Tag Archives: wabi-sabi

Wabi-Sabi Butoh Dance for Two

Related to my last post about Wabi-Sabi, I present two poems for your reading pleasure. The first is by Susan Deer Cloud, who with John Gunther, hosted us in Livingston Manor. The second is by myself. Both poems touch the meaning of wabi-sabi.

Susan Deer Cloud is a mixed lineage mountain Indian from the Catskills. An alumna of Binghamton University (B.A. & M.A.) and Goddard College (MFA), she is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, two New York State Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowships, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant and a Chenango County Council for the Arts Individual Artist Grant. The following poem, Spring Snow, is from her book FOX MOUNTAIN.

Spring Snow

Descending slowly
from Wheeler Hill
north of Kanona …
sometimes braking to gaze
at a couple of horses or at wild
cherry trees a white gouache
in woods edging Amish farm fields …
driving as in a dream, remembering
first time you read Kawabata’s
Spring Snow, the sadness
of its story still drifting down
in your heart, the night tears
of geishas in mountains …
stopping to take a few pictures
of snow like miniature flowers
mirroring the cherry blossoms,
transient beauty
Japanese call Wabi Sabi,
no beauty like it,
soon to melt and float
and fall away …
snow … blossoms …
your white hair.


photo by John Gunther
photo by John Gunther
I Was Missing You Today

Did we ever really have an “us”?
Or was it just an illusion,
A slight-of-hand trick of the heart?
A yank of the table cloth
And I bend over, gather shattered memories,
glue them together like a favorite vase
That appears whole from distance only?
Or vahz, you would say vahz.
My bending becomes falling.
My falling becomes fallen,
My cheek pressed to the cold tile,
Your spike heels tracing their path
Across my back to the exit.
That pain is not erotic for me.
I weep not for having loved you so
But for having learned far too late
That all my tears would not help you grow
Away from the soil of your past.
And all your tears in a flash flood
Of anger and hate carry me
Toward the ocean of no forgiveness.
The rushing current is a throat-song
Echoing in my hollow head.
It's another frequency in my ear
That grows louder every year until
The tinnitus drives me mad.
I consciously slip away from the
Deception that created “us”.
And from the deception that killed “us”.
Our wedding costumes burn
In the Temple of Trash,
And into the desert, a dervish whirling
Fire devil of love, hate, passion and angst
Turns the gathered memories tighter and tighter.
Cooling, I will comb the ashes to find that
Spiritual longing I once held
In my raku-fired heart.
I'll struggle to find the wabi-sabi of “us”.
My tears will muddle the sacred ashes
Which I'll then smear over my blind third eye
To mark the beginning of lent,
The beginning of abstinence,
The beginning of ending.
The beginning.

Burning Man 2011


Traveling is Lovemaking

I’ve used the term Wabi-Sabi in a previous post. There’s something about Japanese philosophies that attract me. Perhaps, it was my early karate training. Perhaps, it’s just one of those past life “things”. They say when we’ve left something unresolved in a previous life that it affects us in our current life. Ask most people and they’ll claim they were a Queen or some such other royal figure. Me? I probably picked up the horse shit from riding Samurais for fertilizer.

In any case, it’s ironic that on our journey south from Toronto, we ended up couchsurfing in Livingston Manor with a poet that also has a love of Wabi-Sabi, Susan Deer Cloud. Susan is mixed Native American heritage and discovered that she’s part Jewish too. Native and Jewish with an attraction to a Japanese aesthetic makes perfect sense, right?

The term wabi may have once meant poor or lonely, but poetically, it has come to mean simplicity and peace. When the judgement about possessing little is removed (a task that is quite foreign to our Western minds), the term is elevated to the Zen status of peace with what exists, a monk that has little and needs little. Sabi implies the effect of time or age. It is the patina on an antique desk, or the weathered look of an old temple.

Somewhere along the line, Japanese artists put the two words together because it has a catching prosody. It sounds nice together, and it ties together “simple” with “time”. The school of wabi-sabi appreciates simplicity, imperfection and impermanence. It finds beauty in the ephemeral designs of nature and imitates that. It appreciates art that is in tune with Nature, the true Mistress of Time.

Google searches in the English language turn up articles on how to make your house wabi-sabi. In the Western world apparently, it’s replaced feng-shui as the new fad among interior decorators. This is not the wabi-sabi I was looking for.

Reducing everything we owned into a portable life is an exercise in wabi-sabi. Simplicity is key to packing. One traveling couple we met never unpacked their bags. Their theory was that if you take out what you need and put it back at the end of the day, you always know where it is.

For the moment, we don’t have it quite right. Currently, we’re traveling in our van, and it has
more than enough room to store what’s left of our possessions. Humans that we are, we’re not motivated to scrunch down even further as long as we have that roomy van. Someday, it will die on the road and we’ll be faced with the decision of what to jettison. That day, we’ll hone our packing skills with the sabi of world traveling, the patina of experience.

Susan has published a beautiful poem called Place of Blue Smoke, in which she writes this beautiful traveling metaphor:

The Great Smoky Mountains
Place of Blue Smoke – The Great Smoky Mountains as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway

 “But once when I said lovemaking
is a kind of traveling, you half-echoed traveling is lovemaking.
(Susan Deer Cloud)