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Akechi’s Wife

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On one occasion Yūgen of Ise Province was offering to share, for a night or two, the comforts of his home with me when a distant, 
bemused expression came over his face as though at the recollection of a joke told him earlier that day; then, to a degree I would not have thought possible in one whose normal manner was so formal, that studiedly dour professorial expression gave way for an instant to one that positively beamed, illuminated from within by the sound of a beloved voice. So worn out, not even sure I was on the right road, 
I forgot myself awhile watching in weary amazement as his wife came and went, the two of them giving the impression of having long perfected some grave and complex dance known only to them, one of accord and the affection of two people moving hand-in-hand in the same direction, both possessed by desire while knowing themselves to be the source of that desire. But I am so tired, I heard my own voice say, one of them, that startlingly cruel, intrusive voice I hate, darkening everything, how sick I am of listening to it, and of having to go on! But after some time had passed once again I forgot all about it as I sat there, the witness of this marvel that brought peace to my heart or, perhaps, a hidden joy of my own, one I had so long considered extinct. When Yūgen fell on hard times and was dragged down into the most humiliating poverty, his wife made up her mind one day to have her long beautiful hair cut short so that she could sell it and he could afford to invite all their friends to an evening of laughter and drinking, renga competitions, and the conversation of those who have known one another for a long time, the kind look and humorous word that make it seem possible to live again. I think of her sometimes.

Moon, come down and
come alone. I have to tell you all
about Akechi’s wife.
— Bashō, translated by Franz Wright
Source: Poetry (February 2014)

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This poem originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

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Akechi’s Wife

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