Aussie watching out for Boris

Night deepens

with the sound

of a calling deer,

and I hear

my own one-sided love.

These lines were written by Ono no Komachi, a Japanese woman poet who lived around the 9th century. It appeared in a book of love poems by Japanese women poets translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani. Given that it’s a love poem and seems to mourn a lost or unrequited love (she wrote many such), it’s easy to focus on the last line about a love not returned.

But that’s not how I read it. Maybe because I was lying in bed at night when I first read it and heard the wind making the trees shake. Or because I woke up the next morning and heard the calls of juncos and finches, up and about long before me, and without moving could see the lime green leaves reappear encased by the bluest skies I remember here.

So yes, I hear a call of love, but one aimed at me, not mine to a man, not even mine to the universe.

There were times when I felt like Ono no Komachi. Years ago, waiting for a phone to ring, wondering why the doorbell didn’t sound, checking and double-checking the calendar—It is today we’re supposed to go out, isn’t it?

I’m not saying I never feel forlorn or lonely, it happens even as I sit here now working at a table in the back yard, feeling how impossible it is to be sad in such a gorgeous world. Sad I do get, but the night I read this poem I felt there was love even in the darkness outside my window, beauty even in one-sided love.

In reading more about the courtly ways of love in the Heian era of Japan, I understood how love called for poetry. The man and woman exchanged poems at first, seeking to clarify their relations. He only appeared at her home at night, stayed the night after lovemaking and talk, left before dawn, and then hurried to send her another poem before going to sleep, and she had to write him an answering poem, too, before beginning the morning.

Too courtly, too contrived for us moderns. We hurry up with it, choose some activity like dinner or a movie, wonder when we’ll get to the main act, which is sex. But the main act is there from the beginning, from the earliest acknowledgment of curiosity, a text, a phone call, a conversation. Connecting with how I feel—Is there a lightness of being? A question that’s being answered (and if so, what’s the question)? A soft voice singing inside? A maybe that’s just maybe, but is also a hint of promise?

We may not write poetry to each other, but life suddenly feels much friendlier than before.

And what happens if there is no love on the other side but everything else is still true? I still have the sounds of the night, much kinder than the sounds of news blasting that we’re out of time. I still have the soft, singing voice and the promise ‘of new sunlight in the morning. The grass will grow, the bee balm will flourish, Kwan-yin will continue to stand behind the house. If she topples one day, it won’t be because compassion is all used up but because, ever restless, it’s seeking new materials and forms, new words and music.

Someone made this Kwan-yin from wood, from a fallen or toppled tree turned to lumber. What else was made from that tree? Michelangelo is often quoted as saying that the David was always inside the rock, he just had to carve it out. I always wonder what happened to the pieces of rock that didn’t make it to the David. Was something smaller made of them, equally exquisite and not so grand? Maybe a little-known sculptor saw the life in those stones that Michelangelo missed, and gave them life.

I picked up the mail today and found an envelope addressed to Lori. She opened it up and found a beautiful card sent her by a woman in San Diego who wrote her that Lori doesn’t know her, but she knows about her illness and she wants her to know that she and many others who know of the terrible accident that befell her wish her health and recovery.

In some way, that moved us more than cards she gets from family members and friends. You mean, somewhere in San Diego, where I’ve never been, someone was thinking of me? And not just thinking of me, but bought a card with bright flowers, filled it out, and mailed it?

That’s how I felt last night, reading the poem. If love is one-sided, that’s usually because the world loves us and we don’t love it back. At least, not with that same consistency, that same passion.

I write this in the back yard. Henry lies in the sun, Aussie in the shade, and they know they’re loved. You just look at their faces, and you know they know.

Please support my writing of this blog. I haven’t asked for donations in a long time. Though I write to a universe of people who are mostly unknown to me, this blog is an act of love. Writing it helps remind me of what’s important; I hope reading it is of some value to you. Keeping it up costs me money, including annual retainers to the wonderful Silvana who makes it work. It provides some income at a time of my life that doesn’t produce much income. You can do that by pressing the button below, or sending a check as described below to a mailbox where I found Lori’s card today.

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