Hinamatsuri - The Japanese Doll Festival
Nusha, our daughter loves the ceremony of the dolls,
the loving couple, the prince and princess seated
in tiered splendour at the apex, lolling like melons
with their robes puffed out around them,
painted faces almost smiling, lacquered lips red as cinnabar,
their night-dark hair is real and shines as if lit by stars.
Nusha brushes her hair until it glows, taps her wooden getas,
wriggles her toes. This is her day for praise and future-wish
our job is to guide her, watch her grow and push
her off into the river of life, like the dolls of long ago.
Ever year we stow them away, once made of straw,
but now something more substantial, something lasting.
The next row seats five musicians, garb not as sumptuous,
as the royalty, but gorgeous nonetheless, each one holds
an instrument that Nusha says she can hear, hear the strings,
hear them sing. Our ears are too old for such sounds;
we listen as leaves rustle in trees, and a tumult of traffic goes by.
The last step holds the helpers, clothes more like our own Yukatas;
plain, serviceable. They proffer the food, mochi sweets, peach
blossoms, brushes for the royal couples hair, oils and unguents.
Nusha holds a western doll, tall with golden hair, slim waist,
generous chest, she says I need to grow up soon, it’s urgent.
Its dull case an ornament
in the corner, its use almost
forgotten. someone has taken
the table of the Singer Sewing
machine, once everyone had one.
If you lifted it out you could turn
the handle instead of footing
the treadle. Gone, along
with the table is the drawer
that held bobbins, my delight,
as a child sifting the
spools of rainbow thread.
When my mother sewed
she favoured the blue bobbin.
All our curtains, whatever the colour,
were backed with blue stitches.
I helped her thread the needle
through a maze of eyes and hooks
down to where the thread vanished
into a small silver box.
Like a magician pulling an endless
stream of hankies from his sleeve;
it conjured another thread
and together, they and we,
formed the stitch.
At night when mother was busy
I used to slide the lid on the silver
chamber to see if I could figure out its trick.
I only saw the small half-moon lever
moving back and over
and like a hidden slice of sky,
the edge of a blue bobbin peeping out.
Copyright © Jean O'Brien 2012