— 松尾 芭蕉
Death is very near
Unseen even when we hear
The cicada’s song
—Matsuo Bashō (tr. AGG)
According to Japanese Death Poems by Yoel Hoffman, Narushima Chuhachiro began writing death poems in his fifties just in case the reaper took him by surprise. He lived into his eighties. Nonetheless, I certainly relate to his approach, so much so that, for fear I might miss my own funeral, last year for my birthday I invited my friends to imagine the many ways I might die and produce works to illustrate these deaths. The response was overwhelming, but so far none of the imagined demises has actually occurred.
This year’s birthday activity is based on Hanafuda 花札, Japanese Flower Cards. I invited my friends to find the suit associated with their birth month, look at the four cards for that month and see what it inspired them to make: a poem, a song, a baked good, a piece of clothing, anything really. In case they were not completely inspired by the Hanafuda, I also randomly selected and assigned each of them a Tarot card from the 22 Major Arcana.
Last year, as I was dead by mutual conceit, I did not contribute to the proceedings. This year I have decided to write a tanka for each person. It was a joy to look at the cards, delve into their symbolism, explore classical Japanese poetry, and think about the people in my life.
In his eighties Narushima Chuhachiro wrote two lines that perfectly set the mood for what follows—with a tranquil heart/between the flowers and the moon.
To see all the Hanafuda/Tarot tanka posted to date, click here.
Or browse them individually below:
Pine and The High Priestess Sonia
Pine and The Empress Griff
Plum and The Moon Reversed June
Cherry and Death Andrew
Cherry and Death Barb
Cherry and The Magician Reversed Shauna
Wisteria and The Lovers Eileen
Wisteria and Justice Reversed Robb
Wisteria and The Chariot Reversed Grace
Wisteria and The High Priestess Cutty
Iris and The Hermit Reversed Sue
Iris and Strength Reversed Christine
Bush clover and The Hermit Reversed Eva
Bush clover and Strength Reversed Lynn
Pampas/Japanese Silver Grass and The Hanged Man Pippa
Pampas/Japanese Silver Grass and Strength Katy
Chrysanthemum and The Empress Reversed Ken
Chrysanthemum and the High Priestess Reversed Reuel
Chrysanthemum and The Lovers: Melanie
Maple leaves and Temperance Reversed John
Maple leaves and The Tower Reversed Emma
Maple leaves and The World Miche
Willow and The Magician Reversed Eliza
Willow and Justice Reversed Florence
Willow and the High Priestess Reversed Dave
Paulownia and The Hermit Michael
Paulownia and The Emperor Anne
Paulownia and The Star Nicola
Paulownia and The Empress Eavan