December 1, 2021

AWABI FISHERS

after a woodblock print by Utamaro

AWABI FISHERS by Utamaro

Wet hair bleeds
down her back, as if the blade
had slipped from her mouth

& slashed her. All is water:
ocean, glistening strands
of hair, the cloth

she wrings dry. Her teeth clasp
the blade to shuck shell-fish.
A crouching woman

offers a shell
with ragged edges,
gestures, Try one.

The basket is full.
Sea scent weaves
through air &

waves. Sand swallows feet.
The woman arranges
shells to the brim.

Unlike the other
woman, this one’s body is
concealed in florid

textile: iris, spider lily.
Her hair is a pagoda
of black gloss. She

knows she must act now—finally
touch her friend.
They’ve known each other

for years, but she’s hidden
her affections.
The ocean breathes out & in,

as if to draw the women close.
This panel is one of three,
a triptych. Do the women
know that the section
where they’ve spent centuries
fishing is incomplete?

Does a before & an after
exist in the missing panels?
The desired touch may remain

forever out of the kneeling
woman’s reach. Her
gown’s muddied dye, bleeding.

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