It’s easy to forget that every day holds poetry. Especially if you’re hectic: packing, moving, cleaning a new house, unpacking… Soothing a disolocated dog, holding a curious baby. Eating out of cartons while you locate the dishes and pans.
All of this can make you forget the whole point of the exercise. New house! Beautiful baby! GREAT life! Well, not really forget, but kind of lose sight of…
Watching my grandson today, as he tried to climb over the boxes that have yet to be unpacked, I remembered why I love haiku so much: it’s a verbal snapshot of a moment. Any moment will do, if you look closely. For me, it’s almost any moment I spend watching my grandson…
Tanka (at least for me) differs only in a short reflection — it’s the caption for the snapshot, if that makes sense.
So today’s poem — after a hiatus of traveling here and hectic moving! — is both snapshot and reflection: a tanka for Trin.
tanka for Trinidad
my grandson chows down
one entire banana
singing na na na
his fisted hands keep time
thump thump thump song of feeding
Today’s poem is actually a three-fer. I’ve been writing to prompts from NaPoWriMo, one of the national sites for National Poetry Writing Month. The poem today is written from yesterday’s prompt, which asked writers to do a riff on a poem (Black Stone Lying On A White Stone) by César Vallejo. To show those writers who might wonder how the heck you write from/ to another’s poem, NaPoWriMo offered a 2nd poem by Stephen Burt (A Nickel on Top of a Penny).
All of this is by way of remarking: poetry is another kind of web. Like Buddhism (you KNEW I was going to say that), like life. If all that I’ve learned from reading & writing poetry could be measured and sold? I’d be so rich! Oh wait ~ that’s the whole point of poetry…
Seriously? To look so closely at anything — poetry, a bee, the surface of a cup of hot tea — is to learn. Just seeing the moment clearly is, as all meditation teaches (in any faith tradition) a form of reverence for life.
So here is my poem today, a tribute to both poets, as well as my own childhood, and the differences that were obvious very early.
Dust On a Tropical Breeze
after César Vallejo
Old Saigon will claim me
after I fold my wings, after decades of flight.
Probably on Monday moonday, Lundi, at the grande marché
I will collapse in feathery dust beside the leper at the gate.
I knew this even as a child, watching the leper’s outstretched hands
knew I was already half-erased, only a dusty ghost
like the hungry bụi đời who float upon the wind.
I am half Saigon still.
‘She is gone,’ they will murmur, in breathy whispers.
My words will unravel like the silk of cocoons
and they will weave a sieve to catch the wind.
‘We didn’t mean to hurt her,’ they will say.
‘Who knew she would fall to dust?
She seemed so much more solid…’
 The Vietnamese term bụi đời means”dust of life”; it has come to refer to refugees vagrants, as well as Amerasian children left behind after the Việt Nam war.
I grew up on haiku. It’s popular in school classrooms now — fast, and relatively easy to teach — but I don’t remember there being a lot of my friends who learned it as children.
My familiarity with it — and subsequent fondness for it — may be due to my father, an inveterate reader and lover of poetry. I inherited his collection of Kipling, Shakespeare (one of my earliest books was a child’s Shakespeare that my father gave me), and other poets.
Then, when I began to study poetry, haiku seemed so (deceptively) easy. Seventeen syllables, 5-7-5, how hard is that?
Actually, I adore short poems — haiku, tanka, limericks, and recently the lune. The lune is an attempt to make English conform more nearly to the spirit of haiku. It’s a 3-5-3 setup, and also very hard.
Today’s poem is really multi-cultural. It’s a lune — my own — in the haiga tradition. Haiga are drawings (usually by the haiku author) accompanying a haiku. But that makes them seem more independent of each other than they are. Think of graphic novels, how the text & illustration are inseparable. That’s more the way of haiga, I suspect.
They’re a wonderful reminder (for me) of how Buddhism often works in the arts. One not more important than the other; each enhancing the other. And the idea of essence: that you can somehow see/ touch the heart of an object/ feeling with these few words…
My attempt is a contemporary riff: a lune w/ a photo. Let me know what you think.
lune for Pascal ~
the dog barks
hungry for my hands
Haiku is the archetypal Buddhist poetry, at least to most Americans. And certainly the compressed form, the emphasis on experience and now, are very much in keeping with Buddhism. As are many of the early practitioners: Buson, Issa, Bashō.
So I thought today it would be good to visit with at least one of the masters. Take a short trip down Haiku Road, as it were (I couldn’t resist).
Here’s one of my very favourites, by Issa. It says ‘contemporary Buddhist’ better than anything since his time, the 18th century.
All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
The conflict between what I know about Buddhism — do no harm, cherish all life — and everyday life is nowhere clearer. And that, to me, is the best part of poetry: it reminds you what you already know.
Which is a premise at the heart of Buddhism: you already are a Buddha. You just have to remember…