Dean Kostos


after a woodblock print by Harunobu


THE HOBBY HORSE by Harunobu.

In this print, let’s pretend
the woman is the mother. She steps
from a block of wood,
freed by the artist’s gouge.
The umbrella in her hand tilts

over her son. A hobby horse
lurches beneath his legs
as if to result in arrival.
But distance means nothing
as cherry blossoms scour

the sky. Clouds of camellias rise
from a bamboo screen.
We are privy to glimpse
only a slice of the scene.
Orange & ochre repeat

throughout the print: stripes
on the horse’s robe, a pleat
on the mother’s kimono.
Instead of pleasure pearling
her face, her profile blurs.

Dusk dissolves as she imagines
she can fade away (bent
in obeisance).
But no.
The umbrella protects

from nothing,
The horse arches his neck.
As Earth slants,
the rocking boy knows
he is going nowhere.


after a woodblock print 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.

Dean Kostos’ eighth collection, Pierced by Night-Colored Threads, was released in September of 2017. His previous collection, This Is Not a Skyscraper, won the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, selected by Mark Doty. His poems, personal essays, and reviews have appeared in  The Bangalore Review  (India),  Barrow Street, Boulevard, Chelsea, and others.