Tag: death

smoke

In high school you smoked a total of about half a pack of cigarettes over the course of a year or so. The point of smoking, every time, was to feel terrible, or, at least, terrible in a different way from the way you already felt. The smoke, which was literally impossible to inhale because for God’s sake, you can’t breathe fire, tasted irresistibly of death.

dusk the temptation of zero as a denominator

It isn’t true that young people don’t understand or believe that they’re going to die. They take stupid risks and experiment with dangerous habits because life doesn’t seem to them particularly precious. They haven’t had it long enough to prize it and besides, for adolescents, life often seems so complicated and difficult that the thought of lying peacefully in the ground with no one bothering them for an indefinite period is an attractive option. Cigarettes give the requisite feeling of unavoidable mortality, the promise that you won’t have to put up with this bullshit indefinitely.

deep autumn
the arsenic
at the apple’s core

Some kids cut themselves to feel the same way but you couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Some kids drink or take drugs but you didn’t want to alter the way your brain worked, you wanted to alter the way everyone else’s brain worked. Some kids take up a regular smoking habit but for you, getting used to it was not the point. The point was to have something that felt especially bad precisely because you were not used to it. The point was to choke and gasp and feel your throat sear and tears come to your eyes and know, for those five minutes, exactly why it was that life felt so unpleasant. The point was not to die, exactly, but to be reassured that dying was possible.

thunderclap
most of me emerges
from a cloud


Prose: here, now
“dusk”: Modern Haiku 43.2
“deep autumn”: A Hundred Gourds 1.1
“thunderclap”: Presence 45

myths from another universe: 3

Both moons are inhabited by dead people. Not just the souls of dead people: their entire bodily forms are thought to be reconstituted on one moon or the other. Which moon you go to after death is determined in a complex way by a number of factors including your horoscope, your genealogy, your chosen profession, the number of children you have, and the length of your hair. There are Moon Tellers whose entire occupation is forecasting which moon someone will end up on. They have subtly different methods; there are several Moon Telling schools and sometimes bitter rivalries between them. You can make a fortune as a Moon Teller because everyone is desperate to know where they’ll end up when they expire, although as far as anyone knows neither moon is preferable to the other. The only difference anyone has noted between them is that one appears to be tinged red and the other blue. When someone suggests sending a rocket to the moons to find out what other difference there might be, if any, he is assassinated shortly thereafter.

white anemones
she skips the song
with her name in it

January if I ever rise from the dead

1

Dribbling from my mouth into the standpipe this sentence all I eviscerate.

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2

The god that disappeared between massacres one of the four names he was known by in the south.

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3

On the bulletproof vest ancient ideograms for target practice.

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4

Rolling away the exsanguinated bodies a child carries a doll with an extra limb.

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5

Next to the Victrola a wasps’ nest for sale sitting inside it I plan my own assassination.

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6

Cutting spare keys for a blown-glass dungeon.

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7

In the eye of a hurricane kick-the-can and a slip knot.

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8

Drip-drying a body cast in the middle of a plaster war.

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9

Black velvet never thought she was good enough to be amputated.

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10

If no one deboned it shoving torture to the other end of the sofa.

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Misdirection

It’s winter dusk — a faded, in-between sort of time — and my mother and I are standing in a wallpapered hallway — a faded, in-between sort of place — accompanied by a large man who is wearing a dark suit and fluttering with apparent anxiety. We can’t take long, he tells us, and shows us a trolley on which is lying something human-shaped, covered with a sheet. His implication seems to be that this is my father, but I’m not fooled by this story; it’s the usual magician’s patter, a way to distract us from the sleight of hand being performed. I’m curious, though, about what will be there, exactly. A raft of rabbits, a drift of doves? A float of pink carnations? A thousand bright silk handkerchiefs?

in and out of winter ready or not

Abracadabra! — pulling back the sheet from my supposed father, we find him transformed into a doll, a puppet, a cold and eerily motionless replica of himself. The likeness is astounding. The things they can do with mirrors! I put a hand to his cheek. It feels as if it were made of some very soft, pliable sort of clay. Magician’s clay, perhaps they call it. I picture the page of the compendium of magic tricks in which this one is described. The Victorian illustrations, the magician wearing a handlebar moustache and a cravat. The diagram of the secret panel behind which the living man is concealed. The rotation of the chamber to present the mock man to the audience. A flourish of the wand.

lily stamens
reading a thin pamphlet 
about the future

Through the hall window the sky has deepened to navy and the moon has begun to shine dully. The features of the father-doll recede and blur. The magician flutters at our backs. It’s time to go, he says, the show is over. This, too, doesn’t deceive me. The grand finale has yet to come — the restoration of the living man to the stage. We allow the large man to draw up the sheet, to push the trolley into another room. Soon he’ll bring it back and let us pull away the sheet again. My father will climb smilingly down; we’ll all applaud while the dark-suited man bows, no longer anxious but proud of his skill at concealment and misdirection.

last bus out of town ice moon

We’ll all walk together out of the hall and out of this stiff, formal building, discussing magic and its mysteries. Perhaps my father will tell us how the trick is performed, or perhaps he has been sworn to secrecy. He’ll smile at us mysteriously, tell us we should volunteer ourselves someday, agree to be replaced and then restored. There’s nothing frightening about it, after all, he’ll say. A little boring, maybe. You just lie there for a while, listening to voices and sensing the growing darkness. I might have dozed off for a while there, he’ll say. But I enjoyed the rest, I admit. In fact I don’t see why you had to wake me at all, he’ll joke, looking up, as we leave the house, at the first bright star in the blue-black sky.

morning star
a blaze consumes
what’s left of him

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Haibun Today 6.1, March 2012

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Wave and Particle

seasons

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You know how it is: time is on your side. Then it isn’t. You cartwheel down the sidewalk one day in spring and watch yourself drive by, ten years older in the passenger seat with your head on your boyfriend’s shoulder, twenty years older in the driver’s seat carpooling to your son’s soccer game, thirty years older in the back seat of the lead car in your father’s funeral procession, your mind emptier than it’s been in years, turning your head to follow the progress of the little girl cartwheeling down the sidewalk. You never noticed her before.

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the mistakes in my mirror image of myself

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Well, but why should you have noticed her? Maybe she was never there before. And then again, why shouldn’t you have? Is a little girl really a less permanent feature of the landscape than the house behind her, the one that looks eerily like your childhood home? Houses fall down, streets cave in. Even hills, like this hill your car is climbing to the cemetery, even hills wear down over time, don’t they. Yes, someday someone will pick up this hill without thinking and put it in his pocket. And give it to his little girl when he gets home.

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seismic movement my errors in judgment

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The stars are coming out now, it’s that late in the day, the dark comes early now that it’s winter, though surely it was spring earlier today. You step out of the car and join the stream of your father’s mourners, all of you shrinking and fading as you move toward his grave in the darkness. Stars, you think: now they’re eternal — and then one winks out as you glance at it. Yes, it had a good run, but it’s cold and dark now, and everyone living on the planets that spun around it winked out themselves long ago. Time flies like an arrow, only faster. You’ve wasted time, but no need to get so upset about it, everyone does. It’s there to be wasted. And then it’s not there anymore; or more precisely, it is, but you’re not.
You’re not.

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eight minutes later the truth finally dawns

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Contemporary Haibun Online 7:3, October 2011

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Yorick in Moscow

Gravestones behind a hedge

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

The cemetery is full of trees. How do they dig the graves? You couldn’t get a backhoe between the trunks. Are there still gravediggers here, men with shovels making dark jokes about the things they unearth in the course of their work? I think about dying here and what it would be like to lie with my head against one set of roots and my feet against another. With a rock over my chest that told everyone my foreign name. People would walk back and forth over me, murmuring, in a tongue not my own, the first and last years I was alive. For decades I would dream my life, until the gravediggers retrieved me, held me up to the light, let the sun shine through my skull.

last frost
my footprint melted
into the soil

Contemporary Haibun Online, July 2011

March 9: What I Lost (Haibun)

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“If you want to see Dad before he dies, come now,” my sister tells me. “You can’t believe the pain he’s in.” I hang up, make the flight reservations and pack. Then, jittery with nervous energy, I note that there’s just time for me to go for a quick run before I need to leave for the airport.

I put my cell phone in my pocket before I set off, in case my sister has anything else to tell me.

childhood summers —
he combs my tangled hair
painlessly

The sidewalks are coated with ice. I try to run carefully. But a cardinal darts from a branch hanging across the walk, a flash of red that pulls my attention into the sky. Suddenly, I’m on my back, pain in every part of me, afraid, for just a minute, to try to move.

But I force myself to my feet and set off running again, even faster now, despite the ice, because of the ice. I’m young, I’m strong, no cancer will ever worm its way into me and break my bones from the inside out. I’m about to get on a plane and rise thirty-five thousand feet in the air and descend, alive, a thousand miles away.

Nothing else can ever hurt me.

deep inside
the snowbank —
a cell phone rings

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_______________________________

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First published in Notes from the Gean 2:4, March 2011

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January 18 (A Fly Buzzing)

a fly buzzing
in the room where he died —
did he hear it?

_____________

With apologies, of course, to Emily Dickinson.

The Japanese aren’t shy about including literary references in their haiku; there is a long tradition in Japan of poets carrying on a poetic dialogue with their predecessors, echoing each other’s lines, paying tribute to them or making fun of them, enlarging on them or playing with them. I think it’s much more difficult for Westerners to feel comfortable doing this. We want to be original, we want to come up with our own words. We want to be individuals.

I’ve been trying lately to take poems (not other haiku) that are important to me and use them as source material for haiku — not “found haiku” as I’ve done sometimes in the past, but my own haiku, building on or responding to the original poem. Mostly I haven’t been very successful, maybe because although I believe in this endeavor in theory, I am enough of a Westerner that it makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like I’m cheating. I feel like I might be trivializing the source material or creating trivial haiku.

I’m still not sure what I think about this one but I like it better than any of my other efforts. You can definitely read and appreciate it without any knowledge of Emily or her fly, but if you do have that knowledge, I think your understanding of it deepens.

And just as an aside, I am pretty sure that the last stanza of Dickinson’s poem might be the best description of what it’s like to die written by someone who hadn’t actually done so yet (but I hope I won’t have any occasion to find out if I’m right anytime soon):

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

– Emily Dickinson

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(Oh — and sorry if this post was a little bit of a downer for you. I am the kind of person who often gets very cheerful when I read sad poems or books or see sad movies, especially when they are amazing works of art. But I know not everyone feels the same way. Maybe you would feel better if I told you about the parody of Emily’s poem that my eleventh-grade English class (American Literature, natch) wrote to entertain one of our classmates who was home ill for a while. It began:

I heard a fly buzz – when I had mono –

Yeah — that was a great class. Thanks, Ms. Bryan, if you’re out there anywhere.)

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(in memoriam bradford allen reynolds 1/18/1964 – 7/1984)

October 31: 1-4: Boo.

october stars —
lighting up the ghosts
of fireflies

 

the ghost
I’ll be someday —
the leaf I can’t catch

 

trick-or-treating —
hoping to meet
more ghosts

 

crows in autumn—
telling
ghost stories

 

_____________________

I normally have a little bit of a compulsion to write haiku sequences in odd numbers (I just like it better that way, okay?), but four is a good number of haiku about ghosts. For the Japanese, the number four signifies death. (The words are homophones, I believe. Correct me if I’m starting to sound ignorant, as so often happens.)

I’m not scared of ghosts. For one thing, I don’t believe they exist. For another, I kind of wish they did, because who wouldn’t want to talk someone who had died and find out what the scoop was on the whole afterlife thing? Especially if it was someone you’d liked while they were alive.

So these haiku are not exactly calculated to strike terror into your heart. They’re more wistful, I think. Happy All Hallows’ Eve to you all.

October 25: My father’s birthday, and a brief discourse on ambiguity

if my father were here —
dawn colors
over green fields

— Issa, translated by David Lanoue

It’s my father’s birthday, the first since he died in February. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that I discovered this haiku of Issa’s yesterday.

It’s also interesting to try to decide what Issa meant by “if my father were here.” First of all, is his father dead or just not present with Issa at this moment? (I happen to know, biographically, that he was dead, but not everyone who reads this haiku would know that.)

And secondly — if his father were here, then what? If his father were here he would appreciate the dawn colors? If his father were here he would tell Issa to stop mooning around writing poetry about sunrises and get a real job? If his father were here — full stop: painful (or otherwise) train of thought interrupted by sight of lovely landscape?

Maybe the meaning is more clear in the Japanese. Maybe it’s not. Maybe the haiku is meant to open the mind of the reader to thoughts of his or her father, not tell them anything in particular about Issa’s.

Overall the haiku gives the impression both of being deeply personal and also of belonging not just to Issa but to everyone who reads it. Everyone has a father and everyone has been separated from him at some point. But that experience doesn’t have the same meaning to everyone.

This ambiguity, this refusal of the poet to constrain the imaginative options of the reader, is really central to haiku. They are short. You can’t say much in them, and you’re not supposed to. If you find yourself getting frustrated while writing haiku because you can’t say enough (never happens to me, nuh-uh, no way), you need to start thinking about what you’re trying to say that doesn’t need to be said. There is a lot that doesn’t need to be said.

Haiku should be full of space, at least as full of space as words. The reader should be able to sit in them for a while, and breathe, and hear herself think.

my father’s disappointment —
the first frost
melts beneath my finger

 

 

 

in memoriam david allen 10/25/1939 – 2/12/2010

May 23: 1-30: My father

1.

freeze after thaw
cell phone ring
makes me slip on the ice

2.

colder than yesterday
my sister’s voice
on the phone

3.

on my back on the ice
clouds torn open
reveal more clouds

4.

cell phone ring
the airport
vanishes

5.

a stranger’s car
roads darker than I’m used to
curve toward home

6.

snow on dark steps
inside
the family waits

7.

pancakes heavy
in my stomach
throwing out his painkillers

8.

the day after his death
the death of the neighbor’s dog
we sympathize

9.

cold draft in his room
the cards
we used to play with

10.

knocking with cold hands
at the wrong door
of the funeral home

11.

list of funeral expenses
scratches on
the polished table

12.

early dark
white sheet pulled away
from his surprised face

13.

snow on a low wall
choosing between
two burial places

14.

PowerPoint slides
of gravestones
chairs with hard seats

15.

stack of Sunday papers
can’t stop reading
the obituary

16.

morning fog
running up the hills
I left behind

17.

trying on dresses
my sister’s
opinion

18.

Olympic snowboarding
I blow my nose
on his handkerchiefs

19.

thin pajamas
Googling the words of
his favorite hymn

20.

steam from my mother’s tea
showing her
Facebook condolences

21.

day of the funeral
rust from the leaky
faucet

22.

unheated waiting room
one by one
we put coats back on

23.

my father’s funeral
truth
and lies

24.

standing for a hymn
memory of my head
reaching his elbow

25.

minister’s hug
his sympathy card
will regret my unbelief

26.

frost on the windowpane
unfamiliar
relatives

27.

their sympathy
taste of
sweet red punch

28.

snow in the cemetery
wrong kind
of shoes

29.

fresh snow on his car
another
dead battery

30.

my inheritance
a car to drive
a thousand miles home

*

My father died in February. I’d made no effort whatsoever to write about his death before. Or speak about it, really. Or think about it, come to think about it.

Something about haiku makes it easier, by forcing you to remember and concentrate on the tiny physical details of the experience. Writing these has been like compiling a mental photo album of the week of his death. It’s allowed both distance and immediacy. I approach the experience, come close enough to touch it, then draw back quickly, as soon as I start to feel it burn.