from Essays in Idleness (2001)
after Kenkô (1283-1350)
Headspinning to realise
I’ve been sitting here for days
this pen in hand
these thoughts to mind
The Exile’s Moon
So quietly in the house
no-one could know whether in or out.
How much worse to have to face
conversation on an empty heart.
I could almost envy Ovid his Tristia;
that full moon over the Black Sea.
The Holy Man of Kume
What tools men are!
Led by dong and nose.
The scent that clings to clothes
lasts no longer
than a flea, and yet
should a whiff come near
the heart fails to beat.
Example (from legend):
holy man with magic power
catches glimpse of girl
bathing in river.
Swoons. Loses gift of flight.
Understandable, I suppose.
Her arms, her flesh, her smile.
Some woman’s raven hair
has maddened every mother’s son.
Her first words uttered,
hidden behind a screen
reveal her future flavour.
Our love is rooted
in the deepest, darkest place;
the Empire of the Senses
we should resist without disgrace.
One ache, infatuation, rises
beyond all other whims—in young
in old, in the foolish and the wise.
You could fetter an elephant,
they say, with a rope of woman’s hair,
and with a sandal worn by woman
make a flute to summon deer.
O the senses leave you maddened,
avoid her raven hair.
To sit under the lamp alone
a book spread out before you:
bliss. The past unfolds,
on fire with life. Lao Tzu
I read, the sage Chuang Tzu,
whose dream I dream as darkness falls.
Travel. Wherever you go
the world you bring with you
is washed by the world you see.
The Risen Tide
Impermanent is the risen tide.
Yesterday’s pools, tomorrow’s puddles.
Exeunt omnes. Tempus fugit.
What does day teach the day?
The peach and damson trees
in the garden will not say.
The days and the months and the years
scattered like a loose bloom
before even a breeze blew near.
What you said and what you did
still run through me like delirium,
though no closer now than the dead.
The Autumn Night
I pass the long autumn nights
tearing up old notes and letters,
putting the afterlife in order;
word by word,
self upon dishevelled self remembered.
And then I light upon
a dead friend’s thoughts
and somewhere a high door opens
and I am silent, stared at,
by night, by dawn.
And some there are just ask for it.
Like that old crank lived
by a giant nettle
so was nicknamed Mr Prickly,
cut it down became Stumpy,
dug that up was called Mole.
Don’t wait till dotage for your goodness to begin.
Look at the dates on those gravestones.
What is bad taste?
too many knick-knacks about the place
too many brushes in the ink-box
too many Buddhas
too many shrubs and plants in a garden
too many rooms in a house
too many words on meeting someone
a ledger all plus and no minus?
Insufferable: fad gadgets,
at prayer, in code;
leaving the rest of us out.
The one I admire?
This what-they-call neophyte
only now finding use for fire.
Trees. Pine and cherry.
Cherry: with single flowers.
Never the double:
the Kanzan’s dense clusters,
the countless petals
of a Cheal’s Weeping.
Plum blossoms: white and pink.
The early-blooming single,
the scented double crimson.
Late plum shrinks
under a cherry din.
Maple leaves turn on
and off in season.
Orange trees and laurels
when the trunks are old and big.
Plants: kerria roses,
wisteria, irises and pinks.
For a pond, water lilies of course.
In autumn, reeds, pampas grass,
bellflowers, bush clover,
asters, burnet, gentians,
chrysanthemums (the yellow ones).
Ivy, arrowroot vine, morning
glories on a low fence,
not too high, and not too many.
Have nothing to leave when you die. Why?
Gewgaws, holy trinkets, will mock you when you’re gone;
much-loved bric-a-brac becomes a grief each day
for the ones we love who love us in return.
So? Divvy up now not later.
Despise, disdain the tilth of your years.
Better to pass and have not left a trace.
Best not to have been here in the first place.
This business of life, getting on—
like making a snowman in Spring:
scrimshawed stones, brassoed buttons,
that touch of the human,
and a soundless dripping within.
Night deepens the world’s beauty:
a lamplit face glows against ebony,
and from a voice in the dark
that trace—knowing one might hear—
moves beyond the clamour of plain day.
Days no-one else goes
go to holy ground nights.
What the Sky Arranges
The autumn moon is beautiful. Nothing compares.
You with no time for what the sky arranges,
look, the moon waxes, wanes, always changes.
Andrew Fitzsimons was born in Dublin
in 1965 and has lived in Tokyo since 1998. Excerpts from ‘Essays
in Idleness’ have appeared in Dublin
Review, Atlanta Review, Fortnight, and Stand.
The poem is © Andrew Fitzsimons.
For brief notes about Kenkô and the Essays in
Idleness in English see the Bibliography Appendix.