Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "To Do the Brave Things"

This poem came out of the July 19, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] lone_cat, [personal profile] ellenmillion, and LJ user Rix_scaedu. It also fills the "safe" square in my 6-1-16 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by LJ user Daisiesrockalot. It belongs to the Aquariana thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It follows "Bearers of Witness with Justice," so make sure to read that first, or this will make no sense.

Warning: This poem deals with some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes odd cultural dynamics, references to past whaling, ambivalent emotions, surprising interpersonal dynamics, quiet acts of heroism, and other challenges. There are spoilers for "Bearers of Witness with Justice" too. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"To Do the Brave Things"

Aquariana and Irene were playing
with the whales when a call came through
from the President of the Maldives.

"We're receiving a diplomatic broadcast
from Japan," he told Aquariana. "Put it
on your viewscreen, you need to see this."

So Aquariana switched her screen from
navigation to reception and searched for
the relevant broadcast, while Irene
retrieved the balls that Steel and
Moderato had been tossing around.

Both whales swam close to the side of
the Jeanne Baret to see what was going on.

There on the screen was a boy
on the cusp of puberty, wrapped in
elaborate robes. The outermost layer
was a purple so deep it was almost black,
with a wink of brilliant red hidden beneath,
over white bottoms of densely pleated silk.
A family crest was worked in gold on
several places, gleaming in the light.

His long hair was folded up into
an elaborate, box-shaped hairdo and
his eyes were a startling deep blue.

"Wow, that's Toyotama-Hiko," said Irene.
"He almost never makes appearances
beyond Japan. This must be big."

The boy spoke Japanese, but
subtitles appeared in a banner below.
"Today I am apologizing to the People
of the Sea on behalf of all Japan. We
did not realize that you were people, and
in our ignorance we have wronged you."
He bowed, long and low, the silk robes
whispering against the wooden floor.

"You have no reason to believe our words,
and so we will offer deeds instead, which are
less easily dismissed," said Toyotama-Hiko.
"Sincerity is a witness to truth."

A map replaced the boy's image,
which showed first Japan, then
the Wakayama prefecture, and
finally zoomed in on a bay.

"That's Taiji," said Aquariana.
There was no mistaking the shape
of the bay with its distinctive fork.
"What in the world ..."

The view returned to Toyotama-Hiko.
"Japan cedes the bay of Taiji to
the People of the Sea," he said.
"There will be no more hunting or
fishing within that sanctuary."

Aquariana whistled through her teeth.
She and other environmentalists
had spent years trying to pry Taiji
away from its whaling traditions.

Evidently this boy had a longer lever.

"This is our apology, made not in words,
but in water, which is precious to both
of our peoples," said Toyotama-Hiko.
"We humbly beg your forgiveness
for our transgressions against you,
and hope for peace between us."

He bowed again, lower, and
his body curled in upon itself until
the air seemed to ripple around him --

and then the boy was gone, in his place
a serpentine dragon with nacreous scales tinged
silver along the spine and gold along the belly.
A prominent pearl adorned his forehead, and
long mustaches trailed from his mouth. He
raised a three-clawed foot in salute as
his coils twined in a graceful knot.

With that, the transmission faded out.

Aquariana closed her mouth and
tried to gather her wits.

"That was very well done," Irene said.
"I bet that makes a big splash."

"Can he do that?" Aquariana said.
"I thought Japan basically hated soups."

"I believe he can," Irene said. "The Japanese
have ... let's call it a complicated response to
superpowers. They dislike most kinds, but there
are a few with deep cultural roots they respect,
and dragons pretty much top that stack."

"Okay, so what does that mean in terms
of the politics?" Aquariana asked.

"From what I know about Toyotama-Hiko,
he belongs to an offshoot of the Imperial Family
and his abilities tie right in to their claims of
divine ancestry," Irene said. "The politics are
awkward, so the compromise has been to call
him the Emperor of Culture. The government
sometimes hands off announcements to him
in matters of culture and honor."

"That was quite an announcement,
all right," Aquariana said. Then she
leaned over the rail and asked the whales,
"How do you guys feel about this?"

At first all she got back was a tangle
of mixed emotions, like long strands of
kelp knotted together by the waves.

That is the Red Bay, Steel said uneasily.
We have learned to avoid the killing grounds.
I am not sure anyone would want to go there.

This is the first time any of the landers have
apologized to us, though,
Moderato said.
I think that, at least, is good progress.

"It's an unexpected opportunity,
a silver lining," said Aquariana.
"What happened was horrible, but
some good may still come out of this."

"In order for a relationship to begin the path
of reconciliation and healing, somebody must
be willing to do the brave things," said Irene.
"First, one must apologize; and then,
another must accept the apology."

I do not know if I can, Steel said
with a ripple in his mind like
cross-currents in the water.

"Well, we've always got Moderato,
he's good with people," said Aquariana.
"He could make a statement, if he
agrees the apology is valid."

I could, said Moderato,
but I think I would prefer not to.
I am not the one who has been
wronged the most in this. I feel
that it is Steel's place to accept or
decline, to forgive or not.

Aquariana could feel how much
Steel was taken aback by that.

He was -- they all were, really --
accustomed to relying on Moderato
for the diplomatic interactions.

It was uncommon for Moderato
to move aside and insist that Steel
make the choices in a case like this,
but on further consideration,
Aquariana could see why.

Only part of it was because
Steel had the greater claim here;
the other part was that he needed
to learn how to handle his own emotions
and choose whether to deal with humans.

"Okay," Aquariana agreed. "Steel,
it's your move now. How does this fit
with your feelings and your goals?
How do you want to handle it?"

Long, thoughtful rumbles echoed
through the hull of the boat as Steel
took his time to frame an answer.

Aquariana was glad that he did that
instead of making a snap decision.

What I have wanted the most --
what I thought I could never have --
was safety,
said Steel. If the offer is
sincere, then a place of death would
become one of sanctuary. That is not
something to cast off lightly. Yet I
do not know much about forgiveness.
It is very new to me still.

"Forgiveness is about healing
damaged relationships," Irene said.
"It means letting go of the bitterness you
harbor toward someone who hurt you before.
When someone regrets their mistakes and
offers an apology, tries to make amends,
then that is a great time to forgive them
so that you can all do better in the future."

"You know, the Russians have
a fantastic saying for occasions like
this one: 'Trust, but verify.' You don't
have to take it on faith that the bay is
safe now. You could send scouts who
can defend themselves in case of
emergency," Aquariana suggested.
"Nautilus comes readily to mind."

From the spark of interest,
Aquariana could sense that
Steel liked that idea.

The old tales say that place was
very romantic,
said Moderato.

That startled Aquariana into a chuckle.
She had known that whales migrated from
cold feeding grounds to warmer places for
breeding and calving, but she had never
looked at it from their perspective before.

That woke a ripple of memory for Steel,
too, a surprising surge of passion and
affection that he quickly concealed
to avoid flooding the link with
overly intimate history.

The fondness lingered, though,
like a trail of something sweet
moving through the water.

If there is to be safety for anyone,
then someone must swim down into
the darkness and find it,
said Steel.
Even a hurricane must run out
of fury sooner or later

Aquariana recalled the accident
that had nearly killed her, but that
also led to her developing superpowers
which made her much more formidable
in protecting the waters of the world.

"Yes, that's often true," she said.
"It is up to each person to decide
whether it's a trip they want to make,
and when they're finished feeling angry."

"Whatever you choose to do, Steel,
let us know, and then we can pass along
the message to the Japanese for you," said Irene.

Tell the white dragon, said Steel, I accept his apology.

* * *


Toyotama-Hiko (Tsuneo Yamato) -- He has golden skin, blue eyes, and long straight black hair. He is twelve years old in 2014. He belongs to an offshoot of the imperial family; his blue eyes come from his great-great grandmother (Sachiko, Princess Hisa) having been raped by an unidentified American soldier back in World War II, hence the isolation from other branches of the family. But the imperial connection became rather obvious after Tsuneo's powers manifested. He is considered the Emperor of Culture for Japan, a position conflicted between Japan's reverence for dragons and its loathing of superpowers. There is a growing argument that Tsuneo should be placed on the Chrysanthemum Throne by proof of divine right (i.e. physical shapeshifting congruent with the family's genealogical claim to divine ancestry) as well as his complicated ties across several family lines. However, he has declined to take a stance on that personally, so "Emperor of Culture" is the current compromise. The government sometimes hands off announcements to him in matters of culture and honor. Tsuneo enjoys strategic board games such as Go and Shogi. His youth and small size work against him in trying to guide older, larger people.
Origin: Tsuneo was near the Fukushima Daiichi reactor for a school field trip when the earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. He was nine years old at the time. Although not seriously injured, he was very shaken up, and everyone in the area got some exposure to the radiation leaking from the damaged facility. He developed superpowers about a year later. First a strange floss emerged from his skin, hardening into an egg-like cocoon. Out of that hatched his dragon form, and then he turned back into human form.
Uniform: Tsuneo wears his school uniform at school, and street clothes when off duty. For formal occasions he wears a very elaborate imperial kimono, and after making an official proclamation, he customarily turns into a dragon.
Qualities: Master (+6) Wisdom, Expert (+4) Japanese Culture, Expert (+4) Leadership, Good (+2) Graceful, Good (+2) Shintoist, Good (+2) Strategic Board Games
Poor (-2) Still Young and Small
Powers: Good (+2) Imperial Dragon
His dragon form is long and sinuous, with three claws per foot, and a prominent "mustache" on the head. His scales are pearl-white along the back, almost silver; and pearl-gold along the belly. A prominent 'pearl' on his forehead is actually a third eye which perceives only light and dark, and is intended to warn of danger. In dragon form his meta-power functions at Good level; in human form, only Average. Subsidiary powers include Flight, Healing, Invulnerability, Regeneration, Shapeshifting, and Water Powers.
Motivation: To guide Japan along the path of honor.

Hime means "princess" in Japanese, and hiko is "prince." Toyotama-hime is a legendary figure.

Note: In L-Japan, Sachiko died as an infant. In T-Japan, she became very sick but recovered dramatically and never had another significant illness in her life. It has been suggested -- and the family always objects vociferously -- that Sachiko had some kind of superpower which allowed her to survive.

* * *

"I wonder how many relationships would begin the path of reconciliation and healing if one person were to do the brave thing: apologize."
-- Unknown

The history of the kimono includes different styles for women and men. Toyotama-hiko is wearing an Imperial kimono of deep purple with red underrobe, white hakama, and five gold family crests. This historic picture shows a gold kimono with a red underrobe. A more modern style shows a red overrobe with white hakama.

"Sincerity is a witness to truth."
-- Shinto Sayings

Taiji, Wakayama, Japan is a fishing village famed for its gruesome dolphin hunts. Here is a map of Japan showing the location of Taiji. This closeup map of Taiji shows its distinctive forked bay.

Here is a video of a dragon dance. I have seen onstage, but could not find an exact copy of, the type of dance where the dragon really tied itself in a knot.

Apologies are intended to heal damaged relationships. They have a lot of power. Follow the steps for making an apology.

Apology and forgiveness are crucial tools in conflict resolution.

Some whales breed near Japan. It seems logical that whatever places they like to congregate in for this purpose must put them in the mood for it, a quality human languages describe as "romantic."
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, politics, reading, weblit, writing
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