Arrival

Half moon, insect song —-
one small, lustrous cricket
joins our dinner table

Travel-weary is how I felt as we began to unpack boxes in our new house. Yet from the veranda, where we were soon hanging out our washing, there’s a glad prospect out across to distant Mt. Katsuragi, birthplace of En no Ozunu (1), with the gracefully curving gables of Tachibana Temple (2) rising out of the foreground green-gold rice terraces just across the Asuka Stream. I recall the taste of ‘arrival’ savoured on so many rough journeys in India and the Middle East; how one would check into a backpackers’ lodge after thirty-six or forty-eight hours on the move and ask for a room with a view. The effects of moving house after so many years feels strangely similar to the aftermath of long, sleepless, jolting rides on Afghan trucks or Laotian buses. Asuka (3), where I now live, is right up with all those nicely underdeveloped Asian travel destinations of yore.

The occasional couple appears pushing their rented bikes up the slope towards our house, and then past it, on their way enjoying the shadows cast on the lane by the unkempt grove of Okamoto-tei, a deserted, ramshackle property once apparently famed for its literary parties and its waterwheel.

I place a glass of water on an improvised stool and gaze out sighing, acknowledging to myself that all the ancient lithic sites (4) are now arrayed nearby, that the charming rolling scenery of Manyō (5) hills already encircles us with its greens and blues, and that tonight will be immaculately silent apart from the gurgle of irrigation water and the field crickets’ tintinnabulations. So, why not rest here for a few days, then? A new place before journeying on.

One red flower on the hibiscus. The afternoon is hot. Butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies visit—a magic seems to well.

Just then, a sharp wind comes down from the peak of Tōnomine (6) and I notice the black clouds behind me and sense a heavy rain. Potsu-potsu fall the first drops onto the veranda roof …

September lightning—
the compass-points
around our house,
each receives a bolt!

(Oka, Asuka, completed 12.9.22)

Notes:
1. En no Ozunu, the seventh century mountain ascetic and founder of Shugendō religion; Mt. Katsuragi itself will be climbed by Hailstone haiku hikers on Oct. 8 this year.
2. Birthplace of Shōtoku Taishi, the late sixth century imperial regent-statesman, who ensured that Buddhism took root in Japan.
3. Ancient capital of Japan ca. 538-710.
4. Sakafune-ishi, Ishibutai, Mara-ishi, Kame-ishi, Nimenseki, and so on; Asuka is famed for its mysterious ancient stones.
5. Manyōshū, the first great anthology of Japanese poetry, compiled early in the eighth century, mentions a number of such mountains—Miwa, Otowa, Amanokagu, Amakashi, Unebi, Miminashi, Katsuragi, Nijō, etc., all of which can be seen from Asuka.
6. Site of Danzan Jinja, shrine and spiritual resting place of Fujiwara Kamatari, the seventh century statesman and founder of the Fujiwara clan.

Songs for Spirits 魂のうた

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A selection of 59 tanka, 11 haiku and 3 English haibun by Kiyoko Ogawa (Taibowsha Corp., 2022). The haiku and tanka are given in both Japanese and English.
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From the Preface: “There are some Japanese poets… not in favour of the idea that one poet writes both haiku and tanka… I myself would like to feel free… Sometimes I intend to compose a tanka, ending up by writing a haiku, and vice versa. I won’t mind if my flexibility is criticized.”
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The five sections of the book are focussed, respectively, on the death of Kiyoko’s mother, journeys to Leipzig and Australia, rural scenes around Lake Biwa, and the transience of our ‘Floating World’. Highly recommended!
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In Japan, ¥1,000 + p&p.  From abroad, US$ 10 incl. p&p. Enquiries/orders to: kiyoko66ogawa”at”gmail.com

Green Pigeon Man

the old pond
a freedom fighter drops his pants
and plunges in

Simon Piggott wrote this haiku one hot summer’s day in Oshika-mura, Nagano, at 1,000m in Japan’s Southern Alps. He lived there for decades in an old wooden house he had named Saimon-tei 祭文亭, occasionally opening it up as a theatre and concert venue. He worked primarily as a translator, acted for a time as Kamasawa Village deputy headman, and led the organization supporting the local Shinto shrine, while also tending the nearby cairn to Prince Munenaga 宗良親王 (son of Emp. Godaigo and 14th century resistance leader for the Southern Court against the North), who had fled there. Simon had once presented on Munenaga and Oshika-mura to our Hibikiai Forum seminar in Kyoto.

Born in Northamptonshire, England on 7 April 1950, he passed away after a bout with skin cancer on 8th June, aged 72. He had studied Japanese Language & Literature in the 1970s at SOAS, London University, ahead of me, and much later, David Stormer, too. After graduation Simon returned to Japan and never left. We had played in the same football team in Tokyo in the early 1980s: the Hachiko Boys! Simon was a gifted, independent soul and taught those of us who visited him much about the art of country living. A breath of fresh air! He leaves behind a wife, three daughters, and seven grandchildren. We will sorely miss this unsung freedom-fighting Englishman here in Japan. Thank you, Saimon.
+ RIP +

いづかたも山の端ちかき柴の戸は月見る空やすくなかるらむ
on every side mountains
tower up around
my brushwood cottage
so narrow is the sky
in which i view the moon

(by Munenaga, trans. SP)

look past the garden
snow mountains are welcoming
stars, the confetti

(by SP)

Finally, and movingly, a short excerpt from a piece he wrote on his blogsite,  back in April:

… It was a beautiful spot, looking out to the high mountains across the valley. It was also adjacent to the place where he had cut down trees for firewood all those years ago.

He walked very slowly, still not confident whether his body wouldn’t be damaged by the exertion. But, so far, it seemed to be holding up.

As he neared his destination he saw an uncommon bird flying horizontally through the trees. Jays and rooks were common here, but it wasn’t one of those. By the flash of colour that he had caught sight of he identified it as an aobato, a green pigeon, a bird whose distinctive call he occasionally heard, but which he had only actually seen a few times. To see it today of all days seemed auspicious.

Immediately he decided that, in accordance with the Buddhist custom of taking a new name after death, he would call himself aobato-koji — Green Pigeon Man.

It was a joke. But he was also serious. Green Pigeon Man.

Presently he arrived at the clearing where the small statue for the dead farm animals stood. He searched for a suitable place to put the stone that would commemorate him, the Green Pigeon Man. About ten metres away he found four closely grouped pines. He would put his stone here between the trees.

Thus he would become the Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines.

Then, satisfied with what he had accomplished, he set off back down the mountain.

He didn’t see the green pigeon again, but, in the forest just above his house, did faintly hear its call.

my gravestone is up:
unknown, unvisited, this
virgin rock perhaps
one day will kisses cover
like oscar’s in père lachaise*

Notes – *alluding to Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
The old pond haiku was later published in our 2005 anthology Enhaiklopedia.
The full piece, Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines, is available at Simon’s blogsite, here.
Richard Donovan and Tito hope to go to Oshika sometime to pay our respects at Green Pigeon Man’s gravestone.

Richard Steiner 50 Years Publication

A superb new full colour book has just come out from SAT Publications featuring 50 years of mokuhanga (woodprint) works by Icebox contributor and Hailstone book cover artist, Richard Steiner, also known as 刀斎 Tosai. The price of the book is 2,750 yen (including 10% tax). For Hailstone participants within Japan, the publishers will not charge postage (サービスです!) It is full of great design, lettering, humour and philosophy. Please consider supporting the artist? You will not regret it. Email order address is: sat-steiner”at”nifty.com

Here is a slideshow of some of the works in the book, mixed in with some of the book covers he has helped produce for Hailstone over the past two decades. For our own poetry book purchases, see our Publications page. Richard features as a poet in most of those, too!

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Basho’s Painted Scroll ‘Nozarashi Kikō’ Comes to Light in Kansai

The Fukuda Museum in Arashiyama, Kyoto has just announced that it has acquired a scroll painted by Basho himself of his 野ざらし紀行 Nozarashi Kikō journey centred on Kansai in 1684-5. They will exhibit the 14-metre scroll for the first time 10/22-1/9, and Hailstone will no doubt plan an event to go and see the work. My fellow editor, Nobuyuki Yuasa, translated the piece for Penguin Classic as ‘The Records of a Weather-exposed Skeleton’. It was the first of Basho’s great haibun journeys, but the only one he illustrated completely himself. The scroll was known to exist, but its whereabouts had not been confirmed for half a century or more. The Museum had been contacted by an Osaka dealer who had suspected that the scroll could be the missing one.

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The close-up shots of the scroll (each can be enlarged by clicking), clockwise from top centre show, respectively, Hakone, Yoshino, Kuwana, Tōdaiji’s Nigatsudō (in Nara), and Narutaki (in Kyoto). To give a flavour of the written account itself, here are some of Basho’s haiku inscribed adjacent to each of these illustrations:

(HAKONE: Kirishigure / fuji o minu hi zo / omoshiroki) . Misty rain / hides the view of Mt. Fuji… / yet still I’m spellbound!

(YOSHINO: Kinuta uchite / ware ni kikase yo / bō ga tsuma) . Beat your fulling-block / so I may enjoy its sound, please / wife of the temple priest

(KUWANA: Akebono ya / shirauo shiroki / koto issun) . Before sunrise… / young icefish flashing white / just one inch long

(NARA: Mizutori ya / kōri no sō no / kutsu no oto) . Water-drawing Ceremony – / cold sound of monks’ clogs / pounding the wooden floor

(NARUTAKI: Ume shiroshi / kinō wa tsuru o / nusumareshi) . Plums in white blossom, / but the crane’s absence might tell of / its kidnap yesterday!

It is also worth noting that a newly found scroll by Buson of Basho’s 奥の細道 Oku no Hosomichi travel sketch will be shown for the very first time at the Kyoto National Museum from June 14 to July 18 this year. Of the existing Buson scrolls on this subject, this is apparently the oldest.

David Chigusa Stormer

Sunset is done
the morning glory keeps
winding the night

It is my very sad duty to inform our Circle members that David Chigusa Stormer passed away, in Bangkok on 15 May this year, just eleven days short of his 6oth birthday. He had been fighting prostate cancer and had gone there for special treatment not available in Japan. He was an original member of Hailstone Haiku Circle and his haiku have appeared in most of our books over the past two or more decades. He was also a regular contributor to Icebox, in recent years offering us many subtle haibun and haiku sequences, written both in Tokyo, where he lived and worked, and on his travels. He leaves behind his partner, Charles Chigusa, whom he married in 2009 in Auckland, N.Z. (the country of his birth). A graduate of London University’s School of Oriental & African Studies, where he read Japanese History, David was well equipped to live and work in Japan. He became a professional translator and rewriter. His modesty and gentleness suited this country nicely, and he did voluntary work with the NPO You Me We in Yokohama. He never lost the wry twinkle in his eye, nor his slightly irreverent sense of humour. He will be greatly missed.

+ RIP +

Morning eclipse ………………………………………… Brave man in bronze
a bell dulled……………………………………………… white-lipped, mute to
by winds and miles …………………………………….. the birds’ disrespect

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike X – the Final Stretch

Happy with the soft rainy day we were forecast, eight Hailstone haiku hikers assemble by the first giant red torii gateway at Fushimi Inari 伏見稲荷. Morning, April 24th. We pray for safe completion of the final leg of our two-year Isshu Trail circuit of the Old Capital, then watch a ceremony taking place accompanied by gagaku music.

Three businessmen
blessed by the golden bells
of a shrine maiden—
hissing rain                   David McCullough

A fake but beautiful white sacred horse; a tunnel of vermilion torii arches; ignoring crowd etiquette; an obscure signpost at which we must step away onto a slippery mountain track, reinforced in sections where bamboo forest is being farmed.

Life force—
through the cemented path
a bamboo shoot!          Margarite Westra

A bend where o-misogi waterfall ablution (to massed chanting, some way below us on the right) fuses with the soft, insistent vibrato of hidden frogs (above us on the left): an amazing soundscape! No one’s haiku quite does it justice.

spring rain
on this muddy trail
how refreshingly exciting      Duro Jaiye

The pussy willow
unveils itself:
the path,
a three-pronged fork    Tomiko Nakayama

Identifying new green leaves through smartphone photo searches; coming down into allotments; onions, gone to seed; then backstreets, the most impressive being the old Oiwa Kaido 大岩街道 with its wooden eaves; receiving a call from Kazue in Osaka, wishing us a rainless lunch.

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As witnessed in our haiku, the Trail itself and its comely puddles, has so far been the star… but now we enter the numinous precincts of Oiwa Jinja 大岩神社, with its silent cloud-wrapped forest, its clear black pool, its Aztec-feeling stone torii (designed by Domoto Insho 土本印象), its shy boulders.

After the kingfisher,
Across the pond
The flash of raindrops           Richard Donovan

Below the dripping
rock shrine
cloud loosens its moorings—
the redolent earth!                 Tito

Kazue’s prayer for us works, and as we emerge out of the forest onto the ridge, the rain lets up, and we can luncheon on benches looking over the southern part of Kyoto towards a gently revealed distant Osaka. Sharing of goodies; camaraderie; ascending cloud base; spring flowers. We descend into the landscape… all the way to Momoyama Castle 桃山城.

Distant mountains
wrapped in spring haze—
the last trail sign                     Akihiko Hayashi

Duro’s shoe gives way and has to be tied together with a plastic bag and cord. He squelches on towards our goal, Saiganji Temple 西岸寺, where Basho had once, in spring 1685, sought the blessing of its well-reputed, octogenarian monk, Ninko 任口, and had written:

わが衣に伏見の桃の雫せよ
Peach blossoms of Fushimi,
onto my robe please drop
some of your dew…

Eventually, at the end of many alleys, we find the little temple and, just outside the pavilion of Aburakake Jizo 油かけ地蔵, share our haiku musings before heading off to sample a local sake called ‘Momo no Shizuku’ (Peach Dew) in the Fushimi rice-wine merchants, Aburacho 油長. “Kampai to our completion of the Kyoto Isshu Trail!”

A red fire bucket
At the temple Basho visited—
Last cherry petals float          Mayumi Kawaharada

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from the Icebox inbox – 52

Haiku poems (and one haibun) selected from Icebox submissions (Jan. – Mar. 2022) by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa):

ancestral house
the old tree and I
share our memories         Mira

last sliver of sunlight
gray geese still honking, grazing
on dark earth                        Sydney Solis

arises from the fog
and disappears in it –
the pilgrim                            Momiji

jasmine scent…
morning sun warms
the bellies of storks              K. Ramesh

No Fishing sign
a heron’s eye
catches mine                        John Parsons

Haibun:
Under my high-legged sofa is an old brown suitcase with remnants from my dear deceased parents. It has been sitting there since my sister and I cleared out our childhood home nine years ago. Like a constant reminder, it has been on our “to do” list since: sorting out diaries, letters from relatives and papers from our father’s work as professor. But each time my sister visited, we postponed it as just too much – just now – when the sun was shining or a museum or film lured us to less heartbreaking activities. We know how fast we packed that heavy old thing! Years went by and last May my little sister became ill with cancer and died after just one month. So short a time to say all the unsaid things from a long life! Now I am the sole matriarch and the suitcase has been shouting at me to be opened. To my surprise my father wrote drafts of his correspondence.
The paper crackles
Thin between my fingertips
Letters from beloved                Ulla Bruun

Once a lump of clay—
Three sharp pieces in the sink
still hold memories                   David Sinex

Crooner’s recording
From a promenade bandstand
Vies with wind and waves.         Kamome

in the dance of snowflakes
a Japanese white-eye begs food
from me in the garden               Yoshiharu Kondo

Sosui’s comments:

The criteria used in my selection were (1) to choose one piece from each contributor and (2) to choose the poems that struck my heart in one way or another. My comments are as follows.

Both the author and the tree may be silent, but Mira’s poem is very eloquent nonetheless. Sydney Solis’s poem is a beautiful description of an evening scene. I wondered if it might be possible to move ‘grazing’ to the third line, though. Momiji’s poem not only describes the fog but also the inner mind of the pilgrim very well—full of anxiety but looking for peace. K. Ramesh’s poem is a vivid description of a morning scene. I smelled jasmine and felt the warmth of the sunlight. John Parsons’s poem catches a poignant moment well. I happen to be a fisherman myself, and have always detested ‘No Fishing’ signs and enjoyed meeting herons. Although they are our rivals, they can sit on a stone in the stream like a philosopher. They do have very sharp eyes, though.

Ulla Bruun’s haibun deals with a common theme, but I found it very sincere. I chose only one of the poems after the prose section, but it is a powerful one with which to conclude the piece. I found David Sinex’s poem somewhat mystifying, but thought-provoking at the same time. I wondered if it might not be possible to add a short prose paragraph to make the poem more understandable. Kamome’s poem describes the loud voice of the singer effectively. I wonder, though, which is really louder, the singer’s voice or the wind and waves. Singers nowadays may use electronic devices to make their voices very loud but, even so, winds and waves are more powerful, or at least it should be so. I enjoyed reading Yoshiharu’s poem on white-eyes (mejiro). I am also fond of these tiny green birds. Spring does not come until they are around.

Please allow me also to share a few haiku poems of my own. Feel free either to skip them altogether or to send me your own comments through the reply box.

The sky dawns today
Flushed in the softest of pink —
We know spring is here.        ほんのりとピンクに染まる春の朝

A pair of crows fly
From a plum blossom village
To their mountain home.       梅が咲く里から山へ鴉二羽

A pair of white-eyes
Sing by turns in a hedgerow
In their sweetest voice.         生垣に目白鳴き交う声優し

With its sudden cry
A pheasant broke the silence
Of a spring morning.          ケンケンと雉鳴き春のしじま断つ

Although I wrote the following poem years ago, I repeat it every year when the cherry blossom season is over.

Cherry blossoms gone—
Now I sit down to enjoy
Blossoms in my heart.                            散り果ててやっと心の花見かな

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike IX

Fine as rice bran
the hillside rain:
tram station
in the woods
…. (Tito)

6 March, a day of lively weather. Three women, three men start out from Ninose heading upstream along the Kurama River. Two of the women have been ‘awarded’ martenitsa* brooches, sent to Tito a few days earlier by haiku poet-artist Venelina Petkova. On spying her first flowering tree of spring, the recipient must take it off and make a wish. But, on a day in which snow is in the forecast, will the two women get to see any blossom?

below the graveyard —
a fisherman casts
one shining line
…. (David)

After less than a mile, walking towards us come two more men – a father and son. The party of eight, now complete, soon passes another white paper-trimmed ritual wheel* as we enter the village of Kurama.

a flurry of snow
disappears in deep forest —
stippled sunshine
…. (Akihiko)

Sakuramochi* are bought and eaten at the foot of the broad steps leading up to Yuki Shrine, famed for its October Fire Festival. Eighth century priest, Saicho, had had a vision of Yakushi, the Medicine Buddha, near here, so the pass over which we must now trudge goes by the name of Yakkozaka-toge 薬王坂峠, Medicine King Pass.

a tit’s chirp
opens the blue sky —
that spring blue!
…. (Akihiko)

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Descending steeply to the northwest, we come upon the village of Shizuhara.

One after the other
Snow and sunlight —
A white plum blooms
…. (Mayumi K.)

the high village
gusted by March wind —
peach blossom
…. (David)

Martenitsas have now been taken off and wishes made! The sky gods seem to be sparring – Rain, Sleet, Hail, Snow, Sun and Wind. Having first dutifully prayed at the village shrine, we seek shelter from another shower at a pavilion housing, amongst other things, New Year’s rice-straw cast-offs. We eat the lunches we have brought and enjoy the meteorological show. There is even a hint of a sleet-bow.

From blue skies
the Milky Way’s descended …
as a river of snow
…. (Margarite)

Three old cedars
reaching for the sky:
their heaven,
their earth
…. (Margarite)

We cross Shizuhara River on a bridge, the rounded granite outcrops of Mt. Kompira looming up ahead. The valley along which we are now walking soon closes down again, and the Isshu Trail begins a second climb – Ebumi Pass 江文峠.

Cresting the pass …
feeling the windblown snowflakes
smart on my face
…. (Tito)

After a wild descent, the Vale of Ohara now opens out before us. David takes us to Ebumi Shrine, to see the giant cryptomeria*, which wears a long sacred rope around its massive bole.

The moss-covered steps
To an ancient shrine —
Early spring snow
…. (Mayumi K.)

Giving thanks for the safe completion of this leg of our Kyoto mountain circuit, we head off along drystone walls and peer through the village gates of Ohara, our destination, catching glimpses of corners of gardens. Ahead of us rise the ramparts of Mt. Hiei; behind us, away to the north, the distant snowy ghost of Mt. Hira. The Takano River accompanies us with its merriment.

At the bus-stop, all perhaps now feel the glow of having lived with the Elements for a day in early March.

* Notes:
ritual wheel – (featured in the slideshow) indicating a prayer station for the Fire Festival
martenitsa – see here
sakuramochi – rice-cake stuffed with sweet azuki-bean paste and wrapped in a fragrant cherry-leaf
cryptomeria – sugi, a type of giant conifer

Houses of Stone by Matthew Caretti

Yet another pilgrimage. Overland to Malawi. Now paused at the Zimbabwe-South Africa border. Visas and passports and customs checks before crossing the Limpopo River. Close by, the old railway line is now a footbridge for the masses heading south. Seeking safety and work. Perhaps a new life for their children. Somehow I trade places with them. Leave any sense of knowing and security behind.

trestlework
long shadows
crossing over

Stepping down from the bus into Masvingo. Then a taxi to the ruins. A fellow traveler had derided this place—“Just some piles of rocks!” But a local poet has captured it best. “Stones, the visible end of silence.”

alone into
dzimba dza mabwe
morning sun

Down into the valley. Past the eastern enclosures. Looking for a sacred seam in the earth. Somewhere here on the path, requiring a brief ritual. Putting down my load. Uttering a prayer to the ancestors. Then a slow, superstitious step over it.

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noonday breeze
a witch’s spell
hardens into bedrock

I take in my final sunset at the western enclosure. My solitary perch this past week. Alone again with the baboons and some lingering spirits of the past. Thoughts of the future. Moving beyond the monk that I was. I uncross my legs. Stand. Stride.

moonrise
the ancient wall
mapped in lichen

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Notes: …. dzimba dza mabwe is the Shona origin of “Zimbabwe,” meaning “houses of stone.”
…………. This haibun was first published in the book, Africa, Buddha, Red Moon Press, 2022
…………. The photos, which are not in the above book, are by  Gunji Suda.

Chhoki & Rajan Unlimited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is unusual for Icebox to advertise a book by poets with no obvious connection to the Hailstone Haiku Circle, but Unexpected Gift  is an e-book of collaborative haikai ‘poems’, authored by Genjuan (& Kikakuza) Haibun Contest multiple awardees, Sonam Chhoki (Bhutan) and Geethanjali Rajan (India), and they have both expressed to me gratitude at how the Contest helped to bring them together and for my personal encouragement of their writing over the years. It’s a joy to be able to do so and for sure, there is some very delicate dancing between the authors here. This is very sophisticated, if that’s permissible in such a simple world as haiku. Published by Éditions des Petits Nuages in Canada, the book contains 25 responsive ‘poems’ chosen from 7 years of writing together – featuring haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun and tanbun – with a foreword by Mike Montreuil. The beautiful cover art and interior illustrations are by Dhaatri Vengunad Menon. What I found especially interesting was the way that, irrespective of whether the component parts were haiku or senryu or tanka or prose, they were treated as if the resultant composite piece was one longer poem.  Available on Kindle: ASIN: B09KV9SMNW. Highly recommended!

A rengay from the book (click on the page to read; Chhoki in italics):

from the Icebox inbox – 51

Happy 2022, dear readers!

It’s about time to gather some of the more resonant offerings posted as comments at our current Submissions page. Thank you for sending them in.

summer noon —
the sound of cowbells
outside my home

.. Mira, India

purple loosestrife
stillness of a heron
in autumn sun

.. John Parsons, UK

a grey heron
walks magnificently …
flies off
with a metallic sound

.. Yoshiharu Kondo, Japan

twilight in Salamanca —
a cacophony of birds
all the way home

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between mossed trees
white turn arrow on asphalt
points to the moon

.. Sydney Solis, Spain

Colorful silk thread
Thrown across the vast sky —
Dusk’s weaving wheel

.. Sowmya Hiremat, India