September 2023

Back to Issue 14

Three Views of Edo

By Jan Owen

After the woodblock prints of Utagawa Hiroshige


Mannen Bridge over the Fuka River


It’s Hojoe, the festival of release

and the bridge is under your feet, framing the scene.

You can almost reach the parapet to look down.


Instead, start back – there’s a dangling tortoise

strung from a beam, eye level.

She’s angling to be bought and loosed

into the river, and free meanwhile 

to admire the view:

Fuji’s pale insistence

two puffed-out sails proving the wind

the river water’s downstream whiff of grey.


So far . . . so far . . . 

The helplessness of these spread claws – 

ah, let the tortoise go!



The Kiyomizu Hall and Shinobazu Pond at Ueno


Up through their laden stamens 

the cherry trees are floating a fragrance  

to call in bees from their vagrant orbits.

The red poles of the temple blithely

clash with the faint pink petals

transient and amorphous as

airy insights slipping the grasp

or briefest freedom’s

vacant kingdom of flight.

A stretch of deepest blue above

is keeping a lid on rarefied thought

and through that abeyance

more than a century deep

the ghost of a flute note

summons a surrogate sea.



A Sandbar in Susaki


At the parting point on the Tokaido Road

looking towards the Meguro River entering Edo Bay

they will usher you in to a teahouse

        the Dozo Sagami.


On the drowsing sea, the fishing boat sails

are nine blank pages in hope of poems

with the birds overhead writing renga rules

or one-way tickets for the wind

that silent language of come and go.


Close in: shore, tree, fence, gate, roof stand firm

while over the small arched bridge

two figures hurry towards each other

        and almost meet.