April 6, 2019

PLUM BLOSSOM MAIDEN by Susan Budd

Plum blossom maiden
dances in the moonlight.
From her kimono sleeves,
dreams flutter to earth like
blossoms borne on the breeze.

Keiko awoke. Behind her, Mount Fuji slept. Snow had fallen overnight and everything was white. Everything except Keiko’s long black hair. She stood with the shoji door open and let the icy air fill the house. It was cold and she liked it that way. Cold air. Cold house. Cold heart.

The days were getting shorter, but Keiko did not mind. There was always enough time to do what one wanted to do. She poured a cup of tea. Tiny tea leaves settled in the bottom of the cup. The yellow liquid was cool from the winter air, but Keiko did not mind. She liked it that way.

She drank her tea and then turned her gaze toward the scroll that adorned one wall of her house. The willowy figure of Kannon smiled down on her from the scroll. Beneath the scroll was an old ceramic vase with a single branch of plum blossoms. Strange. The plum blossoms had not been there when she went to sleep. Stranger still. Plum blossom trees did not flower at this time of year.

Keiko touched one of the flower petals with her finger. It was a mystery. She did not like mysteries. She thought to take the branch and throw it into the snow. The pink petals would look so lovely in the snow. A perfect symbol of mono no aware ~ the beautiful ephemerality of all things.

She took it from the old vase. What had been in the vase last night? ~ she wondered. She could not recall. She took it from the old vase and carried it to the door, but before she could throw it, a memory overcame her. A memory of a dream.

In her dream, the moon shone like silver on a landscape of snow and night. In the distance, something stirred. It was a deer. She could see his magnificent antlers. He bowed to her. Then he was gone. A kami, she thought, and she was honored by the vision.

Keiko looked again at the branch of plum blossoms in her hand. Was it a gift from the sacred spirit that graced her dream? She placed it back in the vase.

Now the sun was high in the sky and Keiko sat on a cushion and played her biwa. She sang in a strong clear voice. Outside her isolated little house, the hototogisu joined her song. The bird’s voice mingled with her own and she felt a warmth in her belly that radiated upward, leaving a blush on her white cheeks like a plum blossom in the snow. This was unexpected. Keiko did not like the unexpected. She longed for the night, for coolness and moonlight.

Now it was time to prepare her meal. She bound up her long black hair, turned up the silken sleeves of her snow white kimono, and began to cook rice. When it was ready to be eaten, steam arose from the bowl and Keiko felt the warmth of the cooked rice as she brought her chopsticks to her lips. Her lips grew as pink as her cheeks, as pink as the plum blossoms in the old vase beneath of image of Kannon. Merciful Kannon.

Now it was time for prayers. Keiko recited the twenty-fifth chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The sun had set and the moon was aglow in the evening sky. Keiko would spend the night moon-viewing. She would compose tanka in delicate calligraphy.

She liked the black ink on the white paper. But then something unusual happened. A splinter from the wooden handle of her brush scratched her finger. A single drop of blood fell on the snow white paper. Keiko did not like the unusual. She pressed her wounded finger to her pink lips. Suddenly she felt sleepy. She was overcome by sleep. She laid her futon on the tatami mat and fell into a dream.

Once again she was transported to the silvery landscape of snow and night. She looked for the beautiful deer with the antlers held high, but there was no deer. Instead she saw a man. The man was beautiful. He bowed to her. Then he was gone.

When Keiko awoke she remembered her vision. The nocturnal landscape. The beautiful man. She looked at the branch of plum blossoms in the old ceramic vase. It was unchanged. As fresh as the day before. Strange. But Keiko did not mind. She liked the pink flowers. She opened the shoji to let in the icy air and made her tea. It cooled quickly, as it always did, but this time she did not like it. She felt a longing, but for what, she did not know. It was a mystery and she did not like mysteries.

She played her biwa, composed poetry, and prayed to the bodhisattva of compassion. The beautiful and merciful Kannon. She tidied her house, aired her futon in the midday sun, and mended a small rent in her white silk kimono. But the longing would not leave her.

Finally she cooked rice for her evening meal, but before she could bring the chopsticks to her lips, the longing became more than she could bear. She looked at the branch of plum blossoms in the old ceramic vase. The changeless plum blossoms. Why did they not wilt and die?

In the space of a moment she cast the hot rice from her bowl and ran out into the snow. Her zori flew from her feet as she ran and her tabi were soaked through, but she did not mind. She fell to her knees and filled her bowl with the pure white snow. She would quench the strange longing within her. She ate and ate. The inside of her mouth grew cold from the snow, but her lips and cheeks were still as pink as plum blossoms. She pressed the snow against her hot cheeks, but to no avail. Her cheeks were afire with the mysterious longing.

Exhausted and feverish, Keiko retrieved her lost sandals and returned to her house. She lay on her futon and the fever radiated throughout her body. She thought she might die. She said a final prayer and then closed her eyes. But in the silence of the cold house, she heard a sound. The sound of hooves stepping gingerly on the tatami mat. She opened her eyes and there before her stood the beautiful man. He was even more beautiful than he had been in her dream.

He bent down beside her and gently brushed her black hair from her forehead. Where his fingers touched her skin she felt relief from the fire that was burning within her. Then he caressed her pink cheeks and kissed her pink lips. The mysterious longing that tormented Keiko was gone. It was changed to passion. She enfolded the beautiful man in her slender white arms. She loved him and he loved her. Their love radiated warmth throughout the little house.

How much time passed Keiko did not know. She knew only that her heart was aglow with love and warmth. She did not even know when she had fallen asleep. But when she awoke, the shoji was open and warm fragrant air filled the house. The beautiful man was gone.

She put on her kimono. Her long black hair was beautiful against the red silk. Then she poured a cup of tea. Tiny tea leaves settled in the bottom of the cup. She brought it to her pink lips and took a sip. It was warm and she liked it that way. The willowy figure of Kannon smiled down on her from the scroll. Keiko smiled back. Her pink cheeks were beautiful.

Then Keiko looked at the old ceramic vase. The branch of plum blossoms was gone. She went to the door and looked outside. The grass was green. The sky was blue. And the plum blossom trees were in full bloom. She stepped onto the grass in her bare feet.  Then she selected a single branch to place in the vase. As she carried it back to her house, she saw a hoof print in the fresh earth beneath the tree. She saw it and she smiled, for she liked it very much.

Plum blossom maiden
dances in the moonlight.
From her kimono sleeves,
dreams flutter to earth like
blossoms borne on the breeze.


Susan Budd is a philosopher-poet who lives in New York City. She is the author of psychedelic poetry and philosophical fables. Her first book, Visions, is a montage of visionary dream poems. Her second book, the novella Felicity, is a dreamlike philosophical fable about the nature of reality and the meaning of life. Susan also teaches philosophy and literature at the City University of New York. She spends her free time exploring the nature of consciousness, studying metaphysics, and seeking self-knowledge through introspection, dreams, and fantasy.

Check her out:
Blog HERE  
Goodreads HERE
and on Twitter @PhilosopherSue

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

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