Nine floors

“We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking.”—Thoreau

Nine floors below me
A moth flirts with a streetlamp—
Two more cigarettes.

—四条堀川、京都 Midnight  11.21.2010

Midwinter harvest……

This just in from a poet/scholar/ornithologist friend of mine who lives in one of the coldest, snowiest parts of northeast Pennsylvania. His name is Don Sheehy. He refers to this haiku as a poem about “the plenitudes of lack,” and I now share it, by permission, with readers of the Icebox.

Midwinter harvest—
a flush of bright cardinals
from bare apple trees

—Don Sheehy

cardinals – crested red finches

The name – of it – is “Autumn” – / The hue – of it – is Blood –

Again, in the spirit of the “Ayame Society,” formed in England more than a century ago to encourage exchange between poets West and East, I offer the following poem on autumn, by the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Dickinson neither titled nor published her poems while she was alive (with some very few exceptions). And her punctuation is highly eccentric (a point I hope will provide no serious obstacles to readers unfamiliar with her work). In the first comment below, I’ll provide a few remarks about the language of the poem that Hailstoners new to Dickinson may find of use. But for now, simply the poem itself, in the hope that it will inspire responses in haiku for preservation here in the Icebox.

The name – of it – is “Autumn” –
The hue – of it – is Blood –
An Artery – upon the Hill –
A Vein – along the Road –

Great Globules – in the Alleys –
And Oh, the Shower of Stain –
When Winds – upset the Basin –
And spill the Scarlet Rain –

It sprinkles Bonnets – far below –
It gathers ruddy Pools –
Then – eddies like a Rose – away –
Upon Vermilion Wheels –

ca. 1862

Now, get to work & send in some autumnal haiku!


On Easter Sunday last year, I heard an American soldier speak in the Catholic church on Kawaramachi street. He was uneasy, only twenty-four, and by avocation a photographer. The translator hobbled him somewhat, but he had presence, and he told his story––a story of how, south of Baghdad, his unit killed three goats and one child, in error; and of how, in reparation, the Army paid out $200 U.S. for the girl, and $1,200 more for her father’s livestock. The soldier had made his stop in Kyoto, on a long walk from Hiroshima to Tokyo, with a group of Buddhist monks––a walk undertaken for whatever it might accomplish in the name of peace.

After the meeting, the soldier stepped outside for a smoke, and took a seat beside me on the steps. A young Japanese woman approached him. She said she spoke no English––a fact for which she apologized in English. She extended her hand to touch his. “You have beautiful eyes,” she said.

No desert mirage,
in this sorry botch of a war––
three goats dead, one child.

Moons West & East

A while back, Tito told me of the “Ayame Society,” of which I had been unaware. The society was formed in London  a century or so ago “to establish a garden where the poetic flowers of East and West compete in their fragrances.” Seeing as how it now is, or soon will be, moon-viewing season in Kyoto, I post a short poem concerning the moon by the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963), in the  hope that this voice from the West might inspire some replies in haiku, here in the Icebox.

“The Freedom of the Moon”

I’ve tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I’ve tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water star almost as shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

west running brook

N.B. “The Freedom of the Moon” was collected first in Frost’s 1928 volume “West-Running Brook.” The image reproduced here is from a signed first edition of the book, given to me by Jack Hagstrom, a dear friend of the poet himself.

“So turtles pair…”

Tito kindly suggested that Mayumi & I commemorate our marriage this past April here, with our friends in/on the Icebox. Reprinted below is the text we chose to place on the back of the program for our wedding ceremony, taken from Shakespeare’s late play “The Winter’s Tale,” together with a photograph of the event in medias res.

FLORIZEL:   I think you have
As little skill to fear as I have purpose
To put you to’t. But come; our dance, I pray:
Your hand, my Perdita: so turtles pair,
That never mean to part.

PERDITA: I’ll swear for ’em.

フロリゼル:  こわがる理由が君にはあるまい、

パーディタ:  私もキジバトの誠実さには負けはしません。

N.B.: In the scene here quoted, Florizel proposes to marry Perdita. In English, we speak of “taking a woman’s hand” in marriage, though Florizel takes it also for a dance. “Turtles” are turtle-doves, which, in English poetry, are emblems of fidelity in love, because they pair for life. (Mark makes bold to add, with a wink––and for those who know Mayumi well––that in “The Winter’s Tale” Perdita, though she remains unaware of it until the last act, is, in fact, a princess. Incidentally, neither one of us ever dances.)

The Global War on Terror

It’s a yearly August ritual, for this American ex-patriate: a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV in American parlance) out at Nagaoka-tenjin. I am there to renew my Kyoto-issued International Driver’s license so that I can pilot a rented car in my own home country. There’s no such thing as an “American” driver’s license (a quirk of our federal system); there are only state licenses. When I tried some years ago to renew my Michigan license from abroad, I was refused. I had to come back to Kalamazoo and prove my residence there, they told me. When I tried to obtain a new Georgia state license last year the clerk demanded that I forfeit my Japanese license first. I couldn’t get any better explanation out of either DMV than a familiar American shibboleth: 9/11. The new strictures are part of the so-called global war on terror, it seems. So the world wags, the American world anyway. And with my Kyoto-issued International Driver’s License I will, next week, rent a car in my hometown of Augusta, Georgia––a semi-tropical place where the cicadas, this time of year, fairly howl in the heat of the afternoon.

louder than the bus
to Nagaoka-tenjin Station,
the cicadas call––
license to go home

From Hardy to Haiku: A Friendly Exchange

Stephen (Tito) and I lately had an exchange via e-mail that may be of interest to readers of the Icebox. I sent him a favorite short poem of mine by his countryman Thomas Hardy. Hardy is better known in Japan as a novelist. But in fact he wrote some of the best poetry we have in English from the early part of the 20th century. (Hardy died in 1928.) In this poem, Hardy “updates,” or echoes, a passage from the Old Testament of the Bible (Job 14:14): “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” I say that Hardy “updates” the Old Testament text because he alludes to it in full awareness of what modern science had revealed: that even the stars have life cycles and die; in short, that everything is mortal––in heaven as on earth. Stephen then rewrote Hardy’s poem as a haiku, reproduced here below the original. I especially like the way Stephen catches the nuance of Hardy’s “For all I know” in the second line of his haiku: “we shrug our shoulders.” One final point of interest: the noun “change” used to mean (among other things) “The passing from life; death.” That sense of the word itself passed out of use––or met its own “change”––in the mid 19th century. Thomas Hardy is reviving its older sense, if I may put it that way with mild irony.

Waiting Both”  (Thomas Hardy)

A star looks down at me,
And says: “Here I and you
Stand each in our degree:
What do you mean to do,—
Mean to do?”

I say: “For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come.”—”Just so,
The star says: “So mean I:—
So mean I.”

Tito’s fine rendition of the poem in haiku:

the star & I ––
we shrug our shoulders,
let time go by