|Cathy Song, at the Island School,|
April 17, 2015, from a post by
(courtesy of The Voyager Voice)
Continuing the ekphrastic theme and poems about art, here is a diamond of a lyric by Cathy Song (1955-), a native of Hawai'i, whose first collection of poems, Picture Bride, received the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize in 1982, making her the first Asian American poet to be so honored (a number of amazing poets have followed in her footsteps). She has gone on to publish four more collections, including Cloud Moving Hands, which appeared in 2007. She teaches in Hawai'i's "Poets in the Schools" program and says of her process and poetry as an art, "You've got to be willing to dismantle...to realize that poetry is something made outside of yourself." This poem, "Girl Powdering Her Neck," is based on Kitagawa Utamaro's ukiyo-e print "Girl Powdering Her Neck," which is in the Musée Guimet in Paris.
GIRL POWDERING HER NECK by Cathy Song
from an ukiyo-e print by Utamaro
The light is the inside sheen of an oyster shell, sponged with talc and vapor, moisture from a bath. A pair of slippers are placed outside the rice-paper doors. She kneels at a low table in the room, her legs folded beneath her as she sits on a buckwheat pillow. Her hair is black with hints of red, the color of seaweed spread over rocks. Morning begins the ritual wheel of the body, the application of translucent skins. She practices pleasure: the pressure of three fingertips applying powder. Fingerprints of pollen some other hand will trace. The peach-dyed kimono patterned with maple leaves drifting across the silk, falls from right to left in a diagonal, revealing the nape of her neck and the curve of a shoulder like the slope of a hill set deep in snow in a country of huge white solemn birds. Her face appears in the mirror, a reflection in a winter pond, rising to meet itself. She dips a corner of her sleeve like a brush into water to wipe the mirror; she is about to paint herself. The eyes narrow in a moment of self-scrutiny. The mouth parts as if desiring to disturb the placid plum face; break the symmetry of silence. But the berry-stained lips, stenciled into the mask of beauty, do not speak.
Two chrysanthemums touch in the middle of the lake and drift apart.
Copyright © Cathy Song, from Picture Bride (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983). All rights reserved.
Kitagawa Utamaro, "Girl Powdering Her Neck," ukiyo-e print, c. 1790, Musée Guimet in Paris