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—
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
collecting women like tea bowls,
turning them around in the palm
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
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.
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,
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.