“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

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“When I stand upright in the wind, | My bones turn to dark emeralds.” ~ James Wright, from “The Jewel”

American Poet James Wright

Two for Tuesday: James Wright

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and cool, 71 degrees.

It’s starting to feel like fall, which is a bit unnerving. It seems that the seasons change rather quickly here on the ridge. I mentioned this a few months ago when Corey and I were wondering why we weren’t seeing all of the green of spring, and then less than a week later, we were surrounded by green: the trees were covered in leaves, and buds were blooming everywhere you looked. Now, we’re already seeing the leaves turn on certain trees, the birches, I think.

Once again, I wish that I had some extra cash so that I could work on refinishing cabinets and furniture, but of course, there is none of that, at least not yet. I wish that my other mother were still around as I desperately need to cover the couch in a fabric that is dog and goat proof, if such a thing exists. She was so good at that.

I had one of those dreams last night in which I was back at the middle school. I don’t know why I continue to dream about that place and the people in it. The kids I taught would all be grown with their own kids, or in jail, or dead. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to opine, but truly, I have no doubts that some of those kids are in jail, one in particular who scared the crap out of me, and he was only 12.

Anyway, I was back there looking for a book that I had donated by mistake. Weird, huh?

Today’s Two for Tuesday features works by Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Wright (December 13, 1927March 25, 1980), who was phenomenal; he could say so much about loneliness and isolation in very few words, and he was masterful in closing a poem. Wright, who was born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, suffered from alcoholism and manic depression; he died as a result of tongue cancer.

Mari introduced me to Wright years ago, and “Lying in a Hammock” (below) remains one of my favorites and is surpassed in my mind only by “A Blessing.” I can relate deeply to the last line of “Hammock.” His posthumous book of collected works, Above the River (1992) is a prized possession that, thankfully, never made it into storage but always had a reserved spot on my desk. I remember exactly where I bought it: in a bookstore in Charlottesville, VA after having lunch; Corey, the boys, and I were in the mountains for a fall hike. When I finally find the box in which it was packed, it will be like Christmas all over again.

To see a good biography, go here or here. In the summer 1975 issue, he was featured in The Paris Review‘s “Art of Poetry (No. 19), in which Wright declared that “poetry can keep life itself alive.”


Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Northern Pike

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.


Laura Marling, “What He Wrote”

“The knack is this, to fasten and not let go.” ~ Donald Justice, from “Women in Love”

Acclaimed American Poet Donald Justice

Two for Tuesday: Donald Justice

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and less humid after the earlier showers, 84 degrees.

Yesterday was the birthday of American poet Donald Justice (August 12, 1925-August 6, 2004), who wrote one of my all-time favorite poems, “Men at Forty.” I would always try to include this one on the syllabus of any American Literature classes that I taught, and it was always the older students who liked it best. I suppose that it’s the kind of poem that is like fine wine, best savored with some years added. I realize that I’ve featured this poem before, several years ago (April 2011), but that’s the great things about controlling my content: I can repeat things that I love.

Justice’s poems have been called elegaic and controlled. What I like best about his poems are the powerful single lines, such as the one that I chose for the heading, or this closing line from his poem “About My Poems”:

—Now the long silence. Now the beginning again.

Or these beautiful closing lines from “Invitation to a Ghost,” an elegy that Justice wrote for his friend Henri Coulette:

Come back now and help me with these verses.
Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life.

You may not be as familiar with the Pulitzer Prize winning Justice as his writing was not flashy, like, say Bukowski, but he was incredibly influential to the genre, helping to shape the work of a generation of poets such as Rita Dove, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright via his association with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You can find a more in-depth biography on Justice here at the Poetry Foundation or here at the Academy of American Poets.


Men at Forty

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

[This poem is not addressed to you]

This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.

Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does not matter.
The poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamor of certain voids.

It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.

Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.

You neither can nor should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.

Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forget the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in its erasures.

O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.


Music by Lana Del Rey, “Old Money”

“At school my name sounds funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver . . .” ~ Sandra Cisneros, from The House on Mango Street

Poet, Novelist, Essayist Sandra Cisneros

“They say I’m a bitch.
Or witch. I’ve claimed
the same and never winced.” ~ Sandra Cisneros, from “Loose Woman”

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy, 81 degrees.

I awoke this morning to Sarah Bear (named for Corey’s primary school girlfriend) jumping on me; as usual, she was muddy and wet. In the mornings when they first go out, several of the dogs run through the pasture, which is heavy with morning dew. Sarah always seems to be the one who winds up getting the dirtiest, and her favorite thing to do once she comes back inside is to jump on me. So I greet most days smelling of wet dog. It’s very sexy.

Sandra Cisneros receiving National Medal of the Arts from President Obama

There’s so much that I want to do around the house today. Who knows how much of it I will actually be able to accomplish. Just cleaning up after the goats can be a twenty-four-hour chore (I so look forward to the day when the goat boys go outside once Zeke is weaned). One day I won’t have to worry about the constant influx of dirt and mud on the hardwood floors. One day we’ll have crushed shells or gravel on the driveway, and the horses and goats won’t have the front yard as their personal spaces. One day.

Corey comes home tomorrow. I hope that he gets a fairly early start so that he doesn’t get home as late as he did last time. The later it gets, the more that it stresses me out. I can’t wait for him to see how full the apple trees have become. We’re unsure as to what kind each tree is; I just know that the horses and goats are enjoying the apples that I’m giving them as treats, but truly there are way more than we thought we’d get this year as the trees really need to be pruned and fertilized properly.

Also, I made some homemade syrup for the hummingbird feeder, and they are flocking to it. We have about six regulars, including two male ruby-throated hummers. Anyway, that’s today’s news.

Today’s Two for Tuesday features two works, a passage and a poem, by multi-hyphenate Sandra Cisneros. She has won numerous awards, including NEA fellowships in poetry and fiction, and a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama. I have several of her books on my wishlist. If you would like to learn more about this incredibly talented writer, go here.

More later. Peace.


from “A House of My Own”

As a Latina, I don’t want to inherit certain legacies. I don’t want to inherit mothers laying down their lives like a Sir Raleigh cloak and asking everyone to step all over them. I don’t want to inherit my mother’s fear of doing anything alone or her self-destructive anger. I don’t want to inherit my paternal grandmother’s petty jealousies and possessiveness I don’t want to inherit my maternal grandmother’s silence and passivity I don’t want to quedar bien, be nice, with the men around me at the expense of my own dreams and happiness I don’t want to be the mother of twelve children, seven, five, even one, but I do want to write stories for one child, five, seven, twelve, a million children.

I do want to inherit the witch in my women ancestors—the willfullness, the passion, ay, the passion where all good art comes from as women, the perseverance, the survivor skills, the courage, the strength of las mujeres bravas, peleoneras, necias, berrinchudas. I want to be bad if bad means I must go against society—el Papá, el Pápa, the boyfriend, lover, husband, girlfriends, comadres—and listen to my own heart, that incredible witch’s broom that will take me where I need to go.

I’m convinced if we’re to be artists of any worth we must lock ourselves in a room and work. There are no two ways around this one, no shortcut, no magic word to save the day. Take it as a given, you’ll cry, despair, think you’ll die, that you can’t possibly do it, that it’s a lonely task, you’ll lose faith in yourself, especially at night. But when you finish crying and despairing, you can wipe your eyes and . . . the work is still there waiting. So you better roll up your sleeves and get moving, girl! Nobody’s going to do the work for you. If you’re serving others other than your art, then it just takes longer. In the words of Tillie Olsen, “Evil is whatever distracts.”


Night Madness Poem

There’s a poem in my head
like too many cups of coffee.
A pea under twenty eiderdowns.
A sadness in my heart like stone.
A telephone. And always my
night madness that outs like bats
across this Texas sky.

I’m the crazy lady they warned you about.
The she of rumor talked about –
and worse, who talks.

It’s no secret.
I’m here. Under a circle of light.
The light always on, resisting a glass,
an easy cigar. The kind

who reels the twilight sky.
Swoop circling.
I’m witch woman high
on tobacco and holy water.

I’m a woman delighted with her disasters.
They give me something to do.
A profession of sorts.
Keeps me industrious
and of some serviceable use.

In dreams the origami of the brain
opens like a fist, a pomegranate,
an expensive geometry.

Not true.
I haven’t a clue
why I’m rumpled tonight.

Choose your weapon.
Mine – the telephone, my tongue.
Both black as a gun.

I have the magic of words,
the power to charm and kill at will.
To kill myself or to aim haphazardly.
And kill you.


Music by Shawn James, “Burn the Witch”

“She was the Head Cheerleader at the Game of Violence.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from Women


Two for Tuesday: Violence in poetry?

Tuesday night, clear and unseasonably cool, 60 degrees.

It feels like fall here. God I love fall weather. I wish that I had some cash on hand because it’s the perfect weather for working outside on the cabinets. It’s supposed to be like this for a few more days.

Today’s poems deal with a subject that people do not usually associate with poetry: violence. Ask most lay people about poetry, and they immediately think of love, flowers, beautiful things, but poetry is as old as story telling, the precursor to written history. Early poetry rhymed in order for the story-teller to better remember the words. Consider: Beowulf, one of the oldest, best-known epic poems, which dealt with battles, monsters, swords, blood.

So the concept of violence in poetry is as old a poetry itself. What I want to show today is how subjects of violence have been treated in more recent poems. To continue with yesterday’s thoughts, I’ve chosen a Bukowski poem to go with another poem by Frank Stanford, which I chanced upon and have been saving for a post. The two poems are both visceral, but very different in how they handle the concept. Truthfully, I prefer the Stanford poem even though it’s heartbreaking.

More later. Peace.


Music by Yazoo, “Winter Kills”


Freedom, Revolt, and Love

They caught them.
They were sitting at a table in the kitchen.
It was early.
They had on bathrobes.
They were drinking coffee and smiling.
She had one of his cigarillos in her fingers.
She had her legs tucked up under her in the chair.
They saw them through the window.
She thought of them stepping out of a bath
And him wrapping cloth around her.
He thought of her waking up in a small white building,
He thought of stones settling into the ground.
Then they were gone.
Then they came in through the back.
Her cat ran out.
The house was near the road.
She didn’t like the cat going out.
They stayed at the table.
The others were out of breath.
The man and the woman reached across the table.
They were afraid, they smiled.
The others poured themselves the last of the coffee
Burning their tongues.
The man and the woman looked at them.
They didn’t say anything.
The man and the woman moved closer to each other,
The round table between them.
The stove was still on and burned the empty pot.
She started to get up.
One of them shot her.
She leaned over the table like a schoolgirl doing her lessons.
She thought about being beside him, being asleep.
They took her long grey socks
Put them over the barrel of a rifle
And shot him.
He went back in his chair, holding himself.
She told him hers didn’t hurt much,
Like in the fall when everything you touch
Makes a spark.
He thought about her getting up in the dark
Wrapping a quilt around herself
And standing in the doorway.
She asked the men if they shot them again
Not to hurt their faces.
One of them lit him one of his cigarettes.
He thought what it would be like
Being children together.
He was dead before he finished it.
She asked them could she take it out of his mouth.
So it wouldn’t burn his lips.
She reached over and touched his hair.
She thought about him walking through the dark singing.
She died on the table like that,
Smoke coming out of his mouth.

~ Frank Stanford

Junk

sitting in a dark bedroom with 3 junkies,
female.
brown paper bags filled with trash are
everywhere.
it is one-thirty in the afternoon.
they talk about madhouses,
hospitals.
they are waiting for a fix.
none of them work.
it’s relief and food-stamps and
Medi-Cal.
men are usable objects
toward the fix.
it is one-thirty in the afternoon
and outside small plants grow.
their children are still in school.
the females smoke cigarettes
and suck listlessly on beer and
tequila
which I have purchased.
I sit with them.
I wait on my fix:
I am a poetry junkie.
they pulled Ezra through the streets
in a wooden cage.
Blake was sure of God.
Villon was a mugger.
Lorca sucked cock.
TS Eliot worked a teller’s cage.
most poets are swans,
egrets.
I sit with 3 junkies
at one-thirty in the afternoon.
the smoke pisses upward.
I wait.
death is a nothing jumbo.
one of the females says that she likes
my yellow shirt.
I believe in a simple violence.
this is
some of it.

~ Charles Bukowski

 

.

“She wades in shallows warmer than the air” ~ Brewster Ghiselin, from “Bath of Aphrodite”

This will be my bathroom one day Oh yes, it will.
“cleansed as baptism
leaves the soul, pure enough to sleep—
as you instruct him—with the angels,
cleaner than he’ll ever be again.” ~ Stuart Dybek, from “Bath”

Tuesday afternoon, storms, 73 degrees.

Lana Turner in a bubble bath

Today’s Two for Tuesday theme is the bath. I was perusing the Poetry Foundation site yesterday, and I came across the Amy Lowell poem below, which I had never read. Then last night, after being caught in the rain, I decided to take a hot bath, but I made the water too hot, so when I emerged, I was completely spent, and my legs felt like rubber—you know, like how you feel after getting out of a hot tub.

Anyway, my mind focused on baths, I decided to post Lowell and one by D. H. Lawrence, who I don’t use nearly enough.

(Side note: I always had a really hard time with the works by Lawrence in grad school, so one of these days I need to go back to Sons and Lovers, which I only pretended to read once upon a time, one of the few times that I actually did that.)


Bath

The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.

~ Amy Lowell


Gloire de Dijon

When she rises in the morning
I linger to watch her;
She spreads the bath-cloth underneath the window
And the sunbeams catch her
Glistening white on the shoulders,
While down her sides the mellow
Golden shadow glows as
She stoops to the sponge, and her swung breasts
Sway like full-blown yellow
Gloire de Dijon roses.

She drips herself with water, and her shoulders
Glisten as silver, they crumple up
Like wet and falling roses, and I listen
For the sluicing of their rain-dishevelled petals.
In the window full of sunlight
Concentrates her golden shadow
Fold on fold, until it glows as
Mellow as the glory roses.

~ D. H. Lawrence


Music by Veda Gail, “Patterns”

Two for Tuesday: Spring poems

Tuesday afternoon, mostly sunny 77 degrees.

Now that the weather has gotten warmer again, I’m trying to sit outside in the afternoons. Unfortunately, with the warmer weather, the biting and stinging insects have emerged in full force. I actually had a bumblebee that got an inch from my face and hovered there for a second or two. Weird. I’ve never really minded bumblebees, that is until Corey informed me that they bore into wood. Funny story: I was showing Corey all of the pollen that had collected on my deck chair; he said, “that’s not pollen; that’s wood from the bumblebees. Look up.”

Damn if he wasn’t right. Isn’t it enough to have termites that bore into wood? We have to have bumblebees as well? Crap.

Anyway, thought I’d post these two poems that relate to spring for today’s post. Enjoy.

More later Peace


Spring Poem For the Sake of Breathing, Written After a Walk to Foster Island

The sky wants the water to turn grey,
but if I notice how waves

play with the clumps of yellow flags,
or the way turtles share logs,

or even try to understand a friend’s decision
to walk onto a glacier

and end her life—I will be ready
for any poems that have been waiting.

The horizon opens as I walk,
escorted by swans and Canada geese.

I need to stop backpedaling into the present.
In my old life people would straighten

the truth, but the river
flows in curves.

The names of my father and my mother
rest next to each other in Greenwood Cemetery.

The distance between me and the mountains
measures an uneven thought: I feel like an orphan.

An early moon is just a piece of change
in the softening sky.

Light is such an actress. Time to seek
Hopper’s wish to simply paint sunlight

on the wooden wall of a house. I am growing
older. Maru in Japanese means

the ship
will make it back home.

~ James Masao Mitsui (found on Poetry Foundation)


From An April

Again the woods smell sweet.
The soaring larks lift up with them
the sky, which weighed so heavily on our shoulders;
through bare branches one still saw the day standing empty—
but after long rain-filled afternoons
come the golden sun-drenched
newer hours,
before which, on distant housefronts,
all the wounded
windows flee fearful with beating wings.

Then it goes still. Even the rain runs softer
over the stones’ quietly darkening glow.
All noises slip entirely away
into the brushwood’s glimmering buds.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Trans. Edward Snow)


Music by Tom Grennan, “Run in the Rain”