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Still Life with Colander
or 36 Views of Persimmons


written by Marsha Connell for my good friend and collaborator Sally Baker,
for her exhibit of watercolors and ekphrasis* poetry

There was a time—200 years long—
when Japan shut its doors to travelers from the West,
to sailors and missionaries, to diplomats and artists —
Sakoku, closed country.
And Japanese citizens could not travel abroad —
to prevent disruptive influences,
for purity of culture, internal peace.

Now Japan is a very small country, a nation of islands.
Imagine the wanderlust, the cabin fever, living within
such circumscribed boundaries for a lifetime, for ten lifetimes!
Thus, elaborate ritual journeys evolved, with way stations,
pilgrimages and shrines,
measured by small distances and changing views
of sacred Mount Fuji.
And so began, too, the practice
of painting the serial journey. First Hokusai’s
woodcuts, 36 views of Mount Fuji,
then 48 views, then 100, seen, and reseen,
with fresh perspectives and characters.
He inspired Hiroshigi’s 36 views of Mount Fuji,
and 100 Famous Views of Edo.

Ukiyo-e—pleasures of the floating world.
When I see these two characters, in their brilliant orange,
green and blue, their flashy feathers like costumes of kabuki players,
or perhaps priests for a ritual, standing on a classic cobalt,
ultramarine and white textile, under the subtle
presence of stacked orange persimmons
one looming high above like Mount Fuji, peeking over
the lip of a spring green colander, pierced with dark constellations—
I wonder if Sally, ensconced at her studio table, thinks of Hokusai,
and Mount Fuji, when she travels over, under, around, through
her tabletop landscapes, painting her luminous
36, 48, 100 views of persimmons.

ekphrasis*: the description of a work of visual art)