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Hokusai's Return

rower bent over in labour

and reaching for a nowhere

where you can / you cannot

drive further, drive through

oshiokuri bune’s frail prows,

oars rhyming with rampages

of the terror’s watery surge

you must / you must not

drown under this shunga wave,

Prussian-blue hair in cascades

where Silver-fingers of light

invite you higher into her crest,

as she curls over to engulf, you -

Rower, in the ocean’s spit hollow;

She, carries you further, on beyond death,

and you’re swallowed alive, as whole

as depths of the sea's salt breath.


This poem is a response to crisis. In the 1820's Hokusai's personal life was engulfed in crisis. Yet at the same time he produced his iconic work 'Under the Great Wave off Kanagawa', including innovative use of the daring colour 'prussian blue' introduced from Europe.

'oshiokuri bune' is the Japanese name for the distinctive fishing boats in the picture.

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