Tosa Mitsuoki, 1617 – 1691
Poem slips! What a beautiful tradition to observe the changing seasons or to honor the dead -- or both at once, as this time of year always reminds us. When it comes to honoring the dead, I love the idea of stretching Halloween out to include All Saints and All Souls -- three full days and nights of Allhallowtide!
In Up from Jericho Tel -- a novel of time travel and communing with the dead -- beloved YA author E. L. Konigsburg describes a concept identical to Mitsuoki's beautiful 17th Century depiction of the Japanese poem slips: the weathergram.
Up From Jericho Tel, features a couple of introspective middle - schoolers, Jeanmarie and Malcolm, who come across a dead blue jay and feel that it deserves a proper burial "as far away from civilization" as they are allowed to roam. They find a spot of natural perfection right at the edge of their mobile home park:
"We weaved our way through a stand of evergreens where the underbrush was ragged and full of sticklers until we found ourselves in a clearing. As we stood in its center, we saw that the pines . . . were part of a thick protecting circle . . . We knew as soon as we saw it that it was the proper place to bury the jay."They pushed aside the pine needles, dug the grave, and made a small pyramid of pine cones: "This will be the grave marker. Not a gravestone but a gravecone."
They call the pet cemetery "Jericho Tel," and for each deceased animal, they create a weathergram: "a poem of ten words or less that a person writes on plain brown paper and hangs on a tree. . . . The message is rubbed by the wind, faded by the sun, washed by the rain and becomes part of the world."
For example, in honor of the deceased blue jay: "May your soul have flown to heaven before you sank to earth" and for a stricken luna moth: "Fly. Fluttter. Falter. Fall" (9 - 10, 13).
I can hardly think of a lovelier transition rite or ceremony for All Saints Day than poem slips and weathergrams.
"The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them, especially at festivals and also when an old one died, because an old one was very close to the ancestors. Life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought us nearer and nearer to our ancestors"(122, emphasis added).