The cold presses against me.
I pull my cloak tighter.
The ferry woman pushes from the shore,
She is quiet.
I wonder if the mist will clear,
We bump into land.
I cannot really tell if I am on an island.
The ferry woman solemnly nods to me.
I walk up a small hill
to a red pavilion.
The shoji screen doors are open to the night.
Inside a large fire pit gapes.
Covered from head to toe,
sits a man.
He calls me by my mother’s name,
deep from his throat, “Shinjo…”
I bow my head.
Yes, I am Shinjo, the last of this line.
I ask him “What am I to do?”
He looks up at me.
“Don’t you know?” he asks in a thick accent.
I grin. “I think I know, but I want to ask you.”
He nods his head.
“You are the last…remember us.”
“Don’t forget what the Samurai represents.”
“Call on their guidance. They will listen.”
I nod gravely.
My mother is very superstitious,
maybe for good reason.
“And you, the last Shinjo…
Will you bring honor to your family name?”
I bit my lip.
“I will try.”
“Try! You will try?!” he shouts.
He stands up and his coverings fall away.
He stands in full battle gear.
As blood trickles down from his heart.
“Do not try!”
“Bring honor to your family!”
“There is not other way!”
I fall to the floor and ask for forgiveness
To the floor I say,
“In this age, honor is not so valued.”
I hear the frightening sound of a sword being unsheathed.
My nose pressed to the floor.
I see blood dripping in front of me.
The sword is laid before me.
“Bring honor and do not fear darkness.”
“Be brave, be the warrior.”
I sit up in the Japanese style.
“My blood runs through you,” he says.
“Do not fear death, do not fear failure.”
“Be brave and all will be well.”
“Be deliberate and do not regret.”
He puts the sword in its sheath.
My ancestor bows his head
as he holds out the sword to me in both hands.
I grasp it, thrilled by it weight.
I notice ornate decoration.
He looks me in the eyes,
I recognize myself in his face.
From my pocket,
I pull out a picture,
me and my mother.
I look at it and remember the day
we laughed on the grassy hill.
It is my favorite picture of us.
I give this to my Samurai ancestor.
He looks at it and presses his lips together.
His face contorts with pain and pride
as he looks at the picture,
I want to put my arms around him.
But instead I take his hand
and kiss his calloused knuckles.
“Thank you for this gift”
I hold up the sword most formally.
He smiles and replies,
“And I thank you for this, Shinjo.”
We bow to one another.
And I quietly take my leave.
Out of the corner of my eye,
I see him still looking at the picture.
I am oddly satisfied.
Bringing the family honor
is more than I have ever wanted.
I have wanted to escape my family
and here I am promising
to my ancestors.
Who, I understand now,
have every right to demand it.
I feel ashamed at my own brazen ideas.
To think I am without them.
They will always be with me.
I cannot escape them,
even in death.
The ferry woman helps me into the barge.
As we set back to the Hermitage
the heavy mist has lifted.
I can now see it really is an island
as the morning light turns the clouds pink.