Kagame (extract)

 

お武庫

The monk sits on the tatami flooring of his small mountainside house.  The paper walls glow with the orange rays of the setting sun, which is framed in the open doorway.  He looks to his right and left, at the tarnished mirrors which he sits between. The mirrors had been made to order by the mirror-maker Hokusai in Edo, some time ago.  

 

It is time.

 

The monk reaches for his ink-pot and parchment.  He scribes carefully, without looking at the parchment, as he crafts the kanji characters.

 

A pair of mirrors

Face each other at sunset

Three nights, shadow nears

 

The kanji for mirror, kagame –

The kanji for shadow, kage –    

 

There, in the distance – 

A glimpse of fleeting shadow   

Distant flash of black

 

The monk rests his brush.  He looks at what he had written.  The sun has set now and only the small lantern hanging from the ceiling casts any light.  He blows lightly to extinguish the flame of the oil lamp and lies down on his futon.  He closes his eyes.

 

The next evening, at sunset, he watches the path of the descending sun once more.  Its light turns the waters of the Arakawa River into molten gold.  Once more, it sinks behind the distant horizon.

 

It is time.

 

The only sound is the monk’s soft breathing and the scraping of the brush on parchment.

 

 A shadowy shape,

Like a human silhouette 

It is closer now

 

The monk looks at what he has written. He blows softly to extinguish the flame of the oil lamp and lies down upon his futon.  He closes his eyes.

 

The final evening, at sunset, he watches the sun sink again.  The sky is a sea of small clouds, ships of purple and orange, and he watches as the sun sinks beneath them.  It is time.

 

The brush scrapes the paper.

 

There, even closer –

A shadow man with no face

Close enough to touch

 

Suddenly, he darts across to each mirror in a flash, turning them face down.  He exhales slowly, a sigh of relief.  He removes the necklace from his neck, a glinting shard of mirror.  The charm has worked.  He looks at the parchment, reading the verses.  A drop of ink has fallen from the brush onto the paper beneath the verses.  He is not sure if it has spoiled or enhanced the calligraphy. Perhaps it is wabi sabi, the beauty of imperfection.  He looks back at the mirrors, which he had turned before the pregnant drop had even hit the page.  He will not repeat the ritual again, it is too dangerous and he has seen enough. He blows gently to extinguish the flame of the oil lamp and lies down upon his futon.  He closes his eyes.

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