Act of Creation
This Is A Shocking Book (or what i learned from reading The Tale of Genji)
The Tale of Genji. Sounds so romantic. Who can resist a story about Heian aristocrats, written in prose as elegant and luxurious as the period’s court costumes? Pages and pages of aesthetic delights, the celebration of romance, poetry, flowers, Genji (the tale’s hero) so beautiful, surely even the moon is envious.
Okay, this is what the book is really about: rich men behaving badly. Really, really badly. Like gross frat bros who stalk, kidnap, rape and even groom girls. This is a shocking book. I have never read a book with so many rapes and sexual assaults. It’s just an endless series of woman hunting.
Three, four hundred pages into it, I was left puzzling. I mean this book was written by a woman. Why would a woman write so elegantly, even sympathetically, about the adventures of douches whose main hobby is preying on young girls and women? (Interestingly, there is only one mention of a woman sexual predator and she’s played for cruel laughs).
Then, somewhere around page 900, I started to realize it wasn’t about the boys but about the girls. The Tale of Genji is really The Wail of Women. It builds, slowly, tear by tear, the very first tale about Genji’s mother, a gentle woman who dies from the sheer stress of court life. Specifically, she’s driven to death by the bullying of other women. Why is she bullied? Because the emperor loves her. And because she doesn’t have powerful male relatives to back her up.
So, The Tale of Genji is the tale of just how vulnerable a woman becomes when she lives in a society where women are completely dependent on men. If a man wants her, and his position is high enough, even the wife of the emperor is not safe from his advances. And that man can be anyone, even a stepson. Her only escape is the nunnery or death. (And the nunnery isn’t that safe: the book ends on a cliffhanger involving a nun who’s just too beautiful for her own good. And let’s get this straight: the douches will tell you that it’s always the girl’s fault, for being beautiful, for not being nice, for playing hard to get, etc.)
In the book, life is such hell for women, they usually don’t survive past the age of 35. If a man doesn’t drive her to death, the vengeful ghost of a rival will. Sure you get to wear awfully pretty clothes, but who the hell wants to marry your rapist to avoid a scandal? And that’s if you’re lucky because more often than not you’ll just become a secret mistress holed up in the middle of nowhere. And you won’t get any sympathy because even your mother will tell you how lucky you are to have been taken up by such an important and beautiful man. Yup. That’s some kinda reality there. (A really disturbing part of the book describes the bewilderment of a young girl as her kidnapper and groomer begins transitioning her from playing with toys to sex. And who is this groomer? Our hero Genji. But it’s all good because he’s so beautiful. Granted, the idea of beauty is complicated. In Heian times, beauty was considered a kind of karmic prize you got for being so good in a previous life. But what about this life, I kept wondering? The way Genji acts throughout the book, he’ll be lucky if he’s reborn as a hyena. I’m not saying he’s all bad. Out of pity he collects and adopts downtrodden ex-lovers, housing them at his great estate like he’s running a petting zoo. He’ll even occasionally visit them for a nice chat.)
BTW, the edition I read was the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition translated by Royall Tyler. Great edition with footnotes as overflowing as the hair of a great Heian beauty. The footnotes are essential—you need them to keep track of who’s who. Really. Characters are often referred to by their court/job titles, which change since people get promoted or die. And then suddenly old characters are known by new titles and old titles are referring to new characters. Confusing as hell, I’m telling you. A quarter of the time, I had no idea who the writer was talking about. Especially when there’s a new paragraph and there’s only a “she” or “he” and you’re thinking, “Who she?” since there could be two or three people “she” could be.
Since I mentioned page 900, I’m sure you realize that this book is big. And heavy. I injured my thumb trying to read it in bed. Took months to heal; the book took months to read. Why isn’t this an ebook?
Kittens and the Hands of God
“What’s her name?” Penny asked him. She was mesmerized by the cat, unable to take her eyes away.
“I don’t think she has one,” Peter said, trying to be kind. “Why don’t you give her a name?”
“Kitty,” she said, laughing.
“Let’s name her Spook,” Megan said. She picked up the cat and pointed her finger at its face. “Spook! You’re called Spook!”
Eye to eye they stared at each other. The cat seemed to know who she was. Megan couldn’t believe it. “That’s the most extraordinary—”
The cat jumped straight into Penny’s lap. Thrilled, Penny captured the warm kitten in her hands. The kitten had such a tender face. Her paws were so delicate. Penny wanted to lick her up. She seemed to understand every word Penny said, her knowing eyes pulling Penny’s words deep into her.
At bedtime, Penny wanted to sleep with the cat but Helen wouldn’t allow it. Spook was to stay in the kitchen. Lying in bed, Penny thought of Kitty, alone in a new house, sad, lonely, puzzled at the future of things. She only had the box Peter had provided and some newspaper. Penny got out of bed and slipped downstairs. She opened the kitchen door; Kitty was looking up at her.
“Hello. Were you waiting for me? I had to wait first. To make sure everyone was asleep.” Penny scooped the kitten up, the furry warmth so wonderful in her hands. She smuggled the cat into her room.
From the top of her toy shelf Penny took down a doll’s cradle. She removed the doll, a porcelain baby whose eerie life-like features had always frightened her, and put Kitty inside the cradle instead. There was a pillow and a blanket, all in eyelet cotton, so Kitty would be very comfortable. Gently, Penny tapped the pear wood cradle and let it rock, quietly humming until the kitten seemed fast asleep. Penny couldn’t take her eyes away. She fell asleep on the floor, curled next to Kitty.
Penny was a light sleeper and often woke up several times a night, but that night she slept soundly, the most wonderful serenity hugging her throughout the night. She only remembered one dream, of a gentle, powerful breeze lifting her high into the night sky. As the breeze slowly died, another breeze brought her back up, one breeze after another like the hands of God carrying her through the sky. It was the most exhilarating feeling, being lifted up, floating down, lifted up again, her self circling the globe over and over.
An excerpt from Anchored Leaves, available as both a paperback and ebook.
themoodofthepeople: Hello friends, please reblog! Posting again because the book could use some publicity (shameless).
amores gitano (gypsy loves)
by ROBERTO CARLOS GARCIA
Červená Barva Press is pleased to announce the publication of amores gitano (gypsy loves) by Roberto Carlos Garcia.
Roberto Carlos Garcia’s work has appeared in Connotation Press- An Online Artifact, Wilderness House…
I love how Anne Carson uses the lack of punctuation to increase ambiguity; it lets the fragments flow back & forth, text like bi-stable images. #RedDoc>
Helen of Troy remembers Paris:
The last time I saw, Paris his shield was bright & gay,
No matter how they maim him, I’ll remember him that way
(sung to Gershwin’s “Last Time I Saw Paris”)
themoodofthepeople: A poem from my chapbook that I translated to Spanish-
El arco iris nos abandono
Cuando repartiamos los colores
del arco iris como los niños,
ante una pagina en blanco.
Nuestra capacidad para amar como
la imaginacion infinita.
Cuando la sombra de la tristeza
parada en el umbral de…
Nat’l Poetry Month: Charles Bukowski
side of the sun
the bulls are grand as the side of the sun
and although they kill them for the stale crowds,
it is the bull that burns the fire,
and although there are cowardly bulls as
there are cowardly matadors and cowardly men,
generally the bull stands pure
and dies pure
untouched by symbols or cliques or false loves,
and when they drag him out
nothing has died
something has passed
and the eventual stench
is the world.
from “Burning in Water Drowning in Flame-Poems 1955-1973”
Buy Her A Diamond Before It’s Too Late
“Winnie — who’s Tom?”
“You said in your email that you knew you couldn’t be with Tom anymore. After meeting Lance.”
“That Tom.” Winnie smiled. “I met him my first day freshman year. He had this terrific grin. Real optimist. He came right up to me and said, ‘I think I’m going to marry you.’ I thought that was the best pickup line — he was so sincere. Why do you want to know about Tom?”
“I don’t know. I keep thinking about odd things. Like everything’s come loose in my brain. Like in dreams, only I feel that way all the time now. Do you know what happened to Tom?”
“I lost touch with him. I think he lives in California now. He was in grad school last time I saw him. Studying astrophysics. Strange for an optimist to study a field that’s so sure the whole universe is going to blow up.”
“Maybe it’s reassuring,” I said.
Buy at Amazon or at the iBook store. Maybe even Barnes & Noble if you have a Nook. Kobo store too.