Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cathy Song's Gorgeous Poem "Girl Powdering Her Neck"

Cathy Song’s poem, “Girl Powdering Her Neck” responds to a portrait of a geisha from one of Kitagawa Utamaro’s studies of “The Floating World,” or ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e is a type of Japanese woodblock print produced between the 17th and 18th centuries.

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:

Cathy Song
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

ike 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.

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