((This is my entry into the poetry category for the Capsuleer Writing Contest. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the pre-contact Achur culture, which I’ve written about in previous contests [and which is the subject of a long-form novel I’ve been working on since last year, being published in chapters over on Backstage]. These poems may be considered singly or as a whole. Hope you enjoy them!))
Ochuvakuekkujo, Halavainu Bazeiku
Atop Monument Hill, Spirals of Frost are Blooming into Splendor
Nine Lyrics of Hirvomiakken
(Note: “Hirvomiakken” was the pen-name of Kujaromakka Soichiru, eldest daughter of a foreign minister to the Western Islands during the Achur Long-Spring Era, corresponding to approximately 1,500 years pre-contact. Little else is known about her but that she was lauded as a gifted poet, and served as a capable diplomat in her own right later in life. These poems capture a time in Achur history marked by relative peace and cultural advancement, when cultivation of the more refined arts among the aristocratic and courtier classes was considered not only a personal virtue, but a necessary reassurance of growing prosperity. They are nevertheless noteworthy for the complex mix of imagery and moods, capturing something of a lingering unease amidst cultural revival. These lyrics are selected from a few sources scattered in archives, mostly in monasteries, suggesting that Hirvomiakken’s poems were widely read and highly valued. The title is taken from the Napanii-language translation of the most well-known of the collection, from the scholarly edition published in YC36.)
the lanterns along the riverside
to the passage of the longboat
its tiller rustling in the waters
of the midnight river,
casting echos of its passage
to the shores of every night thereafter.
The pilgrim sits at the bow
and recites his prayers by heart.
The veil of the night draws down,
and the valley is hung with mist,
and the lights of the distant village
The pilgrim glimpses in the night
the first of the leaves
drifting loose from their branches
in the midnight river
drifting beside him.
The lanterns along the riverside
count off the longboat’s passing
as all the rest of the world
settles down to sleep.
On the bridge of the city of Tan
the strains of a lyre
playing folk-tunes from the country
in the classical style.
The trees hang over the riverbanks
and young lovers sit beneath them.
I watch the fish swim back and forth
beneath the water
and hear laughter from the tea-houses
how long must I yet wait, my love,
before we are together once more?
A young woman,
startled by the well,
The young man,
dressed in five-colored robes,
the glass-fish and golden lyre-bird
dancing across his shoulders,
flashing in the sun.
“Sir, where are you going,
dressed in festival robes?”
The young man smiles, gestures with his walking stick
to the distant mountains.
“There, in the Temple of Skies,
I am to meet His Majesty to celebrate midsummer.”
The young woman gazes to the mountains, distant and hazy.
“Sir,” she whispers,
“the Temple of Skies is far. The spring tea-leaves are ready,
there in my house.”
Pointing to the shade behind.
Under the pagoda of the summer palace
drinking wine beside the lake,
the sun hangs still in the sky, pale rose.
Over the distant mountains clouds are rushing,
and at the sound of it
a flock of gray fisher-birds takes flight.
The streets of the great Temple Market
are hung with lanterns
and the musicians are all singing
a theater troupe is singing opera
about a long-forgotten princess and her knight.
The market-goers clap and throw coins
and the crowd fades away.
on the hilltop garden
some of the stones have been swept and laid with flowers.
The wreaths from Spring Festival are still fresh.
Some of the stones have toppled, and lie in the shadows,
overgrown and dusted with the last snowfall.
The sun sets
through the falling rains.
In the Western District of Tan-Isu
all the rooves are red and green and brown and gold
in the predawn light.
The ornaments glitter on the corners of the Temple’s
Atop Monument Hill
spirals of frost are blooming into splendor
as I tread a winding path
and read the markers of ancient nobles
their names wreathed around me
in the lingering chill.
A young soldier
beloved of the princess
pledged his valor
in her service.
Her name has faded
from his monument stone.
Late spring snow
drifts slowly down
over the threshold
of the hilltop shrine
landing at the foot of the altar;
and outside, slowly burying the markers
as the pale morning sun
faint and wan
over the city.
was younger than I;
does any yet live who remembers
the name of his beloved?
The stream thaws,
the last of winter fades
the Great Eyes overhead
have watched over
eleven times eleven times eleven
turns of the wheel
coming back to the start.
The noble dead lie in repose
Who would pledge his valor in my name?
Who would attend to my monument-stone,
and speak my name,
sweep the path clear to leave an offering
of ironwood and winter lilies,
and burn the incense of the islands of Shuven
to remind me of the home of my childhood?
The venerable dead strode through the long winter
and committed acts of heroism;
who lived without fault
and sung of the spring-to-come.
The flower of youth
that blooms in the depths of winter
in the alpine hollows
to stand vigil over the long night
is most precious of all.
The flowers of springtime
of ten thousand different hues
are starting to bloom.
A splendor burst forth into a world
made fertile once more.
The last of the snows has fallen,
and the sound of temple bells
ripples across the valley,
across the mountains,
waves rippling out across waters
with me in their wake
to land on distant shores
long after the bells
have crumbled to dust.
In the City of Aikoshi
in the towers
mark the times of prayer.
The fish swim back and forth in the pond
observing the rituals
saying their prayers.
A noble woman serves tea
at the Lyuusha Golden Crane House
on the way to the Winter Palace.
The Veil blots out the stars
in the south.
In the village temple, a solitary flute