The Scribe’s Wife
by Alice Weiss
Even a great elephant can be fastened securely with a rope from the strands of a woman’s hair.
—Essays in Idleness The Tsurezuragusa of Kenko #9 Donald Keene, translator
I make my way through Kyoto, my hair
wound loosely around my skull,
its never-cut strands showing in the last
wreathes, gray and white. Strands of morning
clouds propose a day of heat or rain.
I dream I could choose between them
if I were in the high mountain woods riding
behind the floppy ears of an old nurse elephant.
I would choose heat, old man,
I would choose lily, dry wind pressing
its petals one against the other
until wetness springs, comes to cover all things.
The old nurse shakes her head
as if to cast me down into the late leaves,
soft moss, and scoop me in her trunk.
But I am not so small. Old man,
your flesh has melted into mine leaving me
to carry the weight, and you to eat the air,
bony and cross legged at your low
reading table holding your head
with one hand, a quill in the other.
Behind the hut where I cannot see it
from the mountain path, yellow, yellow
leaves fall from the century- old
maidenhair tree. A craggy bull elephant
is bound to it by a rope of strands
I pulled by the roots from my scalp
when the tree was a single sapling.