Once there lived a woman in Japan
Amid tsunami and earthquake land
And in her mind she held the ghosts
Of all the dead the Gods could boast

Among the deities to whom she prayed
With incense sticks and flowers laid
She praised Benzaiten the eloquent
For life’s rich flow and essence spent

One day I happened upon her abode
Where by the hearth a snake reposed
She took the serpent green and brown
And gaping wide did swallow it down

I watched in horror as it slid back out
And asked her what that was all about
She said living amongst this isolation
The snake inside lent some protection

From hunger, disease and loneliness
Bestowed on her from the great goddess
I threw some coins into an earthen bowl
Wished her luck with her troubled soul

When turning to leave my eyes did see
A shapeshifting vision macabre to me
She was all the dead from centuries past
Amassed, outcast, with mouths aghast

Their twisted, bruised and broken limbs
The fruit of Izanami’s capricious whims
I ran from them till I reached the shore
The woman appearing just like before

Upon those washed and golden sands
She offered me her ghost-white hands
“Be brave, be strong, my human child
Your eyes bewitched and long beguiled

I am Benzaiten the benevolent and wise
Who shows her face in diverse disguise
Fear not the fate of your mortal friends
Their lives on which their faith depends

Take this Kintsugi cup and drink instead
The tears from all the centuries’ dead
One hundred thousand years have gone
Since man first walked the birth of dawn”

I bowed and drank bathed in her light
Now saved from life’s traumatic plight
For death it seemed was not my fate
And closed to me were Heaven’s gates

I thanked the woman from old Japan
Amid tsunami and earthquake land
From her great mind I stole the ghosts
Of all the dead the Gods could boast





with his ivory foot resting
on a polished rock
the great wave off Kanagawa
breaks over his toes

one knee bent
a look of serene intention
greets us

his cormorant
with roped neck
and fish filled bill
sits in the crook of his arm
wings etched in black

he cannot swallow
his master’s livelihood
not now, not yet
not the big ones

but where is his boat?
his lantern, glass river?
Nishiki, Mikuma
Takatsu, Nagara

he stands
gracefully bent forward
right hand clasping the rope
that leashes the bird
to his will

a playful smile
accentuates his cheeks
we can almost see
his beard twitch

the wave crash
the night closing in
the burning lantern
there to attract fish
cast rippling reflections
as it dives beneath

and all within
the mock Tudor walls
of this suburban bungalow

the cormorant fisherman
has found a home
and stands alone
a lost tourist amongst
the royal wedding tea set
and Sylvac shire horses

in a mahogany alcove
Nan’s nik-nak shrine
where us children looked
but never touched

his imagined past

Description: Antique Carved Ivory Okimono: Fisherman elaborately carved antique, Circa 1900, Japanese ivory okimono; of a cormorant fisherman, standing on rockery among waves and holding his bird with a fish in his beak, signed on red lacquer plaque; H: 7"; Provenance: the Estate of Zoltan Shaw, collected mid 20th Century

(Antique Japanese carved ivory
okimono cormorant fisherman
circa 1900)

In Meditation

Layered hills one beyond another beyond
The rising sun from smokey green to
Pellucid pink wands of paper folded clouds
Hung above a waterfall, framed by pine
“Where nothing in the cry of cicadas
Suggests they are about to die”.

I hear the chime of the meditation bell,
The sweep of rush brushes on gravel lawns
And sliding, the screen wall opens, reveals
Mountains too high to climb in one lifetime;
Ink splashed, an empty space silenced,
Unanswerable, mysterious, islands, islands.

She clips the wings of the bonsai tree,
Feeds red crowned cranes from her palm,
Gifts cherry blossom kisses to the wind.
Gone in a week, flown away to the north
On a gold foil sunset, venerated, veiled;
We link our arms around the cedar tree

But the wave engulfs us, octopi fingerlings
Fan out with great speed in straight lines,
Bullet fast in perfection, twisting the aesthetic,
The seas, skies and conscious far horizons,
Entering the shrine, contemplating nature,
We are animated and energised by the land.

She takes hold of my hand, flickering
Spirits reshape on a forest path winding
Upwards, summiting the vast view of blue
Bewildered hills, layered one beyond
Another beyond her eyelids and fingertips,
Blinking into a future migrating heartbeat.


(Quote by Matsuo Bashō, 1644 – 1694 Japan.
‘Haboku-Sansui’ ink on paper by Sesshū Tōyō,
1495, Japan)