Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kyoto and a Wendt poem

After I attended an education conference in Hiroshima I spent an enjoyable fortnight as a tourist in Southern Japan, staying at traditional inns. I got as far south as the Beppu thermal area where I luxuriated in a warm black sand bath. But the highlight was a few days in Kyoto on the way back to Tokyo.

Two things stood out. One was a visit to Kawai Kanjiro’s House, a musuem now for the famous potter. The other was the Golden Temple. Of the buildings I’ve seen only the mosques of Ishfahan can rank as equal in beauty to that glittering pavilion. Albert Wendt describes it in a poem.


Through the shadows cast by the moon tonight
the memory of my mother dances
like the flame-red carp I watched
in the black waters of the lake
off the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto.
Such burning grace.

Though I am ill with my future
and want to confess it to her
I won't. Not tonight.
For my mother dances
in the Golden Pavilion
of my heart.

How she can dance.
Even the moon is spellbound
with her grace.

Stir together dance, moonlight and the Pacific Island oral tradition; add the Golden Pavilion and the result is a lyric gem – a paean of praise at Wendt’s mother’s skill and grace. The lovely last three lines are diamonds in prose. Wendt has many careers, novelist, respected academic and a forerunner in and tireless advocate for Polynesian writing. His presence has enhanced our literature.

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