Thanksgiving in the USA: a hybrid haiku

In USA, the day called Thanksgiving Day is troubled by memories of the racist imperial origins of the country, which included genocide; racial tension continues to define the USA. As does oblivion. Like most holidays it has suffered from the commodification of “times” — these “holy days” have become rituals of consumption. A lot of people know this and still enjoy the holiday as a time of redeeming time by feasting with family and friends.

The haiku I wrote yesterday and continued to worry about today is just barely a haiku. Of course the fun I have with haiku is predicated on the form’s openness to mixed genres. My haiku often have an epigrammatic element that when overdone can flatten the internal tensions of the form. Perhaps the turn of the poem towards outside/inner weather makes it sound more like a haiku. One of the integrated genres here is the song of praise, or psalm.

shopping done pack packed

I walk back slowly grateful

for the wind and rain



Winter States of Mind

Having grown up in a desert place, the austerities of winter communicate states of mind to me.  Back then, the bony dryness and the transparencies of cold air took me inward. My mental habits took root. Today, 60 years later, living in Portland Oregon, it is a seagull that holds my attention, and since then I’ve acquired the habits of the haiku poet.

Having reached this far

a seagull returns to the sea

under icy clouds

But a few years ago, on the opposite coast, it was a Pond and Thoreau that held my attention.  The lines are prosaic, awkward, discontinuous (at least on the surface) coming into view as the gaze penetrates the world of the pond on that day. While the poems often seem forced from this distance, several years of these “pond songs” provide me now with a notebook full of the imagery of a place intensely observed but now evoking distance as well as immediacy.

November 30, 2013
Pond Song 3.76

There is an other origin beyond the origin in the self with its own inward otherness. GB 176

sea-level pond no mountain top__wind-polished light-carved waves

this wind kept me up all night__day breaks what light saves

sparrows sit low in pale grass__milky ice drapes the shore

sunglare glazes the mudflats__where shallows darken more

wind-shadows spark across__out where buffleheads dive

in summer there’s only one now__it drops from sight its absence excessive

Poems Think Outside the Box

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This is page 1 of Jan Zwicky, Wisdom and Metaphor. The Necker Cube figure reappears throughout the text, but only on page 1 do we get the quote from Wittgenstein’s Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology.

“Astonishment is thinking.” This riffs on Aristotle, of course. But thinking about the Necker Cube often loses its astonishment, at least as Zwicky uses it. She’s interested in the “internal” relations between the two aspects of seeing (Gestalt) : the box headed down to the right or up to the left. The Necker Cube helps her prove a point in philosophy.

But I think Wittgenstein’s point — “astonishment is essential to a change of aspect” —  directs us to the “outside” of the figure — to the fact that it can be taken both ways. Not at once, of course; but “transcendently” — apart from the time of the instant; it’s as if the only name we can give to the <em>potential</em> change of aspect is <em>astonishment</em>.

This kind of thinking illustrates  what I call “the habit of poetry.” In reading a poem, analyzing it, rereading it, over and over, we find it inexhaustible. As language, it points beyond itself to the hyperbolic dimension. People who read and write poetry have learned how to “see” poems as both finite structures and as participating in what Rowan Williams calls “the hinterland” of language. It’s almost as if the “tight’ construction of a poem — like the Necker Cube — tries to contain what is beyond it. Only the Necker Cube is NOT open to more than two aspects; Zwicky is right about that. But a poem?

Poems think outside the box. The wonder of a great poem only grows.


On the off chance yes

bits of heaven as that wee

bird sings its head off

Somehow as I dig deeper into the history of Zen poetry — now the rise of poetics in third century CE China (Lu Chi) — I want to return to my first love in poetry– W. B. Yeats. As a young teenager The Celtic Twilight; in my late teens, a more analytical study of the sound patterns in the poetry somehow reinforced my ecological bent. Summers in the Sierra. History is weird. One’s contingencies porous to the divine otherness baked into creation. Gads.

TEXT: In my notebook for the this day I had noted that on page 260 of God and the Between, Desmond writes: “Our passage through life takes firm form, but our passing makes fluid again the forms, and the abiding porosity prior to form and beyond form offers again its never closed off chance: chance of ultimate commication between us and the ultimat.”

As you can see from the structure of the passage above, the composition of the sentences uses poetic forms to weave a grammar of the between. Very few philosophers show such mastery of the potentials of language to communicate richly nuanced insights into our common reality.

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.