June 11: A story in eleven haiku and one photograph

Photo credit: James A. Otto

Through the screenless window comes
a bird.
I watch it disport itself.

The house fills with wings.
The hearts of birds beat
more rapidly than our own.

I inquire of Google
what to do.
The response is dissatisfying.

The Russian story of
the Firebird.
A keen, glittering eye.

Many versions
of roast chicken.
I choose the most savory.

Dancing, I lift up my skirts
for the bird to pass
under.

The oven is still hot.
I stand beside it,
flapping my arms.

I don’t dream anymore
I can fly.
I have scraped my mind of such stuff.

I trap the bird in the closet.
When you get home,
it will amaze you.

I am reciting famous poetry
silently.
I am petting the cats.

The cats are hot, they breathe
rapidly. Wait, I say,
you will be rewarded.

*

I was feeling a little claustrophobic yesterday. Haiku seemed too small. Even the most wonderful of them — just a blink! I had a novel-lover’s need for extended narrative.

But I do love the haiku form and the challenge of containing an entire experience, a full impression, in just a few syllables. Several things I’ve been thinking about lately began to come together in my mind, things I’m hoping to write more about in the next few days — gendai haiku, renga. Unconventional ways of writing haiku, and ways of linking them together to create a larger picture than a single haiku allows.

I wondered what would happen if you piled a bunch of nontraditional haiku on top of each other to form a narrative. I wanted each haiku to be able to make sense separately on its own, and also to form a part of a coherent story. This photograph I’ve been thinking about for a few days entered the mix; a bird began to fly around in my head.

Writing this was a lot of fun. I’ve begun a couple other similar narratives, and I want to try more. This kind of structure seems to work the way my mind works — I’m really only capable of brief bursts of attention, but I also hunger for depth of character, for details of setting, for continuity of action.

(A bird really did get into our house through a screenless window a few years ago; but the rest of this is fantasy. In case you were worried about its fate at the paws of the cats.)

May 20: 1-2 (Left behind)

the crying far away
of someone left behind
sandhill cranes at dawn

faint pencil marks
in the margins
the book you left behind

I “wrote” both of these in bed this morning, in my head, while I was barely awake. I could hear the cranes, the mournful bass underlying the rest of the dawn chorus. I don’t know where the pencil marks came from, maybe a dream. After I got up and wrote them down, the two haiku seemed connected to me and I couldn’t figure out why; then I realized they both contain the phrase “left behind.” My conscious will be interrogating my subconscious about that for the rest of the day.

May 11: 2-7: Indecision

rain all night
dreams full of
punctuation

I wrote ten haiku this morning that all started with the line “rain all night.” (It rained all night.) I didn’t like most of them very much. The one above was the one I liked the most. Here are a few of the others — if you like one of them better (or at all), feel free to let me know. And why.

rain all night
sun in the morning —
disappointment

rain all night
muffles early birdsong
silence in my dreams

rain all night
dreams fill up
with oceans

rain all night
is this what
drowning feels like

rain all night
throat so dry
I can’t swallow