Category Archives: haibun
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!
Tonight my longtime friend will try to explain to me why her dementia (still in the early stages) sometimes makes her incoherent. She’s tried this before. She knows that halfway through her explanation she will find words getting harder to form, and she will quit in mid-sentence. She doesn’t want me to give advice. She just wants someone to listen, someone like me.
I stumble on the pathway
leading to the gate.
More The Whirligig #276
More Writers’ Pantry #30 at Poets and Storytellers United
In this sizzling heat we feel as though we’re descending into hell. The river has shrunk into a thin sliver thread. Our grapes are turning brown. They need water. I cannot tell you how eagerly we look for a cloud—one cloud!—to bear even a few drops of rain to the grapes. The neighbor boy flies his kite. It casts a shadow over the dying grapes. But I’ve had enough of watching for clouds that never come. I dig out our passports. “Come on,” I say to my beloved, “we’re going to Norway where it’s cool and it rains. Oh, wait! Americans aren’t welcome in Europe these days. What a clusterf*ck!”
I can’t remember
the last time I quenched my thirst
from a mountain stream.
More The Whirligig #274
More Writers’ Pantry #28 at Poets and Storytellers United
If you were to ask me, “Who do you think you are?” this is what I’d say: I started dancing when God said, “Turn on the lights!” I made music when the first corn grew in dusty places, and the weight of a single kernel was heavier than all of Moctezuma’s gold. I attended the wedding at Cana of Galilee where Jesus said, “Forget the cash bar. I’m turning this water into wine, and it’s free for everyone. Come and get it!” I fiddled all night for the guests as they drank wine, rolled joints, and danced. And in the early hours of the morning I saw how Jesus took that poor, bruised woman with the split lip, laid his hands on her head, and said, “Daughter, be healed.” And she was! So who do I think I am? Why do you even ask? I think you know.
I can’t remember
the last time I quenched my thirst
from a mountain stream.
More The Whirligig #271
More Writers’ Pantry #25 at Poets and Storytellers United
This is my morning ritual, taught to me by the elders—women I met on holy ground. Turning to the east, I place a poem on my tongue, as though it were a communion wafer. Like the wafer melting in a faithful person’s mouth, I know the poem on my tongue will die if I do not sing it aloud, whether anybody hears it or not. So I sing: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Five times I sing the ancient words. And after the fifth time I laugh, for things all round me have joined the song: chickadees and caterpillars; butterflies and blacksnakes; mosquitos, mergansers, and marigolds. Everything with breath is praising the Lord. And the song is glorious.
the old stone Buddha’s broad lap
now holds an ocean.
More The Whirligig #268
More Writers’ Pantry #22 at Poets and Storytellers United
This is an Easter story, a Passover story, an anytime-you-need-to-practice-gratitude story. Once upon a time there was a butterfly who had no wings. She could not fly from here to there, but had to wait for the wind to shake her loose from one flower and carry her to the next. One night she had a dream: She was transformed! She had wings! And the best part? She woke from her dream to find that it was true! She could fly on her own from blossom to blossom! She began to breathe a prayer: “Spirit of wonder! Spirit of love! Thank you for my new life. I will cherish every moment of it, even when my wings become faded and tattered.”
Why are you waiting?
The road your grandmothers walked
is calling your name.
More The Whirligig #261
More Writers’ Pantry #15 at Poets and Storytellers United
When the choice of drink is water or chardonnay, I usually take water. I don’t want to end up in some faraway place, sleeping under a bridge, and wonder how I got there. Nobody’s going to rescue me from my own stupidity. If someone asks why I prefer to eat by candlelight, I say, “It’s fine to dine in the dark, but the last time I tried that, I nearly ate my finger, mistaking it for a French fry. Don’t you think it’s important to be safe rather than sorry?”
will you meet me on the path
to the mountaintop?
More The Whirligig #257
More Writers’ Pantry #11 at Poets and Storytellers United
Yesterday at noon, when I opened my kitchen window, I looked out toward the clothesline, and saw the neighbor’s scruffy cat. “So, you’ve finally decided to wake up,” I said with a laugh. Instead of purring, the cat began snarling at me. It had my full attention! An intimate talk followed, although I will not tell you what was said. That moment stays between the cat and me, and I will hold onto it forever. Meanwhile, I’ve decided to listen. If anything can keep me from seeking the cat’s wisdom again, then I don’t deserve to hear its voice.
Fog envelops me,
yet I keep moving forward
on the unseen way.
More The Whirligig #256
More Writers’ Pantry #10 at Poets and Storytellers United
My mother used to say, “It’s hard to improve on an onion sandwich.” She’d peel three small beauties, slice them, and lay the slices between thick slabs of buttered brown bread, sprinkling them with salt and pepper. She chewed slowly and thoughtfully until she had eaten every pungent morsel. Then brushing the crumbs from her lips, she’d reach across the table for her garden catalog, delve into it and dream of planting peas—and more onions—in several parts of her garden.
two jays at the bird feeder
fight over one seed.
More The Whirligig #252
More Writers’ Pantry #6 at Poets and Storytellers United
For weeks I stumble through dark clouds of grief, after losing my little point-and-shoot camera to an ignominious death. My constant companion on nature walks no longer functions—the lens will not retract—and I slog through my beloved wilderness with unseeing eyes.
Yet a new day dawns, with a new camera, and I am ready again to romance the little things that others spurn.
I slip through a fence with a sign that warns against trespassing, my heart beating wildly. Will this be the day that my transgressions are discovered?
But I have no time to worry, for at my feet I spy some tiny, reddish-purple flowers. Willing the wind to pause in its pummeling of the delicate blossoms, I fish my camera from my pocket, kneel, and focus the lens for the first photo of the day.
First flowers of spring
nourished by underground streams—
gratefully I drink.