A woodsman rescues an injured heron
who turns into a beautiful woman.
When he marries her, she makes him promise
not to spy on her without permission.
Unsurprisingly, he breaks his vow
and she returns to being a wading bird.
In this Harunobu woodblock print,
we see the maiden alone, umbrella
tilted to shade her face, which if we peer closely
looks like the face of a twink, a boyish man.
Maybe she wasn’t a bird at all
but a beautiful male in drag, so when
she was discovered, the scandal was transmuted
into a fairy tale between a man and a lady
bird. And the print is really of the lover
fleeing the village in shame, still womanly
in her modest beauty. Here I sashay into the story
as the epicene youth who later asks the heavens
to curse the town with a plague (not unlike
the Spanish flu) and as retribution I’d be transformed
into a heron. But not before I return to visit
as a human one final time, you who (in this past life)
failed to stand up to your community;
this version of you that declined to escape with me.
I’m coming to bid you farewell, so the image
memorialises the journey before I show up
tossing aside my delicate umbrella
to bow into the shape of a heron.
All this to justify how you’re wrapping
your arm across my back to grip my shoulder,
making up for your karmic betrayal
in our present, pandemic lifetime, as we browse
through pictures of lovers in that Japanese century,
as if my scapulas might suddenly blossom into wings.
Lovers Walking in the Snow (Crow and Heron)
We’re in a Harunobu print,
two of us strolling through snow
to our love suicide
or merely to hurry along
under a falling sky, an umbrella
our excuse to huddle
and tilt these genderless
faces from inside formal
cowls—which of us is the crow
and which the heron depends
on our mood and the time
of the day, the colour we wear
mirroring our internal hue--
to peer shyly at each other,
eyes half-closed as if
in a kind of 18th century
slumber love resembles,
a permanent trance or frozen
wonder at the art of our existence.
Cyril Wong is a poet and fictionist in Singapore. His last book of poems was Infinity Diary, published by Seagull Books.
The Ekphrastic Review
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