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The pillow book

Today I am taken back to eleventh-century Japan and to The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. The Pillow Book is a beautiful piece of writing by a court lady in the Heian period and is full of humor, insight, and impressions of court life. It is one of the first literary diaries. She often wrote lists of things she loved or hated. In the spirit of The Pillow Book I share with you excerpts from a book I once dreamed: The Book of Lists.


1. Inspirations for Poems

One sits beside a river, sees the flowing water is like the flowing of words, and one determines to write a poem about it.

A cloud of dust kicked up by one's feet on a country road. It settles back to earth. That one will also turn to dust causes one to think of writing a poem.

A soldier far away on a battlefield one does not know but cares about.

The juice of a cherry popsicle dripping down one's hand.

A spider web hung between two pine trees.

A snowflake on the tongue.


2. Hateful Things

On a cold day one goes to a restaurant and orders a bowl of tomato basil soup. When it arrives one discovers it is lukewarm.

At the grocery store one offers the cashier a coupon only to discover it expired the previous week.

Chocolate that has gone stale.

A book one has been searching for is finally found. One pays full price for it. A friend says, "Oh, I've got that book. You could have borrowed it."

A flat tire, a shoelace that breaks, an obscene caller, a debt collector, an expensive new shoe that gives one a blister.


3. Things That Keep One Up at Night

A flashing neon light outside one's hotel window, the couple arguing next door, a man pacing upstairs.

Your best friend traveled far to see you, falls asleep on your couch, and begins to snore. You can't bear to wake her up so you turn out the lights, lay down on your bed, and stare at the ceiling.

A lover that one won't see again for many days.

A tree limb brushing against a window.

A job interview the following day.

The last line in a poem one is writing.

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