My guitars are up and my rug is down. Other than that, most of the last few weeks have gone by in a blur. Still haven’t been able to do anything about the ugly curtains in the library, mostly because they’re currently blocked by a bookcase which I can’t move until we know where it’s going, and room is cleared in that space for the going thereof. Wish I could keep it in here, but there’s no room. I’m planning a couple of low profile bookcases but otherwise, I have to work with what I have. Still too much stuff for the space. Can’t make more space, so the solution is painful, but obvious.
Part of the reason for the blur is that most of the mornings have been turned over to the book, which doesn’t leave a lot of energy in the afternoon for getting the house where we want it. Still a ton of stuff to do. On the plus side, we seem to have survived our first New York winter. I’m told this was a rather mild one (coldest night was a mere -19 F). Fine with us. We were hoping for a training winter, so I could develop my snow shoveling and salt spreading chops. Very different from the south. In Mississippi we were losing the concept of seasons. It was either Summer-like or Winter-ish, and Winter-ish was losing ground steadily. A lot of places don’t even have seasons anymore, at least not like they once did. Up here in Central NY, that’s not the case. At least for now.
Enough with the boring domestic details. I have a book to write, and that’s taking all the brainpower I have left. So in lieu of anything actually inciteful or interesting, snippet time:
“Yamada-sama, I was instructed to give this to you personally,” Hiroshi said.
He held out both hands palm up, and resting there was a small sheet of washi neatly folded into the form sometimes referred to as a “lover’s knot,” since it was nearly impossible to re-fold properly once opened, and so had the virtue of making it extremely difficult for anyone else to read the message without the intended recipient knowing that the communication had been compromised. I took the paper and unfolded it carefully to read:
“Autumn wind rushes past
An empty garden where once
The peony bloomed.”
After the poem, there was a simple message: “I would speak with you in private.” I dismissed Hiroshi then showed the paper to Kenji, who frowned.
“It seems you will be allowed an audience with the High Priestess of Ise,” he said.
“Allowed? It sounded rather more like a command.”
“It also sounded as if we—well, you—were expected. That poem….”
I nodded. “Yes. It’s a reference to the death of Princess Teiko. “Peony” was her nickname at court. She held it from at least the age of seven. Not just anyone would know that, especially now, but Princess Tagako is one who would. Without mentioning either of our names, it was clear the message was for me.”
My time at court had been so long ago that I sometimes forgot the way the mind of someone raised in the emperor’s circle tended to work. The message would have seemed innocuous enough to anyone else who discovered it, yet to the intended recipient—myself, in this case—there was far more to be read. Princess Tagako’s note reminded me of Teiko in more ways than simply the poem.
Kenji frowned. “Why would she bring up Teiko? That seems rather indelicate.”
It was more than indelicate. It was deliberate, implied far more than it said, and was aimed precisely at me.
“Indelicacy with a purpose, I think, though what that purpose is, I cannot fathom. I must go speak to the saiō.”
“You must also finish the tanka.”
I winced, but Kenji was right. The form of the poem required an answer, or rather, a shimo-no-ku, a lower phrase, which must also be in the proper form. Princess Teiko had always been somewhat amused at my attempts at poetry, but this occasion called for me to try. I sent for a portable writing table and quickly prepared the ink. First I copied Princess Tagako’s poem as best I could and, after many hesitations and false starts, wrote down this:
“Autumn yields to winter’s cloak,
In Spring, flowers bloom again.”
Kenji looked at what I had done. “Lord Yamada, for you that almost sounded hopeful.”
I sighed. “Yes. If I had more time…well, it still wouldn’t be any better.”