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 VIII

Heavy snow had fallen all over Kyoto in the days before six intrepid haiku hikers gathered at Ninose, a tiny village next to Kurama. We found the northern hills still draped in sheets of white.

The local railway
gently winding to snow —
silent mountains
………. (Akihiko)

Our aim was to reach Himuro, an ancient centre of ice production for the imperial court. We had certainly chosen the right time of year. Paying brief respects to a kamakura (Japanese igloo) we began the long, steady climb of Mount Mukai. Throughout our hike we were treading on snow, grateful to follow the footsteps of the few hardy souls who had broken the trail on previous days.

The buck bolts
up the snowy riverbank
before my shutter clicks
………. (Richard)

Higher up, we reached Yonaki Toge (夜泣き峠) or Night-Wailing Pass. Here, the infant Prince Koretaka was pacified when his nurse prayed for relief to local gods, who advised her to place a piece of pine bark under his pillow.

Frozen under the snow
on a Kyoto hill —
ancient tears
………. (Margarite)

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Crossing the peak of Mount Mukai, we stopped for a chilly lunch at one of the few spots on the northern trail that offers a view across the city. Too cold to linger, we descended to the headwaters of the Kamo River. Gazing south along the river valley, it was hard to imagine the large city that lay hidden beyond the ridge. Climbing again, we entered Nusuttodani(盗人谷)or Thieves’ Canyon. This is one of the wildest spots on the Round Kyoto Trail, a dark and claustrophobic place where we were forced to stoop under innumerable fallen trees and hop over streams. But the deep snow added light to the valley, and lightened our mood.

Middle-aged folk
hurl snowballs back and forth,
sniggling
………. (Kazue)

Splattered over snow,
a blue mystery —
winterberries
………. (David)

All the way up
the Gorge of Thieves
tall trees
throw down ice
………. (Tito)

At the head of the valley we emerged into a blindingly white world. The tiny hamlet of Himuro, hidden away among the northern mountains, felt completely deserted, save for one barking dog and a rising line of smoke.

Blanketed in snow,
wreathed in wood smoke —
the icemakers’ village
………. (Tito)

We clambered through deep snowdrifts to the spot where, from ancient times, villagers stored ice in shallow pits. In June they uncovered the precious commodity and carried it over mountains, bringing a touch of summer cool to fortunate aristocrats in the capital.

Finally, we paid a visit to the snow-bound Himuro Shrine, dedicated to the God of Ice.

Flat and square
under the shrine roof,
a snow blanket
………. (Akihiko)

One adventure remained, as we were obliged to return by car over the high, and deeply frozen pass at Kyomi Toge (京見峠). Slithering and slipping on the treacherous road, we descended to a downpour of snow-melting rain.

Creatures of Winter

Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui) has asked me to share these new winter haiku of his. There will be a new ‘from the Icebox inbox’ posting soon. Happy holidays to all of our readers!

All that must depart,
I leave them to the cold wind
And shut myself up.

去るものは風に任せて冬籠 saru mono wa kaze ni makasete fuyugomori

A pot of young pines,
How deep the green of their needles
In this winter scene.

一鉢の松の若木や緑濃し hitohachi no matsu no wakagi ya midori koushi

A winter crow perched
On an electric wire, sharpens
Its beak against it.

電線に嘴研ぐや冬烏 densen ni kuchibashi togu ya fuyugarasu

A young cat asleep
In a sunny spot, moving
Its ears now and then.

若猫は日向で寝ても耳動く wakaneko wa hinata ni netemo mimi ugoku

A December storm —
Two rainbow pillars stand up
In the Western sky.

冬の虹二本立ちたる西の空 fuyu no niji nihon tachitaru nishi no sora

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike IV – Southwestern Hills

13 Feb. ’21 turned out to be a very warm winter day. Spring came early, just for us. (Now we’ve reverted back to winter, with snow this morning on the hills!) Seven Hailstones had gathered to hike the Nishiyama stretch of Kyoto’s Isshu Trail. Outside Kamikatsura Station, as some were new to our events, we went round introducing ourselves and, out of interest, adding our ‘provenance’ – Northern Ireland, Japan, Holland, England, Japan, New Zealand, … oh, and America, too, when that poet had finally arrived! Up the slope past a hollow, knobbly, 400-year-old muku tree; the bamboo grove pathway to Jizo-in Temple; and on towards the dark, wooden gates of Kokedera, whose moss-swathed garden, hidden behind a long wall, was laid out by the Zen monk-gardener, Muso Soseki.

Seeking ume blossom;
like hanging up a bell
in the blue sky
.
Tomiko

Spring morning -
the woman with a watering can
waves and walks away
.
Tito

Ume is Japanese apricot (conventionally misnamed ‘plum’). A little way up the brook beside the temple, we entered a zone of bamboo forest in which there are numerous tumuli from the Kofun period, likely connected with the ancient Hata family, who moved from the Asian continent three centuries or more before Kyoto (Heian-kyo) itself was founded. We also came upon a standing stone inscribed with the characters 山の神さん (the Mountain God), before which all those who enter the hills are supposed to offer up a prayer.

By the old capital
a mountain god sits still -
murmuring water of spring
.
Akihiko

We climbed steeply up the shoulder of the ridge behind Tsukiyomi Jinja (ancient Hata shrine to the Moon God), finding out what sweat feels like in February. We decided to take a break and eat our packed lunches high on the hill at a place with a view out through the harugasumi (kigo – spring haze) to the Kizu River gap, halfway down to Nara. Talk of Ikkyu, who as a child had spent time at Jizo-in below, and Taketori Monogatari, the story of Princess Kaguyahime, who had come down to Earth from the Moon and later been found by an old couple in a bamboo grove many say was modelled on those here in Nishiyama. The fact that bears are sometimes sighted in the wilderness area between here and Sasayama was also thoroughly discussed! Just then, a white-masked man dangling a bear-warning bell from his backpack ran past …

Awakened from slumber
By the chatter of poets -
Nesting bears
.
Ted

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Stephen then forewarned the party of a choice they would soon have to make up ahead: to descend, or not, risking life and limb, to the sacred Rock Sanctuary (磐座) in the forest high above Matsuo Taisha! I may exaggerate slightly, but it was no easy task – very steep and with few sturdy tree roots to hold onto. Most made it down.

Eyes on our footing
Sliding down the hill too far …
Then up to the Rock!
.
Margarite

There, after duly paying our respects to the massive rock outcrop, some lithic poems were read out by Stephen, including one by Kathleen Raine beginning “There is stone in me that knows stone,/ Substance of rock that remembers the unending unending / Simplicity of rest …”

Beneath the holy crag
even songbirds lose voice
and still, the mountain waits
.
David

Furrowed brow -
The ancient rock
Asks us who we are
.
Richard

After coming to a standstill for what seemed like forever in that pristine place, we clambered back up the cliff to the trail and proceeded to the high point of the haike, a col just short of the summit of Arashiyama, looking out over Sagano. We could make out, directly below us, Togetsukyo, Moon-crossing Bridge, the rooves of Tenryuji and Seiryoji Temples beyond, and the green backdrop of Mt. Atago and the continuation of the Isshu Trail up to Takao and thence eastwards through the undulating Northern Hills past Sawanoike Pond, ways some of us had hiked (or run!) last year. Mt. Hiei was visible far-off in the east: it seemed to be beckoning us over for some future poetic event.

We descended sharply past Iwatayama, with its vociferous monkeys, going in and out of bamboo forest once more, until we came to the Oi River at Arashiyama. There, over tea and coffee, at an outside table between pines, we shared our haiku scribblings with much laughter and in due celebration of Richard Donovan’s winning of this year’s JLPP Translation Grand Prize. Later, possibly feeling rich, he graciously picked up the tab! Cafe Emu is run by Kenji Yoshida, a local friend of Stephen’s, and he sent us all away with postcards of Arashiyama in our pockets. “My pleasure (Saabisu),” Kenji said, hoping we’d understand his one English line.

Sosui at Setsubun & 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 Basho Scroll Exhibition

I first met Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui) in London in 1994 during the Basho 300th celebrations I’d organized for London University’s School of Oriental & African Studies and the British Haiku Society. During that year, BHS held a series of events including a conference,  a long-distance haiku hike, an international renga, and a haiku reading-cum-balloon launch. Together with London U. Prof. of Japanese Lit., Andrew Gerstle, I edited and published the fruits of our celebrations (conference papers, including one by Nobuyuki, renga, haibun, etc.) as Rediscovering Basho a few years later. For the cover, we obtained permission from Gichuji Temple in Otsu to reproduce a portrait of Basho on horseback taken from their amazing scroll painting, 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 Basho-okina Ekotobaden, executed by Kano Shoei towards the end of the Eighteenth Century to celebrate Basho’s 100th.

It just so happens that today (Feb. 11), when I visited Rakushisha (the House of Fallen Persimmons, where Basho had written his Saga Diary back in 1691), I picked up a flyer advertising an exhibition at Otsu Historical Museum 大津市歴史博物館 opening later this month at which for the first time the scroll will be shown in its entirety, all 40 meters of it. It shows Basho on his Oku no Hosomichi (Deep North) and other travels at various locations accompanied by Sora, so Hailstone will certainly hold an event to go and see it soon. One illustration shows B at Ukimido, the Floating Pavilion on Lake Biwa, location for Hailstone’s first ever event (Nov. 2000). Get in touch with me if interested. Museum site link 

Serendipitously, also today, Nobuyuki has just sent me a few of his latest haiku celebrating the season of Setsubun (early February, trad. beginning of spring), which also includes his own birthday (Feb. 10, just turned 89 years old!). He confesses to me that recently he has been feeling lazy and, although still composing, cannot face posting directly onto the Icebox at present, so I shall do so for him. Some of you may remember his nice haibun on the subject of ‘Bean-throwing at Setsubun’ a few years ago (published in our collection, Persimmon). Belatedly… many happy returns of the day, Sosui-sensei!

節分が来ても畑に動きなし
Spring is expected
To come tomorrow, and yet
No change in the field.

節分や仄かに赤き梅の枝
The last day of winter —
A tinge of red now visible
On the plum branches.

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

Nothing at all

Last Sunday in January: the dead of winter. Japanese Government toying with extending the latest Covid Emergency Order. Almost the end of the university year. Still one online lecture, three classes to grade and eleven grad theses to go. At home, almost at the end of our tether: getting on each other’s nerves.

Looks sunny. We strip off all our sheets and put them in the washing-machine; futons, out to the terrace to dry. Sunday, right? So, where to go for a kibun-tenkan (change of surroundings)? I ask my wife.

“The Botanical Gardens.”

“There’ll be nothing out,” I say.

We go.

Rounding the first corner… and a freak shower is racing towards us from the north! We rush back home, unlock the front door. Sprint upstairs to the terrace, as icy rain comes blasting through; hurl those futons and sheets back inside… then drape them all over the furniture in our living room.

We set off once more.

Entering the Gardens. Nothing out at all. Just a few bobbly white buds on the mitsumata (paper-making bush).

As a last resort, we head for the glasshouse.

The orchid exhibition —
each one a fashion statement
with its own devotees

There is a small voting-box, at one end of the hall, and a stack of cards and pencils. All are urged to vote for their favourite bloom. I find myself tending towards no. 37.

Taking off my mask
to smell the orchid —
nothing at all!

Snow Kukai

The Snow Kukai event held on March 8th turned out to be a very pleasurable afternoon. 14 poets gathered in the gorgeous pond-side setting of Shusuitei villa in Kyoto Gyoen to share and discuss snow-themed haiku submitted by no less than 24 different people.

David McCullough won first prize for his snow haiku. With 8 votes, it proved the most popular of those entered:

snow falls softly
onto the river —
last train passing by

Runners-up, both with 6 votes, were:

endless snow… …………………………………… Excavated remains —
I break the froth ……………………………….. into the postholes,
in a cup of cappuccino ………………………. snowflakes
….. (Yaeno Azuchi) …………………………………… (Keiko Yurugi)

Next, two poems that received 5 votes:

daybreak… …………………………………………. In the freezing rain
the muffled sound ……………………………… an old man living alone
of a raging snowstorm ………………………. picking peach blossoms
….. (Duro Jaiye) …………………………………………. (Yoshiharu Kondo)

And 3-pointers:

silky snow ………………………………………….. Lunchtime strollers
left on old tree — ………………………………. squint into the sun’s glare —
the clouds begin to break …………………. first snow flurries
….. (Akihiko Hayashi) ………………………………. (Jun Tsutsumi)

a morning of the cottage
everything with snow —
a straight track by a tiny hare
….. (Teruko Yamamoto)

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Poems that got 2 votes were:

oh no ……………………………………………………. snow vanishes…
snow in the deck-chair again ………………. as though an hour ago
insisting it’s winter ………………………………. never existed …..
….. (Ann Mari Urwald) ……………………………….. (Branko Manojlovic)

Twilight Venus
over the mowed garden —
the first snow
….. (Kiyoko Ogawa)

Poems with 1 vote were by: William Sorlien, Tito, Hisashi Miyazaki, Hiroko Nakakubo, Ursula Maierl, Kyoko Nozaki, and Eiko Mori. Alas, we didn’t have enough time to talk about these.

The event was well organized by Yaeno Azuchi and Tomiko Nakayama. Tito introduced the kukai, using snow haiku by Shiki, Meisetsu and Issa, and later gave the prize, a handmade Indian book for writing haiku. Branko Manojlovic debuted as discussion coordinator. He came up with the following haiku written during a tea break:

Still pond
touched by sunlight —
sharing snow haiku