Poetry / March 2017 (Issue 35)


Wabi-Sabi

by Peter Kennedy


Iridescent glass and celadon, porcelain held up to the light,
exhibition pieces with a perfect glaze, these eggshell cups for sake.
He admired the potter's work: the proportion and design, but the
delicate, translucent Nara cups were not to the taste of Gaku.

The sashimi came on a burnt-biscuit dish, and as we passed the wasabi,
he admired its roughness, the cracked glaze—and our seasonal kaiseki.
The nakai brought in a sake flask lop-sided, askew: now, this is wabi-sabi!
A potter's reject, muddy-coloured, chipped: but Gaku where's the beauty?

We marvelled at magnolias and cherry blossom (though a cliché of Japan).
Tentacles of gnarled tree roots, fern and fungus for our man.
We liked Ryoan-ji, raked and ridged rock gardens, the quintessence of Zen.
For him sun-dappled light, a moss garden on which a few red leaves had fallen.

A way of looking: finding beauty in 'ugliness', decomposition, evanescence.
Sea-sculpted driftwood, brown seed pods, worn stone steps, an old, dented iron kettle,
the patina on a Buddha statue, the veins of leaves, a window overgrown with creepers,
crumbling dry stone walls, a rusty bathtub in an Irish field surrounded by cattle.

In the Zen pictures: monks who led the simple life as they sought The Way;
a more conducive group of poets with sake flasks, composing haiku by a river.
If it's the thatched roof of the tea house with plaster like puff pastry, then why
not those pre-faded jeans or a congealed lasagna at the back of the fridge?
Wabi-sabi cannot be mass-produced, it does not have a bar-code.
"Mr. Nishigaito, from Reception, relax, only minor earthquake, our usual weather."
He'd learnt sea shanties in his Glee Club and so we sang a few together.
An Osaka bellboy, his greeting unrobotic, 'Mind your cheek, Sunny Jim'—
then flustered, confused, 'No! Mind my cheek...' wabilly-sabilly, out on a limb.

Imperfection.
Decay. The dentist. Another lost filling.
Impermanence. Weather-worn. The death of an old friend so chilling.
Incomplete. Mature. The age of wisdom? Serenity? Or just worse?
Unconventional. A state of mind: like sabi-wabi verse.

 
 Peter Kennedy has taught at the University of Hong Kong since 1991. He currently teaches courses on C20th English poetry and James Joyce. Before coming to Hong Kong, Peter taught in Greece, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and China. He holds degrees from the universities of Bristol, Wales, Sussex, Essex and Trinity College, Dublin.
 
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All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.