Category Archives: haibun
As a humble person, I fill my mornings with simple pleasures: writing haiku on clean white paper; straightening bent nails with a hammer; watching a sparrow build a new nest; or touching—gingerly—cactus needles. Evenings, I enjoy watching the current swirl where the river bends on its way to Mexico. I need no more medicines for my soul than these.
I long to wash the field dust
from my hands and face.
Last year was hard—it was brutal!—as the world endured the Covid-19 pandemic. Here a mother died, there a father, and somewhere else a whole family. Some of us lost our homes, because we couldn’t work. Some of us ended up sleeping under bridges, or in fields, or in other out-of-the-way places. We were desolate. We couldn’t reach out to each other for a hug or handshake because we were in lockdown, afraid for our lives. Nothing seemed to help. And then came harbingers of hope, bearing strange names: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca—vaccines to vanquish the virus! We offered our arms for a jab, and started to look beyond our nightmare, daring to hope that our world might someday be normal again.
Hidden mountain stream—
see, a doe and her fawn come
for the day’s first drink!
Among the flowers and grasses, tiny yellow-and-brown things with wings land and take off, take off and land. Should I be worried that I do not know their names? I lift one of the things from a flower stained with its excrement—so small to have made such a big mess! Looking at this nameless thing strips me of all notions of superiority. I know that the day is coming when my own stains will be concealed by the undertaker’s art. But that day can wait. I still have stories to braid.
A woman sleeping
on a green park bench wakes up,
stretching and yawning.
Every tale I tell is true, although they may not have happened exactly the way I tell them. I embellish a detail here to emphasize a point. I subtract a detail there so it doesn’t detract from the narrative. I once held an old tabby cat until she died, feeling the blood rise and fall in her veins, and the faint purr of gratitude in her throat. No one wants to die alone, not even a cat. After her death I walked along the beach and picked up a shell. Everyone knows you can hear the ocean in a seashell. I heard my cat. She seemed to be whispering to me as she often did at midnight when she lay beside me in bed. “One day the current will carry you to me forever. Until then, I will speak to you as the wind or the waves. Listen.”
My first memories
burned to ashes long ago,
yet I still sift them.
Some wild thing roves outside my door. It always comes at twilight. It moves stealthily among the shadows, zigzagging, never in a straight line. It is so swift—like a meteor’s flash or the whirling rings of Saturn—that I barely catch a glimpse of it. But I know it’s there—a constant presence as night comes on. Does it mean to harm me or to help me? I’m not sure, so in order to sleep I check the door locks and chains once more.
The Book of Bad Luck—
why do I keep reading it?
I know how it ends.
I walk barefoot on the gravel path, ignoring the pain. My pulse quickens, my blood runs hot. I feel as though I could float, or leap for joy. I’m going to visit my old friend the ginkgo. To shave off time, and arrive sooner, I double my speed. Now I see the ginkgo, framed as always by two recumbent Buddhas. From one of the Buddhas, a startled dove takes flight. On the head of the other, a monstrous crow grins, and plucks a passing insect from the air. I stand in the sacred grove where mystery abounds. All is well.
Urged on by the wind,
a little girl’s dragon kite
circles round the sun.
“I’m too tired to be grateful,” I growl, and sip a third cup of coffee. I listen to my watch ticking. I remember the scent of the tangerine I peeled on a long-ago Thanksgiving Day. The citrus oils stung my chapped fingers, making me wince. But that was the best tangerine I have ever tasted. And the longer I live, the more clearly I see that I can choose how my day will go by changing my attitude. “Don’t be fooled,” I say to myself, “gratitude is the path to contentment. Make every day a holy day. Give thanks.”
making my way toward twilight
with a few detours
Sheltered by a stand of willows, I watch a young boy giving his pet turtle a scrub in the pond. Obviously this turtle’s well cared for, and no disease will carry it away. Such empathy! I fight the urge to cry out, “What a great kid!” If only I had some flowers to leave to show my appreciation for this boy’s tenderness. But I must go. Thankful for this little diversion from the day’s bad news, I turn toward home. It’s a long walk. If I’m lucky, I’ll get there before dark.
All my bitter tears
vanish in a single note
from the blackbird’s throat.
Two of the lessons that my fifth-grade teacher taught me I’ve never forgotten. That’s because Mrs. Pearl Shirley liked to speak in aphorisms, which, as far as I know, she made up herself, and which she drummed into my brain by quoting them in her classroom several times a day.
“You’d better get on the stick before the stick gets on you,” Mrs. Shirley said to students who were dawdling or off task. She meant that there would be consequences for inaction.
That aphorism came to mind a few years ago when I was planning where to travel. I found airfare to Copenhagen for the bargain price of $678 in March, while airfare at that time to most other European capitals was running $800-$900. But I didn’t get on the stick, and by the time I had finally decided to purchase the tickets, they were no longer available.
“You’d better use your head for something besides a hat rack,” Mrs. Shirley said to students who shrugged their shoulders and said, “I don’t know,” when she asked them a question about the lesson. Mrs. Shirley meant that one’s head is more than a decorative appendage; it’s to be used for a high and noble purpose—thinking. A mind, some wise person said, is a terrible thing to waste.
From the ripened plum,
from the raven’s tailfeather,
let there be stories!