In 2004, Date-dono sparked a completely spontaneous eruption of poetry on the sca-jml Yahoo Group. It inspired me not only to participate but to write an article for Tournaments Illuminated on Heian poetry exchanges. Thus began a regular exchange of poetic conversations between us. It didn't take long for it to become flirtatious. At that point, honor required me to ask if there was anyone in his life who might feel threatened, offended or otherwise unhappy about the turn the correspondence was taking. He gleefully informed me that his wife Kay read everything we wrote, often over his shoulder as we were pinging waka back and forth. In short, game on.
As I shared our collected it on my website, I was often asked, "How can you do that?" It's complicated, but it worked. Had Kay not been happy about it I would have ended it immediately - I don't poach, ever. I almost always signed off with a comment to thank his lady for letting him come out and play and I often said I owed her some expensive chocolates and a dozen roses. He let on that our exchanges were good for their relationship, to which I recall chortling, "As long as SOMEONE's getting dragged off to the futon!"
It was a writing challenge: how to respond, how to up the bar and increase the challenge, even turn the tables on one another. He inspired me to write things I am immensely proud of. In turn he wrote things that made me laugh, that turned me to teary eyed mush (that in itself is an accomplishment!), that took my breath away, because part of this mad, amazing exercise was to allow ourselves to react on a deeply subjective level to the poems we received so that we could respond to them honestly, even though we knew the reality was that it was a fiction.
Were Yukiie and Hana in love? Yes, of course, though the back story I had in my mind (which I never told him about) was that we had glimpsed one another from afar, exchanged messages and kept trying to meet only to be thwarted at every turn. Keeping the chase going was definitely part of the fun for me.
Were Christopher and I? Certainly there was much to admire. He was a bright, funny, incredibly talented man who impressed the hell out of me at every turn. Go look at his artwork at http://www.kabutographics.com/deskIndex.html
And of course there was his artistry with armor and clothing.
He served in the Marine Corps during the first Gulf War. He was ever proud of his service, explosive ordnance disposal and security for a general - his FB wall never let you forget it, though he never let me see the bad side of it. Pictures of him and Kay traveling and looking happy, humorous dispatches about a campaign against the aphids in his garden, everything seemed to be good. He posted a picture of himself sipping coffee on the porch and looking pleased with himself two weeks ago, captioned: "A Marine, in a SuperHero T-Shirt, Drinking Lifer Juice out of a Marine Corps Cup. Fine morning indeed!"
Having had the word from Rokurou-dono privately, I think a part of my brain didn't quite believe it right away, and besides, I couldn't talk about it to anyone. I somehow managed to push it away during the preparation for An Tir West War and the ensuing activities. Then my cell phone went bonkers on Highway 101 yesterday and I had eight plus hours in the truck alone to think about it. I found myself thinking about Kay a lot.
As I took the Broadway Alameda exit off 980 into Oakland I shut off my radio and drove in silence. I came out of the tube and turned right instead of left and headed out to the seaplane lagoon on Alameda Point. We'd once written of pouring cups for one another, there was a half a bottle of Jinyu left in the cooler and I owed the man a drink.
Across the great land
a cup of sake offered
in gentle friendship
from one we have never met...
so sweet as to move to tears. (Date to Saionji)
Across the great land
A bottle of cheer is sent
Where I could not go.
Dreaming yet of unmet friends,
We will one day share a cup. (Saionji)
- August 26, 2005.
I don't have a poem for him now. I haven't the heart for it. Yet I know what I feel is a mere ripple compared to what his family is going through.
Saionji no Hana