How swift the seasons!

It was winter when I last posted on Icebox, and in what seems the blink of an eye it’s October already! Let me share three haiku spanning this summer and autumn.

Cicadas’
cacophony—a song of
blistering skin

Sweet-smelling grass,
a tiny brown frog leaps
among it all

Paddies at dusk,
crows flee a rising
gibbous moon

And finally, a light-hearted non-seasonal haiku inspired by a statue in a park. (A “tribute” to what birds do best!)

Brave man in bronze
white-lipped, mute to
the birds’ disrespect

Seven “Go To” Haiku

Over autumn and winter, my partner and I made full use of the government’s short-lived Go To Travel campaign. Our trips took us as far north and south as Hokkaido and Okinawa. Here are a few haiku from those journeys.

The following three were written on a trip to Matsushima. Unfortunately, Matsushima itself (we did a bay cruise) didn’t inspire me to the extent that it did the great Basho. Rather, my main inspiration was on the train getting there.

Not for frail eyes
these persimmon stark on
an azure sky

From this train seat—
a yard fire, but without
the smell of smoke

Another haiku from on the train was of an exchange between a child and his parents.

Oysters on trees?
Laughing, they answer him,
Persimmon, son!

(N.B. In Japanese, both persimmons and oysters are pronounced the same: “kaki.”)

Then, from a visually confusing moment experienced on a beach (because poor eyesight can also be poetic!):

Sand-scuttling crabs
flock and take to the air,
yes, as sparrows!

And one from the commercial center—called Makishi—of Naha City, Okinawa:

Sitting in threes
Makishi’s old women
sort bean sprouts

Finally, from Yamagata (post-Go To, actually):

From snowy ground
a blackbird beats its way
up to the eaves

No lovelier
winter thatch than your black
snow-capped hair

Screen Doors 網戸

Screen doors start sliding as temperatures rise, relieving indoors of heat, keeping papers from fleeing and birds and insects at bay, partially filtering the air let in, and casting a fine blur, a moiré, over the view outside.

Beyond the screen door
Blues, yellows in a vase
A sky of cloud

Gasping curtains
Suck to the screen door
Sudden breezes

A small whiff of
A neighbor’s cigarette
A screen door slams

Round the Table

How odd that we who aspire to or pride ourselves on our knowledge, wisdom, originality and insight find that simplest and most universal of phenomena, mortality, so difficult to come to terms with.

We deal with it like a sudden exorbitant bill that arrived in the mail – a bill, no less, for utilities we have made lavish use of. It is there on the table. We knew it would come some day. Yet it still doesn’t seem fair. We wish we had never even seen or touched it, let alone opened it.

Or is this simile trite? Isn’t death more like fire: another natural phenomenon, familiar, intrinsic and essential, that is nevertheless apart, ineffable, unpredictable and fearful? That leaps from where it was softly glowing – a little dinnertable flame. Knocked over, it is a writhing snake in your lap in the time it takes you to blink. Venom without antidote. Even the most levelheaded of us leap back with boomerang eyebrows.

Circumstances, both my own and others’, are such that death has been smoldering in my mind for the past few weeks, and appearing in warm conversations.

Things that could be
better we speak of as
things that just are

Things that may lead
to death we speak of as
part of our lives

Round the table
we share the good, the bad
as music plays

Tokyo Meeting

In spite of my Icebox truancy, Tito kindly invited me to take part in a meeting in Ueno, almost two weeks ago, of the Meguro International Haiku Circle. And then, in spite of my arriving late, the poets kindly asked me to contribute some of my haiku.

Here are the three I read out, composed last month on a trip to Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Gold pagoda
Roofs outreached by limbs of
A yellow tree

Not a Buddha
But a man, arms folded
At a bus stop

I played ball with
The children, and parting
Was no sorrow

Then, nearing home that evening, inspired by the poetry I’d heard and the acquaintances I’d made, the following came to me while walking by the river

Dark Sumida
From where these loud slaps on
The rolling hull?

Pointing the Lens

Work is work, except at lunchtime. And I have the good fortune of working near Ichigaya in Tokyo, meaning an early afternoon walk down there during the hanami season is like taking an exotic little vacation. I even take my camera, like a real tourist.

Brief blossom
at its height, gusts,
china blue sky

Many of the garish blue tarpaulins spread out on the banks of the Kanda River under blossom-laden branches are occupied by only one person, stationed to keep the spot for colleagues who will gather there later on. Some such lone employees are virtually still at work, hunched over a laptop. Others are not as diligent.

Just one petal
of the pink and white cascade
crowns the sleeper

Nearly all the cameras (smartphone and dedicated) capturing blossom shots are pointed sweetly and conventionally skyward. But over there is a blossoming branch, half in shadow, overhanging the dark, dank top of a shabby roadside waterworks bunker that’s strewn with just-fallen petals. I snap it. I get looks.

Chuckles for
pointing the lens
at where spring hides

hanami – cherry blossom viewing

Sri Lanka – stolen flowers, dancing & worms

We went to Sri Lanka last week for four days for a friend’s wedding. Everyone received a gift from the bride and groom, then the DJ got going – and so did the most dance-addled wedding crowd I’d ever had the gleeful privilege to be a part of.

Slights like
this smaller gift –
then dancing

We were taken around some of the sights on the island for a couple of days after the wedding, one of which was Danbulla Temple. We were all given a flower at the entrance to take up to the temple. Mine didn’t even make it halfway.

A flower for Buddha
Devoured in bliss
By a monkey

dambulla-monkey

Leaving, there was a brief, ostensibly routine, yet all-the-same extraordinary, pat-down at the airport that left me glazy and strangely elated.

Touched like that
at security
woke warm worms

No other words for it. (But, for a little context, may I add that friends were there, one of whom – from Brazil – is into gardening, for which he breeds worms: minhoca [mee-nyo-ka] in Portuguese.)

The Sumida

River, river, river (lifelong familiarity with a language lures us into hearing onomatopoeia). We look out on the Sumida River where it goes past the southern end of Tokyo’s Taito ward, and are just a couple of hundred meters upstream from the confluence with the Kanda (which I once lived alongside in Nakano ward).

A river—or any body of water for that matter—is a view that you can wholly rely on to be different every day. The color, texture, play of light on, speed of flow, traffic on, even the apparent width of a river change like the weather, like the mood of a creature you’ve been staring at for too long. In other words, a river is one of the most iron-bound promises against boredom, a lifetime guarantee of (at least) subtle surprises.

Windless
the grasses
bend forward

Gulls bob and wheel
anticipating scraps
from the Kanda’s mouth

Caught unawares
as I watch the Sumida
lick of a breeze

October

It was nighttime, two nights ago, the evening of the day Typhoon Wipha struck Tokyo. I was walking home from a (subway) station I never use but had had to because the JR (i.e., overland) lines couldn’t run.  It was no longer blowing a gale, but wind buffeted at every few paces in small powerful eddies that lay in wait wherever willed by the city’s stony cast.

It was quite a bright night with just enough room between the half-scattered surging clouds to let the gibbous moon shine through. Head down, just starting to get rained on, I reached Kuramaebashi Bridge.

Image

Clouded moon
A still distant
outline of home

_________

.

October is the driest month since May. And it is starting to get what in Japanese is called skin-cold (hadazamui, as opposed to bone-marrow-chillingly cold, or honemi ni shimiru hodo samui). The enveloping heat of summer that some think of as enervating actually works, I read recently, to increase physical activity. Conversely, lower temperatures make us less likely to jump out of bed. Besides all that is the face of a typical October: that huge languid airiness, that even if clouded is still higher than a paper kite on a lightly tugging string. No more cicadas, no more fireworks letting off, and even the noises that are – of trains, sirens, and schoolyards – seem reduced to the smallness of the details you can now make out in the clearer air.

Awoken by
curtained dawn
I yawn with October

Punch

I lived in Osaka for 11 years starting in the early 1990s. Osaka gripped me then with its earthiness and immediacy, unlike the brittleness and coolness of Tokyo that I accept now as adjuncts to other things I have come to value, like diversity, flux and layeredness.

Osaka was where people just came up in bars, clubs and restaurants and talked to you – and where you inevitably got very drunk with them, weekend after weekend.

One of my favorite haunts during my first four years in Osaka was the Doyamacho area, a few hundred meters east of Umeda station.

Too close
for echoes, those old
Doyamacho bars

It was at a bar in Doyamacho, I don’t remember which one, that I met my good friend Punch (real name, Fumio) and his friend Wani (“Crocodile” – real name unknown). Both were involved in “design,” which seemed to mean imparting or creating aesthetic advice or decorations on a freelance basis via kone (i.e., “connections,” patronage). Punch was a tough mix of waifish and wizened, lean, sharp-witted, with small black bright eyes, quick with his tongue, and always laughing. Wani was tall, lumbering, lantern-jawed and retiring. Both were about 15 years older than I, giving them something of the status of mentors—people who, although I hardly ever met up with them in daylight, looked out a little for me, or at least let me know what they thought I ought to know.

Stumbling off
with a good-for-nothing
to peals of “baaka!”*

*”fool,” “idiot”

Time passed, and the last I ever saw of Punch was when we parted one morning near where I lived. Life had been tough on him and he had always maintained his buoyancy, but the price of it was beginning to show. I was living in a gaijin house, and, after a night on the town, this time he seemed to have nowhere to go. Yet, as we walked from Tennoji station to my place, he wouldn’t calm down, but maintained what had become a manic monologue. At the last moment I had to withdraw my offer to put him up that night and say “I don’t know” to his “What am I going to do then?”

It was perhaps a couple of years after that that I got word from an acquaintance that my old friend Punch was no more. I was invited. He lay there as if sleeping.

Much time has passed
Dare I stand by my friend
In reverence?

Socorro!

Partner in Brazil for 10 days. Shards of Portuguese keep me company – Sozinho! Desanimado! Socorro! – their association with his tongue giving some sheen to their lament.

Until when I don’t know, an old man would sing the same song at sunrise down by the river – but I notice his absence for the first time today. Ah, sozinho.

Empty
bed at dawn
no old man’s song, even

I realize, now by myself, that this new reluctance to tidy, cook, do the laundry, means the key to what gets me up every day must have changed hands. Desanimado.

Unruly
apple branches
that I cannot prune today

Cycling home, the light navy-gray evening summer sky, incised with a startling new moon.

A lone
sickle moon
sharp as the eye in love

Socorro!