Friday, April 9, 2010

Sakura, 桜

This last weekend I went down to see the Cherry Blossoms in DC. The trees circling the Tidal Basin were a gift from a Japanese Emperor in the early 1912 (or thereabouts) and again a couple decades later. From my time in Japan, I gained a fondness/fascination/love/ardent desire/violence of affection for these trees which the Japanese name for the flower more than the fruit. Cherries, in Japanese, can be translated as "fruit of the cherry blossom," which sounds circular and ridiculous in English, but makes sense in Japanese... that could probably refer to a lot of things actually... quite a lot.

But I digress.

Heading down I was expecting/hoping/wanting a zen experience. Something that connected me with Japan, or my memories of it. Something transcendental. I wanted to stand in light filtered by the cherry blossoms. To have gentle winds come and blow the pink petals over me as I recalled haiku such as

Like the cherry blossoms,
let me fall
pure and radiant
(found in the jacket of a kamikaze pilot)

Watching cherry blossoms fall,
one falls up!
A butterfly.

These are my own translations and from memory, but they still illustrate what I was expecting. Silence, the sounds of petals falling on water, stealing a peek at time as air and water worked on the delicate petals. There were thousands and thousands of others who were perhaps looking for the same sort of experience, and there we were ruining it for each other.

My zen mindset eluded me while shuffling through lines and groups and hordes of visitors. Even when the wind blew and cherry blossoms fell on us all, the jean-clad photographers with cameras larger than newborns standing contrapposto in the hot spring sun scowling beneath sunglasses. But then, while doing laundry a couple days later, I was reading some Kenko, an early Japanese essayist from an anthology I used in a class but never finished. Kenko wrote about visiting a small village, making his way down "a moss-covered path until [he] reached a lonely-looking hut. Not a sound could be heard, except the dripping of a water pipe buried in fallen leaves." Enjoying the "sprays of chrysanthemum and red maple leaves" he is amazed that someone might live there and then notices a fenced tangerine tree enclosed in a forbidding fence and is immediately disillusioned by the whole scene.

Annie knows what I'm talking about...

So, my imagined ideal discomfitingly butting against the actual, is still fairly zen and Japanesey. Plus, Kenko goes on to ask "Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless?" and wonders where the poems written about "going to view the cherry blossoms only to find they had scattered" or "on being prevented from visiting the blossoms." So, perhaps I need to write the poem "on going to see the cherry blossoms and seeing everyone else going to see the cherry blossoms."

Still, the flowering trees out east here: gorgeous.

And I really like DC.