Tuesday, March 3, 2009



The blossoms on the flowering cherry
will make the cruelest month more merry,
far fairer than an emerald,
although they are ephemeral.
Although? I should have said because!
Enjoy, and don’t regret their loss!

Large clusters are the best to pan
in Washington and in Japan,
but on the details you should linger;
your eyes should touch them like the finger
of God when He created, awesome,
first man, a human burst of blossom.
Go see the blossoms when they’re pristine,
it’s like Creation in the Sistine.

Returning yearly in their season
they rhyme with nature, without reason,
and freely thrill our jaded senses
with pleasure, sparing no expenses,
without a consciousness that death
extinguishes fast blossoms’ breath.

Soon cherry blossoms, every petal,
will fall from branches, softly settle
upon the ground, and then slide under,
no accident, no blossom blunder.
Recall the beauty, not the mulch,
when you are in the blossom gulch.

What contrast are the precious stones,
the colored ever-living bones
Ezekiel thought would come to life,
delivered by Death Angel’s knife.
How cold is their eternal beauty,
a stillborn loveliness called duty.
From heaven down to earth deep-sixed,
they never change, but are transfixed.
These stones will never cause hunami!
They have a chill that does not charm me;
the ruby wondrous is deep red,
unchanging, for these stones are dead.

But see the ruby in your wife!
The rubor rushes, giving life
as blood assumes its lively hue,
the day of making one from two.
Your wife has an amazing valor
because her ruby red shows pallor.
You must enjoy her, every season,
because she loves you without reason.

Respire with your woman’s breath:
hunami her with love to death.

Hunami is a Japanese word which means the appreciation of the ephemeral because it is ephemeral. I wrote this poem about February 1996, and was reminded of it 13 years later,on 3/2/09, more than 13 years after seeing a German movie, “Cherry Blossoms,” in which the evanescenced of cherry blossoms echoes the death of a beloved wife, to which the last line of my poem might mistakenly betaken to allude. The movie was praised by Kevin Thomas in the LA Times, but panned by A.O. Scott in the NYT. The best review I have seen of the movie was by Jennie Kermode (no relation of Sir Frank Kermode, as he told me with some disdain, the name being a common one in the Isle of Man, from which he comes), in Eye for Film:

How do we deal with the inevitability of death? There can be few more important subjects for a film to tackle, and yet this is a subject that is rarely discussed at all in western society. In Japan, things are quite different. Whereas Germans may sing an old song about a mayfly yet find it increasingly difficult to deal with the mortality of their loved ones, the Japanese celebrate Hanami each spring - the festival of the cherry blossom, symbol of ephemerality - and endeavour to maintain contact with the shadows of those who have passed away. Trudi (the ever-wonderful Hannelore Eisner) has always longed to go to Japan. As the film opens, she is told that her husband (Elmar Wepper) is terminally ill. It's agonisingly painful for her - they have spent their whole adult lives together and she can't imagine life without him - yet she chooses not to tell him, to preserve his enjoyment of life. She takes the burden entirely upon herself, sparing their children too, as she has sought to do throughout her life. Yet, whilst she acknowledges that the children - with their own lives and families and very different concerns - are increasingly strangers - there are things she fails to understand about her husband, too. Things that will lead him to undertake a strange journey and a path to understanding quite outside the bounds of his mundane Bavarian lifestyle. Through an unlikely friendship with a Japanese teenager (Aya Irizuki) his view of the world will be completely changed. Cherry Blossoms is a film about death and a film about grief, yet it is also a film about how easily we can fail to understand one another, and how love, if it is to prosper, must take that in its stride. The central couple are quietly rejected by their insecure, self-centered children, yet their daughter's girlfriend (beautifully played by Nadja Uhl) seems to see qualities in them that they are scarcely ready to see themselves, suggesting that sometimes we have to step outside the familiar in order to perceive the truth. Rather than being just another culture clash story, this is a story about how the meeting of different ways of life can enrich both. As our hero and his young Japanese friend struggle to communicate in English, a language foreign to both of them, they discover a new language of signs, gestures and dance which transcends national differences. Exquisitely made, this gentle, intelligent film is full of warm humour. It's a piece of work in which every detail counts, every shot beautifully framed and lit. A fly clinging to a windowpane, a handkerchief tied to a railing, a pair of slippers on a mat - all these little things are full of meaning. Cherry Blossoms invites us to slow down and discover the hidden layers of meaning in our own lives. It requires and solicits a certain generosity of spirit and an openness to experience, but what it offers in return is something remarkable.

There is an amazing connection that the movie “Cherry Blossoms” and this “Hunami” poem make with a concept that describes a major threat to Western civilization, data rot. All data stored in our computers is susceptible to rot, necessitating the transfer of the data to new copies and/or formats every ten years. The Talmud attributes to the prevention of data rot the preservation of the Jewish people. bMegillah 15b-16a why, when King Ahasuerus asked for the chronicles to be brought to him Esther 6:1–2 states that they were niqra’im, “read,” before him, and it was found katub, “written,” that Mordecai had uncovered a plot that had threatened his life. It should state who read these chronicles, and it should states that whoever read them read the ketab, “writing,” not what was katub, “written.” The Talmud explains that the text implies that a miracle occurred. The word niqra’im implies that the words were read automatically, by miraculous means. Why was a miracle necessary? Because Shimshai, the king’s scribe, used to erase parts of the chronicles he that he found to be politically incorrect, presumably including favorable references to Mordecai the Judean. This data rot was corrected, states the Talmud, by Gabriel. It follows that the survival of the Jewish people depended, in the case of the Purim miracle, on the miraculous prevention of data rot. Our sacred texts would be as evanescent as cherry blossoms, enjoyable only as a hunami experience, but for God’s intervention, and it is only because God prevents data rot in our texts that they are not as evanescent as cherry blossoms. It is because they are not evanescent that the Jewish people has also managed to defy the process of evanescence that has overtaken all other peoples, with the possible exception of the Chinese and Japanese.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 3/2/09

1 comment:

  1. This requires some time and thought. I have never heard of Hunami, but the concept, as you state it, is something dear to my heart—appreciating the ephemeral for its very nature.

    While I am contemplating your poem, and essay, I will leave this for you:

    Cherry Blossoms

    "Along the street people flow,
    Singing or sighing as they go . . . "
    —W. H. Auden, "New Year Letter"

    Before the snowfall of cherry blossoms
    I watch a woman cross Rock Creek Bridge,
    Reading a letter, smiling as she walks,
    Radiant in her happiness, sun-blessed,
    A festival of one. Her smile causes me
    To wonder at the words, are they of love,
    Friendship, of familial news? Each a chance,
    But I hope they speak of love, for it
    Is spring, the air is light, and it would fit.
    How rare today, the missive post and not
    E-mail! What but words on paper can be
    Savored, held, postponed until the time
    And place are right? And here it is—
    The sun, the bridge, the falling blossoms.