Turning Into A Cloud

Sometimes I turn into a cloud
like tobacco that I’ve lit.
I always rain a little bit,
unless there is a major crowd
of men who’re waiting for my body,
in which case I use up the time
by pleasing them with words that rhyme
while they are wandering through my wadi.
Ribald verse, I find, can turn
them on just like tobacco smoke,
and when I tell a dirty joke
they think I rain because they burn.

Karen Rosenberg writes about an exhibition of art from the Edo period,1680-1860, at the Asia Museum (“Diversions and Delights from the Floating World, ” NYT, March 14,2008) :
“Designed for Pleasure” includes just one example of shunga, the explicit subcategory of ukiyo-e that features couples with enlarged genitalia, but many of the works in the show have an erotic subtext. Seemingly innocuous scenes are full of allusions and double-entendres: in the Edo vernacular, a swinging lantern, a peony or a boat pole can have sexual connotations. The literary context of ukiyo-e becomes especially apparent in a gallery of works from the circle of the celebrated Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) . Commissions for luxury paintings and prints often came as a result of connections made at poetry parties, where crowds of artists, writers, actors and other creative types would gather to compose ribald poems known as “mad verse.” In a loosely brushed ink painting of a reclining courtesan from around 1800, Hokusai collaborated with the poet Santo Kyoden. The evocative verse is written from the courtesan’s point of view: “Sometimes I turn into a cloud/like smoke from tobacco I have lit, /other times I turn into rain/which makes a client linger a bit.” Both text and image capture the fleeting sensuality of the floating world.


by gershon hepner

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