My husband, you have forgotten
how many bolts of cloth I wove for you,
the children I bore you, the nights
I lay by your side to warm you.
When you were poor, you gave all you had
to buy the life of a white crane.
You loved her then. And when
I came to you dressed in white,
you did not recognize me.
You agreed to be my husband, and all I asked
was for you not to look at me bathing,
when my true nature might be revealed.
(You would wake up with feathered
remnants on your hands and face,
rinsing them with cold water. Was this
a dream, you wondered.)
You have asked for more,
you have opened the closet door;
I flew away, a crane who had given you
her white glory, and you knew the cloth
to be the sacrifice of my own skin, my feather coat.
A thousand cranes descended on your hut,
crying with betrayal. You searched all of Japan for me
until you found a lake of cranes, those white ciphers,
cried your goodbyes, useless, now, with age.
You had the gift of my wings, knew the lift
of flight and the gentle neck. Now, old man,
remember, when you watch a flash in the sky,
remember me, remember
The Princess Who Loved Insects
In the brief, beeless January sunlight
I climb, bareheaded, through the trees
to find a nest of caterpillars, fuzzy and striped
that I hide in my kimono sleeves.
My mother wails in the darkened house
because I won't shave my eyebrows
or blacken my teeth, am not anxious
about the sun. My father shakes his head, and sighs.
Other girls dance with the butterflies
who flutter through the gardens, brilliant,
but they fear the silkworms’ writhing,
who weave their clothing, silent.
In the sea a red dragon dances. No one sees
but me and my tiny allies.
I know each summer my feet grow
longer and more brown
as I watch the pupae harden,
split and glisten—
as I, too, wait to be wrapped, stilled,
in layers of silk.