The Tonsure


The nun’s beguiling hands brush my skin,
the distant touch of desire.
Before the many folded silences of his statue,
she cuts away the strands that were my life.
Now the razor is like a riot of river stones
rolling across my scalp,
the collision of bleached skulls in the infinite eaves.

With each falling strand,
I am losing my way.
How strange this feeling of heedlessness,
as though I find a kind of ecstasy
in these outspread jet-black blades,
like a cold and irretrievable lacquer folding fan.

And amidst all this loss,
the beautiful core of my desolation,
a white blossom held in the statue’s hand.
When I emerge from my tonsure,
to the cloister’s waiting mountain,
you will not recall me,
and the bald snow will caress my head
like a memory of life.

Moss Garden (Gioji)

Perhaps this moss
still harbours something of her
intoxicating fullness.
The temple garden
seems made for sweeter tones
than the monks’ severe austerities.

Spurned and jaded
she drifted here
to this mountain hermitage,
where the sharp call
of the cicadas’ seasons
and the stream’s song
might erase her vexed beauty,
her courtly grace
that brought her only exile.

But her voluptuousness stayed in this place,
just as it had clung to Kiyomori,
who died a restless man.
How many other beauties
had gone to their mountain convents
after Gio?
And when he held her,
that old man,
did he dream in her deep breast
the way the purple violas
float in this moss?

* Gio was a famous beauty of Heian period Japan.
She was mistress to the warlord Taira no Kiyomori,
but when he became infatuated with another,
he banished her from his court. She became a nun
and entered the temple which later took her name,