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The emperor’s goods are sinking through the water.
Rich pickings – the quality of the regal larder
is such even the toothiest of the water monsters
does not let its yellow eye from the ball for long enough
to be drawn to the muddle of flailing limbs – there,
and there, again! – seeking to interrupt the meal
with death’s slow fanfare. Death, as ever,
comes roving out in search of witnesses.
The emperor is willing to sacrifice a toe, even
an elbow, so long as there be more to it than this:
more to the felling of an empire than the sharp cries
of his wailing mother, face splattered with kohl,
her hair a mess; than the ricocheting passage
of a skiff over tranquil waters. In the shallows,
rough women loot his mother’s vanity case,
left bobbing by the shore in her distress,
and the sea creatures murmur in the moon-pale flicker,
watching the slow descent of gorgeousness –
item, a jewel-crusted dagger; item, a ceremonial dress –
spiralling through the ever-darkening layers.
The prince Yoshitsune is dead; also dead,
his mother, who sculled on the sea’s cold mirror
till she could scull no more. When, later,
Bashō comes here, he will write of the prince’s death
in cumbersome prose, his eye drawn rather
to the impregnability of the water’s surface,
the octopuses swirling in their wooden traps.
On the sea bed, Yohsitsune’s jaw snaps open,
then closed. His carcass is a resting place
for minnows caught in the harum-scarum of war.