After Converting to Fahrenheit

To make the missionaries at the door go away, I tell them, apologetically, that I’ve just converted to Fahrenheit. They don’t get it until I close the door in their faces, and then I hear them laugh. Not humorless missionaries, then. It’s a point in their favor, but not enough of a point. The last time I let missionaries talk to me, I felt I could have given the spiel better than they did. John 3:16? Please. Let me recite that backwards for you. 

daybreak not quite hiding the scars

Back in my overstuffed chair, I work out the tenets of Fahrenheit. It’s polytheistic, naturally. I’ve always felt a single god was unnatural. I’m pretty sure God would go crazy if he were the only god in the universe, trying to keep an eye on everything with no one to talk to. A lot of gods makes more sense from a logistical and mental-health point of view, and also—this is key—from a storytelling point of view. Every religion needs a book of stories. When I get around to writing mine, I want more than one character to play with. Also, as far as commandments, I’m going with, “Don’t take yourself too seriously or other people too lightly.” And, “Take a few deep breaths. There, doesn’t that feel better?”

and yet, and yet…the lightning strike illuminates the iris

Fahrenheit churches are simple and calming, except when they’re Byzantine and surreal. There aren’t ministers or regularly scheduled services—people just wander in and out, make things, play games, sing songs, tell stories, have very long conversations, and refrain from being jerks to each other. Jerkiness is the one thing that can get you excommunicated. The excommunication only lasts a month, though. Then you can come back until you’re a jerk again.

the disaster relief appeal fades into birdsong

There is no Fahrenheit afterlife. Not officially, anyway. You can believe whatever makes you happy in that regard. Or in any other regard, really. After you die we’ll come up with some great stories to tell about you, some of which will be true and some of which won’t. After a while, which is which won’t matter. Take a deep breath. Doesn’t that feel better?

early dark
the particle collider
restores my faith

Monkey Mind

This guy keeps texting me pictures of himself with the Dalai Lama. For years he’s been making the arrangements for the Dalai Lama’s visits to our city, and at this point he has the logistics down cold. Or pretty cold. It can be complicated. You have to have a big enough van, first of all, to pick up the Dalai Lama’s entourage and all their luggage from the airport. You have to arrange for the limos and the police escort to take the Dalai Lama swiftly through the city streets to his speaking engagement. The Dalai Lama has a security detail, of course; well, he’s a world leader, more or less. You have to go through a background check, State Department, heavy-duty, to get the clearance to take care of things for the Dalai Lama this way. Having this responsibility is exciting, yes, but not exactly a party. If you don’t get all these details right it could be very embarrassing, maybe even dangerous — for both the Dalai Lama and everyone around him — so for a couple of weeks, before and during the Dalai Lama’s visit, this guy doesn’t get much sleep. There are so many things to arrange and so many things to worry about. The guy doesn’t really have time to talk or hang out. Just text, apparently.

my ego in spite of the rain

The Dalai Lama, you’ll be interested to know, is exactly the same close up as he seems from a distance. This is what the guy tells me, anyway. I try to think of how the Dalai Lama seems from a distance. Orange and smiling, mostly. And yes, the guy’s right: that’s how the Dalai Lama looks in the closeup photos the guy texts me. Keeps texting me. “He’s very genuine and compassionate. You know. Just like you imagine,” the guy said to me, the first time we met. I didn’t tell him that I’d never imagined the Dalai Lama. I’m not sure the guy would believe me.

apropos of nothing its wings

I did think vaguely of becoming a Buddhist at one point. I read some books, did some meditating. I looked up Buddhist groups in our city to see when they held meetings, but I never actually went to any of the meetings. This Japanese poetry I write, a lot of the other people who write it are Buddhists, or at least think about Buddhism a lot. I’m constitutionally irreligious but Buddhism seems pretty irreligious, for a religion. I thought it might be a sort of compromise between the fundamentalist Christianity I was raised with and the nothing I currently practice. In the end I guess I was defeated, as I so often am, by the fact that it’s almost impossible for me to believe in invisible things. I think I consider this more a flaw in myself than a flaw in religion but I’ve gradually learned that to be true to myself I have to accept even my flaws. I think I might have read that in one of the Buddhist books.

just barely a path regretting it

————————————————————–

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

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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

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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.

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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.)

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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.
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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

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___________________________________________________________________

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 ________!

August 10: 1-5: The Technique of Finding the Divine in the Common (Found Haiku: Psalms)

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)

Jane:


“This is a technique that seems to happen mostly without conscious control. A writer will make a perfectly ordinary and accurate statement about common things, but due to the combination of images and ideas and what happens betwen them, a truth will be revealed about the Divine. Since we all have various ideas about what the Divine is, two readers of the same haiku may not find the same truth or revelation in it. Here, again, the reader becomes a writer to find a greater truth behind the words.


smoke
incense unrolls
itself”


– Jane Reichhold, Writing and Enjoying Haiku

*

Me:

Jane played a terrible trick on me by adding a new technique in her book (Writing and Enjoying Haiku get it, read it). In addition to the 23 previously published in her online essay, she tacked on this one, which is a problem for me because in the strictest sense I don’t actually believe in any Divine.

I mean I believe that there are things in the universe that are a lot bigger and more important than piddly little human beings, but I don’t think they’re supernatural, or conscious, or in any way direct or guide any of the affairs of heaven or earth. I think that most of what there is to know about the universe we don’t, can’t, and will never know, and I am in awe of the unimaginable complexity of it all, but I don’t think that just because our tiny brains don’t understand it and can’t explain it we must invent some other entity that does understand it.

Anyway. Enough of my heathen metaphysics. I felt that if I wanted to complete this project, I was duty-bound to attempt to write some kind of haiku that referenced or implied the existence of some kind of divine entity. But I was utterly at a loss for how to do this. So I decided to cheat. (See, I told you I was a heathen.)

I turned to my trusty friend the Book of Psalms (King James Version), one of the world’s great literary achievements, reasoning that somewhere in there must be something that resembled a haiku in some way … right?

You tell me.

*

moisture …
turned into the drought
of summer
(Ps. 32:4)

out of the miry clay …
my foot
upon a rock
(Ps. 40:2)

deep calleth
unto deep …
the noise of waterspouts
(Ps. 42:7)

the noise of the seas …
the tumult
of the people
(Ps. 65:7)

blow up
the trumpet …
the new moon
(Ps. 81:3)

June 3: 3: Pictures? Okay, let’s try it for a while and see what happens

Taweret, Egyptian hippopotamus goddess

hippo goddess
elephant god
my fat pantheon

*

I’ve been feeling like we need some pictures around here to liven things up. As Hamlet once said, “Words, words, words…give me a break.” Or something like that.

I’m not normally a picture kind of person — my husband is the photographer in the family, and there is no drawer or painter in the family. Until I was in my twenties I thought the only reason anyone ever put pictures in books was to help out people who couldn’t read very well. But then I began to see the light, at least in terms of art appreciation. I’m wildly entertained in art museums, and I have a couple of art books on my coffee table — oh, predictable stuff, Chagall, Matisse — that I tend to shake in the faces of visitors and repeat, “You’ve GOT to look at this! Isn’t this AMAZING?” until they get scared and go away.

Still — words are my medium, the stuff I swim in. Even when I look at other people’s blogs, I tend to hardly see the pictures; I’m all over the words, and if they don’t work I’m unlikely to care whether you’re the next Walker Evans or Cindy Sherman. But I’m told that I’m in the minority. People like pictures! The more the better! Reading is hard, especially reading long things — you know, more than three lines or so. (Don’t worry, I know this is not the case for any of my devoted readers. I do have devoted readers, don’t I? Don’t tell me if I don’t.)

And my husband (the source of most of my photos) really is a decent photographer. (I took the one up at the top of this post, though, so if you have anything mean to say about it, keep that in mind.) And I’ve been wanting to try writing haiku that aren’t necessarily drawn directly from life — though in this case, I was present for or at least know the context of all these photos, so it’s sort of at least second-hand life, if you know what I mean.

What I’m trying to say is, this blog will be getting very image-heavy over the next few days — after which it will probably revert to being language-centric. So don’t get too used to it.

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.