First plum blossoms–an old man sells church-shaped bird feeders from his truck bed
My paternal grandmother was a rich, generous, large hearted lady and the mother of many sons and well regarded in our village. Since she died when I was only two years old I never knew her. Her equally philanthropic sons decided to give the village its first school, its first hospital, a gurudwara and also a community centre which had electricity.
Several decades later, a well wisher of the family advised my uncles to get their mother’s portrait painted. Since I was well into photography by then, it fell to me to get a portrait painted so that it could be duly hung in the school building.
In Gran’s days there were no photographs, so nobody really knew what she looked like. Somehow a tiny, sepia print of her was found and a famous local artist commissioned to paint the portrait. He took almost a year to complete it and finally, amidst much fanfare, the beautiful portrait was unveiled, garlanded, and placed reverently on the credenza of the principal’s office. My uncles, relatives and friends were very pleased and the artist and I got several pats on the back till a dissident voice from the back of the crowd called out, “Who is that woman?” and my uncles replied, “Why, that is our venerable grandmother, the benefactress who has given you all this school.”
There was a slight pause before the old man, who had been a contemporary of gran’s came forward to peer closely at the portrait and said, “That looks nothing like her. Your grandmother had a terrible squint!”
a blur from the past
transforms the present
Spirits Rising: ひろしま / hiroshima by Ishiuchi Miyako
January 18, 2020 – March 15, 2020 / Garden Hours
Location: Pavilion Gallery & Tanabe Gallery
Portland Japanese Garden is commemorating 2020 as the Year of Peace in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Throughout the year, the Garden will be taking the opportunity to stimulate conversation and facilitate thoughtful discussions on the importance of cultivating peace and cross-cultural understanding.
This exhibition will include a selection of the internationally acclaimed photographer’s monumental ひろしま / Hiroshima series, documenting cherished items and clothing left behind by victims of the atomic bomb detonated in Hiroshima at the close of World War II that are now housed at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
U wrote this haibun two years ago, in Japan:
today it’s just a station
on the bullet train
Or, more than that, it’s a lovely city with great food and shopping. I don’t know why I expected it to be frozen in the past, a smoking ruin. That’s as foolish as expecting to be met by Puritans in black hats at Boston’s Logan Airport. Still, it is a pilgrimage, different than a Tokyo neighborhood of food stalls or the earthly delights of Hakata Station in Fukuoka. We get an AirBnB near the Peace Park.
Everything is an adventure. This is Japan, after all, and I’m traveling with my daughter and son-in-law. I adore them, but they are millennials, and different than me. Three futons are laid out, and we all sleep in one room. I could never have done that with my own mother.
a twig broom sweeps
One of the more upsetting pieces for me is a memorial to the girls’ school where the students died. Because Japan was still under occupied forces when it was built, the U.S. said that the sculptor could not reference the atom bomb by name in this plea for peace. So “atom bomb” is replaced with “E=mc squared.”
on park benches, pigeons,
the funeral mound
tailless black cat
on its own
cell phone photos
A giant tortoise, memorializing Koreans, is surrounded by Japanese sparrows.
We’re from New Mexico. An hour from Los Alamos where the A-bomb was birthed, monstrous, into this world. And somehow I feel more implicated by this more than by being an American. Even though these events happened before I was born. But we talk about Robert Oppenheimer and Los Alamos as we enter the museum. And there are shocked to find not one mention of either name. No New Mexico. No father of the bomb. A great deal of accurate and interesting history, and from the Japanese perspective. Melted roof tiles. Photographs of disastrous ruin. But not our own guilt terrain.
I feel I need to apologize to someone but nothing here demands apology. Instead, the greatest focus is on peace.
At the neighborhood shrine after I bow and drop my coins in the box I’m surprised to have a Shinto priest appear and shake a branch tied with white cloth over my head. But I feel better. I can’t just leave the Peace Park and go looking for lunch without a transition.
the word for “gods”
sounds just the same
origami sheets to fold
cranes for a friend.
Lying in bed waiting for my turn in the shower, this came to me…
blue truck, red bird
how fortunate to have
I’m working on a book that of necessity combines micro-poetry and work of a more conventional length. I say necessity because the collection is based on a theme–astronomy and the sky–and because it needs to be 120 pages at the editor’s suggestion. So, here is the question. How do you fit haiku into a mixed genre collection?
In my book “Rag Trade (La Alameda) I had a sequence of 40 haiku about counting the omer, a Jewish spiritual practice. But that was obviously its own thing. Same with “Ikisan Station,” a chapbook about Japan from Flutter Press. This is going to be different. Haiku alone per page, functioning as visual and poetic breaks? Sequences with titles? Little groupings? Does it matter?
Thinking about this, I’m struck again about how haiku still remains alienated from the mainstream of contemporary poetry. I don’t approve of the split, but am sometimes unsure how to bridge it.
Sometimes I don’t feel meditative, contemplative, or even grounded. I like the phrase “settle the self on the self” but I can’t always do it. It’s like sweeping the floor. I’m fond of the activity, but sometimes I’d rather just lie around.
“I did it once,” said my darling friend poet Elizabeth Lamb about dusting the top of her refrigerator. She preferred writing haiku to housework.
I decided to calculate how often I’ve dusted the top of the hot water heater. Twice a month. 33 years. It comes out to approximately 792 times. Frankly, it feels like more.
I don’t have much relationship to the secular new year, but Elizabeth was very fond of it–in actually and as a haiku topic. She wrote:
above the old adobe
New Year’s Eve
After her death, I wrote one of my own:
like a forgotten dream
I really enjoyed new year when I was I was in Japan. All the shrines were decorated and tidied up, even the slightly scary shadowed one around the corner from House 3, Kura Studio.
I sit writing
by the shrine—perplex
my whole life, just to enjoy
Happy New Year!
Time and Shadow
The green-tailed towhee
comes to feed on garden seed
he won’t stay long. DR
Bloom and grass fade
Hunter’s moon. ET
is the departure of many. DR
Your skull with gray hair
startles my younger heart. ET
A to-do list
falls from the book
twenty years old. MS
Buy black beans, soap, and bread,
that’s the year I fell in love. DR
Warm candle light
French onion soup—
Dakota blizzard. ET
Snow-muffled silence…so deep
Stoke the fire, move close. DR
On the wintry bank
A white hare
I only see his shadow. ET
Snowy owl—wing beat, heart beat
Night falls, leaving no trace. DR
The clock ticks
A story unfolds. ET
Dark falling on the city
Two silhouettes on the shade. DR
A pink sunrise
over the Christos mountains
steaming hot coffee ET
Quiet start of a new day
Only “now” is guaranteed. DR
As the moon rises
Jack rabbits take flight
Over the dusky road. ET
Anything is possible
floating in the land of dreams. DR
Dawn on snow
An early spring breeze
Snowdrops in bloom. ET
Honey bee legs—full of pollen
return to the hive…again… DR
Half Kasen Renku
Else-Maria Tennessen and Douglass Rankin, with Miriam Sagan