Each time my friend from the Buddhist temple visits me, I offer him a painting and a poem. I have them waiting on my silk pillow. I have been painting a series of onions in different shades of wash and light. I peel them layer by layer, and paint the skins as they curl around geraniums. I know this is unusual, but I have to paint what is inside me. My poems are images of whatever I dreamed last night.
Kenji tells me how much he loves my paintings and my poems, and I tell him about my dreams. Since I met Kenji, going to sleep at night is like going to school. After I start to dream, I walk though soft light into a mirror, bathe myself in a waterfall, and follow a path of candles to the center of a mountain. I bow there to a group of teachers, some of them women, some of them men. Each night one of them takes my hand and whispers a secret in my ear – something important I need to know – and in the morning I always remember. I write these messages in my poems and paint the landscapes they show me in sepia ink tones.
It’s good that I can share this with Kenji. The geishas wouldn’t understand. Sometimes they chatter to me about painted silks in the market, ivory hairpins, or the fine lines and hard muscles of a handsome client. In March my friend Yayoi will marry a wealthy silk merchant from Nagasaki. He is older, but he adores her. This is a blessing to all of us, but I live in a different world.
My Buddhist friend comes to see me every Thursday just before midnight. He kisses my mouth like a ripe berry, staining his lips. His pleasure is so strong that I feel him shiver. I guide his mouth to the secret part of my body that is like a persimmon. He can hardly contain his joy as the sweet nectar dampens his mouth. His tongue is a silver fish, gliding in and out of a mystical cave of delight. He is ecstatic, full of a secret pleasure.
He wants so much to know the forbidden mystery completely, but this is something I will not permit. If he breaks his vow, he will have to leave the temple and find another home. Sometimes he begs me to teach him the secrets that only I can share. He says it will be a new initiation, more holy than anything he has given me. But there are other ways to please him. Scented oils, my mouth, and my hands.
I anoint Kenji with oil. He is a living sculpture of the hidden face of God. We have become an icon, a deva with four arms, four legs, and a male and female essence breathing. We are the earth, the sky, and all of the constellations. We are the eternal circle of creation and destruction, day and night. I swim in the melody of cat sounds pushing out of his throat. He is a rainbow trout, wildly swimming home.
Kenji doesn’t hear what my heart now whispers because he is gone. But I will whisper through the walls, and I’m sure he will hear my voice in the center of his dreams:
“The air is moist, violet, full of rose petals. Even after you leave, you stay inside me.
“We are the sun and moon of the Tao. The darkness and light of the emerald. The crunch and the sweetness of the new pear. The cadence and fall of the cicada’s song. I have only known you for the briefest moment, and we have lived together for a thousand years.
“You are a branch of blackberries in the dream house, sweet and ripe. I always sleep inside you.”
From Blackberries in the Dream House, © 2003 by Diane Frank. Reprinted with permission of First World Library.
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