1,000 Yen and Six Haikus

Japanese Author Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916)

One of my major literary discoveries this year was Japanese author Natsume Sōseki, who was best known for his prose and who was honored on the 1,000 yen note between 1984 and 2004. Here, however, are six haiku that he wrote:

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.

The lamp once out
Cool stars enter
The window frame.

The crow has flown away;
swaying in the evening sun,
a leafless tree.

Watch birth and death:
The lotus has already
Opened its flower.

Plum flower temple:
Voices rise
From the foothills.

On New Year’s Day
I long to meet my parents
as they were before my birth.

My favorite haiku is the second one, but the most poignant is the last one. Natsume Sōseki was born to such aged parents that they, being embarrassed, gave him up for adoption, until they re-introduced themselves as his grandparents. Eventually, Sōseki found out about this subterfuge.

 

Poems that Shock and Awe

Harold Pinter in a Photo by Eamonn McCann

It was during the Presidency of George W. Bush, who at the time was putting together the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” to combat the evil Saddam Hussein. Playwright and poet Harold Pinter had given a speech at a “No War on Iraq” Liaison meeting in Parliament. He ended his speech indicating that we all add “a clear obligation, which is to resist.” The following two poems were written by Pinter with that spirit in mind:

God Bless America

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America’s God.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn’t join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who’ve forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in he dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America’s God.

Democracy

There’s no escape.
The big pricks are out.
They’ll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.

It’s always interesting to see oneself as the villain of the piece. But then, of course, we put ourselves all too willingly in that role. It didn’t take long before the “Coalition of the Willing” was down to us all by our lonesomes.

 

Looking Past Devastation to Hope

Nathan Altman Portrait of Soviet Poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

I love this poem. Its first stanza is like the United States under Trumpf, or Russia under Stalin—take your pick! Then, in the second and third stanzas, the devastation turns to hope. The poem’s name? “Everything.”

Everything’s looted, betrayed and traded,
black death’s wing’s overhead.
Everything’s eaten by hunger, unsated,
so why does a light shine ahead?

By day, a mysterious wood, near the town,
breathes out cherry, a cherry perfume.
By night, on July’s sky, deep, and transparent,
new constellations are thrown.

And something miraculous will come
close to the darkness and ruin,
something no-one, no-one, has known,
though we’ve longed for it since we were children.

There is something of the seer about the gaunt poet, who under her bangs sees into futures that might possibly, hopefully lie in wait for us.

 

“Remorse”

Argentinian Poet Jorge Luis Borges

I remember from my early days of Catholic instruction that there was something called in Against the Holy Ghost, which cannot be forgiven. The relevant Biblical text is Mark 3:28-29: “Truly I tell you, all sins and blasphemes will be forgiven for the sons of men. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” In our religion class, we all wondered what this sin could be. I never received a definitive answer (which is not unusual).

Here is a poem by Jorge Luis Borges on the subject, entitled “Remorse”:

I have committed the worst of sins
One can commit. I have not been
Happy. Let the glaciers of oblivion
Take and engulf me, mercilessly.
My parents bore me for the risky
And the beautiful game of life,
For earth, water, air and fire.
I failed them, I was not happy.
Their youthful hope for me unfulfilled.
I applied my mind to the symmetric
Arguments of art, its web of trivia.
They willed me bravery. I was not brave.
It never leaves me. Always at my side,
That shadow of a melancholy man.

According o biographer Edwin Williamson, the great love of the poet’s life was the poet Norah Lange, who married another poet Oliverio Girondo. She died in 1972.

Norah Lange

Borges lived with his mother for most of his life in celibate restlessness. He married twice. The first ended in a messy divorce. The second time was to the much younger Maria Kodama a few months before his death.

That Stupid Wall

Will There Be Any Guard Towers Manned by Machine-Gunners?

Last night I was reading author Ursula LeGuin’s blog, and I came upon this poem about Trumpf’s infamous wall written by a poet who is part Mexican Yaqui Indian and part European ancestry.  I am referring to Anita Endrezze. Her poem is called, appropriately, “The Wall.”

The Wall

Build a wall of saguaros,
Butterflies, and bones
of those who perished
in the desert. A wall of worn shoes,
dry water bottles, poinsettias.
Construct it of gilded or crazy house
mirrors so some could see their true faces.
Build a wall of revolving doors
or revolutionary abuelas.
Make it high as the sun, strong as tequila.
Builders of sugar skulls. Adobe or ghosts.
A Lego wall or bubble wrap. A wall of hands
holding hands, hair braided from one woman
to another, one country to another.
A wall made of Berlin. A wall made for tunneling.
A beautiful wall of taco trucks.
A wall of silent stars and migratory songs.
This wall of solar panels and holy light,
panels of compressed Cheetos,
topped not by barbed wire but sprouting
avocado seeds, those Aztec testicles.
A wall to keep Us in and Them out.
It will have faces and heartbeats.
Dreams will be terrorists. The Wall will divide
towns, homes, mountains,
the sky that airplanes fly through,
with their potential illegals.
Our wallets will be on life support
to pay for it. Let it be built
of guacamole so we can have a bigly block party.
Mortar it with xocoatl, chocolate. Build it with coyote howls
and wild horses drumming across the plains of Texas,
from the memories
of hummingbird warriors and healers.
Stack it thick as blood, which has mingled
for centuries, la vida. Dig the foundation deep.
Create a 2,000 mile altar, lit with votive candles
for those who have crossed over
defending freedom under spangled stars
and drape it with rebozos,
and sweet grass.
Make it from two-way windows:
the wind will interrogate us,
the rivers will judge us, for they know how to separate
and divide to become whole.
Pink Floyd will inaugurate it.
Ex-Presidente Fox will give it the middle finger salute.
Wiley Coyote will run headlong into it,
and survive long after history forgets us.
Bees will find sand-scoured holes and fill it
with honey. Heroin will cover it in blood.
But it will be a beautiful wall. A huge wall.
Remember to put a rose-strewn doorway in Nogales
where my grandmother crossed over.
pistols on her hips. Make it a gallery of graffiti art,
a refuge for tumbleweeds,
a border of stories we already know by heart.

Anita Endrezze

I love the heart behind this poem. Maybe it’s not perfect, but it adequately chides the Cheeto-headed mofo for his stupid ideas, none of which he is capable of putting into action as yet. And never, I hope.

 

The Century of Milosz

Polish Poet Csesław Miłosz Was Born 106 Years Ago Today

Was he really a Polish poet, or did he just write in Polish? He regards himself neither as a Polish national, nor a Lithuanian, though he was born in Szetejnie in what is now Lithuania. In the same way, my father was born in what is now the Slovak Republic, though he was most comfortable with Hungarian. And I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Although I write today in English, my first language was Hungarian—and my deepest feelings all have Magyar correlatives.

Here is a poem from Miłosz entitled “Incantation”:

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

The poet spent many years in California teaching at Berkeley. I loved what he had to say about the United States: “What splendor! What poverty! What humanity! What inhumanity! What mutual good will! What individual isolation! What loyalty to the ideal! What hypocrisy! What a triumph of conscience! What perversity!”

 

“Sonora Wind”

Wind-Blown Sand Near Keeler, CA

It’s the end of the week, and I feel like a poem. I have this slim Everyman volume entitled Poems of the American West , selected and edited by Robert Mezey. The poem entitled “Sonora Wind,” written by Arizona poet Richard Shelton, also described those horrible Santa Ana winds that sweep through Los Angeles from the vastness of the desert.

Sonora Wind

Nobody can stop this dry wind,
this disaster of a wind. Nobody
can heal it, soothe it, send it on.
It remains. Has it nowhere else
to go? Has it been forbidden
to return to where it came from?

It is driving us mad with the sound
of a wound torn open again
and again. It can bend us down
as it bends the greasewood.
It can desiccate our minds.

It screams at us with the voice
of a raging mute who has no words
to tell his pain. When we begin
to scream in return, it rips
the words from our mouths,
replacing them with sand, the taste
of all the evil ever done to us
by those who died before we could
tell them how much we hated them.