Like an artist painting on rice grains,
he tried to trap Japan in a story:
his one good eye so close to the page
he might have been a jeweller with a gem.
So much to tell: kimonos and cranes,
cemeteries to stalk at evening, slow
shoals of candles – souls
on rivers beneath a massive moon.
Even the sound of sandals on a bridge
stayed in the mind for an evening,
matching the shadow of fishermen
on still waters: a painted print.
Or a face smiling to hide its grief,
the touch of passing sleeves
part of a plan that maps the future,
a heron seeking the heights on a wall.
Loneliness ended in Matsue: that raw
pain no longer gnawing like the Creole
songs on a sidewalk in New Orleans.
Instead he heard a flute’s clear note.
He was a lantern drifting from the shore,
dissolving in the tone of a struck bell.
Sipping green tea in Tokyo, he heard
ghost stories from an impossible past
and died past fifty from his Western heart.
Afterwards, he was a story still told, set
firmly as rocks in a Zen garden.
Incense burns near cake at his shrine.
In the sound of sandals on a bridge
I hear him sometimes, or catch him
in the swift calligraphy of a scroll,
or in the curve of a rough bowl.
A breeze through a bamboo grove,
his memory passes for an instant.
Snow falls on his grave and on plum blossom.
He is fading like a fisherman in mist.