Miya (Pt. I)

(Editor’s note: below is Part I of Carrie Preston’s English-language noh “Miya.” It is patterned after a traditional first category (or Waki) play. The three plays posted here by Ms. Preston explore aspects of her life. In this entry we hear the story of the boat Miya, and of the boat’s builder.)

Miya, a God Play

an English-language noh
by Carrie Preston

Waki: Wife
Waki-tsure: Husband, a U.S. Marine
Maeshite: An Old Boat Captain
Nochijite: Hata
Kyogen: Deckhand

[The Chorus enters. A white cloth, stretched on a triangular frame, is placed center stage to represent the sailboat, Miya.]

[Shidai] (Entrance of the Wife and Husband)
Waves trip against each other,
shake white hair and fall.
Fish leap, a wave departing,
jolt their balk and fall.
Unfurl the mainsail to catch
what we might lose.
[Jidori] CHORUS:
Fish leap, a wave departing,
jolt their balk and fall.
Unfurl the mainsail to catch
what we might lose.

If this were a noh play, I would be the waki, the witness. Maybe a plagiarist, or just a bad wife. My husband is a Marine jet pilot, but his play, the warrior piece, is next in the cycle. I left him for a job, saying something about following separate dreams. Once each month, I return to him at San Diego bay where he lives on the sailboat, Miya.

I fly home to him,
write in contrail, white letters
stamped into the sky,
fading before they can shape
words or a question
we can’t afford to ask.
How easy would it be to
give up this journey.

I fly to him. Home
is a made thing, open frame.
And small difference
between sailboat and airplane,
both craft float above
lighter mediums, both move
but improbably.

I arrive at the sailboat,
her mainsail clanging
against the mast to drown out
an awkward greeting.

Welcome home
When you live on a used boat,
you sense her lessons.
Miya rocks over waves,
always faces the wind.
Present here just where she is.
Could she loan us her
buoyancy over water?
I heard a story
about Miya’s first owner,
a Japanese man, Mr. Hata.
One of the deckhands said
he died on board, sailing
home to Hokaido.

HUSBAND:  An old man, a sailor, is coming slowly our way.

[Issei, Entrance of Shite]
Miya in wave, fog,
smoothing white brocade over
a moss darkened board,
froth of cream in a white cup,
sails fill, long-sleeved arms.

The owner of a used boat
accepts the burden
of all previous journeys,
marred stern, bent bowsprit.

So this is Hata san’s boat.
Did you know him?
And you kept her name.
We learned that Miya means shrine in Japanese.
And it’s bad luck to change the name of a sailboat.
For those who believe in ghosts.
Can you tell us about Hata?
At eighty-two he learned to sail.
Did he die on the Miya?
Only a rumor.
But we found his things onboard.

A cherry wood chart table,
in the top drawer,
maps, dated, a voyage plotted
from here to Japan.
No radar or gps,
he charted a course
in the old way, by the stars.
Underneath the table was
a small shrine, inside,
two cups, remnants of green tea,
candles partly burnt.
He kept his wife’s ashes there,
made his offerings.
The photo of an old man,
curved, a question mark.

(Wife and Husband kneel at Waki Pillar.)

[Uta](Shite dances slowly.)
Eighty-two years old.
Hata’s wife had just been killed
in an accident.
They had lived and raised a son
near San Diego.
Years earlier they promised
that the survivor
would take the ashes back home
to northern Japan
to their family shrines.
Hata built Miya for this
voyage. They told him
he was building his coffin.
He was sailing home.

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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