“On a branch | floating downriver | a cricket, singing.” ~ Kobayashi Issa (Trans. Jane Hirshfield)

Cover of A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons in Poems and Prints

Today’s Two for Tuesday features poems from the book A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons In Poems And Prints, by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto (a PDF of which can be found here). I’ve been intent on the coming of autumn, but I decided yesterday that I need to appreciate the last days of summer, regardless of the flies.  I find that whenever am keenly focused on nature and in search of poems, I turn to Haiku, and admittedly, I am very fond of the frequent appearance of dragonflies in this type of verse.

Haiku is a traditional 13th century form of Japanese verse that depicts a moment in time, or as Cor van den Heuvel wrote in 1987, Haiku is the concise “essence of a moment keenly perceived in which Nature is linked to human nature.” When translated to English, the formal Haiku is supposed to be composed of three lines of verse, usually unrhymed, with five, seven and five syllables. These 17 syllables are akin to the original form of 17 mora, which is a unit of Japanese syllable weight; however, it has been pointed out that roughly 12, not 17 syllables in English are equivalent to the 17 On (phonetic units) of the Japanese Haiku, which only goes to show that strict adherence to form does not necessarily a Haiku make.

Mori Shunkei,” Red dragonfly and caterpillar on plant” (1820, wood block print)

Over time, poets have moved away from the strict 17 syllable and line count while focusing more on the economy of form. Importantly, to understand Haiku it should be viewed as more than a short poem, more than a pithy description. For a poem to be Haiku, it must encompass a sense of awareness, an eloquence of brevity. One other aspect of Haiku that should be noted is the use of kigo, which are words or phrases traditionally associated with seasons. I actually found a world database on kigo which contains fairly comprehensive discussions of the Japanese term and its use in Haiku.

The Poetry Foundation has a good description of Haiku that can be found here. A more detailed history of the form can be found on the site With Words, and the British Haiku Society site offers a breakdown of the western views and approaches to the form. Historically, there were four Japanese poets considered masters of the form, sometimes referred to as the Great Four: Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Seventeenth-century Samurai poet Bashō is often classified as the greatest writer of  Haiku; to read more about him you can go here or here for a collection of his verse.

Because of the compact nature of Haiku, I am breaking my self-imposed Tuesday rule and featuring more than two; most of these come from the “Summer” section of the book, and I am including the page numbers on which each can be found. Enjoy.

More later. Peace.


After the thunderstorm
one tree catches the setting sun—
cicada voices

~ Shiki (p48)

Seen in the daylight
it has a red neck—
the firefly

~ Bashō (p48)

The warbler
amid the bamboo shoots
sings of old age

~ Bashō (p51)

The garden darkening
the night quieting—
peonies

~ Shirao (p52)

The coming of autumn
determined
by a red dragonfly

~ Shirao (p60)

The dragonfly
has died his body
autumn

~ Bakusui (p63)

The puppy
completely unaware that
autumn has come

~ Issa (p63)


Music by Rodrigo Rodriguez, “Hitomi (Eyes), composed by Horii Kojiro

“In music, in poetry, in life, the rest, the pause, the slow movements are essential to comprehending the whole.” ~ Maryanne Wolf

“Winter Morning,” Igor Grabar* (1907, oil on canvas)

                   

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon quoted in E. A. Poe’s “Ligeia”

Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and 64 degrees.

Yes. I know. It’s been a full week since my last post. I haven’t been completely idle, though. The house is decorated inside and out. My collection of santas are on the hearth, and the holly swags are hung. Most of the packages are wrapped. The Christmas cards have been addressed, just need to get stamps and pop them in the mail.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1905, oil on canvas)

Unfortunately, it seems that I’m kind of limited to doing one thing a day, so sitting here and posting has had to take a back seat to holiday preparations, especially since wrapping presents just kills my back, so I’m only doing a little at a time. We’re doing Christmas day dinner here, but fortunately, everyone is making a major dish. We’re doing Filipino food instead of turkey or ham. We did the same thing last Christmas, and it was nice. So there will be pancit, rice, tuppa (marinated beef), stir fry green beans, lumpia, and perhaps a pork roast.

Most of the presents that I had to order online have been delivered, except for Corey’s big present, which is being ground shipped from California. I’m really hoping that it gets here in time. He has no idea that I’ve ordered this particular thing, so it will be a true surprise. It’s something that he’s wanted for a very long time but hasn’t mentioned in a while. I’m hoping that I ordered the right thing. Suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

“. . . every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~ Basho

We got some interesting news this afternoon. The representative from the shipping line that hired Corey called to say that he won’t be on the ship that he was originally slated to crew. Instead, he’s going to be on a big tanker that runs between Russia and Germany. The runs last for 90 days.

"Clearing Skyes," Igor Grabar (1928, oil on canvas)

Major pause here for deep breath.

It is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I mean, he’s going to get the deep sea time that he wanted. He’s going to see some new countries. He’s going to be making good money. But . . .

Ninety days straight. We’ve never been apart that long in our entire time together. None of us.

I know that he’s happy at the thought of a new experience, but he is also very worried about the unknown. Going from a tug boat to a tanker is a major jump. He has no idea as to what he’ll be doing. Fortunately, he’s working a shift at the boatyard where the company’s other tanker (the one we thought he’d be on) is coming into port this weekend, so he hopes to speak to some of the crew members about the company, what they’re like to work for, etc.

I’m trying very hard to keep my freaking out to myself. I mean, this is a classic case of being careful of what you wish for . . . We’ve both bemoaned our fate for so long, complained about the lack of shipping when the recession hit, the dearth of jobs available, so now that this has landed in our laps, we need to look at it as the gift that fate has accorded us.

But still . . .

“Vague fatigued promise hangs
in the low darkened sky
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing
the bare wintering branches,
black-on-black shining” ~ W. S. Di Piero, from “Chicago and December”

My dad was a deep-sea mariner, traveling all over the world, sailing in just about every ocean and in many seas. He routinely had hitches that lasted months at a time. During the Viet Nam war he was gone for nine months straight. He liked it. My mother liked it. They liked each other better from afar.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1918, oil on canvas)

That always struck me as so bizarre. They had separate lives, separate friends. It wasn’t until he finally retired that they began to do things together, but it was always an uneasy peace, one that could blow at any second. And the blowouts were horrible, not physical, but loud and hateful. And even as an adult living my own life with my own family my mother still tried to draw me into the middle of the fray.

I’ll never forget the one time that my mother came to my house and announced that she was going to make my father leave. I told her that if she did that, then I would take him in. She was completely taken aback. I knew that she was yet again making an empty threat for effect, but if was the first time that I had ever called her on it.

In all, they were married something like 45 years. I don’t ever remember them being happy together.

“Surrounded by a deep and comfortable sea of blank space, she is right there—one end of a luminous brain-bridge—plain as day, front and center, hidden in full view.” ~ Stacey Schiff, from Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

I’m still trying to absorb this piece of news, trying to be appropriately grateful and happy. Instead, I just feel an ache in the pit of my stomach, and that makes me angry at myself. What Corey and I have is strong enough to weather distance and time, of that I am certain. What I am less certain of is myself—my ability to not withdraw into myself.

"Sunrise," Igor Grabar (1941, oil on canvas)

I mean, I have lived alone before, alone when I was in college, and alone with the kids after my ex left. And I know that being a single parent to young children is much different from being a single parent to grown children. All of my kids are fairly self-sufficient. Eamonn loves to cook, and Brett is learning how to make more things now that he is feeling more secure about his abilities. I mean Lex doesn’t live here, but Brett and Eamonn do, and there are no plans for that to change anytime soon.

I’m hoping that I will be able to use this time to get a little bit more back on my feet, get out of the house more often, loosen myself from my safety nets. As it is, I do not leave the house daily, and that is pretty much by choice. Corey does the grocery shopping and the errands, something that started when my back gave out, and it’s something that he continues to do because he likes to do it, and I do not.

But that will have to change. Change can be good. I just have to remind myself of that.

“I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.” ~ Hermann Hesse, Demian, trans. Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck

I just took a break to do the dishes and eat the most delicious scone that Emilie’s uncle dropped by the house. Most people who bake scones tend to make them on the dry side, but the ones that he gets from this particular bakery are incredibly tasty and moist. The one that I ate had bits of ginger in it. Ginger is one of those tastes that you either love or hate; I don’t believe that there is an in-between in that, but I happen to love ginger, especially crystallized ginger.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1907, oil on canvas)

Anyway, as to what I was talking about—I am very much aware that I am a creature of habit, much more so now that I do not work full time. But I think that with my sons’ help I should be fine while Corey is gone. If I make myself get back into the habit of writing for a couple of hours each day, I think that that will help considerably in keeping my mind occupied.

Of course, I really have no idea how things will play out as I can only surmise. Perhaps I will surprise myself. Perhaps I’ll use the time to put down one of the many book plots that I have had running through my brain for years. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

I just know that I am truly thankful for this upcoming change in our circumstances. It has been a long time in coming. We have come far too close to losing everything, which makes all of us acutely aware of just how harsh reality can be. We have been close to the edge, but never over it, and we are all stronger for it and grateful for what we have.

Today is a good day: good news, good food, good music. Today I could not ask for more.

As I’ve said before, I know that compared to many, many others, we are lucky, and now, it seems, we have more luck on our side. So let me pause here to say thank you to all of you who have been so supportive, who have sent good wishes and prayers our way. It means more than I can ever say.

More later. Peace.

*All images by Igor Grabar, born in Hungary in 1871, studied and worked in Russia until his death in 1960. Many of his paintings (several of which are entitled “Frost”) are in the Tretyakov Gallery, the biggest collection of Russian art in the world, which Grabar headed from 1913 to 1935.

Music by Rascal Flatts, another version of “White Christmas”

                   

The Letter Scale

One of the objects I’ve treasured most in my life
Is this letter scale which, long ago, you gave me.
I was an active correspondent at the time,
Even sending lots of letters overseas.
While still enjoying the pleasure of going to the post,
I now had another: assessing exactly, in advance,
At my counter, the cost of packets and envelopes,
To which, price list in hand, I stuck my stamps.
I use it less these days, this quite simple device
Graded with little marks up to a whole pound,
For my mailings rarely still exceed the price
Of an ordinary stamp. The tray of polished metal’s now
Covered with dust, without the slightest hint
That the red pointer marking the weight on the front
Has budged. But in the long run, one would, I think,
Discern a difference and see how much the months
Were worth in terms of dust, the seasons elapsed
Since the previous weighing. But having been seized,
Suddenly, just this morning, by a tremendous attack
(Annual) of cleaning, from which nothing is released,
I restored to the tray’s slightly concave stainless steel,
That ever so slightly distorted mirror, its polished shine.
It reflected all of the sky, through which clouds reeled,
And I could confirm that space does not weigh more than time.

~ Jacques Réda

I slept the sleep of the tortured: fitful, broken, and too short. And when I awoke, I knew that not enough time had passed, and so I tried to sleep more, but it never came. ~ L. Liwag

Flower Shop in Paris 

  

“The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.” ~ Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

On Saturday, I finally made it into the pool. The dogs have been swimming for a few days, but I wanted sun. The air was filled with the sweet smell of my gardenia bush in bloom, and there was just enough breeze to fool me into thinking that it wasn’t that hot. I was lulled into a wonderful feeling of comfort, arms flung wide, staring up into the clear blue sky, just a few cumulus puffs dotting the sky here and there. 

Silly me. I didn’t even think about putting on sunscreen except for my face. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I stayed out for hours, just enjoying the water, the breeze, the dogs . . . I got sunburned on my arms and chest. 

Beh. 

I never used to get sunburned. Ever. I would give my friends a hard time whenever they burned, taunting them with my olive skin. I suppose this is payback. The other thing that I got from the sun was a migraine, a killer migraine, one that has only this afternoon subsided into a tightness in my forehead. Poor, poor, pitiful me. 

I remember endless summer days spent in the sun, lying on the beach with my friends, or on the catamaran with my friend John, or water skiing with the guys. Good times. Never burned, just browned. When I worked at the newspaper, I finished at 3:30, still early enough to catch some afternoon rays. The summer before I got married to my ex, I worked and sunned. Last summer of my life in which I was able to be carefree and careless with time and money.

an orchid’s scent
its incense perfuming
a butterfly’s wings ~ Basho
Flower Shop in Kuala Lumpur

So today, it’s 75 degrees, almost 20 degrees cooler than this weekend. There were a few thunder boomers last night, but nothing major. 

Last night I watched the movie Memento, with Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, and Carrie-Ann Moss. Wow. What a puzzle, but very deftly done. Directed by Christopher Nolan, the movie combined two different timelines, one ongoing and one flashback. Lots of visual clues, riddles, a few red herrings. The plot revolved around memory, what is real, what is thought to be real, what is imagined. The main character, Leonard (Pearce), suffers from anterograde amnesia: he cannot make new memories. 

I would highly recommend this movie if you liked The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. That being said, Memento is not as easy to discern as either of those two, not that either of those films were straightforward in any way. Nolan directed the movie in 2000, followed by a few movies with which you may be familiar: the two new Batman movies, The Prestige. If you are interested in an analysis of the movie, Andy Klein wrote a thorough deconstruction for Salon.com. 

Memento had been on my list of movies to see, and I find it very rewarding when I finally see something I’ve had on that list and it turns out to be worthwhile. The other movie that I watched was Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise. This was another one that has been on my list, and unlike many people, I liked it. No, Cruise does not attempt a German accent, but that didn’t bother me, better no accent than a poorly executed accent. 

The plot, in case you don’t know, is based on the July 20 plot to kill Adolf Hitler and real-life Operation Valkryie, which was a plan to call up the German reserve army to maintain order in the case of an emergency. The historical drama depicts the plot, led by Claus von Stauffenberg, the last of 15 failed plots to assassinate Hitler.   

The 2008 movie had quite a cast; aside from Cruise as von Stauffenberg, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp, and Tom Wilkinson all had roles in the Bryan Singer (X-Men) film. I remember that there was a big controversy in casting Cruise because of his scientology beliefs. 

“Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” ~ Lou Reed

 


Flower Shop in Bath, England 

 

Alexis came by on her way home from work today. I helped her to find some information on patient assistance with some of the medications that she takes. Having filled out numerous forms for myself, I am fairly familiar with the process. She will not be able to get health insurance at the thrift store as they do not offer it to their employees, even the full-time people. Yet another reason to hope for some kind of healthcare reform. 

I know that I’ve been featuring more political posts than usual, but it seems that every time I sit down to read the daily news, I come across yet more inanity, something that I find very hard to ignore. Ignorance, racism, sexism, hate-mongering—it’s all so disconcerting. 

What is happening to us, to American society? Has the election of a man of color caused so much unrest among those who oppose him—or liberals, or Democrats, or blacks, or whatever it is—that seeing conspiracies and promoting fear have become the societal norm? Has the so-called American way-0f-life been imperiled by putting a black man in the Oval Office, in the same way that electing a Catholic in the 1960s threatened the very fiber of our being? 

I see a lot of similarities to the 1960s, and that’s not a good thing. Yes, the unrest of the 1960s caused major social changes, changes that were desperately needed. But the 60’s also saw discord elevated to levels unparalleled, discord that morphed into senseless violence (race riots, Ohio State), attempts at oppression (Hoover’s FBI). Chillingly, the war in Iraq has now surpassed the Viet Nam War as the longest American war (eight years, eight months, and counting). And the country had a young, idealistic president who many feared just because of who and what he was. 

Remember, the 60’s led to the election of Richard Nixon, gave power to men of questionable scruples, such as Henry Kissinger, and led to a political climate that fostered the events of Watergate. Remember?

“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash, your picture in the paper nor money in the bank, neither. Just refuse to bear them.” ~ William Faulkner
Flower Shop in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

I know. I am still a starry-eyed idealist in many ways, but that is balanced by my stark realist side. I believe in equality for all peoples, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or creed. I don’t understand why that is such a hard concept. I also believe that children should not die of hunger or dysentery, that there is no difference in the capabilities of the sexes, and that there is no such thing as a good war. At the same time, I know that people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Steve Blair—who thrive on discontent, who cultivate a fear of otherness, who opine loudly as if the tone and timber of a voice is all that is needed to make it right—people such as these have millions of followers. 

And quite frankly, that scares the hell out of me. It also frightens me that I sometimes self-censor on this blog because I do not want the crazies to find me. In essence, I am allowing myself to be repressed out of my own unwillingness to cater to confrontation. Bearing that in mind, I do not apologize for my political posts, even though this is not a political blog. I do not apologize for who I am, for what I believe, or for where I stand on the issues that are important to me. 

I’m certain that I will continue to have political posts because people will continue to amaze me with their brazen bigotry. People will continue to astound me with their asinine declarations. As long as events continue to occur that make me stop and say WTF, I will continue to opine, and if you find my posts offensive, then exercise your Constitutional freedom not to read me. 

I won’t hold it against you. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Mazzy Star, “Take Everything”