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Playing with Words, Images, Metaphors, and Meanings

Posted 02-22-2014 at 02:07 PM by Miya Ko
Updated 02-22-2014 at 05:32 PM by Miya Ko
Since my "Kyoto, 1945" thread has been locked, let me blog about it. I'll attempt to answer some questions related to the poem, which is entirely a play of words, images, metaphors, and meanings.

I'll use the original poem:

Kyoto, 1945

Between us is obscured by the vast distance;
The cruel distortion of light cripples my excitement.
You, in the garden, a miracle of symmetry,
Are intoxicated in the last burst of spring;
And I, on the patio, a glutton of your existence,
Am aroused by the curves of your fragile reflection.


Your outline is the silhouette of my shy geisha
In that half-lit room after I pulled her kimono;
The weight of your movement is as thin as the dollar bill
I let go to land on her willing bosoms;
And your paling blush is the timid glow
Of her powdered hands that gently pushed my shoulders.


I notice the hint of age and contentment
In your slow dancing while you play with the blossoms;
You spend more time on each flower
And on every leaf as though to say goodbye.
If today is your last afternoon and you want to see me again,
Come back as a moth—I am blind at night.

The Title

"Kyoto, 1945" has two unsaid narratives: reconciliation and coitus.

Initial Capital Letters and Long Lines

Initial Capital letters, to me, look old school and fit well to the narrator's old age.

Initially, there were twelve lines in a stanza--yes, shorter lines. Since this poem is about longing for the past not just a fragment of memory, I made them longer.

What can I do? Even the absence or presence of the conjunction "and", to me, is meaningful.

Butterfly-Geisha

The poem is about the butterfly that makes the narrator remember the geisha he met in Japan in 1945. The three stanzas are in present tense because it is really about the present-day butterfly. The geisha in the poem is just a memory. Yes, in Japanese symbolism, geisha is butterfly or butterfly is geisha.

"Between us is obscured by the vast distance"

Some don't like "Between us", and I don't think they fully get it. My goal in that one is to illustrate the physicality of "obscured". The nonexistent word before "between" is part of the obscuring. It can be "the space between us", "the time between us", "the love between us", or "the moment between us." It is obscured so any relational word--something that connects the butterfly or the geisha to the narrator--can be assumed.

I, You, and Appositive

"I" and the noun phrase "a glutton of your existence", which is after the prepositional phrase "on the patio", sound formal like taking an oath almost. That's intentional because the narrator is a war veteran or a military guy who knows about formality and ritual.

Push and Pull

Someone suggests that I change "pulled her kimono". Maybe pulling to him is not gentle. I refuse to change it because it completes "her hands that pushed my shoulders." I want a complete play of push-and-pull, which is really about sex. Whoever thinks sex is emotionally, mentally, and physically gentle is a virgin.

Weight and Thinness

One thing I have observed in many workshops I have attended is that American poets are into language precision or exactness. That is very limiting and can be too technical-sounding.

Try reading Neruda's poems. You will see a yellow dove, a flying mountain, etc. Even the smell of his seaweed is dark. The effect of such poetic abstraction is spontaneity, texture, and free flow.

Compared to "the weight of your movement is as thin as the dollar bill", Neruda's and other Spanish-speaking poets' are extreme. Weight is still related to thinness.

Check this stanza from Neruda's love poem:

" Drunk with turpentine and long kisses,
like summer I steer the fast sail of the roses,
bent towards the death of the thin day;
stuck into my solid marine madness."

Beautiful. Just beautiful. But to the literalists, this stanza is full of these nonsensical phrases:

drunk with turpentine
sail of the roses
death of the thin day
solid marine madness

How about Lorca's "endless aching dahlias"? Those are dahlias that do not die but suffer forever.

Language precision or exactness is actually literalism. I'm not suggesting that poets should be abstract all the time. Comprehensible abstractions are good once in a while.

Some will argue that they are old and dead. Well, they are still selling like hotcakes. They must have done something that we have ignored in our poetry. Maybe it is what Sergio Lima said: the soul.

Age and Contentment - Slow Dancing

That's the easiest play of words in the poem. If those playful words are hard to catch, we, indeed, still need literary critics to vindicate misunderstood poets.

age - slow
contentment - dancing

"Come back as a moth—I am blind at night"

That line is the half-blind narrator's longing for a dream about the geisha-the butterfly because he can see things in his dream. I think that's the best line to end the poem.

There are many others, but I have already mentioned them in the thread. I hope this blog post won't be deleted.
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