Thursday, September 26, 2019

My Life in Haiku

I began studying Zen in 1973, just at the beginning of my adult life. Practicing Zen Buddhism naturally led me to Japanese culture and Japanese culture led me to haiku. I became a big fan of Basho, Issa, Buson and more and then began to write some myself. Sometimes I followed the strict 5-7-5 syllabic form and that was an intriguing challenge. But also knowing that this was originally intended for the Japanese language and reading R.H. Blyth’s more free-form translations, I didn’t always hold myself to it. 

Mostly writing haiku meant putting myself in a state of observation, quieting the monkey mind and letting the imagination slumber in favor of strict observance of what was happening around me. It was a way to tune into the five senses, to notice, to be open, to be mindful of the moment—and then try to capture it a small poem that packs some kind of punch line to attract the reader beyond “this happened.” 

Today, I’ve decided to try to do a class with 4thgraders on haiku and musical accompaniment and set about to collect my favorites. And so stumbled upon a summary I made years back of the various haiku scattered in my journals. And lo and behold, I liked them! Here they are, mostly between 1973 when I first came to San Francisco and 1984. 
Enjoy!


HITCH HAIKU

Car after car passes
As we grow older
On the Burlington freeway ramp.

The poetry of despair
Hitchhiker’s graffiti on
“No Hitchhiking” signs.

The setting sun
Another night sleeping
By the freeway.

DRIVING CROSS-COUNTRY 

Sleeping and waking
Sleeping and waking
The endless night.

Turning on the radio
To keep awake driving
Nothing but static.

Swallowed up by
The vast Kansas sky
The road its tongue.

Crouched in tall grass
Ready to spring
The police car.

 

POINT OF VIEW

“Too many flies!” 
say the people.
“Not enough people!”
say the flies. 

 

PORTRAITS OF THE WORLD

Three old women
Sitting amidst rhododendrons
They too, have blossomed.

Coughing violently
He returns it to his mouth
The burning cigarette.

Every day he sits
In his glass booth watching his life
Passing before his eyes.

Man walking briskly
Big-bellied woman shouting
“You don’t love me no more!”

Inside the liquor store
Waiting for the rain to stop
All of us together.

The old man’s head turns slowly
As the young girl walks by.

GOLDEN GATE PARK

Like cows in their stalls
The flowers peek out from
Between the bars.

A small explosion 
Of leaves as the chickadee
Leaves the ground.

“Lawn Bowling Only”
Six feeding blackbirds
Boldly ignore the sign.

The preening duck
Swims quickly away
Waving goodbye with its tail.

Three horns honk
Each a higher note
Than the one before it.

ATOP MT. HOOD

The snow in August
Ah, the head!
Ah, the cold!

Amidst the ravaged forest
Half-eaten by bulldozers
Wildflowers still bloom.

STARTING OUT IN SAN FRANCISCO

The breeze around the corner
What will it bring me today?

This lonely evening
Even apple juice and popcorn
Fail to cheer me up.

Brother cockroaches!
Please go outside and play!
We have guests tonight.

Uh-oh.
She’s coming over to me
And I just farted. 

Five in the morning
Its song outside my window
The garbage truck.

On the roof, two dogs
Peering down while a cat
Walks confidently below.

Oh, to spend my days
Skipping stones across the lake
One        two  three fourfive.

NO PRIVACY IN WEST MARIN

Stop for a roadside pee
Zip back up and turn around
Twenty cows staring.

FOUND COMPOSITION

A crow’s caw, a cow’s moo,
A fence’s creak.
All on the same pitch

SUZUKI ROSHI MEETS THELONIOUS MONK 

Advice from two monks:
“You are perfect as you are.” But
“Keep on tryin’.”

FROM TIKAL, GUATEMALA 

Awakening in darkness
One faint star
And a lone rooster’s cry.

A man pissing
In the morning mist
He thinks he’s alone.

Finishing the meal
He wipes his face
With a tortilla.

FROM KERALA, INDIA

Unbroken cycle
The goat shits and eats
At the same time.

The mosquitoes
Hovering outside my net
Look hungry.

ON MY 28THBIRTHDAY
A light rain falls
Another year passes
Ripples in the pond.

ON MY 33RDBIRTHDAY
My oar at rest
Drifting, drifting
Suddenly, the other shore!

POINT REYES CAMPING

Closing poppies
Along the morning trailside
Sleeping late.

Monkey flowers point one way
Morning glories the other.

Silent trumpets announcing the day
Morning glories.

CALAVERAS BIG TREES CAMPING 

Mist of breath
Steam of oatmeal
Smoke of fire
All mingle and merge.

Bright green needles
Dark green needles
Two years on the same tree.

Walking the spine of the ridge
Mountain chiropractery.

Thinking about the temple gong haiku
A mosquito lands
On my bagpipe.

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