After Hokusai’s Thirty Six Views

This entry is part 87 of 95 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2010-11


Above the tree line, a cloud bank edged in indigo.

Once, a woman unrobed to show the scars she bore as she ran down a road long ago, a child with her mouth open, ash falling from the sky.

Water thunders in every ditch. A freight train wails.

Ships have disappeared into the sea, tugboats, frailer craft. An airport is submerged in water.

So still, as if the world were tensing for another blow.

The ground is mostly bare again. The wind is salted with fine flakes.

And if time is the enemy, what is the name of the wind that blows
fine sand into my eyes?

Poised in the hollow of the wave, the fishermen huddle. You could count their heads, smooth like beads on an abacus or a prayer chain.

And after the blows, the softening.

The gnarled parts often contain water, hardened through the years.

So you say you know the Chinese character for “squander”— but I want to know first what there is to spend.

A hand raised in greeting is a cup, a well, an oasis.

And yes, every poem is about love.

Scientists tell us there are fine tremors in the earth every day that we do not even feel.

Think of so many of these in any given moment, especially the ones that feel completely still.

Luisa A. Igloria
03 11 2011

In response to today’s Morning Porch entry.

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5 Replies to “After Hokusai’s Thirty Six Views”

  1. A perfect “tsunami” poem, even the long lines are ideographs of the onrushing waves and unstoppable tide.

    After the disasters plaguing the Earth, there must be a “softening” of its tenants. There’s that little child, naked, running through Hanoi’s streets in mortal panic over the napalm bombing. The havoc brought upon this planet by natural disaster is man-made. The mayhem man has caused can only warm him: the stillness thereafter “is only a tensing for another blow.”

    Water— which otherwise would be a raised welcome cup or an oasis for the desert — could as wantonly come back from the sea and eat everything up. The wrath of water is from a stillness before the temblor that whips the ocean floors up into this killing frenzy.

    As the poem warns: “think of many of these…specially the ones that feel completely still.” Yes, this is a love poem, too. It offers a caveat to man—the love that is squandered in these disasters is that which should have been heaped on an Earth that can only be still so long, before it gets annoyed by the stings of annoying inhabitants who cannot be bothered cleaning up their mess before these become mountains of garbage, billowing wells of toxic fumes, global incineration. Then, the Iceman Cometh.

    Think of these at all given moments. The ensuing stillness could become the dreaded whimper.

    Hokusai’s tsunami painting prompted Luisa Igloria’s poem powerfully.

    1. “The havoc brought upon this planet by natural disaster is man-made.”
      Often that is the case, but not this time, except inasmuch as some people might have died due to poor building construction. But in general, Japanese building codes are strict, and they couldn’t be better prepared for earthquakes and disasters in terms of early warning systems. (Those watching TV at the right time actually got a one-minute warning that a big quake was coming; this probably saved thousands of lives as it gave people time to rush outside.)

      I realize that for many believers, disasters can provoke a crisis in theodicy, but to me it’s just an illustration of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: Life is unsatisfactory (dukka). Because in order for the planet to sustain life — in order for us to be here at all — it must be tectonically active, alive. Earthquakes and tsunamis are, unfortunately, the price of admission.

      1. “Life is unsatisfactory”; hence, man—wittingly or unwittingly—tries other tacks to make it “satisfactory” — oil (and spills) to fuel technology (and war machinery), gas and tar sand mining (and its their ill residues). Sad, because man has not been a good steward of Earth’s resources.

        Hard lesson to learn. When will we ever learn? Dave, I agree that our better technology can also save us from greater harm. Often, it is too late.

        See you later on the porch; am taking a breather with my family (including the grandkids) on a cruise where it is warm. Hope the tsunami will not overtake us.

          1. Dave,
            Got back yesterday from a back-to-back cruise on Disney’s newest and the Allure, biggest cruise ship yet. two fantastic weeks with wife and grandkids. Whew. Need a vacation from vacation.
            Thanks for this. See you soon on the porch.

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