There are no blossoms. That’s the first thing I noticed about this year’s Sakura Matsuri a.k.a. Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. And yes, it’s the opening line of a haiku I wrote and was muttering to myself while pushing my way through the hundreds of other festival goers on the so-called Cherry Esplanade (no trees in bloom), getting body-checked by backpacks, and my foot run over by strollers pushed by parents with that look in their eye. And if there are no cherry blossoms, how exactly does one contemplate the beauty and fragility of life and death?
There are other ways, I found out. The cosplayers (see here if you like) only confused me--like entering a party where everyone but yourself is in costume; the traditional Japanese Taiko drumming was quite cool and inspiring, I admit, though watching in particular one of the drummers, a very excited white dude with a big grin and dramatic flair with his drumsticks, the fragility of life was not what came to mind; the Parasol Society Fashion Show with the “Goth gals and guys, Victorian maidens, and boho Bo-Peeps” was, well, fine; and the j-pop singer—ah yes, the contemplation of death finally achieved. Kidding. J-pop singer Hitomi Himekawa of Rainbow Bubble was suitable enthusiastic, had a fine singing voice, and some lovely little dance moves.
But the blossoms, the blossoms. A few trees near the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden were in bloom (and surrounded by iPhones, iPads, and news cameras). What else to do then? As Japanese poet Basho says, “Cherries are in bloom / here comes a guy / selling yam seeds.” Well, no yam seeds but there were plenty of other items for sale: bento lunch boxes and sushi that were sitting outside on tables (for how long, I don’t know), large pink cupcakes, saki (Protima would have been happy), cosplayer paraphernalia, wooden Geta shoes, ninja boots, manga, wall scrolls, and Kimonos. Hmm, I really want a Kimono. They look comfy.
I tried to get away from the crowds. I walked near a stream. I studied a tree that had been cut down leaving only a few gnarly stumps. Yes, here we go: fragility of life, death. I was getting it. Perhaps now, I thought, it’s an appropriate time to finish that haiku I started:
There are no blossoms.
A lone woman whispers Shhhhh.
Look: a man’s ass crack.
The man holds his child
Over the Japanese pond.
Like he’s drowning her.
Maybe it’s time for me to go home? No, there's more to do. I attended a lecture on Ikebana flower arranging by Fumiko Allinder. I liked her. “Never arrange them straight,” she said. “Always lean.” Seems like good advice. I went to a Japanese tea ceremony demonstration. With four hundred years of tradition, Japanese tea ceremonies are quite complex. There are precise ways to walk, to bow, to eat, to speak, to arrange and set up a tearoom, to pour and drink the tea. It takes years to master the customs and movements of a tea ceremony, the man giving the presentation said. Years. This man also spoke about the cherry blossom festival. The festival started as a time to worship the deity of the rice fields. Food and sake were used as an offering, and then just brought to share. Viewing the cherry blossoms, like a tea ceremony, is a time to practice mindfulness of the present moment. “The present moment,” the man said, “is filled with joy, happiness, beauty.”
A week after the festival I return to the Botanic Garden. It’s late Sunday afternoon. The crowds are gone. The trees on the Cherry Esplanade are in bloom. People sit under the blossoms. A couple kisses. A few children shout and play. Young women dance and giggle uncontrollably. The sun comes through the clouds. I lean against a cherry tree. I let the blossoms speak to me. What do they say? Practice mindfulness. Yes, I’ll try. Drink more sake. That can be done. Life is fragile. Yes, I know. Joy, happiness, beauty. Yes, yes, yes. The sun disappears behind dark clouds. The wind starts to gust. Heavy drops of rain come down. Shit, I don’t have my umbrella. I left it at a psychic’s on Houston Street. A cherry tree branch hits me in the face. Blossoms scatter to the ground. An appropriate line of a haiku, I think, but perhaps it’s best to leave it.