Tag: fathers

(slippery)

I’ve always cried easily (although never literally at the drop of a hat, in case you were wondering). I went through a couple of hard years where I never skipped a day, half a day, a quarter day, of crying. I don’t cry quite that often any more, but I probably still cry several times a week, several times a day on bad days. Or good days. The crying can be because of good things too. Crying, for me, is the more or less inevitable result of feeling things. I’m actually not quite sure how people prevent themselves from crying, other than preventing themselves from feeling. It sounds challenging. It’s just not me, what can I say.

.

halfway down the river where no river ever was

.

People who don’t cry easily, I’ve found, tend to become extremely alarmed by crying people. Sometimes offended. Sometimes angry. A lot of people, I guess, think that you’re crying on purpose to make them feel bad? Or make them do something they don’t want to do? When I was a child I heard the phrase “crocodile tears” a lot. There’s a lot of fear in that phrase. The idea, I guess, is that crocodiles don’t really cry, they just pretend to in order to lure you in close and then eat you. Wow. I guess crying is pretty scary. Well, it is salt water. Potentially corrosive.

.

they close my eyes to remember me away

.

My father, when he was alive, cried easily too. I know a lot of people never see their fathers cry but I can’t count the number of times I saw my father cry. He was a sad man but, like me, he didn’t cry only because he was sad. Feelings just kind of flooded him — I’m guessing here, extrapolating from my own experience, and also from what I observed about my father — and overflowed from the tear ducts. Good feelings, bad feelings. They’re all the same, really, an excitation of the nervous system.

.

mere anarchy a memory

.

Our nervous systems are, were, a little off-kilter. I can’t imagine how much harder this condition must have been for a man born in 1939 (boys don’t cry!) than for a woman born in 1969. My father spent a lot of time in valiant battle with his nervous system without quite understanding, until very late in his life, that that was what he was doing. When the tripwire of your nervous system is pulled it feels like you’re either dying or losing your mind or both, but since with the remaining rational portion of your brain you can (sort of) tell that this is not really what is happening, you believe that you must attempt to conceal this feeling from the rest of the world.

.

We emptied out a bag, a box, a bowl. A brain.

.

The fierce concentration that is required to pretend, much of the time, that you are not feeling the very powerful and terrible things that you are feeling tends to result, regrettably, in one’s appearing intensely irritable and being nearly impossible to live with. My father was nearly impossible and when I was a child, an adolescent, the fact that I fully realized how much I was like him only made me more enraged that he was so crabby and moody and difficult and obnoxious. My rage didn’t keep me from loving him, however. And now that I think back on it, it may have been that crying, all those bitter, salty tears I saw him shed, that made it possible for me to understand that he wasn’t mean so much as overwhelmed by his feelings.

.

carting out the slippery remains of remembrance

.

we’re on Cape Cod and my hair, attacked by salt and wind and waves and sun, is a terrible mess, so my father takes out his comb and goes to work on it. if it were my mother combing, or anyone else really, I’d be kicking and spitting because I hate people doing things to my hair, it hurts and I have to stand still and I feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin. but somehow my father knows and has always known exactly how to comb my hair so it doesn’t hurt at all. he’s very careful, in this one small way, not to hurt me. I relax and close my eyes while he silently removes every knot, every tangle. for these fifteen minutes our minds are exactly where our bodies are and it feels like they might be there forever. combing the salt out.

.

somebody’s jesus just like this scar

——

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

.

Haibun Today 6.1, March 2012

.

What Was His Is Mine

Desk with the word "finish" printed beneath.

The desk I work at was once my father’s desk. In my father’s desk there are many drawers. In the drawer where I keep my passport, he kept his cigarette papers. In the drawer where I keep my secret chocolate, he kept his canceled checks. In the drawer where I keep my unfinished novel, he kept his very well-kept ledger books. In the drawer — the top drawer — where I keep everything else, he kept everything else. Throughout my childhood I opened this drawer regularly, to inspect its nearly unchanging contents.

subclinical
waiting for the rain
to start

There were pencil stubs in here, matchbooks, old business cards, and various office supplies that were more or less interesting. But what I was most drawn to was an old pair of glasses, black and squared-off: old-fashioned, discarded eyes that my father never looked through anymore. I sometimes took off my own glasses and looked through them for him. I didn’t think the world looked much different through those old glasses, though. A little bit smaller, that’s all, and a little bit farther away.

distant thunder
tobacco isn’t what got him
in the end

.

Haibun Today, December 2011

.

Wave and Particle

seasons

.

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.

.

the mistakes in my mirror image of myself

.

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.

.

seismic movement my errors in judgment

.

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.

.

eight minutes later the truth finally dawns

.
Contemporary Haibun Online 7:3, October 2011

.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 21: Mad Libs Edition

Dear _______,

In this edition of the ________ you will find many ________ and __________. My favorite is probably the ________ by __________. I hope you ________ this post. It took me a long time to ______ it and now I’m really ______.

This week I have been ______ing and _______ing. _________ are blooming in my yard. I saw ________ the other day for the first time in a while and got very _______. I spent about _______ hours watching them hoping I would be able to write a good _______ about them, but no luck so far.

Hope you’re having a good _______. I’ve been kind of ________ myself.

Always nice to ________ with you,

Melissa

_________________________________________________________

Haiku (Etc.) For You

It’s fascinating to me how in every edition of the Haikuverse the haiku seem to clump themselves into themes, with very few haiku left off by themselves. I don’t know if this is because haiku do tend to be written about a fairly narrow set of subjects, or because human beings are really good at seeing patterns where there aren’t necessarily any, or both, or what. But this time I’m starting off with four haiku about various insects and ending with three haiku about debris, gravel, and pebbles. With rain and toys and lilacs holding down the fort in the middle, staunchly independent.

.

larva and silkworm-
once upon a time
there was a girl

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides

.

身のなかのまつ暗がりの蛍狩り   河原枇杷男
mi no naka no makkuragari no hotaru-gari

.
pitch darkness
inside of me
my firefly hunt

— Biwao Kawahara, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
.

.

what does the wasp
know about the blossoms —
windfall apples

— Polona Oblak, Crows & Daisies

.

monkey cage
a butterfly drifts
in and out

— Laura Garrison, DailyHaiku

(Actually, I had a hard time picking just one from Laura’s seven haiku on DailyHaiku last week. It was an outstanding selection of original, thought-provoking haiku. If you don’t believe me, you can look for yourself.)

.

toys my father
couldn’t fix . . .
summer rain

— Aubrie Cox, Yay words!

.

scent of lilac –
one final breath
after another

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

(Last week Paul celebrated acquiring the 100th follower on his blog. Really, he should have a lot more. Paper Moon is a must-read. Did you hear me? Must. Read. Go. Now.)

.

Summer clouds,
how fast they build up
over fields of debris

— Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

.

yard gravel –
I build a demanding religion
from popsicle sticks

.

havegrus –
jeg bygger en krævende religion
af ispinde

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues . 2 tunger

.

beneath me
pebbles congregate
expectantly

— Philip Damian-Grint, a handful of stones

.__________________________________________________________

Cool Things You Can Do With Blogs: A List

.

1. You can write haiku and post it. Then you can add two lines to the haiku and turn it into a tanka and post that too. That’s what Angie Werren is doing this month on feathers. (And I thought she couldn’t top last month.) More people should do this. It makes me happy.

summer pond
her body slipping
through the fog
I bookmark pages
with birthday photos

—Angie Werren, feathers

.

2. You can take other people’s fantastic haiku and turn them into digital works of art and post them on your blog. Then you can ALSO post a link to a great essay about haiku that is connected in some way to the haiku you posted, as well as an excerpt from the essay that will tempt your readers to go read it right now. You can do this every day for a month and call this brilliant feature “Spliced In.” If you do this, you will be Gillena Cox and your blog will be Lunch Break and it will be July 2011. And you will be one of my favorite people.

.

inte ett ljud hörs —
den nytjärade ekan
slukas av natten

.

Without a sound
the fresh-tarred rowing-boat
slips into the dark

— Johan Bergstad, Sweden

(To get the full effect you must go see what Gillena has done with this.)

.

3. You can write a series of brief, thoughtful, perceptive commentaries about individual haiku in simple, clear prose. This will make everyone happy, because there are not enough of these. From what I’ve seen so far, Jim (Sully) Sullivan’s new blog, haiku and commentary and tales, will be an excellent and much-needed addition to the Haikuverse. I’ve included a brief excerpt from one of his most interesting commentaries below.

soldier unfolding the scent of a letter

— Chad Lee Robinson

“A quick read and you think a soldier is unfolding a scented letter from a girl friend. … But on another level the haiku could be read as two distinct images.

soldier unfolding
the scent of a letter

… The beauty of this haiku is in the many interpretations.   And the one line format (monostich) enhances this ambiguity; it leaves no clues to image breaks.”

— Jim Sullivan, “Soldier unfolding

_____________________________________________________________________

Cool Things You Can Do With Websites: Another List

1. You can be Haiku Chronicles. I have written about them before but I should keep reminding you that there is a website devoted to podcasts about haiku. And if you have not listened to any of them, say while you’re chopping leeks a la Basho or staring at cobwebs deciding not to dust them a la Issa, then why are you wasting your time reading this when you could be doing that? Go. The latest installment is Anita Virgil (on whose haiku I have a massive crush) reading the fourth in her series of essays on the four great masters of haiku: Basho, Buson, Issa, and now … ladies and gentlemen … for your edification and entertainment … Shiki.
.

2. You can be Bob Lucky. Okay, okay, most of us can’t be Bob Lucky, but at least we can go read Bob Lucky and the 25 tanka prose by other people that Bob Lucky (who is one of the most talented and, um, fun writers of haiku and tanka and haibun and tanka prose out there) lovingly selected for a special feature over at the website of the tanka journal Atlas Poetica. Not only are the tanka prose themselves more than worth reading, but Bob’s introductory essay on the selection and editing process is one of the most frank, funny things I’ve ever read on the subject.

“I never wanted to be an editor. I wanted to be a lumberjack. Not really, but there were days when working on this project I would wander from room to room, occasionally picking up a ukulele and singing momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be editors, while my mind wrestled with choices I had to make.”

— Bob Lucky, “TP or not TP, That is the Question

.

___________________________________________________________________

Dead Tree News: Dead Tree Journals

What showed up in my mailbox the last couple of weeks and made me very happy. I may be a bit telegraphic here because it’s late and words are starting to fail me (or I’m starting to fail them). Just imagine I had something more profound and appreciative to say about both these publications, because I do, it’s just kind of trapped in a yawn at the moment.

Presence

Out of the U.K., glossy cover, haiku arranged thoughtfully by season (including a non-seasonal section). There are tanka and haibun too. And reviews. It’s good, you should get it.

.

all the bones
scattered in the cave
imagining God

— Bob Lucky
[See? I told you.]

hand-thrown
another bowl for fruit
I’ll never taste

— Thomas Powell

last night of September
a tear darkens
the facial mud pack

— Maeve O’Sullivan

winter closing in…
I visit the simplest words
in the dictionary

— Philip Rowland

holiday snapshots —
all the years
I was invisible

— Johannes Bjerg

.

red lights

A tanka journal, tall and thin and, naturally, red. Nice paper, nice print, pleasant to hold and look at and, oh, yes, read.

.

summertime
a boy leans over
a riverbank
with a foot raised
over the world

— David Caruso

some nights
someone screamed
for us all
in the dark
down the hall

— Susan Marie LaVallee

a stranger
to the sound of my voice
on a recording;
are there other parts of me
that people know and I don’t?

— Adelaide Shaw

________________________________________________________________

Okay, back to ________. I still have to ________ that _________ about the ________, prepare my ________ for _________, and ________. Hope you have a great ________!

March 9: What I Lost (Haibun)

.

“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

.

_______________________________

.

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

.

.

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

June 5: 3: Haibun for my sister’s birthday

IMG_3949

December 2008: We* were home† for Christmas, for what we knew or suspected would be the last time we would all be together because my father‘s cancer was taking root deep in his body and could no longer be eradicated, and we (the younger two generations) got up one morning and decided we needed to make a road trip to go get the world’s best doughnuts§. Forty-five minutes away, through the countryside. About halfway there, there’s this tree. My father had reminded us about it before we left, so we were on the lookout for it. This amazing tree. I had never seen it so didn’t really know what to expect; how amazing could a tree be? Well. It’s the oldest tree in the state. An oak. Hundreds of years old, with huge branches, bigger than a lot of trees, literally grown into the ground. And as we discovered, if all five of us stood around it and stretched our arms as far as they would go, we could just touch fingertips. The tree’s circumference was exactly the same as our combined heights. We’re all short. But still.

*

the oldest tree we know
stretching
to touch each other’s fingers

*

That’s me on the left. My sister on the right. My son in the middle. The men are in the back, stretching invisibly.

Happy birthday, sister.

*

If you’re going to force me to be brief you at least have to let me have footnotes:

* me, my husband, my son, my sister, and my sister’s then-boyfriend

† at my father’s apartment and my mother’s house (they hadn’t lived together for nine years but they never got divorced and they still saw each other all the time), in the area where we grew up, eight states away from where I live now and three states away from where my sister lives

§ I don’t want to turn this blog into an advertisement so I’m not going to say the name of the place that makes these doughnuts, but if you email me privately and ask nicely I might be willing to reveal all.

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.