Haiku 22.10.16

Moss-covered threshold
gate rusted shut the way through
is not to go there

As literary, even the smallest text has a unity based on a fold or turn. But before that level of analysis, there’s the forward motion by extending an aspect of a double. Hamill in his introduction to Lu Chi’s Wen Fu: The Art of Writing (Milkweed) describes the literary form of this third century Chinese classic  (Lu Chi was executed for treason in 300 CE) as follows:

“Lu Chi’s fu is that of the p’ien wen or ‘double harness’ style; the poem depends upon a kind of parallelism, often moving two ways simultaneously through the deliberate use of ambiguity: ‘Things move into shadows and vanish; memory returns in an echo.'”

In this haiku the first line leads us into a space; the first image of the next line stops the motion; the turn of the poem begins with the concept “the way through” which is followed by a surprising “not” — the way is not to go . . . It’s as if the wanderer remembered the phrase “not to go there”; it is indeed a vernacular turn at this moment, as in “don’t go there.”

“Metaxyturn” names the moment when the given spaces close in on themselves — an aporia — and then suddenly there’s a “way through” as if it opened up because of the aporia. Having accepted the finality of the closure, the opening comes from the other side. I think the sudden rhythm of the third line communicates that sudden opening, even though it’s just an acknowledgement of an alternative route. By ‘alternative’ I mean I suppose utterly other!

The lack of punctuation may initially be a problem for some readers but on rereading, the lack allows the reader to “perform” the metaxyturn in their own breathing. In this way I like to think that the poem has a “form” that depends on a happening, the shaping movement of the metaxy as contingency gives way to the im/possibility of grace.

Or, as Lu Chi says, whatever is given passes away and “memory returns in an echo.”


Today’s Haiku

to take refuge un-

der the dripping maple tree

is to start over


Some say life is a journey– of fits and starts. But sometimes we start when we stop.  No waiting till you’re there. But staying, stillness, openness.  On such a journey we may get intimations of the origin.

Haiku 10/8:

traffic roars by

where I sit sipping hot tea

a part not apart

Today reading Hamill in Poetry of Zen on Dogen’s sitting.  Buddha-mind arises “only through deep spiritual communion between sentient beings and the Buddha.”

The stress is not on the content of the sitter’s mind but on her openness to the between.

I try to do Herbert in haiku

I’ve swept all those words

from the threshold so just knock

and it will open.

I posted an earlier version of this but it bothered me when I reread it later in the day. I’m reading Eleanor Cook’s new book Elizabeth Bishop at Work (Harvard) and her meticulous chapter on diction — Bishop very fond of Herbert — I think increased my uneasiness. I believe this version recalls Herbert, especially in the use of dialogue of man and God.

The Refresher

In my project to create a “world” of haiku along the lines of Herrick’s HESPERIDES out of my time in Oregon, I endeavor to create a poetry of unimaginable “things” — primal energies, “gods,” non-thing things that make things possible. So it’s a world “dependent” like the Taoist world of the Chinese classics on an Unnamed unmoved mover, the “Tao” or “way” (not much of a “name” is it?). The philosophical project of restoring this dimension of human consciousness seems appropriate for haiku, since the “genre” is both highly specific — a real moment in real time — and equivocal about what we can know in light of the fact that consciousness is always changing while searching for a “still point” etc etc. There’s really only so much you can say “in prose” without gagging.

The “nip in the air” today — perhaps a British expression recalling Robert Herrick — did make me think of the procession of seasons by which we are refreshed.  How can I be so naive!

A nip in the air

The Refresher just saying

now it's about time



An Old Irish Lyric

At first glance this is a remarkably fresh and microcosmic take on the popular voyage genre, but in its lyric intensity certain hermeneutic features appear that might be obscured in the longer iterations of the theme.  The brevity of lyric in its sense of compact tension often produces a sense of heightened emergency.

For the text and notes, see p. 83 of My News for You: Irish Poetry 600-1200, ed. and translated by Geoffrey Squires, Shearsman Books 2016:

A busy yellow bee

who makes

a not insignificant journey

flying joyfully out

over the great plain

in the sun

pausing at blossom after blossom

cup after cup

and then happily back again

to rejoin

the orderly community of the hive


In his note Squires comments on the difficulty of translating the word he translates as “orderly.”  He notes that bees are frequently used to symbolize a social order that is in contrast to human anarchy.

From the journey tradition we know the existential journey touches at several bases of being as it happens: the wonder of the objective world — flying joyfully out; the route inward discovering values in the shared world  as the journey continues — “over the great plain / in the sun/”; and as the journey continues its dialectical way, ” pausing at blossom after blossom/ cup after cup” there is an increasing sense of “gravity” or worldliness,  which is relieved “happily” when the turning point is reached. The journey outward-and-inward reaches its “end”:  “and then happily back again.” The  “return” is not a figure of linear repetition but a return to the  community.

Is this a model of loss of self in the hive?

The vocabulary of value (ethos) —not insignificant; joyfully; happily —suggest a “natural” (the quotes mean to dislodge this word from its naturalistic anchor in modern evolutionary materialism) harmony, in which finite individuals both exert themselves and complete themselves in light of an Order that is both subjective — happily, joyfully — and objective in both the material sense — space and process (gathering pollen for the community)–and in the transcendent sense (as reflected in the aesthetic shaping of the poem as a free act). We might call the journey “intersubjective” or better “trans-subjective.” All the while the journey is “in the sun.”

So, yes: “orderly” but not in the reductive sense but in the “hyperbolic” sense: not ironic but suggestive of that of which we cannot speak because we are both too close to it and too far from it.




time & eternity

Time and eternity

until the next wave the tide-

pool utterly clear

green of beer bottle

rounded by the violence

of the waves gleams there

in the mercury

of the upper ocean thanks

to man's unkindness

and these syllabics

inwrought with a timeless but

timely distinction