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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 2, June 2012

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Amelia Fielden
Canberra, Capital Territory, Australia


A Tale of Two Cakes

Once upon a time, when I was a poor student in Tokyo, I happened to meet at the local railway station another poor student, who lived in the same humble lodgings. Strolling home together we came to a stop before the window of a glamorous patisserie.

"Oh, look!" exclaimed Mariko," mont-blanc . . . of course, it's autumn now."

As an Australian, raised on lamingtons and fruit cake, I had no idea what she was talking about. With a hungry gleam in her beautiful brown eyes, Mariko explained mont-blanc was a type of cup-cake, topped with pale brown chestnut puree in the shape of a mountain and crowned with a whole candied chestnut. Japanese food is very seasonal and chestnuts are an autumn speciality. We added up our yen and bought just one small mont-blanc between us.

Back in Mariko's tiny tatami-mat room, we shared the cake and a pot of green tea. Delicious! Two years later, diagnosed with tuberculosis, Mariko left the Piano Academy and went home to Kyushu to die.

sometimes I dream
of that other life, and
of Mariko
forever twenty-three
all these years I have lived

Another era, another part of Japan. Not so poor now, I was dining in late spring with a foreign professor I fancied. On the dessert menu I found 'ajisai mont-blanc''hydrangea mont-blanc'. Curious, I ordered this. With a bow the waiter presented, on a plate decorated with real purple hydrangea petals, a classically-formed mont-blanc cake, whose chestnut puree was coloured the same purple as the flower petals. Of course . . . May, the season for celebrating hydrangea in Japan.

he and I
so much in common
so much to say . . .
both loving this country,
alas, not each other

In the summer of the following year, enjoying an afternoon snack of perennial red bean buns in Kyoto with a poet colleague, I recounted to her my mont-blanc episodes.

"Ah," she commented, "through those two cakes you have truly experienced aware, the pitifully transient nature of life and love."

my life
is what it is, still
contemplating
Japanese tanka
love, longing, and loss

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