Egret at San Diego Bay (Pt. I)

(Editor’s note: below is Part I of Carrie Preston’s English-language noh “Egret at San Diego Bay.” The play is modeled after traditional third category noh, and recounts part of Carrie’s personal history – life on a boat; and the story surrounding that boat. The work explores feelings of love and loss.)

Egret at San Diego Bay: A Woman Play

An English-language noh
Written by Carrie Preston

Waki:         Wife
Shite:         Miu Hatashita
Waki tsure:     Husband
Tsure:         Rice Farmer

[Shidai]         (Entrance of Wife)
Blue sheets reach across the bay,
cover restless waves.
Blue sheets reach across the bay,
cover restless waves.
Egrets wait, the moon will lift
her crescent ear.

Blue sheets reach across the bay,
cover restless waves.
Egrets wait, the moon will lift
her crescent ear.

My husband and I live on a sailboat here at San Diego bay. He returned from fighting in Iraq a few weeks ago and has been haunted by dreams. I walk the beach when I can not comfort him. Or will not. I feel more alone now that he is home. I’m not sure if he wants me to stay or go. So I watch the egrets, who stand so still and certain.

WIFE:                (Facing Audience.)
I walk to the bay.
Sailboats have furled their white wings,
past the weathered docks.
Sailboats with their folded wings,
past the weathered docks.
Waves that once confused the sea,
feather to stillness.
Quiet bed where my heart rests,
or drowns in the cold.
When the moon parts from water,
does it know regret?
I seek the egret’s stillness,
sliver of moonlight
resting white against the waves.
Egret, wing of snow,
offer your cool drink before
melting into night.

[Kotoba]    (Miu enters to flute song.)

In the tangled dune sagebrush an egret poses, cream of a wave against the sand.
No, an old woman, her long white hair feathering away as she walks.

My love sang to me:
Her black hair against her cheek,
a branch etched by snow.
Her black eyes hold the first light,
that welcomes the dawn.

Quiet as a white egret
standing in rice fields.
My touch will melt her winter,
draw open her wings.

I’m sorry to bother you, but I heard you singing.
A very old song.
Do you often walk by the bay?
When I was first married, I spent many evenings watching the egrets.
Just for a moment, when I first saw you, I mistook you for an egret… Did you come here with your husband?
No, he was a fishmaster, so he was often at sea.
That must have been hard.
Can I ask how it felt when he came home?
We were kind to each other. We both cherished our son.
Were you happy?
Often. But, I think a marriage could be very different. It could have been different with another man.

Legends say that egrets wait
for perfect lovers.
That is why she stands alone
where waves fall apart.
By what impulse will the bird
wing up to the sky?
After standing hour by hour
what drives her to flight?
Could she ever find a love
to meet that desire?

I married a fisherman
and left my village.
Married a man of water,
with a good, kind heart.

He held her like a duty,
performed in order.
He held her in sure, strong hands
like a foreign thing.
Can water keep the longing
of airy creatures?

In water the egret wades
ponderous, awkward.
Heavy gibbous moon body
pinned against the sea.
In flight she is a crescent,
light against the sky.
She longed for another love
to touch her slowly
as autumn ripens rice stalks,
pulsing with gold.
Hands like feathers at her breast,
shaping a white wing.

I was the wife of Hata,
the man who built your boat.
He was a man of water
never flew with me.

[Uta]                (Miu exits).
She sighs, walks away,
with the weighted tread of birds,
as if wading through water,
as if leaving a lover.

(Continued in Pt. II)

About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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