I was having a hell of a time with this one. After so much hubbub over the weekend and today at work, I really just wanted to sleep for ten hours straight, but I felt awful that I hadn’t really written anything in days. So this is for the We Write Poems prompt… I went to the cafe to try and write it, but nothing was flowing. (Probably partially because it just seemed to be one of those nights when the terminally obnoxious were out in force, occupying what is normally a relaxed space.) But I kept turning the theme over and over in my head on the walk home, then finally got here and blitzed it out. The prompt is to write about signs and signifiers and the signified, but I think I’ll let you (as is my way) figure out as much of this on your own as you can. All I will say is that metaphor and meaningful action are two of my favorite things. (And that chakai is the informal, mini-version of the Japanese tea ceremony.)


Tie a red string round the knob
if I am meant to enter tonight. And I’ll
push my way through the drawn curtain.

We have as long as it takes
one joss stick to burn down, one long
dark jewel of fig-scented smoke.

Show me a finial of jade
and I will grind it into soft powder.

Twin rings brush against each other
when we grip cruets of smooth clay,
pouring from one to the other.
Wine, tea, milk, oil.
Whose vessel is whose? I can’t tell
once the day has grown so late.

Our eyes, the marbles
colliding around the schoolyard circle.
Our nails, the cat’s claws
making short work of thin fabric
and drawing a bead or two of blood.

The sun gone down, flattened
into a pale gold gong.

10 thoughts on “Chakai

  1. I am so intrigued by the culture and ritual of Japan. You’ve captured it richly and then some Joseph, beautiful metaphors.

    It seems, WWP is one place, of all the prompt places that I’m consistently feeling led to write, even if things do get crazy.

    I wrote mine tonight, too. Good fun to read your’s, thanks!

  2. vivinfrance says:

    Love the words, mystical and mysterious. I really am pants at unravelling metaphor.

  3. Yousei Hime says:

    Red string of fate tied to a door knob…there are many ironies running through this that make it all the more interesting–tied to a escape/entrance rather than the finger, “as long as it takes” within one stick of incense limit, crumbling of ritual awareness in the lateness of time, …. Though I know I’ve missed allusions and created some unintended ones, I really enjoyed this.

  4. Well Joseph, you certainly put your heart into this, even if you did have to suffer the A.H.s of the night. I have always enjoyed double entendre particularly when it is spoken, or written, as a riddle of the moment. Good stuff.

  5. Joseph, I love this….I read the metaphor and I could feel the sensuality in this poem. You have a way of writing about the sensual without giving away too much.


  6. Hannah: oh man, I didn’t even begin to do it justice here, though. There could be (and probably are) whole volumes of poetry just about Japanese tea ceremonies. And as for prompts: I am fond of WWP, they have consistently good ones.
    Viv: have a look at the post tags and perhaps that will lift some of the mystery… ;)
    Yousei: just in your comment, I enjoy seeing how you interpreted it. I won’t say a word about what’s hot or cold regarding what I had in mind, though… part of the fun is seeing how the piece can change.
    Don: why stop at double, I say? Triple and quadruple entendres can be good fun as well!
    Nicole: it’s mostly because I get so tongue-tied and embarrassed. In writing, at least; the real deal is much easier for me.

    • Yousei Hime says:

      That’s fine. I suspected I was off, but I’ve always loved that readers actually create their own poems from the words we give them. Of course, now I have to read it again to see if I can figure out where I got it wrong (love solving puzzles ;) ).

  7. mareymercy says:

    This is beautiful, lyrical and concise, if that makes sense. Generally I don’t care if I know at all what you’re talking about in a poem,because the language is so lovely. I hope that’s a compliment.

  8. irene says:

    Red string, joss stick, jade, vessels, cat’s claw, gong..potent brew!

    And yea, what Cynthia said.

  9. wayne says:

    everyone else has said it so well….another good one Joseph..thanks

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