Rice Paper

I gave my Sensei a roll of rice paper tonight.

Songs for the Floating World



Inspired by Chikamatsu’s play
Shinju ten no Amijima


Fistfuls of new Treasure-silver,
Pine-nuts from a stooping pine,
Buy this body, buy a singer
Once a nun at Ise Shrine.

Pleasure-houses on the river
Near the footbridge of Tenjin,
Laughter from a lamplit lattice,
The God of Death in a cherry screen.

The paper-merchant cannot hide
With stars and leaves in twilight whirled,
Tales of love and suicide,
Rumors from the Floating World.


Here in the paper-merchant’s alley
See the winter sun’s decline
The paper-merchant dreaming calls
Koharu of the lantern-sign.

He lingers in the plumtree summer
Where their paper vows began,
Listens to the late cicada –
Summer writing on a fan.

Fools run out in icy weather,
Jihei sleeps and will not rouse,
Paper lanterns, paper money,
Twenty-nine rice-paper vows.


Lovers pass like night or water,
Fish nets hanging in the stream,
Lovers of the pleasure quarter,
Cast off love of things that seem.

I was a fish once in the fish net
Now I wait by the lantern sign
Selling love or selling stories
Once a nun at Ise shrine.

Midnight quarter by the river
Furtive rumors, soft foot-falls
Handfuls of new Treasure-silver
Sliding windows, sliding walls.


Dawn bells of the Daicho Temple,
River, lovers, lies, regrets
Fishers floating on the river
Draw up the dead in icy nets.

Koharu and the paper-merchant
Lie in a lotus calyx curled,
In the life to come united,
Rumors of the Floating World.

No lovers in the latticed chamber,
The God of Death in a cherry screen,
The lamps of the pleasure-house are smoking,
Cast off love of things that seem.




Anne Winters is the author of The Key to the City (Chicago), poems nominated for the National Book Critics Circle prize, and of Salamander (Princeton), translations of French poetry, which won Poetry Magazine’s Glatstein Award. Her poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Paris Review, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, Yale Review, and elsewhere. She has received the Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant and an NEA fellowship, and has been a Fellow of the Camargo Foundation and the Karolyi Foundation.

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