel room, with its quintessentially indifferent magnolia walls, I decided to read them out loud in defiance of the absent salopards, wanting to hear what the words sounded like bouncing back from my cell walls, a fractured timbre soon to be resonating into the earlobes of the inspired delegates of this conference at the end of the world. Promoting their books and getting a free holiday in a Hot Springs Resort much favoured by Herr Kawabata Yasunari, he of the Nobel prize winning novels Snow Country and House of the Sleeping Beauties ... bought before leaving, paperbacks I must read before opening my morphine- disfigured maw amongst these eloquent artisans of the inarticulate.
ANTIGONE: Its relevance to the present project.
1. "It is unlikely that Thomas de Quincey was aware of Hegel when he wrote his lengthy review of 'The Antigone of Sophocles as Represented on the Edinburgh stage' (1846), but the tone is no less ecstatic. Everlastingly this play 'wears the freshness of morning dew'. No other Greek tragedy 'towers into such affecting grandeur'; this despite the fact that 'the austerity of the tragic passion is disfigured by a love episode'.
At to the Persona of Antigone: " Holy heathen, daughter of God before God was known, flower from Paradise after Paradise was closed .... idolatrous yet Christian lady that in the spirit of martyrdom trodst alone the yawning billows of the grave, flying from earthly hopes, lest everlasting despair should settle upon the grave of thy brother."
2. "The play dramatizes clashes of private conscience and public welfare of a nature and seriousness inseparable from the historical, social condition of man.
3. George Eliot: ... 'The play enacts ' that struggle between elemental tendencies and established laws by which the outer life of man is gradually and painfully brought into harmony with his inward needs.'
4. "Antigone of the violet eyes ... " Hofmannsthal
5. Then Oedipus Rex takes over as principle example of Greek Tragedy, especially after influence of Freud.
6. Mendelssohn's 'Choruses from Antigone ... ' (Ask for this to be played at my funeral. Inform Webster.)
7. Liberation of the female historically - spoken of, rather than enacted. "Except at the sacrificial, terrorist fringe, as in certain small Russian revolutionary covens, where the figure of Antigone does play a symbolic part, young women hardly figure in nineteenth century politics or political debate."
8. "The play turns on the enforced politics of the private spirit, on the necessary violence which political-social change visits on the unspeaking inwardness of being." NOHZONE! "At the hinge between the 19th and 20th centuries, Yeats turns to Antigone because his own person, his poetry, his public ways, are charged with this mortal interplay."
9. Antigone 'incarnates sisterhood'. **** Girl on the Train.
"The opening untranslatable line of the play ... "
10. 'The coordinates of Idealism are exile and attempted homecoming. Thus the epistemology of Kant is one of stoic severance ... Subject is severed from object ... Perception from cognition ... The teleology is homeward bound ...
Based on a 1720 play written by Monzaemon Chikamatsu for the Bunraku, the doll-drama so popular at the time. Shinoda has kept the reality-fantasy aspect by retaining the kurogo (the black-veiled and black-dressed men who control the puppets). The classic tale was written in protest against a society whose ethics indicated death as a solution for life's problems. His story is of a struggling merchant who has fallen in love with a 'dancing-girl' - a courtesan. The lovers flee through natural scenery ... they pause for passionate love-making in a cemetery (an exquisitely erotic scene Shinoda has added to the original play) and pursue their fate relentlessly.
Directed by Masahiro Shinoda. 1969.
COMPLICIT FICTIONS: ORIGUCHI's BOOK OF THE DEAD
The title Shisha owe's to Origuchi's reading of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It deliberately follows the lead of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, by calling itself sho - notes, or book. Shisha first appeared in serial form in 1939. Later the text was reissued with an introduction entitled: The Motif of the Mountain-Crossing Buddha.
His literary works appear on the surface to be analogous to rewriting Baroque music in the modern era. The critic EtÇ Jun criticised Origuchi's Shisha for the absence of its author's subjective view. 'The writing appears sickly, like that of a somnambulist or person possessed'.
MURASAKI: GENJI MONAGATARI:
Chapter One: The Sacred Tree.
As he made his way through the open country that stretched out endlessly on every side, his heart was strangely stirred. The autumn flowers were fading; along the reeds by the river the shrill voices of many insects blended with the mournful fluting of the wind in the pines. Scarcely distinguishable from these in the distance rose and fell a faint, enticing sound of human music ...
(He reaches the place he has searched for ... )
... feeling suddenly embarrassed he plucked a spray from the Sacred Tree which grew outside her room and handed it to her and through the blinds-of-state he said: 'Take this evergreen bough in token that my love can never change ... ' But she rebuffed him. 'Thought you perchance that the Holy Tree from whose boughs you plucked a spray was as "the cedar by the gate"?' To this he replied. 'Well knew I what priestess dwelt in this shrine ... '
He flicked through the book. Hundreds of quotes. All relevant, or seemingly so, but now, in his present state, all irrelevant. But did he have the courage to burn the book? With luck he would die before he could wade through them all ... and he had left strict instructions to Webster that he wanted to be buried. In his copse. He had sent exact map references. And the cash to pay for shipment of his corpse.
Only seven to go. Or six?
Miyako, such a sweet girl, sharing a drink at the bar with me, she reminds me, she insists I must listen to the paper tomorrow on the bedevilled subject of Suicide: Sublimation, Terrorism, Honourable Sacrifice. I ask her why. 'It's your pet subject Doctor Schlieman. Death! Isn't that the line you deal out to all pretty girls? Doesn't it always work? Possesses them in a way they dare not admit?'
Soon after falling asleep Michael dreamt of the girl from the train. Dressed now in a kimono she was a geisha in a small ante-room in a Yoshiwara restaurant. He sat down on his bent knees in front of her. The room was so dark only her white face could be seen, a sinister mask made skull‑like by her blackened teeth. It was as if inside her black painted eyes, seen in contrast with the light as empty sockets, was the flickering reflection of light a million light years old entering the heart of a translucent black diamond. He was being drawn towards her, willingly enough, but he knew that the moment he allowed himself to fall into her it would be a fall that would take him flying into space, beyond the limits of the galaxy ... to float forever in pain, unable to be free from his aimless desire. He heard a girl's voice: 'No, Wait!'
He was leaning against a pine tree, hands bleeding, scuffed against the rough bark by the fierce wind. He was frozen, paralysed, he had suffered a stroke, watching the blood draining away into the snow from his gashed vermillion fingers ...
He woke. Outside his window a solitary lamp‑standard resembling those of Victorian times at the edge of the hotel drive, which he'd not noticed before, the light ought to have been a gas mantle but he knew it wasn't, the faint glow flickering behind a veil of falling snow, black against the light. Nothing new! He fell back into his dream ...
As the girl and he sat drinking their tea in her private room in the brothel, they were fondled by a numbed silence. She was denied the pleasure of telling her amusing erotic stories as neither of them spoke the other's language. Eventually she lay back, slowly, as if the strings holding her up, a Bunraku doll, were being loosed from above and her kimono parted, encouraging his gaze. He went to her, put out his hand, only to discover her dress was made of paper, so fragile and loosely compressed it fell to pieces in his fingers, and when he impetuously tore it aside and groped inside to find her body there was nothing there and he found himself (as he had feared and known by premonition and yet not heeded) falling through her into the night sky, flailing his arms, rocking from side to side as a leaf falls, as if to postpone the moment of impact as long as possible. He, not the leaves ... He held his breath hoping it might further prevent his descent, trying to recall a cheap drawing on silk, a kind of holographic three-dimensional image he'd seen in the hotel TV lounge of a tarantula spider hanging on a translucent silver thread, so fine he was sure it could not be seen, even in polarized light.
The thread holding his mind to his body ...
He flung out his arms and found himself clutching the gnarled roots of the pine tree, a huge hand opening to break his fall. He looked up and saw her above him, looking down, smiling with pleasure, mocking him, her eyes become mirrors reflecting the light of the stars. He didn't dare touch her in case she disappeared again. Like a fool he found himself asking her, 'What is your name?' But there was no reply. All he heard was a voice coming from far far away from the foothills of the mountains, which wasn't a voice at all but the sound of the wind in the pines, saying 'Michael! Michael! Why did you never return?'
And he woke up, imagining someone knocking on his locked door, calling his name. The morphine ... or was he going mad? He grabbed a dressing‑gown and limped towards the door. As he opened it, not daring to open it too quickly in case he was letting in a ghost, he found Miyako collapsed on the floor, her head flopped against the door frame. 'Is it also snowing in Tokyo,' she mumbled, slurring her words so badly that Michael had no doubt she was totally drunk. He looked up and down the corridor, relieved to see no‑one there as he took her arm and dragged her in. She hopped on one leg, dragging the other as if the limb had died and lost its source of blood, as he pulled her into his bedroom until she stood, tottering, barely supported by the wooden bed-end. As he locked the door she lifted herself up and staggered towards the bathroom. Following her in case she fell he saw her clutch the plastic cup from the perspex shelf above the sink, fill it, and sighing deeply, eyes closed tightly, gulp it down before groping about like a blind person, searching for something, maybe only a towel, but perhaps a god, apparently not noticing him propping up the door. Kicking off her shoes and without a word she found the bed and fell into it, turned to her side, her back to him, and abandoned her body ...
Sitting down next to her Michael laid his hand on her shoulder, as she lay with her face buried out of sight in the bed‑clothes. He shook her and she groaned weakly. 'I shouldn't be here. They'll come looking for me! Bloody fascists! I'd shoot them one by one if I could get away with it!' And she sobbed and sobbed ...
'Who?' he asked quietly. But she didn't reply. He was about to ask again but he noticed she was already soundlessly asleep.
Moving her gently to make room for himself in the bed, he slipped in beside her. He was inside the bed, under the coverlet, with Miyako still on top of it, her long jet-black silken hair strewn like seaweed over the pillow. An ama, a diving girl who had dived too deep and only just survived the water's passionate thrust sucking her back to the surface. He lifted her hair off her face for fear she couldn't breathe. The last thing he wanted (though in a dream you can never be sure) was a corpse in bed with him when he woke in the morning.
Was he too drunk to realize this wasn't a dream at all? He touched her hand. Quite real. Her fingers groped to close on his but he had withdrawn them too quickly. Her hand was soon clenched shut like a seashell as if clinging to sanity. He didn't have the heart to prise her little hand open knowing the irritation would not provoke a pearl.
He couldn't sleep. He could hear Bizet music in his mind's inner ear and it wouldn't go away. Too many questions were knock knocking on the gate of his consciousness, impossible to answer without her help. Had she come to be seduced and ought he to be getting on with it? Would she consider him some kind of romantic fool if he didn't swiftly take advantage of the situation? Or did she trust him, assuming he was a sensitive romantic English gentleman? He decided to wait. She'd surely not come to talk about shishosetsu, so he could take the risk of being patient, savour the experience, when, and if, it came. How could he be sure of her when he was barely sure of himself? It was probably so much of a game with her, she was quite young, after all, despite her skill with words. Not that he could safely say how old she was. Seventeen, eighteen maybe. Her skin was so perfect, in England she could have been fourteen. A mere schoolgirl. Not like the girl in the train, with the face of Della Robbia angel ... only her Roxy clothes had made him think she was older. And more streetwise.
There was no reason at all really why Miyako should have responded so easily to his rather hesitant and tame flirtations.
The main lights in the ceiling, a ghastly fake chandelier, were far too bright. After extinguishing them he switched on a table lamp near his side of the bed. He'd already draped a grey handkerchief over it earlier to make its light mellow for reading.
As his eyes were growing accustomed to the near darkness, he examined the plaster-work on the ceiling. Faux Baroque. Plastic.
The room was very warm. Being clothed still, Miyako would soon wake up from being too hot. He gingerly eased it out from under her, and draped the coverlet over her: to make doubly sure! One leg was still showing. She had elegant ankles and a hole in the black stocking where her big toe poked through. What would she say if she woke up to find him making love to her? He tried to imagine the scenario, but to his annoyance he immediately found himself thinking of the girl in the train. What he would have given for it to have been her! Half the royalties from the scandalous sado‑masochistic novel he would write about her. He wondered, though, why he had an erection and why, when he told it to, it didn't subside.
Maybe he ought to read another of the conference papers? That should make it give up hope, though not if reading a paper about the 'sado-masochistic sexual axis' of Tanizaki's The Key . Tanizaki clearly enjoyed everything erotic, nothing too perverse, actresses, wives and their sisters, their lesbian lovers; in contrast Kawabata spent much of his time courting loose dancing girls from the city clubs, and the girls hovering around the hot-spring Spa resorts.
Michael had his hand on Miyako's hip. Some strains of Buddhist detachment were not as welcome as others. Kawabata's novels, what he'd learnt so far, were poignantly distressing, his females, from schoolgirls stalked and whores treated callously to virgins touched but never penetrated, Kawabata's mystical quest took many forms.
Stroking Miyako's lovely hair Michael wondered if female novelists had written shishosetsu and what they wrote about; double love suicides, or secret pillow books in which they revealed their sexual fantasies, tied with ropes and beaten: or being treated like Kawabata's sleeping beauties? Treated like 'delicate porcelain'?
Miyako was stirring. She turned to lie on her back and with her eyes still closed was rocking her head from side to side as if recording the Baroque tracery patterns on the fake fancy plaster-work of the ceiling, or playing a virtual reality interactive CD version of The Doors . At this moment she was playing The End, silently inside her head.
Her lips puckered and twitched and grimaced as she sang her silent song and he was just about to kiss her mouth, telling himself she was inviting him to do so, when cold emotionless words emerged. 'I'm not drunk. Who says I'm drunk? I can take my drink as well as anyone. Someone put a drug in my drink. I told them ‑ over and over again ‑ I was not that kind of girl. They didn't believe me. Why? Because I was happy to talk and joke with them like a geisha. I am working, aren't I? They are on business, which means having pleasure wherever they can find it. Times have changed, haven't they? Isn't it a good thing they have changed?'
'Yes!' he said quietly. 'Change is inevitable in everything so we might as well live with it.'
She half turned towards him. 'Why do I believe you are different?' she murmured, softly, her eyes still closed as she lay prone on the bed, her hair now scattered more haphazardly on the pillow, an Ukiyo-e print of a spider's web in tatters, destroyed by a snow-laded wind.
'I'm no different, and you know it. I'm just the same as they are,' he replied. Coldly. As she had spoken. He felt her body go tense. Then there was silence for so long Michael got to thinking of the harrowing opening scene of one of his favourite films, Bergman's The Seventh Seal, the slow panning shot that reveals the starkly horizontal line of the horizon with the dark silhouetted sea beneath it, the rough waves close to the glistening silver sand, on the sound track the words from the Revelation of St. John the Divine ... 'And on the seventh day the opening of the seventh seal ... ' Odd but he could never recall the words precisely. Words on the screen, the subtitles.
The camera turns and a man is lying as if dead, a chess board laid next to him on which the pieces wait to be played. A man in a black cloak appears. 'Who are you?' the knight asks. 'I am Death.' 'Have you come for me?' 'I have been walking by your side for a long time.' 'That I know.' No, another film. Seaweed on white sand. A young girl. A dead swan carried in her bare arms, over he shoulders, its drooping wings covering her body. A fallen angel. Once he had been young, also ... an innocent boy walking along beaches. Not yet strewn with radio-active dust, crab-shells and fish-bones ...
'Please don't say you are like me ... ' a voice said. 'Or them!' Miyako still lying as tense as a corpse at his side. 'You are just a bit the same, but much more different, that maybe it makes a vital difference, there's hope, even if next spring never comes, winter never leaves us ... '
He said nothing.
'I must go now,' she murmured, still not moving.
'No! Wait! Stay! We can talk, tell me about yourself, anything, let's talk movies, I was thinking of them just now; at least my mind was.'
She laughed. 'You're as crazy as I am that's for sure!'
He could sense her battling with herself. After all they knew absolutely nothing about each other, were still almost total strangers.
She spoke slowly, her voice still slurred, still with little intonation or expression of emotion, as if reading a speech. 'Talk about myself? Me? My Self ... what self? What is a self, an envelope, inside mine the pages of the letter are empty, bleached out by too much surrender, there's nothing about me worthy to know. I am nothing! I have become nothing! I do not like this world, and no-one can protect me from it. My shishosetsu novel would consist of a single blank white page, like the one Soseki sent back to the Japanese government to describe all he had accomplished on his fact-finding Sate scholarship trip to England. You heard them speaking about it. After two years in England at their expense he sent them a blank piece of paper to sum up his life there and achievements. So much truth there is, after all has been said and done, in a blank piece of white paper. I am ten thousand years old, did you know? Shall I go to my house and get a kimono and we can act as if we were lovers, as if we were here together in an old house, now, you and I, but different, a hundred years ago? Like in Kawabata's Snow Country? You can call me Komako and be cool and arrogant, remote and unpossessable, a total bastard, a shit like he was, wouldn't you like that? But I would make love to you because I loved you not because I had been paid? No? I'd know you didn't love me but I would still go on trying because I'm young and stupid?'
He was just about to answer - Yes, whatever you want - when she apologised for her silly suggestion. Anyway, she added, it was far too cold outside, snow falling heavily again and this time it had held fast to the trees and ground. A postcard. The house she was staying in belonging to the music teacher was twenty minutes walk away.
Silence. His hand was resting on her breast as if it had fallen there by accident and could be ignored. It was not asking questions.
'I've no story to tell you that would interest you. I'm a simple, ordinary girl, that's all. A student. I'm working here to make money; it's not the first time, but I'm also writing an article about the conference for my University's student newspaper. I'll tell them you were the most interesting foreign guest because you seemed to me to be wounded. There's only one story I have to tell which will interest you and for which you will remember me. No?'
'How do you mean?'
'How I make love?'
Her directness took him back. 'Not only, not necessarily ... ' he stammered.
She laughed. 'No? You lie Doctor Schlieman. It doesn't matter what you say, I'm not interested in what you say. Words are never true. The one's who say they will remember you and keep in touch never do. Those that are quiet and say nothing and appear a little sad they sometimes do.' She stood up, went to the bathroom and drank more water, came back into the bedroom and started to undress; not even with her back to him.
Without a further word, naked, she slipped into the bed next to him and before he could do more than offer her his arms, she started to stroke him as if she had known him once before, and surrendered to him some time long ago in a former incarnation. Not that 'surrender' was quite the appropriate word. Lost maybe ... not even careless, just drunk. 'Oh good,' she murmured as she felt his erection. 'Why not?'
He had slept badly. All night his predatory dreams of the girl on the train had awoken him as he reached out time and time again, striving to touch her but finding nothing in his bed of dead leaves.
He brushed the light snow off the half-exposed roots of a tree, felt the rough bark tenderly, affectionately, as if the roots were knees next to his own. He leant back into the bole of the tree, a pregnant stomach against his hard back. Closing his eyes, he lifted his face up. Protected by the branches of the tree, only a few flakes of snow could reach him now. It would need much heavier snow driven by wind drifting under the trees to achieve the depth that Miyako had spoken of. 'Early winter. Snow pocked with burnt leaves. Birds silent.'
'I am scared ... what can we do? Run away?'
He could feel pulses inside the body of the tree as he placed his hands affectionately on its trunk, a rough primeval beast, patting it to acknowledge its generous attempt to offer him nourishment. Yes, there was a warmth there, a sign, a reminder ... Turn away then from the material world ... Trees on a slope, a merlin's nest, snow falling, wind, roots whispering. He thought it was the sound of falling leaves but no leaves were falling. It was the sound of the snow scraping the air, a million flying insects with wings as translucent as silk, a sound so subtle it shouldn't really be heard by a human ear. A special kind of silence. He'd been there ... here before in another life ... the beating of translucent wings, the hum of insects somewhere nearby, the sound filtered and softened by the snowfall like silk inside the belly of the worms, humming with urgency, dreaming of becoming real.
A bird suddenly fell from a branch and skimmed closely over his head, a black bird, bigger than a blackbird, smaller than a jackdaw.
Equilibrium was returning, the fear of fracture to the web of control ebbing away, the net no longer closing in on him so viciously, aroused by the morphic resonance of the forces he was sharing with the body of the tree as if the tree's knowledge was flowing into him by an un-named process, detectable by a sixth sense similar to telepathy, its claws digging into the flesh of the mountainside, as alive as he was, at little more than one remove from himself ... its power helping him to stand tall again. An appreciable part of its DNA sequences found in every cell of its body and in every cell of his own ... we are composed in meaning and purpose of the plants and animals we have consumed in these miraculous millions of years of time ... veins on the leaves like his own arteries, the pattern of the Nile basin, now hardening, becoming wood. He had read recently that in the DNA of plants, and bacteria, and insects and animals, the whole evolving gamut of life since prehistoric time, there was a gene identical to the same gene still found in every cell of the human body ... the gene that governs the development of a small nodule of cells that we have deep inside our brain ... that regulates our perception of time, governs our biological clocks ... that drives the salmon from the arctic seas off Greenland on their pilgrimage back to a small river on the west coast of Cumbria, where they swim up stream, stop occasionally in small pools, leap rapids and finally ... mate. Each time on the same date ... until we fuck them up with our chemical hormones in the slurry and shit we feed into the sewers and fields and rivers that finally wipe them out. Forever. No longer the salmon falling in mackerel crowded seas ...
He held out his hands in front of him watching the snow falling onto his skin and settling there for such a fleeting fraction of time before dissolving into his field of warmth, exquisite forms (only seen through the 'eye' of a microscope) disappearing forever, every single snowflake differently structured to the other, so say the scientists who have presumably examined them all, insisting that their statistics cannot be flawed ... but what if two absolutely identical twin flakes were formed at the same precise moment at opposite ends of the earth, on the 5th dimension, unfolding like DNA from a single invisible template that does not exist but is merely the void between, the promise of form, the defeat of death ... would it change nature's meaning of snow ‑ or time ‑ or life?
And suddenly he noticed two yellow leaves falling from the upper branches of a solitary maple tree half hidden amongst the soaring pines, side‑stepping in the air currents as if trying to mock a spaceman's weightlessness, briefly hawking a few more moments of ecstasy by cheating gravity and time, prolonging the fatal touch-down, still belonging to and influencing each other in a network of inscrutable communal meanings, hovering the way a merlin falcon hovers or the Windhover falcon, as in Hopkins poem dream, dream poem, gash vermillion, calmly defying linear time. The leaves were falling so slowly he wondered if the wind was blowing upwards towards the sky or it was heat from his over-wrought body that was producing fleeting thermals, as he lay mesmerised by their quiet grace and refinement, leaves that had served their purpose, achieved another summer's life and growth for their host. He wondered what it might have been like in another world to lose your hair every winter-time. La Jolie Rousse ...
Il sut aimer quel epitaphe ...
The two leaves finally fell so close to him that he tried to catch them, but they cleverly eluded him, as if alive, two butterflies in an autumnal disguise aimed at fooling the local birds that had a habit of hovering when the wind was right, distant cousins of humming birds, which preyed on them ... the ploy also working well on humans, especially foreigners. The two leaves came to rest on the glistening snow in front of him, two feet apart, sisters in death. Soon they would fulfil a second purpose, rotting, their fermenting tissues and vestiges of vital juices and fragments of DNA sinking back into the earth to be purified in the intestinal tracts of worms, sucked up later by roots of another plant, a vine, a rose, maybe even the parent tree. As with Saturn, nothing lost. The return of the distressed. Such a brief life in these leaves dedicated to love of sunlight, the ecstasy (commend all summer long, birds in the trees) of a summer's day, enduring in the plane of our perception of time so much longer than two butterflies. What the driving force and why? Why strive to make it long rather than short? Victim of endlessly insatiable imagination striving at any cost (to others) to transcend the present, imagining images beyond the death of yourself otherwise be considered weak and without befitting purpose. Be unflinching, cruel and unquenchable in the desire to defy death. Desire and time were also sisters at war with each other. Life-in-death and death-in-life, the ultimate holographic conundrum. Two yellow leaves on the snow. Crumpled wings. Love spent. He felt awful ... all labours and all love lost.
But he imagined the girl from the train in a yellow kimono. He'd seen a woven design somewhere recently on which the pattern was the interweaving wings of butterflies. Why couldn't he erase the image of her face from the hard-wired lattices of his brain? He looked down at the leaves, serene in death. Was it death? Why couldn't he stop clinging to her image? Who but the dreamer can speak the surrealistic language of birds, believe in the sacred power to magically transform matter, forge a figure from clay, throw a pot on a wheel ... and in so doing assuage the hormones, the river gods of the blood? Thoughts in idle mode ... death now closer still ...
The two leaves, edges burnt umber, the colour of bad blood, were lying in front of him like two open hands. In the pattern of their veins were the stories of their lives, as in the leaves of a book. Drawings in ink and wash on the fly leaf of a book he must write.
One day, she said, she would reveal the end of the story. It was in her hands ... he stood up, shook himself like an animal to remove the loose snow on his coat before setting off, back to the hotel. But as he was slithering clumsily to a halt in the wet snow near the end of the track, Miyako suddenly stepped out from under the trees, barring his way.
'Playing truant, Doctor Schlieman? Caught you in your tracks. Who are you meeting secretly as the wind blows through the pines ... a demon lover, awaiting you under the canopy of snow shrouding the trees?' Quaint her literary diction. It sounded like stuff he used to write in his first purple period ...
Laughing mischievously, she seemed unreal, out of place, acting in a different movie ... he was imagining her peeping round a clump of sinuous bamboo tendrils and a shot-silk screen, indigo blue as a humming bird's wings, spying on her sister in front of a long oval mirror, delighted at catching her unawares dressing up in mother's black leather corset and red garter belt from Paris. She had fallen in love as a teenager with Debussy though never met him, (but knowing of his trip to Russia, from a book she read, where he seduced one of the daughters of Madame Nadjeda Philaratovna von Meck) and it had been down hill morally ever since. She'd often wondered if he had syphilis like most of the others of the same ilk and the same time.
'Two leaves, Doctor Schlieman?' He didn't know what to say. He knew how foolish he must look holding them mindfully in otherwise empty hands. But he didn't want to let them go, he'd grown too fond of them already to chuck them aside. Like a perused tabloid newspaper in a dentist's waiting room, or on a train to Cambridge.
'They looked like butterflies. I saw them falling ... '
She laughed again, a scheming look in her eyes. 'Our landscape is known to create poets of us all ... the snow is paper on which you write poems ... you, however, with your feet ... climbing up our mountain in the snow, drawn there by forces beyond your control, writing poems in snow about retreat, detachment, exile, escape? Welcome to our translucent land Doctor Schlieman! Do you feel at home, or really suffer the choleric pain of separation? We find it easier to love nature than human beings. Do you not see why?' He was surprised by the hard tone of her voice ... despite smiling as she spoke.
'Yes, I was touched, I felt at home under the trees listening to the birds, not something I'm accustomed to doing, my head inside books all the time. It's true.' Once, as a kid, he had roamed the mountains, free as a bird ... catapult in hand. His dream of wild daughters of a shaman and a Catalpa Bow coming much later ...
'You would have liked Kawabata, for years he lived alone in a small flat outside Tokyo writing soppy romance novels, but earlier when he wrote his more serious stuff he was living in a shit-covered house with fifty birds. Birds wearing feathers, not red and white schoolgirl dresses, real live birds, just like Goethe's heir apparent and chronicler Peter Eckermann. He too was a chronic lover of birds! Kawabata wrote a story about his life with the birds, poignantly tainted with his yearning for the virgin girls he really wanted. A quite bitter book about betrayal and thinly disguised hate.' Miyako was looking quite angry.
Michael felt so challenged, so 'found out' with the stupid leaves he simply couldn't throw away, not for her, not for anyone, he couldn't move and they stood looking at each other, awkwardly. How had she so effectively silenced him? A bird in a tree nearby was singing loudly, waiting for them to move before revealing its presence, knowing the destructive games that humans played; with catapults and bows and arrows. Not the time for a flight of fancy, it must wait until the enemies moved, only then avoid betraying the direction of retreat.
'I've brought you the lecture you missed, I'm sure it is very close to your own preoccupations.' She handed him the type‑written sheets. He took them uneasily, the two leaves in his other hand. She was standing firm, looking at him with the kind of look that demanded a reply.
'Absence transformed into presence by the redeeming hand of woman,' he mumbled, but it sounded silly and flip rather then ironic. He wished he'd said nothing. She nodded, bemused by his oddly and inappropriate false literary remark. Had his academic always been a front to hide his feelings? He folded the leaves inside the paper and put them into his inside coat pocket, pausing only to read the title: Kawabata; Buddhism or Emotional Impotence? Michael wondered why she thought the text might be similar to his own, he couldn't think of anything more dissimilar. Why come to such a bizarre conclusion?
She pointed to a battered wooden seat in a small clearing, carpeted with immaculate untarnished snow. He followed her obediently, watching her feet shuffling through its pristine virgin surface, before reaching the seat and elegantly brushing off the powdery snow. They sat in silence. It was his turn to force her to speak with the disarming weapon of silence.
'Under snow-clad trees. A neglected wooden seat. Two bottoms. Apart'. She half sang the words, making them both laugh, and artfully breaking the ice. 'Trapped in the divine bosom of nature you must always speak in haiku. Did you know the word haiku's original meaning was to provoke pleasure and laugher. Amusement verse it was called. It was the wit not the ambiguities and double meanings which was most revered.'
'No, didn't know, I know little about haiku or Japanese writing, or the Noh theatre, and it's now too late now for me to learn. They say the skill takes a lifetime to perfect.'
'The Noh you can only learn by listening ... ' she said, softly, inwardly ... ' ... to the wind and birds in your own mind.'
He closed his eyes. He knew the basic rule for haiku; seventeen syllables. Listening to the sound of the plops of water dripping from the pine needles above them ... he groped into his mind's shadows ... for words. Who was the teacher now? Finally a kind of De Quincey involute of words came to a tentative figure in his mind. 'A track under snow. Unmoving winding like a snake. Short cut for birds.' Counting the syllables on his fingers as he spoke.
She did the same. 'The right number of syllables but one too many in the middle line. It must be 5,7,5. But truly not bad for a beginner and a stuffy academic at that! Birds indeed! Our poets become so adept at fleshing out the skeleton with words, they speak it all the time, often inadvertently.'
'Why not seventeen
Syllables in my order
So much easier?'
'No way! The rules for renga and haiku were more strict than for Buddhism itself, expressing the essence at the heart of Zen thought. For Zen thought has heart ... inner absence beyond yearning ... it appears a conundrum, it might seem a paradox, but it's one that doesn't worry us at all. Absence and presence are lovers ... absence copulates with presence and produces time ... sometimes there were variations in the syllables but very very rarely. Some of Basho's were eighteen syllables long shocking everyone, but he was such a master, so much more alive in other ways of the spirit than us mere mortals, they forgave him every eccentricity.'
Silence. 'Where does this track lead? I went so far in the trees. To the mountain top?'
'Yes, if you're the intrepid type. Firstly to the ruins. A shrine for the Shinto god DaimyÇjin. Half a mile away. Sadly neglected, nowadays, pilgrims are few. A walk for lovers. In spring and summer, climbers go to the rock cliffs, extinct volcanoes. It's used by hunters, shooting everything they see. With their guns and hate!'
'Don't lovers ever walk it in the snow?'
'Of course not, it's far too cold and wet. Unless you're the type who cultivates self-punishment. Is that the English way?' She quickly looked aside, aware she was being cheeky, although she obviously felt reasonably safe to be so at such a distance from the conference hall. Were they not trapped in the same dilemma, living in virtual worlds, their imaginations (nature at its most pure) corrupted by images derived from reading books?
Silence. Michael noticed the snow was falling heavier again, the flakes larger and softer and rapidly becoming sleet, melting almost immediately. He could hear a cacophony of birds' alarm calls, and, unexpectedly some noise from the nearby town; presumably the wind had changed direction from north to south.
She was adamant in her silence, awaiting his response.
'I think it's rather naive to imagine love without some pain, given and taken ... ' he murmured, eventually.
A faint smile touched her lips. 'We live in such a different world, so dissimilar it is, our modern Japan. Why are we here, you and I, sitting on this wooden seat? In the cold. Brought together to celebrate the life and work of a dead man, a writer whose work, frankly, is hardly read nowadays, for pleasure, certainly not by younger people busy creating their post-modern and post pretty much everything brave new world. I haven't recognized my new world in a single phrase spoken in the conference. So much cynicism and despair. No mention of generous un-possessive love to remind us it is worth the price of pain to be alive. Everything I've heard here voices death, perversion, lies and fictions, fictions breeding more fictions. Such a devious celebration of our favourite Japanese image, the most common one in all our poetry, the image of autumn, the image of plants dying, yes, but that fleeting dying as with the seasons in which there remains the dream of renewal. This autumn stolen from us by global warming as we are drowned and maybe entombed by premature snowstorms.'
Her eyes challenging, sparkling with mischief and thinly controlled anger. Clearly there was more to Miyako than the refined poise of the adept of public relations, the flirtatious smile. 'Tell me if I'm wrong, but you must be a student of English literature? You speak so well! Is that why you're at the conference?'
'I am a student of life. I take whatever crosses my path!'
He knew there was no answer to that. She expected none. Why did she never answer directly? Because she was Japanese - or Miyako?
The snow was falling faster, the birds even more alarmed.
'I wonder if it's snowing so heavily in Tokyo,' she said, finally, looking up at the trees above them. 'I didn't see the newspapers or the TV. If it is the environmentalists must be very unhappy. Soon there will be eco-terrorists killing people in the streets of the cities. We were reaching a dangerous social and psychological threshold anyway, some industrialists have already been threatened with assassination. I hate the news, it's for city people. But even here in the mountains you end up experiencing the same fears and despair, the evidence of imminent disaster, even apocalypse, undeniable, visible, tangible. There are many of our nuclear power stations not far from here ... too many!'
'Are you from Tokyo? Born there?'
Her face clouded. 'I was born here, funny enough, when it was still a village, before the tourist development. We moved to Tokyo for my father's work and I became a student there. Yes, that's why I was chosen for the job with the conference, no-one else would have been so crackpot to visit such an old-fashioned place. Though I love it in my way. My roots were here, even if now they are rotting fast ... The academics are so boring, thank god there's foreign delegates to amuse us. But listen, we must get back, I'll be missed. And you already know far too much about me,' she snapped, petulantly. 'I don't want to be part of your latest news! Reading me like a conference paper ... '
As they reached the bottom of the hotel drive, Michael saw the girl from the train and her patron poised on the threshold to the hotel. By some instinct, the kind of animal instinct that Michael knew he no longer had (though he too had been born in the country of the north) the girl stopped, allowing the man to go into the building ahead of her. She had become quite still, caryatid holding up a sky of falling snow, hesitating as if someone had called her and she stopped in order to look back. She stared coldly at Michael and Miyako for the time it took them to walk, at their painfully slow pace, a further forty yards or so up the snow-battered drive. The snow already becoming a blizzard again. Scene from a film, Michael thought ... Only then did she turn and enter the building. Michael had felt her cold stare seer through him, as unflinching as that of a snowy owl eyeing potential prey.
Michael felt himself blush, and he blushed even more when he saw that Miyako had noticed it; she was now watching his face intently. It was too late, nothing could hide his embarrassment. Her eyes stared defiantly into his own, searching for further evidence to consolidate her power. He looked down at his feet, toe to toe in the slush of the trampled snow. She would assume everything, though there was nothing ... nothing to know, and never could be. It wasn't as if the keys were in his hands. He moved forward awkwardly, breathing loudly, his hands shaking and causing the papers and leaves he was holding to rustle, the sound a squirrel makes tearing the skin from a hazelnut.
How could the wretched girl, so little more than a mere image in a train window, have so much effect on him and at such a distance? Michael felt momentarily blind. He stumbled.
'I told you Doctor Schlieman,' Miyako said coldly, without a glimmer of wit or any other poetic virtue other than contempt, 'she is a whore from the city. Once we would have called her geisha but we don't like to use that word nowadays, especially about common street-girls like her. Maybe I can arrange her for you. I will find out how much she costs but I think she is quite expensive. Trash often is over here, if well packaged. If you want someone even cheaper I can arrange that too. There are such girls in the village, at least in the new town though we don't admit it openly. I would hate to think you had visited Japan, Doctor Schlieman, without experiencing something of that other side of our culture for which we enjoyed such a reputation over many centuries thanks to the thousands of fanciful pulp fiction novels of the hedonistic days of our past. Gone the days of court literature, the sublimity of the daily love poems, every lover an unhesitating poet, all, alas taken over by trash fiction, pornography of the most graphic trivial kind, baroque portrayals of the frivolous love-lives of the great courtesans and their lovers, the wastrel sons of the privileged elite, the spoilt aristocracy who were the only people with money enough to buy the dancing girls, poor lost girls who tried so hard to make an art out of each erotic encounter, now ... what? Am I giving another lecture?'
'No ... I mean yes, but go on, please ... ' Clearly she was on her feminist hobbyhorse.
'Once it might have been glamorous but now the performances of our dancing girls are as sordid here as anywhere else in the run-down cities of the wide wide world.'
'Yes ... I can well imagine it ... ' he said, reluctantly, turning away from the defiant look in her eyes.
Miyako walked ahead of him as he tramped mournfully behind her, his heavy thinking slowing him to a snail's pace. He could imagine himself carrying a pile of damp firewood gleaned from the forest on his hunched shoulders, a scene in an old black and white movie shot between the wars. The lonely old woodcutter ... soon to be slaughtered by a single stroke of a Samurai's sword, for having sent a love letter, written on a cedar leaf dried between the pages of a book, probably Genji, to the swordsman's pretty daughter, secretly.
But not secretly enough. Had she left it to be found on purpose? The burden of his love intolerable?
The hotel seemed so bleak, so alien amidst the fine ancient trees. Erected by nature's plumb lines worthy of the gods. The white white hotel, the white white snow, the girl's black black silhouette mimicking a fleeting shadow as black as a raven's eye, the bird's soul falling across the pock-marked face of the dying earth ... Maria's earth ... approaching revolving doors, the wheel of revolving moved by unseen hands, Miyako marching ahead, her head held high, more than a suspicion of contempt in her poise. At the door she turned to face him. 'If you want a such a woman for that kind of sex I can arrange it, just let me know. It's easy here. Have a nice day, Doctor Schlieman.' She moved quickly into the flush of the swinging door, her fake smile through the glass plangent with inter-textual allusions, mocking him ... Old movies, old books, old old old ... and the girl with the old man in their bedroom ... making love. Or some kind of plagiarism of it ... not worthy of the gods.
Or maybe, yes, how was he to know?
The white snow obliterating everything, he had always suspected it might be like this ... having been here before. But when?
On the television screen, white snow. White noise. He hit the remote controller in anger and its screen flicked obediently into a portrayal of a documentary film, just ending.
Miyako earlier, he had almost forgotten, images almost erased ... nature's purpose achieved so effortlessly, too drunk to remember, the way with balletic elegance she slipped him inside her in one artful movement, taking her no more than a few strokes, thirteen or fourteen, before she hissed through clenched teeth that she hated him ... saying she was coming, coming as she bit him in the neck on the left side ... not quite hard enough to draw blood, a millimetre more and he would have been laid out on the mountain top for the birds ... killed by warfarin he took to thin the blood and prevent a stroke. There were strokes and strokes. 'Bitch ... ' he snarled into her ear.
But she moved through it, as the dead pass amongst the valleys of the shadows of death in which live the living ... 'I'm not starting again, I'm continuing ... '
There was a lecture he should go to perhaps. Like sleeping with a secret Buddha; the late novels of Kawabata. He'd already heard too much about Kawabata's Sleeping Beauties ... an old man, Eguchi, visits a child brothel where the girls are all virgins, drugged, totally unconscious. An old man's desolate quest which ends in murder ... presumably not an autobiographical shishosetsu novel. Enough for critics who knew everything about a man foolish enough to write novels, to claim the novel was merely a clever dramatic metaphor, a device often used in Noh plays, a metaphor for the despair and pain of failing desire in old age. And the curious genetically determined predilection of old men for younger and younger girls, symbols of angels, souls and spirit, as time brought them closer and closer to the brink. Time the cruel mental traveller that sits apparently invisible but with claws dug into the arteries of the neck, heavy on the shoulders which sag and sag as the spine bends, and the legs bend, and the sand quickens as the sea surges and you are gone ... what remains on the lone level sands a nourishing breakfast for the gulls.
Meanwhile the problem of an open book on the table near the window, his notebook, the white virgin pages still untouched. Should he write He or I? A letter to an unknown girl, persisting in its refusal to be written ... the empty envelope he knew to be himself.
He put the sound up on the television, a documentary film just starting with English subtitles, purpose-made for tourist hotels. Autumn; the egg‑laying Season for Moths. Bamboo flute music. An opening montage of ghostly images, extreme close-ups of the textures of pellucid wings and subtle translucent body armour, followed by a sustained shot of an ethereal, ephemeral-looking rampant moth, pale diaphanous green wings, a faded eighteenth century watercolour perhaps painted on silk; laying its eggs. So many? One could not have imagined so many, soon to be undone. As many as there were stars in our galaxy it seemed. It was touching to be reminded of the ultimate mystery of which every living creature is part; why was nature so determined to perpetuate every variation of its design, often at the cost of the individuals involved, even the most humble and fragile?
The film continued with bewitching images of silk‑worms, the text explaining the ancient tradition of breeding them, as Miyako had told him they had done for hundreds of years in the old house where she was staying. If he was not to disbelieve her.
A second film followed on the subject of weaving, this time with an English sound-track. Over images of intriguingly complex antique wooden looms, the narration commenced with the telling of a tale. At the annual festival of the Weaving Lady of the Milky Way, on the 7th day of the seventh month, on this one day each year the two celebrated lovers manage to meet. The girl is the errant daughter of the principle goddess, who, instead of loyally accepting her sacred toil of weaving for her mother and father neglects her work for love of her peasant husband, making love to him all the time instead of weaving. The father separates them by placing the Milky Way between them so that they can only meet once a year, and then, only if there has been no rain. In the absence of rain, during such a welcome night, a bridge can be erected across the River of Heaven by birds, constructing it with their wings. Too much rain and they can't make the bridge and the saddened frustrated couple will not succeed in meeting for their love tryst. This state persists for as many years as the bad weather persists. But despite this hardship (or because of it?) their love remains immortally young, unspoilt by earthly pastimes. To the Chinese, the river (of heaven) was a luminous river, a silver stream, and the weaving lady was the star Lyra, her lover a star in Aquilla at the opposite end of the Galaxy. The characters with which her name Tanabata is written represent a weaving girl, but was also sometimes called the Morning Glory Princess, named after the spirit of the climbing plant. And its hallucinogenic berries. If it rains on the night and the rain prevents the lovers meeting the rain is named The Rain of Tears ... Soon the rain will fall for a hundred years ... the harvests fail ...
The film was charmingly naive, with lithe and pretty young girls in the fields cutting reeds and various riverine plants. Then followed images of the burly wooden machines being assembled, set in motion and throbbing away to make the cloth. Michael found the narration unexpectedly fascinating, especially when he heard that another name for the moon of the seventh month was Fumi-tsuki, which meant The Literary Moon. A poem followed: 'When I see the water-grasses of the River of Heaven bend in the autumn wind, I think to myself: The time for our meeting has come ... '
The film continued with a sequence showing the famed traditional weaving of the snow country, known as Chijimi. The very special thread was spun woven and washed in the snow by the young women of the north through the long dark winters. Snow is the mother of Chijimi ... was an old saying. Certain houses had specialised in weaving very white fabrics. This special white Chijimi was spread on the snow before being soaked at night in ash water. Michael watched, beguiled, as the long rolls of cloth were pulled in from the snow, glistening like the huge tongues of sea monsters that had recently feasted on the roe of jelly fish and lantern fish ... Only the most expensive kimonos were made from this local fabric. It was only young girls who were the most gifted at the art of weaving the patterns; and they had to be virgins. Michael wondered if having such a natural aptitude for weaving came from an unconscious desire to weave one last, lasting veil before their own was sundered, the time of the own flesh disrobing came. After marriage, it was said, they apparently lost their special touch, the aesthetic gift being in some way an aspect of their virginity and innocence. The film ended with an amazing shot of the white materials lying on the snow, glowing in the fading sunlight as the winter sun set in blood behind the distant mountains, until the fabric appeared to be quite crimson, as if on fire.
A final text over the images described Ono no Komachi, the legendary poetess, the most beautiful who ever lived, who became the subject of the pivotal Noh play in which she is invited to dance at the festival of the Milky Way, even though she is a hundred years old and ugly, but in dancing with passion and grace she becomes momentarily young and beautiful again; in everyone's eyes. On this one particular day she is allowed a brief but passionate moment of reincarnated joy, before she picks up her staff again and hobbles back to her drafty hut of straw.
Michael wondered if the name Komachi was a shortened version of Komako, Miyako's target, her much maligned victim of Kawabata's Snow Country. The name Komako was composed of two syllables: for shame and child. Hardly an ideal name for the heroine of a love story. Was it shameful, early in the century, for a girl to surrender to the worldly temptations of prostitution, even though the geisha were revered in a way that no street girls were celebrated in the back-streets of Victorian England or Montmartre except by artists and poets; Baudelaire, Moreau, Redon, Lautrec, Degas, Picasso, Apollinaire, Modigliani ... lechers and madmen, the lot?
On a page, he had written ... he was sure he'd so far written nothing ... but he could read it in his own hand-writing; words heard in a lecture, one of the famed writers' epitaphs: It is because of loneliness that I write ‑ and what makes me most lonely in life, is writing.
The word for loneliness in Japanese, kodoku, was composed of the two Chinese letters meaning orphan and lonely; ko and doku.
Ko ... orphan ... what then was Yo-Ko?
And why was her name still haunting him?
Autumn Rain: "How awful! This state you are in is exactly what drowns you in the sin of clinging! You have not forgotten the mad passion you felt when you still belonged to the world.
That is a pine tree! Yukihira is NOT here!"
Pining Wind: "You are too cruel, to talk to me in that way!
That pine IS Yukihira! "
"Though for some time we may say goodbye,
should I hear you pine, I will return:
so said his poem, did it not?"