It’s always a treat to visit Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania with my friend Devon. This time there was ikebana and incredible bamboo installations by Akane Teshigahara, who is the head of a famous flower arranging school but also creates monumental sculptural works out of ephemeral plant material.

(Photographs from Longwood site).

This reminded me of another experience with bamboo. When we were in Japan two years ago there was a week when Isabel was on intense deadline, finishing the video to install in an old grain silo. She was working in lockdown. It was wet and cold, but I needed to get out of our residence in House 3 every day. My son-in-law Tim had come along as our “baggage handler” and support in everything. He’d go out early on a bicycle and shop for groceries, I’d write, but by afternoon I’d need entertainment. Every day we set off on food or by local train for a mini adventure. He had a cell phone ap that showed every Buddhist and Shinto shrine in the vicinity, and these were often a destination. A paper map showed a “stone” on a hill above the commercial road–probably Shinto. We set off to find it, despite being vague about its location.
We were soon climbing up a mountain road, the hillside terraced for cabbages and citrus trees. Yes, it was damp and hovered at about freezing, but Itoshima is basically a Mediterranean climate agriculturally, and fruit still hung in the misty weather. No Shinto stone, but we suddenly found ourselves in a vast bamboo forest, the stalks as high as huge trees, creating a deep wood. “Close your eyes and listen,” Tim said. That’s when I heard the forest creaking like a wooden schooner riding the waves.

Haunted by Japan: Photographs by Gail Rieke and Poems by Miriam Sagan

Certain experiences are so productive creatively that they continue on. Gail Rieke has been to Japan numerous times, and I only once. But we both visited this year, and I had the good fortune to talk to her before and after our trips. I’m combining our work below–not from the same exact places but I think from a deep ethos.

if there is a kami of sadness
she worshipped too long
at that shrine

hung books from wires
that could never
be read

not just ephemeral paper
but pages of air

the foam of waves
marbled the bookends of sand
in suminagashi

every woman
the world over
is writing a book
of herself

made of flesh and
north wind

Wayside Shrine

I haven’t heard
the temple bell
in so long

or ever before
seen a Buddha’s shrine
on the Tokyo
business street
or deep in country
where the earthen
sides of the lanes
loom over my head

offered an orange
like the ones
on the small trees
despite the freezing weather

for a few yen
lit a stick
of incense
with my cold gloved hands

stars, worlds

this smoke
that goes nowhere

Life As A Waking Dream: Gail Rieke in Japan

I knew Japan in many different guises before I actually visited. One of those ways was through artist Gail Rieke’s eyes, and the documents of her many trips.
From her most recent:

I’ve also always admired the way she wears a short kimono as a jacket–and I’ve imitated that style myself (a sincere form of flattery).

Poem From Japan–Miriam Sagan

Thanks to Stone Bridge for publishing my poem of the Japanese countryside.

from the desk window
blue roof tiles
those dragon scales
that ripple
like the sea
and a corrugated
green tin roof
then the lettuce beds
of the old lady’s house

when she opens the screens
I can watch her
watch television
or eat a little snack,
she has quality
of loneliness
or aloneness
I recognize—
she’s the one
who is left

To see it all–

2 Second Fix: No Need To Curse The Darkness

The item I need in order to feel secure is not a phone, pepper spray, or a credit card. It is a flashlight. One with internal batteries that comes with the claim PREFERRED BY FIREFIGHTERS. I’ve been blacked out in many unfamiliar and remote places. And since I have to pee in the middle of the night sleeping right through isn’t an option.
On an unrelated but equally useful note—I had a Hassidic teacher tell me that if it is Hannukah and you don’t have a menorah tea lights are a perfectly good substitute. As someone who spent two winter weeks in the Everglades clutching her flashlight, I can also attest that the tea lights are very pretty.

One more thought. These lanterns were ubiquitous in Japan–and gorgeous, even if just advertising noodles. Wouldn’t they make a great basis for a text installation?

Sex Trade and A Very Small Earthquake: Poem by Miriam Sagan

Just published in
Click to read more!

Sex Trade and a Very Small Earthquake

at 1am it woke me
more the house moving
than the earth itself
loud noise
screens rattling

on the way to the grocery store
my son-in-law and I
saw a long line of silent men
looking like a queue for bread
standing outside a tiny door
advertising women
and the price

this is just
a few feet from
from the fish stall,
more than sixty years and half a world
from my cautious worried
life as a woman
where one wrong turn
leads to dangerous DANGER

now old
I’m sleeping
beneath my drying clothes
pink sweater
which is another body
fluttering at the window shade
and swaying
like a gull
that looks down
on islands
and sees the ocean floor

Suminagashi in Japan–Isabel Winson-Sagan

Working with suminagashi in Japan was a terrific experience. Returning to the country that is the source of suminagashi lent meaning to the practice in a way that nothing else could. Because it is a traditional art form, the original influences were easy to find- from pieces of sumi in museums to the mountains that have influenced everything from woodblocks prints to sumi-e, the physical place and culture that birthed the art form were all around me.

Home From Japan But So Many Impressions Remain


the gate of the city of Fukuoka
sits as a walled park,
its shrines are several stories
with a public architecture
of gray curved roofs

the spirits housed here
assert a place
that will be populous, prosperous,
its train station
takes you everywhere else
and you must
bring home a box
of little cakes
to show you were there

feral but sleek
black and white cats
by the bodhisattva—
(someone must be feeding them)
a large pile of tiles
stacked up
to keep things in repair
above our heads

red pagoda
enormous tree
handful of cherry blossoms
lines of weathered buddhas
put out to pasture
and one huge buddha
you can’t photograph
but offer incense, candles
as I whisper
your long gone name

on the corner
is a noodle shop
the table set with garnishes
of green onions and tempura bits
who wouldn’t be happy?

flying half the night
I don’t see
the eclipse of the moon
although that will no doubt
the one I love

back in Honolulu
on the way home
Pagoda Hotel
with its funky
overgrown green
carp pool
full of whiskers and big turtles
I sit alone in the afternoon
in a fake
replica of a tower
that invites
the habitation
of the invisible.