Category Archives: Creative Nonfiction

The Diary

By Lynn B. Connor

Time worn pages written so long ago—the thoughts of a twelve-year-old girl lost in the shadowy corners of my mind. Where have the years gone?

I am so lonely. Living here far beyond the end of the East Country Road, we are so isolated. My mother and older sister fill the days remembering when we lived in Heian-kyo, the imperial capital. They talk about the emperor and life at court and retell romantic tales. My favorite ones are those of Genji, the Shining Prince, and his romances. I want to read The Tale of Genji myself from beginning to end, not just hear scattered stories.

“Be patient,” they tell me. “Romantic tales are copied by hand. Printing is for important books such as the Buddhist sutras.” I am twelve and should be learning the sutras. We have those. But I can only think of Genji not of learning the way of Buddha. I remember every word of the stories of Prince Genji I have heard, but not the words of the sutras.

* * * * *

I’m not patient. Today I had a life-size image of Buddha made and prayed, “Buddha, please grant that we move to the capital soon, very soon, so I can get all of Genji. My request to Buddha is not reasonable. Father is governor of this faraway place. We cannot move to the capital. I pray and hope that someone will send us Genji.

My prayers are different now, and I know the sutras. I can separate my mind from frivolous things.

* * * * *

A messenger from the capital arrived today. I thought my prayers were answered. I was so disappointed. No books. Then this evening Father gave us the good news. He is being transferred back to the capital. I am so excited – the home of Genji and books! I am nervous, too. We have been away so many years. Will people think that I am a country girl?

All those dreams of court life, little did I know that life in the capital and the glamour of the court could be lonely, too. I served at court occasionally, but I was more like a guest. What would my life have been like if I had been more devoted to court service? If my father was not sent to the East Country again and then my husband sent to the East Country while I remained in the capital?

* * * * *

Sadness has crept in with the fog. It covers the house. Everything is dismantled and scattered about as we prepare to return to the capital. I must leave behind my life-sized Buddha. I burst into tears.

Outside more confusion. Our servants are gathering our luggage, our household goods, and everything we will need for our journey through the wilderness. There are so many of us – not just our servants and carriers, but also foot soldiers and horsemen armed with bows to protect us from robbers.

* * * * *

Yesterday morning our journey began. Mother, my sister and I got into our palanquins. Father rode ahead on his horse. We are staying for a few days in a temporary, thatched hut on a low bluff. We hung curtains and put up bamboo screens so we can look out and not be seen by the men. I can see a wide plain to the south. On the east and west the sea creeps close. What an interesting place. The morning fog is charming. I am glad we are resting here for a few days.

* * * * *

All yesterday we traveled in a heavy, dark rain. We spent the night in a little hut almost submerged by the rain. I was so afraid I could not sleep. Today the rain has stopped and we are drying our dripping clothes. There is nothing to see – only three lone trees on a little hill.

* * * * *

What a change from the rain. Last night, we stayed at a place called Kuroda Beach. On one side of us, hills and thick groves of pine made a wide band. The moon shone on the white sand stretching into the distance. We listened to the wind and wrote poems. Mine was:

I will not sleep a wink!

If not this evening, then when

could I ever see this —

Kuroda Beach beneath

the moon of an autumn night.*

* * * * *

I will never forget Kuroda Beach in the moon light. Now, here on the Musashi Plain there is nothing of interest. The sand of the beaches is like mud and the purple grass of poems is only various kinds of towering reeds. I do not agree with the old poem

A single stock

of purple on

the Musashi Plain

makes me love

all the wild grasses.**

We cannot see what is ahead, not even see the tips of the bows of our horsemen as we go through the reeds. There is nothing to love about these wild grasses.

* * * * *

We are going through an area called the Chinese Plain. A few pink summer flowers called Japanese Pinks remain. Everyone laughs – Japanese Pinks on the Chinese Plain.

* * * * *

Last night we reached the foot of the Ashigara Mountains, all covered with a wild, thick woods. We only had glimpses of the moonless sky. I felt swallowed up by the darkness. Then out of the darkness, three singers emerged. We invited them to sit under a large paper umbrella, and my servant lit a fire. They had long hair and their faces were so white and clean they looked like maids from a nobleman’s home. Their clear, sweet singing seemed to reach the heavens and charmed us. When they left, tears came into our eyes as we watched them go back into the darkness.

I was reminded of that night years later when we stopped at Nogami. Female entertainers came and sang to us through the night filling me with longing. And reminded again of that night by Mt. Ashigara, when traveling by boat we anchored for the night. The singing of women entertainers came out of the darkness. Their voices moved me as before. 

At dawn we began our climb of the mountain. As we climbed, the dense forest changed to a few scattered trees. Clouds swirled around our feet. I was so afraid.

* * * * *

Mt. Fuji! How surprised I am. When we saw it from our home, it was just a small gray peak. Seeing it so close, it is like nothing else in the world. The slopes look like they are painted indigo blue. The snow on top makes it look like someone wearing a short white jacket over a gown. Smoke rises from its flat top. Last night flames leapt into the air.

* * * * *

When we left our home, the leaves were still green. Now as we pass Mt. Miyaji red leaves cling to the trees. I thought:

The furious storms

do not blow

on Mt. Miyaji

the red maple leaves

are still unscattered.

* * * * *

I no longer care about looking at beautiful places and writing. We stopped for several days because I was so sick. Winter winds blew so fiercely, it was difficult to bear. Snow came, and in the storm we passed through another barrier station, and went over Mount Atsumi. At the foot of Mitsusaka Mountain light rain fell night and day mixed with hail. It was so melancholy that we did not stay. Nothing leaves any impressions. The places are only names, nothing more. Maybe we are just tired and anxious for our journey to end.

* * * * *

Tonight we have stopped by Lake Biwa. I’m so excited. I’m not sure I can sleep. Tomorrow we reach the capital, the home of Prince Genji and our new home. Now I can read all of Genji. I am nervous, too. What will people think of me, a girl from the country?

* * * * *

Yesterday we went through the last barrier station where they check the coming and of people before the capital, I remembered an old poem

This is the barrier

where people come and go,

meeting and parting

both friends and strangers

the Afusaka Barrier***

When I passed through this barrier station so long ago. It was winter then, too.

The voice of the Afusaka

Barrier wind blowing now

through the station,

is no different from the one

I heard long.

Before only a roughly hewn face of the Buddha could be seen. Now there is a splendid temple.

Genji came and went through here. And at last we entered the capital. I had forgotten how wide the streets are. Red Bird Avenue is three hundred feet wide and lined with willow trees. Their bare branches swayed in the wind as we passed. Huge, wild-looking trees surround our house. It is hard to believe we are in the capital and not back deep in the mountains.

* * * * *

Everyone is busy unpacking and arranging the house. No one has time to think about me and stories. Will I ever get to read all of The Tale of Genji? Today I could wait no longer. I pestered Mother, “Please, please find me stories to read,” until she stopped working and sent a letter to a relative asking if she had any books. Now we wait.

* * * * *

Today a box filled with beautiful booklets of stories arrived. I started reading them immediately. There are none about Genji.

* * * * *

I cry and cry. I don’t even feel like reading tales. My childhood nurse has died. Mother is so worried about me she found another Genji tale. Genji is charmed by ten year-old Murasaki. When she becomes an orphan, he takes her to his palace. I want to know what happens next. I pray, “Please grant that I may get to read all of Genji from beginning to end.”

* * * * *

Last month I went with Mother and Father on a retreat to Uzumasa Temple. My only prayers were for a copy of Genji. I was sure my prayers would be answered. I am so disappointed.

How vexed I was that my parents seldom took me on their pilgrimages. Years later I returned to Uzumasa and have gone on other pilgrimages. My prayers concentrated on raising my children with great care and seeing them grow up as I hoped. And I prayed my husband would find happiness in his career.

* * * * *

Today my parents sent me to visit an aunt. We liked each other and talked of many things. When I was ready to leave, she smiled and said, “I would like to give you a present, something special.” How did she know? She gave me all of Genji. I could hardly wait to get home and start reading.

* * * * *

I have done nothing but read Genji all day and until I fall asleep late at night. Things that confused me when I heard or read only parts of it now are clear. I never could memorize a Buddhist sutra, but already I know by heart the names of all the people in the story. There are over fifty. I would not stop reading even if I had a chance to become the empress.

I want to be beautiful and have long silky hair that almost touches the ground just like Genji’s love Yugao. I daydream about being like Lady Ukifune hidden away in a mountain village. Watching the blossoms, the crimson leaves, the snow and the moon. Waiting for letters from my shining prince. This is all I wish for.

The stories fill my mind all day, and I dream of them at night.

* * * * *

The things I hoped for. The things I had wished for. Could they really happen? How crazy I was. How foolish I feel.*

* * * * *

Author’s Notes: This story is based on Sarashina Nikki, a diary of a court lady in eleventh-century Japan. She is simply known as Sugawara no Takasue no Musume, Sugawara no Takasue’s daughter (1009-1059). I have adapted the sections of the Sarashina Nikki that tell of her childhood passion for romantic tales, especially The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), and then interwoven her reflections and events from later in life. My goal has been to maintain the spirit of the Sarashina Nikki. Additional information (such as the function of barrier stations, the description of Heian-kyo, present-day Kyoto, and poems which were well known at the time) regarding ancient Japan is woven into the text.

There are several translations of Sarashina Nikki. Where there is a direct quote from the diary, it is from The Sarashina Diary, A Woman’s Life in Eleventh-Century Japan, Sugawara no Takasue no Musume, translated, with an introduction, by Sonja Arntzen and Ito Moriyuki. These are indicated with an *. If there is no asterisk after the poem, the translation is by mine. In addition, ** and *** indicate that the poems are not in the diary.: ** from the Kokin Shu, a poetry collection, compiled in the tenth century and *** from the Gosen Shu, a poetry collection, compiled in 951. The poems were well known at the time.

The Tale of Genji: When Genji (Genji Monogatari) was written a thousand years ago, it was just a Japanese tale of romance, court life and politics — a time before samurai, haiku, sushi, ninja and Hello Kitty. It was a time of peace and tranquility. The capital of Japan (present-day Kyoto) was called Heian-kyo – peace and tranquility capital. Tokyo, the present-day capital, would not be built for five hundred years.

Genji is often considered the world’s first novel and still read today. It became more than a romantic tale. It is an integral part of Japanese culture—art, poetry, card games, video games, plays, movies and manga. It is even pictured on money. The book has been considered a good influence, a bad influence, and even banned. Google Genji and you will get three quarter million hits in English alone.

______________________________________________________________

With undergraduate and graduate degrees in East Asian history, Lynn B. Connor planned to be an academic. That idea was short lived. She realized that sharing stories of other times and places with children (and grownups, too) is what she enjoyed. Living in Japan for two years and then being a guide (and training guides) at the Chinese and Japanese gardens in Portland, Oregon, increased her understanding of how stories can provide windows on other cultures.  Her translations of T’ang dynasty poems were published by Poet Lore, and LanSu Chinese Garden in Portland published her first book, The Stones and the Poet. Her stories have appeared in several literary journals, and “The Tea Master” was posted on Stone Bridge Press’ Cafe.

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The Lost Colony

 By Katherine Givens

The fighting between Spain and England had kept John White away for three

years. Three years prior, he promised the people of the settlement that he would sail to

England and return with additional supplies. He promised to return in the spring of that

year. He promised to come back, but the pompous Philip II of Spain had an agenda.

Philip was once a suitor of Elizabeth I, but she rebuffed him on several occasions.

The man was once married to her half-sister for god’s sake! This could have been

partially why the king of Spain had craved for war. The other reason was as a staunch

Catholic, Philip felt it was his duty to dispose of the Protestant Elizabeth and restore

Catholicism to England. That and because he coveted the English crown.

 

The animosity between the two countries was already growing when John arrived in

England. With the anticipated arrival of the Spanish Armada, there were no available sea

vessels for a trip back to Roanoke Island. Anything that could float was to be used for the

impending battle. As the war continued, White struggled to find vessels for his mission.

After many years of waiting and searching, he was able to find a ship willing to take him

back to Roanoke Island along with the promised supplies.

 

After all his struggles and trials, John White could see the outlines of the island

through the terrible storm. Anticipation filled his core as he considered the home he was

about to return to. He hoped all was well with his fellow settlers. He hoped they had

found a way to live without him. He hoped the primitive Indians were peaceful towards

his countrymen. He hoped that his own family was alive and well.

 

The one person he yearned to see most was his precious granddaughter Virginia, who

was born shortly before his departure for England. She was a babe when he lost saw her,

last held her. She would now be three, a toddler. He likely missed her first steps, her first

words. He would not miss another moment more of her life. With a small smile, John

could not wait to reclaim the title of “grandfather.”

 

The island was only a few hundred yards in the distance. John could make out the

meager settlement from where he stood on the ship. The tall wooden logs that

compromised the walls of the colony towered in the distance. The eminent forests

surrounded the human invasion into nature. The ocean waves lapped the shores.

Surrounding sections of the walls were logs and trees. They were possibly left there from

a terrible storm or the colonists were working on making improvements to the fort.

 

Odd, thought John.

 

The one thing missing from his homecoming was a crowd of colonists eager to greet

him. The shore was completely abandoned of any humanity.

   

Strange. Perhaps no one has spotted our sails.

 

As the ship came closer, John realized that the logs and trees surrounding the

settlement were not from a storm or additions to the wall. Sections of the walls had been

torn down and destroyed. It was as if they were decimated by someone who wished to

come in.

 

What made the day worse was the landing on the outer banks. The storm that had

been raging all day made it more difficult to land. Seven of the sailors, some of the best

men on the ship, were killed from the poor weather. A bad omen of things to come.

When they finally landed, no settlers came to greet the arriving party. There were no

shining faces glad to have additional supplies come after what must have been three years

of difficulties and hardships. There were no men huddling about eager to take the

supplies into the settlement. There were no women holding their swaddling babes, babes

that might have been born while John had been away, and shouting their appreciation.

There were no children running about.  Not even John’s family came to greet him. There

was absolutely no one.

 

Clambering from the ship, White walked in the direction of the colony. As he came

closer, he was able to peer through a torn section of the wall. Many of the houses were

torn down. The roofs of buildings were caved in. Lumber was scattered about the ground.

Possessions, such as books, oil lamps, dinnerware, clothing, and so much more, were

strewn about the dirt.

   

What has happened?

 

White rushed to the ruins, sailors from the ships ambling after him. Standing about

the destruction, he looked around for any sign of life.

 

“Hello, there! It is I, John White! I have returned from England!” he called.

 

Only the whispering of the wind responded to him. All else was silent.

 

My family. My granddaughter.

 

His mind repeated the phrase like a prayer as he scrambled towards one house. The

door was ripped from the entrance, pushed into the only room of the house. He scanned

the house. Nothing.

 

He ran to another house in which the roof had collapsed. Searching the rubble, he

tossed aside shards of splintered wood, broken china, and the pages of books. Not even a

human body could be found in the pile.

   

My family. My granddaughter.

 

With a racing heart, he rushed to the ruins of a third house. In a serious case of

hysterics, he flipped over chairs and a table. He searched every nook and cranny for

someone. Anyone. Running out a backdoor, he looked out into the wilderness. Even

Mother Nature was mocking him with silence.

 

A sailor laid a hand on White’s shoulder. The fellow asked, “Is this your home?”

 

Taken aback by his discovery, White could only manage a “Yes.”

 

“What has happened?”

 

White looked about. “I have not an inkling.”

 

“We must search the area,” White said without hesitation.

 

The sailor nodded. “Of course. The crew will assist you in anything you need.”

 

The man scurried back to the other crew hands to rally a search party. The crew hands

grumbled at the aspect. The mysterious disappearance of dozens of men, women, and

children was unsettling. Whatever happened to those unfortunate souls could befall

them. Regardless, the men did as they were told.

 

White recalled an agreement he had made with the other colonists before his

departure three years ago. He made them swear that if they were moved by force, they

would need to carve a Maltese cross into a tree.

 

He immediately rushed into the forest. The sailor who pledged his help came running

after him.

 

“Why are you running as if Satan were chasing you?” called the sailor.

 

“I am looking for a carving.”

 

Befuddled, the sailor asked, “What?”

 

As he looked at the trunks of nearby trees, White explained, “A Maltese cross. Before

I departed the settlement, I made the others swear to leave an image in the trunk of a

tree if they were moved by force. Since there are no bodies by the buildings, perhaps they

were taken by those savages that wonder the woods.”

 

The sailor seemed to understand, for he ordered his comrades to start searching for a

Maltese cross. As the welcoming storm passed and the afternoon sun shined through

stray clouds, the party looked for several hours. When nothing was found, some men

returned to the ship. Others went back to the settlement to look for clues.

 

“John, I do not think we will find anything. We have already examined every nearby

tree,” said a burly crew hand.

 

White shook his head. “There must be a sign. There must be.”

 

It was at that moment White found a carving in the trunk of a tree, but it was not that

of a cross. It was the word “CRO.”

 

“Look!” exclaimed White.

 

He rushed over to the tree and ran his fingers over the etched words. A few nearby

men crowded behind him.

 

“What does it mean?” asked one man.

 

“Cro…they must mean Croatoan. It is the name of a nearby island. They must have

moved there!” shouted White, unable to contain his excited relief.

 

“What of the cross?” asked another.

 

“They must have forgotten to carve it, or perhaps they were not forced from the

settlement. They might have willingly relocated, and meant to notify me with this one

word.”

 

“Then, why is the settlement crumbling? Why are buildings torn down and

belongings smashed?” asked a fat man.

 

“The savages might have raided it once my comrades abandoned the site.”

 

The men shrugged, thinking this a viable answer. A shout made all their heads snap

in the direction of the settlement. Beckoned over by a crew hand, White raced back. If

anything, he was fit for his elderly age.

 

As he approached, a man was pointing at a post on the fort. White did not need an

explanation. Carved into the post was the word “Croatoan.”

 

John White and the crew were able to reach Croatoan Island in search of the lost

colonists. The entire island was scoured by the party, but nothing and no one was ever

found. For weeks, adjacent islands were searched.

 

Foul weather impeded the search. The weather did not improve. Although White

insisted that their search continue, the captain of the ship disagreed. He had already lost

three anchors and a few of his best men. Further losses could not be tolerated, especially

with being the only white men in a savage land far from civilization.  It was time to turn

back, despite the agony wrenching at White’s heart.

 

By October the vessel had returned to Plymouth in England, not to be confused with

Plymouth, Massachusetts which had yet to be discovered. For the rest of White’s life, he

suffered from the tragic loss of his fellow colonists and his family. Although he found a

livelihood creating maps for the tenants of Sir Walter Raleigh, he never fully recovered.

Never did he doubt that his family was still alive in the New World, the land that once

held so much of his hope and enthusiasm. Never did he doubt that Ananias, his son-in-

law, was taking care of his girls. Never did he doubt that Eleanor, his tender daughter,

was still clucking over his granddaughter. Never did he doubt that Virginia, whom he

held a few times as a squirming babe, was growing into a beautiful woman.

 

John died never seeing his family again. To this day, the disappearance of the

Roanoke Island colonists remains unknown. There are many theories as to what

happened. They could have been enslaved by Indians. They could have tried to return to

England in makeshift boats and drowned in the process. They could have been destroyed

by the Spanish, who were raiding along the coast. There are many theories and

speculations as to what became of the colonists. One thing is for sure, the colonists have

yet to be found.

________________________________________________________________

Katherine Givens is a college student but a writer at heart. Her fiction will be in upcoming issues of The Enchanted File Cabinet and The Rusty Nail. Her poetry has appeared in Inclement Poetry Magazine, Literary Juice, BareBack Magazine, and Miracle ezine, and her forthcoming publications will be in Blood Moon Rising Magazine and The Rusty Nail.

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The Saints, in Alphabetical Order

 By Ty Russell

It was very late at night.

So late, in fact, that it was actually early and yet I was sitting at my desk, perched over the old family computer, wondering if I could ever get a tan from monitor glow. I think it’s important to note that I was simply “perched.” I wasn’t “deafened by the clacking sound of keys,” or “punching holes in a wired alphabet,” or even just “typing.” I was just sitting there, waiting for the Muses should they decide to come and possess me, to exorcise themselves through my twitching fingers.

When I say wait, think Godot-like. I was Estragon, but I was ready, poised like a praying mantis.

I wrote a sentence. Read it. Reread it. Deleted it.

Repeat.

A cardboard lid lay on the floor next to my desk, half filled with the pages of a novel I thought would never get done. I got up and opened a window because I thought I had heard some new and profound idea tapping on the pane, something that would win me the Nobel Prize for Literature.

There were crickets outside. Nothing else.

I had just started to press a key, when I heard Dickens open on my cluttered desk, screaming, “Look, look how easy it is. Just count the hairs on his nose and describe them, great! Now do 400 pages and you’ve got yourself a book, easy.”

From my night stand, Hemingway shook his head, “Charles, you moron. Your readers aren’t stupid, let them figure it out for themselves.”

Oscar Wilde was more relaxed, lounging on the bottom shelf in between Walt Whitman and Virginia Woolf. He took a long puff from his cigarette holder and murmured lazily, “All forms of art are inherently simple; it is only the flawed perspective of the flawed observer that creates complications of interpretation.”

“What? What kind of mumbo-jumbo is that, inherently flawed and simple observers,” Robert Louis Stevenson shouted, adopting as snooty of a tone as he could possibly muster. “Write about pirates. Everyone loves pirates.”

I wrote about pirates.

“Oh, I love pirates,” Ray Bradbury yelled, clapping his hands. He was almost 90 now, but he spoke with all the excitement of an eight year old. “Make it simple though. Something extraordinary and everyday. I’d like to read that.”

Somehow, Dave Barry felt out of place.

I started to type, slowly at first, the sentences forming and marinating in my brain for a few moments before I set them into the computer.

“Make it dark,” Edgar Allen cooed, playing with the ends of his mustache. “Make their skin curdle.”

“Must you always be so serious, Poe? And for heaven’s sake, let the sun meet your skin!” The Bard himself looked gently at me and spoke in quiet tones. “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.”

“Yes, well…” Herman Melville, his beard like a living thing on his neck, jostled his shoulders and shimmied for space on the cramped shelf. “Now why does Shakespeare get two copies of his plays here? There’s hardly any room for the rest of us!”

Jane Austen called down from the top of the bookcase. “Is that the weighty one himself, complaining of space? When one volume of his takes up more weight in words than five of dear William’s?” It was obvious, to me at least, that as soon as Miss Austen had heard of Mr. Shakespeare’s sonnets, she had developed quite a bit of a crush. “He gets the space, Herman, because he gets the readers!”

I was typing furiously now, wildly, like a man on fire. My brain worked faster than my fingers could dance.

Sylvia Plath wailed something melancholic. I refused to listen.

“If you create a world and believe in it, so will all of your readers,” Tolkien said, blowing rings from the end of a long wooden pipe.

“Yes, yes. And make it bold, make it audacious! Nothing great was ever done without large amounts of courage.” J.K. Rowling was floating on a black broomstick, just a child amongst a thousand elders. “And have fun!”

The great ones all murmured in agreement.

I got up and started shutting their covers, one by one, kissing them goodnight like dear children. Slowly, slowly, their voices began to fade to mumblings as they fell asleep. I smiled, five new pages still hot in my hands. As the clock rolled on into morning, as the voices of all the ghosts who had gone before me echoed into eternity, I added the pages to a pile of two hundred I hoped the world would one day see.

________________________________________________________________

Ty Russell’s work has been published in Apiary Magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Phantom Kangaroo, Peregrine, Silver Blade, RelevantMagazine.com, and is a nominee for the 2011 Rhysling Award. He lives in north central Pennsylvania with his wife and their children.

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