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Leza Lowitz-I

Incense (Talking to the Spirits)


In the tea housecobwebs form a chrysalis on the tatami

walls of class and grass dampen—

not a nail to be found.

Once your haven from kitchen and children

now a museum of Celadon tea bowls,

brown flaked bizenyaki

tetsubin iron pots red with

more than the usual rust.


My sister-in-law and I

go in there sometimes.

She reads Tarot cards for businessmen

and they pay her well for her vision.

I meditate on the flowers for each season—

Camellia, hydrangea, cherry blossom—

a universe in their petals.

But sometimes we sit,

eyes closed in the half-light,

opening your wooden boxes

reading your delicate brushstroke calligraphy

discovering silent treasures,

love affairs stored in shadow and tears.

It’s by the smell—

sweet, exotic—

redolent with mystery

that we know you’ve arrived.


Kyoto teahouse jasmine.

You always burned it in the evening

before plumping the pillows

for your chanoyu guests.

I remember how you sat back on your heels in seiza

as the steam from the boiling water

rose around you, folding the cloth steadily

choosing each bowl carefully

to reflect the drinkers’ disposition.

You saw everything.




Your husband thought this was something

men did,

collecting women like tea bowls,

turning them around in the palm

admiring them

drinking from them

and putting them down.

You never told him that you knew.

You spent your inheritance on

serenity, built yourself

the small rush-mat refuge,

but you lived your best life

as a mother

beyond repair,

savoring both

the bitterness of tea

that melts in the throat

and the sweetness

of the cake

that washes it down.


Seven years you have been dead.

But I still remember

what you offered me:

your own full gaze.

Gentle affection

is better than being discarded.

I turned it around in my mind like a

bowl worth a fiefdom.

After all, beauty changes in the light.

I remember brushing your hair

like your sister did before she died in the war.

You looked at me and said, simply,

wakatta—I understand.

And then you left this world.


But like an animal covering itself

with the smell of the dead

disguising itself from predators,

you put your wisdom on us, woman to woman

under tables, in cupboards

seeping into your skin.