Poetry by Margaret Chula
When coming of age
a Heian-era lady shaves her eyebrows
and paints new ones high on her forehead.
When nightingale droppings have turned hard,
she uses their shavings to whiten her face.
Each morning, she stains her teeth black
with the tannin of black tea in hopes
that a suitor will appear at her bedchamber
like a bird lured to seeds scattered on tatami.
On an auspicious day in the ninth month,
her lady-in-waiting kneels to wash
the young woman’s waist-length hair
anointing it with the oil of camellias.
That night, a waft of sandalwood from his robes
as he passes down the corridor.
She waits until the oil of her lamps diminishes
and still her suitor does not appear.
When she disrobes, her twelve layers of kimono
lie on the floor like a slumbering peacock.
At dawn, the shroud of her disappointment lifts.
Crickets awaken and sing from their cages.
Outside the window, a confusion of red leaves.
When the wind scatters them, they feel
no regret, no yearning to cling, like the gibbon
or caterpillar, or the maiden’s slender arms
reaching for the full moon as it begins to wane.
Margaret Chula has published eight collections of poetry including, most recently, Daffodils at Twilight. Grants from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Regional Arts and Culture Council have supported her work, as well as fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and Playa. Maggie has been a featured speaker and workshop leader at writers’ conferences throughout the United States, as well as in Poland, Canada, and Japan. She has also served as president of the Tanka Society of America and as Poet Laureate for Friends of Chamber Music. Living in Kyoto for twelve years, she now makes her home in Portland.