Egret at San Diego Bay (Pt. II)

(Editor’s note: below is Part II of Carrie Preston’s English-language noh “Egret at San Diego Bay.” The kuri/sashi/kuse is included in this entry. “In the fullness of his love,
he helped her to leave.”)

                    (Entrance of HUSBAND.)
Dear, it’s getting late. Come home.
Did you see an old woman when you walked up?
Nobody else was here. Is something wrong?
I was just talking to a woman. She said something about Mr. Hata. I think she said she was married to him. Wasn’t he a fishmaster?
You’re obsessed with that story.

[Kakeai – sung with some overlap]
A love story.
A ghost story.
Do you believe in ghosts?
You don’t believe in ghosts.
Let’s walk a ways.
Let’s go to bed.
The moon is rising. It might be bright enough to see the egrets.
They have all flown away, and I’m tired.
Please stay.                     (She reaches out for him.)
I’m going.
I’m staying.                    (Echo the choreography of the ending.)
Fine. Don’t wake me up when you come back.
I’ll be quiet.

When a woman sings of love,
must she sing alone?
This ghost woman sang of love,
but she was alone.
She was an airy creature,
elusive and light.
Her husband never saw her
dancing on the wind.
Will my husband ever see,
my impulse to fly.
I asked him to stay near me,
walk with me tonight.
I asked him to stay near me,
walk with me tonight.

(The Nochijite returns as a young woman, followed by the Farmer with a flute, playing deha entrance music. He remains on the hashigakari throughout the play.)
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.
His touch could melt my winter
draw open my wings.

I see two figures. A young woman and a man. But it is that same song, a beautiful song.
I sing of ghosts, of nothing.
Beauty is something…
That quickly withers. You are young and cannot know.
I know that the beauty of a woman is a short-lived piece of luck…
That destroys the men who love her before it fades. She might be more lucky when it is gone. The men are.

Do they forget the beauty they loved?
I don’t know.
Do you regret the passing of your beauty?
Then you regret…
The man I loved and left when I married.
How could you leave him?
As lovers always have.

Who was he?

A rice farmer. As the rice began to burnish in the autumn sun, I heard him sing:

The one I love stands so still
among swaying stalks.
Egret Girl, if I approach,
will you turn away?
The one I love, her pure heart,
white as grains of rice
caught in the moon’s sharp sickle.
Egret, come to me
let me hold you as autumn
makes rice pulse with gold.

Egret Girl, he called to me,
but I stepped slowly.
Slender bird, fluted-leg
Wading through a ripe song
following his voice.

Day by day, wading
through the honeyed grain
to reach his song.

[Kuse]        (Shite dances).
A flute in his hands,
he played, her breath followed,
the key of her breast,
rising to his desire.
He tasted her ear
as a tongue nudges a tune.
No longer an egret,
standing thin and still.
He had taught her to sing.
He held her to him
as the moon curves around
its pillow in the night.
She promised to wait for him
when he went to war.
She promised to marry him
when he came home.
He smiled thin as a rice stalk:
You must live, my Love.
Don’t wait, posed like an egret
at the edge of life.

I waited, posed like an egret
at the edge of life.

The one she loves, his sweet voice
drowned in battle sounds.
She set the coil of her ear
like a crescent moon
in the sky.
Follow the light,
follow it home.
He returned with wounds.
She held him to her
as the moon grips its shadow
through the long night.
She hoped to fill him
as summer rice spreads its green,
over the bombed earth.
Wading through wounds
to reach him,
hands open like wings.
Asked him for another song,
but he could not sing.
The flute was too fragile.
His tongue searched her mouth,
her ear, for his tune.

He tore his heart apart,
for my happiness.
Told me to marry and leave
for a better life.
He left a crescent of moon            (Farmer dances.)
curved around my breast.

Tore his heart apart for her,
left a slice of moon,
broken flute, curved at her breast.
Did he pray she would stay there?
Did he know regret?
When egrets returned each spring        (MIU rises and mirrors the Farmer’s dance)
with the new wet rice.
Holding their slender curved necks
in a question mark.
Did he struggle with questions
curled against his heart?
Or see her sliver of joy,
cherish its sharp edge?
In the fullness of his love,
he helped her to leave.
His touch could melt her winter            (MIU and Farmer almost touch at edge
draw open her wings.                               of hashigakari.)
She turns away once again,                    (She turns slowly toward waki pillar. WIFE rises.)
with a heavy heart.                                   (He backs away down the hashigakari.)
Egrets wading in the bay,
stamp down their longing.                    (MIU stamps. MIU and WIFE each walk in a small
Night, the wind rests its burden,          circle around themselves. WIFE ends facing waki
the moon whispers of regret,                 pillar. MIU ends at edge of hashigakari.)
leans a narrow, white ear toward the bay.         (MIU and WIFE stamp final beat together.)

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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