Pocket Full of Mumbles

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

*A Contextual Bit 'O Prose

...especially in light of my last post.
As much as I recognize the necessity of war, I find it nonetheless to be among the worst of human proclivities. Here then is my apology for dropping not one, but two atomic bombs on Japan in the summer of 1945. Admittedly, I know little of Japanese culture; what is appropriate, what is not, so it's likely I may owe yet another apology.



"Deflowering the Crysanthemum"

        She was led to a small stage prepared for just that moment, the moment they would demonstrate to the world the limit of their power over a nation, through one woman. It wasn’t enough to destroy her cities, ruin her people, her friends and family, now they would mock and shame her. But this is the way of all victors. The victorious delight in examples, believing even their own propaganda, that they are righteous, and more deserving of victory, that their actions are somehow necessary. But she went willingly. Up three steps of aged and polished wood, probably stolen from a decimated temple… and where had they found the shoji screens? …their paper windows intact and the purest of whites.
        They had made her paint herself in the traditional paints of a geisha, but they were ignorant and so made her paint her entire body. She did not argue. They did not understand. Her hair and her pubic mound made a stark contrast to the gleaming white of her skin and she thought, how beautiful. They robed her in a kimono, crimson with yellow dragonflies, and briefly she smiled. They laughed and barked like dogs to one another; their tongues shaped about rough words, their meaning a mystery.
        Chosen from among the victorious were three men, stripped to the waist of their olive uniforms, ringed about the spot where she was to kneel before a gathering of white faces and strange eyes. She looked out and over their heads to the ghost of a city, its once proud buildings, the temples, the gardens, all gone, blown to ash in the blink of an eye, and scattered upon atomic winds. How many dead? Thousands? She began to cry -- tears drawing lines down the planes of her face, and then steeled herself. The victorious needed this display, garish and brutal as it was. What did it matter if they performed their little Noh play upon the charred bones of an entire city, an entire nation; once proud, now fallen to earth like cherry blossoms in spring…
        But this is summer. The end of summer. She looked to her left and saw an ensemble of taiko drums, drummers all but naked. None would look upon her; they understood her shame, and shared it. A Shakuhachi player stood with flute in hand, his head bent and eyes cast downward. His breathing was rhythmic, his kimono dirty, but the flute… ahh, it was magnificent. She turned to her countrymen and bowed slightly, then turned back to her audience.
        They were a strange people -- prideful, uncouth, and so utterly ignorant. They shaped the world to their purpose rather than shape their lives to the world about them. Their cities were ugly, and nothing about their culture held any sense of tradition. They were upstarts. Children. But children with powerful toys. And they’re eyes… so foreign.
        A man in uniform rose from his seat in the front row and turned to face the gathered. He raised his voice and spoke in his rough language. He used his hands expressively but the tone of his voice was dogmatic, and said he held her and her nation in contempt.
        “We are the defeated,” she softly spoke, and one among those that ringed her whispered brokenly in her tongue.
        “Forgive us Hiroshima, forgive us Nagasaki.”
        Another of the three grunted harshly and the first fell silent.
        “It is easy to ask forgiveness when there is no consequence to face.” She replied softly. “I will forgive you when the dead do.” And though she couldn’t see it she felt him bow his head to her.
        The speaker quickly finished and motioned to the drummers. As one they struck their drums, building a rhythm she could sing to. Their bodies soon began to glisten with sweat, and the power of their drumming grew, intent on stirring the victorious. The Shakuhachi player raised his flute and began to play a mournful dirge in counter to the beat of the drummers, yet his own rhythm matched them. They played perfectly, beautifully, but the assembled did not appreciate this, it was clear on their faces. It was alien to them.
        She knew the words she was to sing. The song had been written for her, by aliens, and memorized in the long hours between dawn and that very moment, but she would not sing it. They knew little of Japanese, and would not know what she sang. The man directly behind her undid her deep black hair, removing the long bamboo pins that held it, and she felt its weight as it fell long to her waist. She felt the first tug of the shears at the nape of her neck. My hair! They are cutting my hair! It had taken years to grow… She began to cry once more. Through her tears she saw the child in the first row, a very young girl. What kind of people brings its children to such a spectacle? Barbarians!
        The little girls eyes were the lightest shade of blue… the child’s hair -- a contrast to her own -- was a lighter shade of yellow than the chrysanthemum she held in her tiny hand. She wore a dark blue dress and her shoes shone bright and new. She stood close to her mother who held her hand.
        There was a final tug, then release, and she looked about to see her beautiful black hair lying around her. The men to either side of her barber took hold of the crimson kimono’s collar and drew it open, exposing her breasts. Their hands tugged at the sash and they stripped the fabric entirely from her, letting it drop to the platform to cover her hair. She sat kneeling, hands folded in her lap. She shone like polished bone, entirely covered in the white paint.
        Some in the crowd turned their heads, embarrassed to look upon her nakedness, others seemed to gloat, but all held an air of ambivalence. None but the child looked saddened. Then she felt the hands on her, wet with water as they began to make a show of washing her clean. There was symbolism in this of course, the drummers could see it, the Shakuhachi player could see it, and she began to sing.
        It was a song to stir souls, had the victorious possessed such. It was a beautiful melody. The song trembled deep in her throat and crashed out over the audience. Few of the assembled understood any word of Japanese, but they understood the melody, understood its pain and suffering, and they understand in its cry a longing for a way of life now gone. Whether they realized it as such or not, they also understood that with two swift, cowardly blows, they had managed to decimate not only two cities and countless lives, but an ancient culture as well. But again, that is what victors do. They tear down the temples and the shrines and the theaters and the houses and reshape the land to their own liking. What changes will they bring? What new ideas to supplant the old?
        Her song rose and fell as hands washed her. She felt them move over her breasts, her stomach, to her thighs and the dark place between. She could feel their fingers move over her skin, but she could not sense a desire in them, they did not grope or fondle, only wash. Her face her neck, her shoulders, her back. They lifted her arms and she held them out like the very image of their crucified god on its hideous totem. They delight in torture; yet revere the god they killed! It’s not unusual to feel great respect for a vanquished foe, but worship? Never!
        If she were in the bathhouse she might have felt desire for these men whose hands touched what no other had, but not here, this was her shame; to be stripped of her mystery, a Noh play devoid of tradition, performed for barbarians. The hands cupped and lifted her breasts, moved under her arms, down her back to her buttocks, and lower. The drummers drummed, the Shakuhachi player played and she sang as the men shamed her.
        When at last their hands left her, she finished her song and looked about her. The stage was washed in white, the pretty kimono ruined, and her hair… The men stood and left the stage, leaving her where she sat, their hands and arms now white. The speaker rose again to speak many words, none of which she understood. The drummers were led away. The Shakuhachi player followed. When the speaker finished, the men who had led her to that place, mounted the stage to help her rise, and led her down the same steps of aged and polished wood, leaving white prints upon their dark surfaces like the footprint of ghosts.
        Movement dark and swift caught her eye and she looked to see the little child break away from its mother and run to her. The girl stopped shyly and looking up into her face, smiled and held out the chrysanthemum. She bowed deeply to the child and took the offered gift.
        The girl said something in her beautiful voice; her eyes held sympathy and embarrassment, a genuine sorrow for the painted woman.
        “Thank you, little one.” She said, bowing deeper. “I will remember your kindness.”
        A soldier led the girl back to her mother, who began fussing over her, admonishing her for her bravery. Would the child remember? Will she understand what she had done in years to come?
        They did not clothe her, but led her naked back to where they had held her, where they had prepared her for this spectacle. Her escort did not touch her, but directed her with their grunting, and pointing, back and forth in their savage tongue. Soldiers gawked at her, countrymen bowed to her, averting their eyes. She would, of course, commit suicide; her shame was too great. No more parties on the palace lawn, no more plays, no more poetry, no more cherry blossoms in spring. The victors had stolen it all. But she would compose a poem for her death, though none would ever hear it.
        They came at last to the tents that were her prison. They would take her inside and allow her to wash and clothe herself before escorting her back to the palace, but she could not go back now. She could not bear the look of shame in her father’s eyes, or bear to hear her mother weeping. She would be a reminder to them, of their own shame… better to die, with honor. So she would run! She would find a place untouched by their hideous weapon and perhaps find a shard of glass to cut her wrists, and compose her death poem.
        And as if thought were motion she leaped away from her captors and ran, ignoring their shouts. She heard them begin to chase and she ran harder. The sound of their boots fell farther and farther behind. Pain shot up from her feet as rocks and glass cut at her soles, but she ignored it… there was only running, the pound of blood in her ears, and the beat of her heart. There was only running, breathing… and the sound of thunder crashing through the sky, thunder so powerful it ripped the breath from her, and threw her hard upon the torn earth.
        There was little sound, a loud hum over the shouting of men, the feel of their boots shaking through the ground as they neared her; her own breath, heavy and labored, the beat of her heart, and the feel of blood draining from the hole in her chest… they had shot her... not thunder at all…
        Lifting her head she looked over the ground to the ruined city, to the ghostly survivors picking through the rubble, and there lay the Chrysanthemum. The world about it seemed colorless, but the flower was a bright dusty yellow, the color of pollen. It layed in her dimming sight a stark contrast to the desolation that framed it, and reaching for it she pulled the flower to her breasts. Her lips moved with her last breath and shaped the words of a poem.
        “What was it she said?” Asked one voice.
        The gunman knelt at her side, brushed a spill of hair from her eyes, and spoke,

          “…Chrysanthemum pure
        Amid fields of wide ruin
         ~ Its lovely hair shorn.”

----
ELAshley
Written in one sitting
September 1, 2001
10 days before 9/11

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