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Photos of Katsura

Far off in the country village of Katsura are
reflections of the moon on water clear and tranquil.
— from Murasaki Shikibu’s Tales of Genji

Stripped of objectifying clues stray things everyday put down one place set to side the next, stood between the switch brooms absent until summoned once the season had begun in the photos all was bare

as if a Reitveld schema Mondrian distinct centuries and contingencies apart cultures grown from different strains captured in the mind of one old southern boy

taken by good formula and plotline turning pages this was beauty by Electa a taught-by-masters class the finest art no architect had a hand in, imagine this barest abstract of a space early Moderns would endorse romantics come to tour had no superstar apostrophe was yet this deep vista on a culture structures linking then to now joinery as art form, Zen beginning at the Second Gate. 

Though what compelled his lordship’s work at dwelling instinctive as the trails perhaps through evergreen perfumed and cushioned by a carpet needle soft when weather dripped for days enwrapped in hues of forest shadow? 

The wood is that distinguished what he left though with so many ways to read the book. 


The loudest noise is gravel under hooves advancing down an axis-cut allée toward a bowing wall of bamboo.  The noble sweeps right past the chatter of the hidden birds above, the snorting horses, shield men half dozen honor guard for now the Shogun rules.  For he who once had stood one step below the throne stepping through like any humble seeker come to enter on an enclave carved from forest by the river coiling, poets and the spirit world drew closer to attend.

He was  this son of one and brother to the next in line, uncle to a third with full court knowledge and the power of a god and yet he swerved. Blessed noble short lived mortal cursed by time and something else the seed of all he sought created this monastic art a place among the trees mind’s eye, meditation beside Katsura’s flow and was it urgent was it need?  As he looked about the place Enshû brought him to  was Lord Toshihito pleased? 

Who were these others in his company whose culture built what photos graze and miss evoking silence?  Squat yeomen bruised tattooed they had evolved through many lives enough to understand what can be worked by hand be recognized on sight brings   from memory enlightenment  while life was flowing past the river’s flood substantial theirs as momentary why the jolly man would laugh to hear of Edo, Zen.  Of the former medieval villa, rumored where six centuries before, the Tales of Genji had its readings   author host and audience root and stone, deep myth an early woman novelist who no one reads on line belonging to an earlier more fierce time assuredly of court and conquest traces, only words spoken with a breath and gone.  


Populations were still separate by virtue of a ridgeline  before boundaries were run over   by invention’s speed.  He was  this prince who knew the sons  of artisans, their teasing sisters named among his mates evenings playing with his mind.

Posing – eight or ten – to be a prince  perhaps in smaller times was more awkward if so easy to escape to throw down games of bluff and bluster, far easier to navigate when motives required only comebacks and love for those who loved him. 

His companion in this enterprise studied in the ways of tea and gardens trained with Oribe gave his name in time School of Kobori Enshû. Perhaps he did accompany Toshihito when first scouting the distance from Kyoto with carpenter in tow on a road of awkward silences each to his own surmise how the other came to manhood.

Coming of an age each challenged when required leaned when it was called for   youths secure in brotherhood the same would be immortal.  How did bone and sinew know to plan a ride this long? 

Enshû with his prince and carpenter surveilled the woods the carpenter took notes while two of three ate lunch

nodded then returned one to find the other at his evening wrapped in palace robes, the boy who’d played in forests grown to larger power, found common interest in the arts    respectfully conferred, retreated with humble bows back with stories to the inn the barkeep’s daughter entertained.  “He is your friend this prince?”

Forest     river     mountain moon held all the elements of wind through pines dark water silent snow, all childhood metaphors for wilder-ness becomes a man in time. 

Staring at each photo plate questions nagged, was Zen this kindness of philosophy   only practiced in the shelter of the court, it being fundamental holding time at bay or were string lines laid out giving corners for the carpenters?

Within this provenance of men were ladies of the court engaged beyond hierarchy beyond   the grand occasion?  And when his eye fell upon her in the Emperor’s own garden did they stroll companions to the moon?

Or another way around a virile prince might like to find his love in town, be struck intoxicated by a blossom  come upon her deep enigma flirt behind a hand, say she was beneath him tell her brother he had work inviting Enshû on her own or Toshihito smiling sidelines watching Enshû’s rasher choices slamming game and drink a randy heir down table inside the best red light in town retire to tatami, tensioned space between the roar toward dawn beside her confuse the earth and stars while all about the same was being purchased and could not an ancient house of need, its form be turned to metaphor, symbol of heart’s comfort meaning many things? Regardless of the source of wit Southern Gaijin swore he would by turning pages drink his fill of images described in detail to what Isozaki sketched provide a different reading so he said with sleight of hand and verse Toshihito might would smile. 

We could build this shoin  Lord, on the tract you purchased by the river when the carpenters are sober. Enshû saw him smile at that and recognized his friend who’d hiked beside him afternoons to brag and stare at mountains not yet conquered. 

Later when the sunrise had edged a vivid dawn still matters unresolved with her stepping from the shadows into sun he left her leaving her to haunt him, did Toshihito then begin to dream

late garden walks across outcrops placed by islands borrowed from the river hearing black night water falling over stone, might this be his closer solace?

And we will build your first teahouse, Lord, just there across the middle isles. Enshû knew his man halfway into a life.  Say it will remind, sweet shadow, say it may distract the way a poignant brush stroke touches paper as lyric leaves its vibrancy. Enshû proposed the primitive cool shade beneath the cedars taking time for singing birds from bough to bough and bearing witness with each considered turn the tea was made perfected nature on all sides  In time he might recover from the spell she’d cast, be strong to smile at inane chatter.

You are disaffected–all can see– from the Shogunate and from these samurai with blades   their armored ways yet you are here amidst the many who bow shyly know you and if money’s Lord no object let us bring you to that mountain! 

in search of the essential this tea house will instruct my lord to emulate the Buddha who was himself a lord at birth evolve from there.  


Who was slave who master? Who followed closely with an eye upon the cedar stroked the plane in free hand motion or dwelling in his castle feared  whispers in each rumored wind?  Toshihito if he knew the secret took him to his grave.

In his journal: Shimo Katsura tea house built.  Guests come often

In his essay Isozaki argues Katsura Villa stands in homage   to a village life–a fantasy when words meant only one thing, going peasant when a farmhouse and a house of need might seem much the same worth the emulation returning to B’s belly.

Such impulse is familiar this need to clarify in the mind where home is found again.

M. Antoinette did have her farmhouse poultry pigs and truffles, roots being on the minds of many  late descendants–was it art? Surely not untouchable to others except as mockery commodity–excess laborers might spend their days in thrall blind and hopeful all their days while shallow people passed

in triumph and black tie companioned to the lords of Washington dim wit tragedies whose powdered noses yearn for Roman busts and   laurels, Accent Hollywood and this my Southern Gaijin he who kept no emperors on speed dial in those days would conflate. 


In spring Toshihito was preceded by the chests brocades, linens landing noisily blowing motes in sunlight free arriving after winter’s thaw his servants bearing summer silks shawls for strolling moonrise woven from dyed skeins  wrought in trade from China trunks with parchment maybe papers for a fiefdom drafts of letters poems to an absent lover


prized scenes preceding Audubon in leather tubes - art as reference to a world beyond as intimate as each handed stroke a different way of seeing from how scientists might drain   Katsura to inspect the strata before they aim at stars to give us nebulae. 


His son he loosed to roam  allée to Second Gate his smiling father knowing in spite of all what he had built was right.  Still not content. 

Take away the fear of sleeping in a gutter, take purpose from the beast what can be done but finger abstract notes upon a lute? 

Hand a man his feelings to examine he may shrink from being burned or seek heartwood for a soul. How does one begin a canvas

stretched and gesso’d–make a mark, the rest’s correcting paint–was this Katsura?  Or did the image play out in his mind like genius in a single act? 

Toshihito’s shoin was a meditation on what could be harvested from forest  more permanent than a faggot shadowing a soldier’s scowl  a higher use of power sublimated love. 

Pigments pestle-ground brought to life by sable brush and wedge-cut stylus flat to thin spun to a point, were these turns of wrist adornment for an Edo prince or his sustenance? 

Save for the mastery of an egret at water’s edge on cedar doors between verandas ducks among the rushes on another pair, the day for shooting photographs all was swept museum bare. 


Every hand worn railing, post constructed by appraising eye joints the craft of patience rabbitted, blind tenon dowels turned by lathe fitted tight and locking oiled by sweat and ritual ten thousand rubbings after seems an art of spirit craft by softly padding ghosts     a handed borrowing of genius in the synthesis raised above theology a better spark between two poles  with fingers nearly touching

consensus was it suited   let in privileged light, too fragile a sacrifice to cyclones such small duty paid for sunlight playing as a time piece diffuse throughout the space and more sustaining to the soul than a groin vault’s grimmest stone and straitened colored glass   leaded, stained with saints.  One is lyric on the shifting light of seasons in a garden, singing holy fools in caves the other.

In the Old Shoin where tatamis run to single point perspective straight line arrowed back sighting on the shoji’s transitory paper veil luminous in sunlight backlit, tracking clouds every minute to the present light is precious waiting on the moonrise. 


An etiquette about the way one would proceed from landing stone to porch and into hushed interior.  In the Old Shoin right beams twice transoms overhead stop the eye, they lie across progression a ground that wills one forward and a sky marked off by careful grid inverting treks on mountains 

done to a mathematics as strict a discipline Bruno Taut would recognize on sight, he the Socialist expatriate from Weimer’s short republic, fleeing Germany to Russia to the Orient Bruno wrote of what he saw

as translated by his hosts the Japanese enigma meeting chaos at the gate rising empire before the fall state style retrograde imperial grasping at tradition while preparing killing fields would take a war to wound the world before the early Moderns there could build what Futurists had drawn and only cried.   With his intrepid guides Taut was shown Katsura.

In a bliss of design fervor squeezed vice tight between two world convulsions Bruno rendered arguments supporting Mondrian geometries from photographs –with cropping they would fit– dismissing upturned roofs smiling always hopeful too much of the Orient?

Always looking up while stumbling on flagstones, Bruno poor lad had done his best á Soviet jumped a slow train heading east across the ‘Stans his education oddly carom-like   avant-garde to Speer, Constructivist past Lenin’s Tomb to Edo as remembered

in confusion wedded East to West.  This searching for: motive and coincidence what is alchemy what gold?

Akin to circus wire acts it is an art to try the line like any poet boldly sought gesture not the whole.  His argument was fuel for one more longhair movement seized as art upon the barricades closed loop?  tautology? 


Fallacious if it was Southern Gaijin couldn’t stop a recidivist in college shadowed by a four year clock scanning pages in a race to grab something down below Ben Tillman’s bloody tower. 

Taut as Modernist declaimed –fast forward over Shogun to collision with the West–he saw blank verse before his eyes 3x6 by English standard   Corbu’s Le Modulare! or close enough for Paris jazz.  Vitruvius would need a megaphone in studio  to be heard above Pink Floyd to focus Southern Gaijin’s studies on crystal theory’s seventeen symmetries that ice exhibits. Was that art? 

Decades after Bauhaus in a lecture hall at Clemson Dr. Cooledge worked to cultivate his theories on the Western referencing the language of an art so poorly practiced since da Vinci’s man linked perfect health to where one lived.

“Proportion!” he proclaimed was good enough a clue to a journeyman who hadn’t many details being pounded to a common understanding mallet style it was a land grant after all whose tower named a devil praised  the larger one, Calhoun overseers from the grave.   

In that bastion of the Lost Cause to come upon his like, to hear Cooledge’s admission the world was made contingent Gods’ chance and not his choice Yeats argued; Gould confirmed insight finite, knowledge incomplete, his gift was also his connecting time to place, proposing for example nation building was the Pyramids’ crowning purpose and the Gothic so he lectured grew from Franks and Visigoths low bid contracts misapplying Roman engineering–damn who knew?   


Animists! the starchily pressed and laundered nuns would sniff jerk back baptized in suspicion of the Orient exiled from their Pontiff’s ring to a Carolina mission swamp with weak AC and drooping wimples sweaty pits, my Southern Gaijin raised on catholic isolation having not read Merton was yet distrustful of the heathen though Cooledge, even Baptist explained that Taut had found what the brothers Greene had pivoted on forty years before their opus Shingle Style prefiguring Neutra’s cool jazz pools –a line through Pasadena ran into infinity like water from a flowing vase an air-and-light-wrapped gift   dark beams in rhythm, shoji patterning the moonlight.

Toward last semester Cooledge sighed with preacher’s drama I can see no further for you children of the 60s nor interpret this your modern crock of stew.  Having done my best take these tools with you perambulating purpose if not the arabesques.  Take this letter to the Dean at Yale. 


These carpenters will build this further ode to beauty, Lord don’t look to where the moon resides.  Regret’s within its sight a shining star.  For such as that Toshihito had a platform built of bamboo, for such memory time can only blur, rub smooth the wood’s lost form. 

Nineteen degrees southeast one may find a satisfactory  viewing of mid Autumn moon upon the pond soul-full evening passages

past melancholy struggle tethered to a light falling softly feathered on her lovely as she once was arching back. 

These men will touch these with their craft ebony rosewood smoothing Bombay blackwood Chinese apple, hazelwood if not for my lord to whom they bow, allow these dark deposits deepened shadows be against the shoji’s light opposing, intersecting planes where walls should be, are not. 

Come to me in dreams when light is charcoal smudged below the tree line.


As I slide these fusuma, light plays to the corners of the room figuring the morning catching sunlight in its warmth beyond your garden moon porch seasons drape the landscape time passing in the clouds.


They walked ahead in whispers Toshihito drew her to him folded into one guards well back, the second gate birds in early evening after rain full throated.  It would be their only play at moonlight Katsura River faintly heard both so eager lovers.  At early dawn he rose before the sun and saw her naked, long limbed creature still at rest did he know this could not be relived or was there hope yet she would stay?

Daughter of a samurai new at court, was shocking how she stared at him like she could never get her fill and she was wild and beautiful pale pale skin dark eyes too deep to keep from falling and she was quickly his then she was not, a flame so bright a meteoric flash and gone and so he sought a garden he might die in.


The past is closed – Taut’s ghost stands a shadow just beyond  Toshihito’s in the photo of a moonstruck vista styled to honor one great Sumiyoshi pine reflected in black water slanting light on evergreen falling on its young successor.

Cold fall in early snow a clouding of the air swirling and intruding the Gepparo’s open side charcoal fire’s incense rising to the bamboo thatch shoji’s closed against the storm somewhere out there in the swirl the world went on without him, he the same. 

How did beauty like hers know the world? exist but for his torture?  How had they been lovers, since how had he lived his life? Like charcoal clouds the smoke gently touching bamboo roof a lover’s brush disturbed the air. It was his discipline to study meeting winter where it came the cold informing of the universe informed him of his place.  For the moment smoke twined gray on gray with snow blended well a sudden rush threw chaos at the pattern leaving all to be reflection.

He rose to leave that sanctuary following a path of stones here the forest of his youth he had brought around him more good wool    against the winter in himself

to arrive at the Shokatie charcoal lantern set bringing fire to the pit screen walls only here the snow was not deterred not slackened nor the wind trees were coated witnesses. For a moment he was on Mt. Atago’s flank and by himself again, he had family in a different life.

All of it ahead was snow a space or softer substance cloud-like other world cold, wet needles prick reminding lungs to breathe.

Not far off another hill he planned for the Onrindo honoring his family 

the Shoiken he should live through winter in lay two hills over.  Maybe this year.  Behind him Katsura’s shores were frosted in the end he’d only started on this landscape. The leaden heart he lived with and kept from walking off Atago the arts enveloped him and what enveloped them was more and with this   and steady knowledge of himself he’d stare at clouding snow defying his destruction.  


Toshitada drew her to him they walked behind in whispers two watching as their children scrambled over four stones disappearing   into what his father built their small voices in that place were overwhelming him.

The warrior’s child had long since fallen into memory with Toshihito’s dulling sight  so little left, no tears   musicians gone, the garden yielding to the river forest, tea rooms vacant slipped from fashion were not what he remembered when he would run the allée’s length, a forest tamed by love. Here his father had found better sympathies among the carpenters Enshû in elder days insisted than at the Shogun’s court had chosen for his legacy Katsura’s peace– what was vacant for a decade given to the ghost of Genji the prince his son revived a kinship with the craftsmen brought to finish something recalled from days of following his father’s stirring of the motes sawdust and the artisans  swirling in his wake.  Though he would never live in mourning so he swore evenings he would stand where his father’d sought solace in black water.  


By the Third Shoin walls could move as in science fiction fusuma, shoji out-to-in, opened/closed moved to track the sun verandah nights became an outer cloak in autumn granting First Room privacy. 

Toshitada’s ‘flying geese’ diagonal was balanced in recession the stepping composition was so vastly more evolved than static Beaux Arts symmetry more reflective of the world’s unsolved quadratics, to become   an elder war of architects disrupting in due time Victorian beatitudes. 

Enshû’s was a world view raised honored inches from the ground  grade beams on their trophy stones with casual deliberateness balanced well enough to make five centuries as beauty or necessity of a culture both and neither if a scaffolding of privilege was an art of social graces raised by craft and peasants’ worth defying replication. 

Receding in a line anchoring the First Shoin leaving it to pride of place completing with the third the Emperor’s own each shoreside promontory riding on an open sea of grass looking on the borrowing of water from Katsura. 


Flying geese–Isozaki argues for the broken line–whether Taut took note, or checked out  Nijo Castle where the deeper in, the higher ranking samurai were entertained  
this same form Toshitada took   whether there remained enough of fragrant ironies he understood he was usurping symbols for his own good purpose coming after Enshû and his patron both.

Did this prince the son of princes chafe to orchestrate the whole now being his own man, or swerve from something previous as a mannerist might be cool and at remove                         surely to oppose the common   yearning to be standing still beside tradition?  It is a constant effort to evolve from one’s own shadow locked in place by midlife a constant effort to envision more than childhood lullabies appropriating forms new drawn from old, addressing artisans by name who’d come the whole way from Kyoto some his father knew.  Did he breathe of opportunity find a carpenter’s good eye for line and level, take him  by the shoulder point to where the vista was and stand at end of day, take in the smell of wood, moist air weighing on a cricket’s song?  Was posterity important

                         was a good run after all, what might would come or did he want his father’s dream? 

Upon the Emperor’s arrival finally to the shoin named in his honor when he touched the dais wood and transom grillage following a craftsman’s hand he bowed.  Toshitada had been dead one year, removed at forty-three by time’s assassin.  This public man would recognize the gift to glory greater than his own.  


Paging then to come upon the close up of a beam planed square then cut again coped to meet its stone.   Technically the term’s correct though post and beam does not complete the thought of rafters notched and keyed an arc of wind bent trees shaped and polished like old bones the curve of ribs repeating rhythms, modulating scale and space in time, scanning photos through the book walls to floor to ceiling back Southern Gaijin sure it held a vision.  Such as Futurists   their racing proletariat might rhapsodize, pursue abstractions drawn from music dreaming of a steamship’s slanting stacks, accelerating trains departing from Le Harvre in then Western understanding modern = leaning back or forward being acted on or acting centuries and leagues apart toward separate ends now lost survive in place Katsura’s tonality was not made by stamping plant nor torn down to be replaced   a generation later as Sant‘Elia insisted was inevitably the best way to evolve   was not scarred by Merrill’s father’s ledgers on account the gay did not exist in public
no such fracture lines are visible perhaps the photos lie. 

The past is closed.  They were here a drift of clouds one does not know but senses something of a kinship with the finite life of pine boughs.

Of the last who stayed past Toshihito’s last of line did they look around on leaving, nod shake off the snow, walk on not looking back and put away the unsought images  as when shojis lit by starlight and Katsura cast a loving moon   when was the villa sealed? reserved by modern edict shrunk by kindness if preserved? 

Now once again removed by typeset and the printed page Isozaki’s essay explaining while it masks the trick of even where small fires fed by servants burned as if dust and passing ash   abandoned to the hollow air. Thumbing pages such a place of gardens never meant for mortals silently the photographs are evidence the jeweled art is yet mostly as it was.  



Permitted to look past empire to the crown this symbol of inheritance and fortune, see metaphor of artisans about the task laying hearth stones raising timber frames planing humble cellulose they raised as great an art as when the cedars, pines were climbing Mt. Atago’s flanks in mountain stands making like a poem summed to set against this entropy.

                        Birds in snow with bamboo buried takoname, place of beauty in the Middle Shoin was art as praying gods would kneel to. 


Beauty comes between the slanting moments. Late sun in winter backlit                         moonlight must be sought the world’s fires be attended. 

Art is gentle argument alpha and omega one’s battle won or done old warriors missing parts and piecemeal souls who sit for music harvest safely stored and flocks brought to the fold, carpenters their planes set down sweat and shavings, sawdust a ruddy glow on cheek and beam stand back to take it in what they had done and know its worth, a thing to note harder to articulate, impossible   to let go.  Of a people centuries continuing this long running conversation what can be said?  Without time and consequence appraising, art is dubious, one suspects their sympathies precisely square.  


For samurai and princes a lord engaged in memory as told of in Kyoto and those carvers of a heartwood joiners nimble fingered, ones who set the string lines oiled, swept the floors offered flowers to the moon from each season to the next laid fires, cooked and fed them so the poets dreamed Katsura stands. 


What can I do with
you who so resemble
Katsura larel in the moon
I see with my own eyes
but hands can never touch?
— Addressed to a Young Woman – Prince Yuhara