the joy inside

Keep knocking,
and the joy inside will
eventually open a window
and look out
to see who is there.



windows as illusion


curtains as illusion

Parrhasius, of Ephesus, a famous Greek painter who lived c.400 BC and practised mostly at Athens. The story of his contest with the younger painter Zeuxis in producing illusion is wellknown. Zeuxis painted some grapes so naturalistically that birds came to peck at them, and victory seemed to be his. He then asked Parrhasius to draw back the curtain concealing the latter's picture, but the curtain turned out to have been painted by Parrhasius. Zeuxis declared himself defeated; he had succeeded in deceiving the birds, but Parrhasius had succeeded in deceiving him.

from The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature



from Transformations of the Lover

The body of the poet
is the body of the child and the crow.
A body in a book,
in the ashes of the curtains,
in the door,
in the stone staying up all night,
between my eyes and the book.
A body in the corners,
in the mirage procreating under the mirrors.
A body travelling farther and farther,
a flying stone which receives or beats the sky.
A body which opens in dreams,
closes at night, stretches between the letters.
A body like the letters.
A body retreating in the forefront of the lines.
A body like a suspended road,
unfolding its leaves and questioning space,
where the echo doesn't know its roles,
where there is nothing on my approaching stage
except the echo and the curtain...

tr. Kamal Abu-Deeb



curtains as a prelude to violence

from beneath curtains

Also hidden from the gaze of men and the general public were the women themselves. If we were to peep inside the confines of her residence, we would see that women of classical Japan resembled Nô masks: her hair was parted down the middle and her hair was probably longer than her height (although she may have been little more than four feet high). Her face was powdered white; her lips were painted red with rouge; her teeth were blackened (ohaguro); and her eyebrows were plucked entirely out and replaced by charcoal ovals placed an inch or two above the original eyebrows, producing faces that looked like Nô masks of young women. With sight prohibited, women had to resort to subtle oblique ways to impart their taste, breeding, intelligence, education, and so on, since men and women could not see each other during courtship. Faith had to be placed on senses other than those available through face-to-face interactions. Women seated behind curtains could intimate their taste by letting the color combinations of their sleeves peek out from beneath curtains so men could admire their skill in blending shades of color for their costume. Or visually unavailable women could call upon the olfactory senses to indicate skill and taste by wearing robes scented by incense. Women of the upper classes blended incense themselves and scented robes by burning incense in close quarters to impart fragrance to color-coordinated robes.

Female Waka Poets: Love poetry in the Kokinshû
Yumiko Hulvey




The auspicious spirit Otafuku, reminiscent of the ancient goddess Amenouzume – who entertained the gods of creation and coaxed the sun goddess from a cave to bring light to the world – is an emblem of happiness and prosperity. Around lunar New Year (now early February), called Setsubun, Japanese drove demons from their homes by flinging beans (that cause extreme pain to demons) while yelling, “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (out with the bad, in with the good). The name Otafuku means “great prosperity,” and in paintings to be hung at the New Year, she is shown inside a window or beyond a blind to indicate the presence of joy and plenty in the home.
(painted scroll attributed to Hanabusa Itcho, Japan, 1652-1724)





a birthday present

What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful ?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges ?

I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is just what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking

'Is this the one I am to appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?

Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.

Is this the one for the annunciation ?
My god, what a laugh!'

But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it was bones, or a pearl button.

I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.

I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,

The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies' bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!

It must be a tusk there, a ghost-column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.

Can you not give it to me ?
Do not be ashamed—I do not mind if it is small.

Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,

The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.

I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified

The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,

A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.

I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,

No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.

If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.

But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million

Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine

Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole ?
Must you stamp each piece in purple,

Must you kill what you can ?
There is this one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center

Where spilt lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.

Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and too numb to use it.

Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.

Sylvia Plath