There’s a lot of pink in Sonia Saikaley’s latest collection of poetry. Given the fairy tale-like title, the deluge of sakura-related imagery was expected. The blood from rape instead of battle, was not.
As frustrating in its first half as its second half is soulful, “A Samurai’s Pink House” is a complicated stew of bungled opportunities peppered with graceful insight.
The opening poem immediately throws itself down an uncomfortably familiar path that trades the possibility of exploring a female samurai’s heroics for the depiction of a submissive, eroticized Japanese woman dreaming of freedom and reclaimed sexuality amid rigid social structures.
“Another baby suckled her breasts,/ demanded attention./ After every feeding, she went to the kitchen,/ prepared dinner for her husband,” — this is depressingly stereotypical.
Saikaley’s inclusion of geisha, kabuki actors, and biographical musings on Matsuo Basho feel largely hurried and detached. It’s a shame, because her verse shines once she shifts to the details of her own everyday struggles, triumphs, and relationships.
“You spoke through the hazy film/ and with your mouth slightly open, you swallowed/ winter’s coldness, and gave me spring.” is the lovely conclusion of an onsen adventure. Quiet apologies to a finicky washing machine and conversations during a holiday with a grieving friend channel a previously absent poignancy.
This poignancy doesn’t erase the collection’s shortcomings, but it does make for a pleasant counterbalance.