Category Archives: similarity

Dying to Visit a Graveyard

cropped-goodWe’ve all had the experience of wandering through a graveyard, wondering about all the names we see, the stories behind each set of dates. Entire lives seem to be reduced to a pair of dates, and yet we contemplate the dash that separates those dates, the life that was lived in between. Yet as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not the length of life, but the depth.” These speculations have often been a topic for poetry, including haiku and longer poetry, producing varied yet similar moments of reflection.

I first began thinking about this topic when I published “The Dash,” by Steve Sanfield, in my journal Tundra, #1, 1999, page 87. A note with the poem says it arose “from an interview with a convicted rapist who was once the heavyweight champion of the world.”

The Dash

        (found poem)

When you die
nothing matters but the dash.
On your tombstone it says
1933 – 2025
or something like that.
The only thing that matters
is that dash.
That dash is your life.
How you live it
and were you happy
with the way you lived it.
That’s your life.
That’s what matters—
the dash.

Another poem like this is by Linda Ellis, and it’s more famous. It has the same title as Sanfield’s poem, “The Dash,” and it appears in her book Live Your Dash (New York: Sterling Ethos, 2011). The poem even has its own website, and has appeared as a picture book (for example, see Amazon). The poem was originally written in 1996, and has been anthologized and shared widely, and as a result it appears in several slightly different versions.

The Dash

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth
and now only those who love them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars . . . the house . . . the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

To be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile . . .
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read
with your life’s actions to rehash,
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you lived your dash?

It’s easy to relate to the sentiments of this popular poem. Here are a few additional poems on the same subject, one tanka and six haiku, arranged in order of publication. They all speak of the same moment, of noticing that dash. The first is by Larry Kimmel, from Bottle Rockets #9, 5:1, August 2003, page 36:

a name and an epitaph
blurred by green moss
life in the end
little more than a dash
between two dates

Kimmel is not diminishing the life he is referring to, but observing that it may seem diminished by the dash, but presumably shouldn’t be. And yet he recognizes the ephemerality of life, that it’s all one mad dash from birth to death. Here I think of what may have been Issa’s death poem, as translated by Robert Hass:

A bath when you’re born,
a bath when you die,
how stupid.

Harold Stewart’s two-line rhyming version of the same poem is as follows:

Between the washing-bowls at birth and death,
All that I uttered: what a waste of breath!

And yet, all is not futility for those who wish to be positive, making the most of that dash between the beginning and the end. Here’s another Issa poem, written on the death of his daughter:

this world of dew
is but a world of dew
and yet, and yet . . .

Next is a haiku by Yvonne Cabalona, from Feel of the Handrail, an anthology she edited with W. F. Owen, Modesto, California: Leaning Bamboo Press, 2005, page 7.

old cemetery
all of those dashes
between life and death

Cabalona notes not just the dashes but how many she sees in this old cemetery. We cannot help but feel a moment of awe and respect. She also suggests that perhaps we spend our lives “dashing,” in too much of a frenzy, seldom slowing down enough to smell the roses, to make the most of life on our own terms.

A soldier’s headstone—
between one date and another
so short a line

The preceding poem is by Sylvia Forges-Ryan. It appeared in The Sixth Annual ukiaHaiku Festival Winning Entries, Ukiah, California: Ukiah Haiku Festival, 2008, page 17. Jane Reichhold was the contest judge, and this poem was the first-place winner in the “adult contemporary” category. The poem also appeared in Dandelion Clocks: Haiku Society of America Members’ Anthology 2008, New York: Haiku Society of America, 2008, page 30. This time the focus is on the deaths of soldiers, with this one headstone implying others, and how they died young—and perhaps also shared similar death dates in service to their countries.

winter gravestone
hyphen between dates
my father’s life

James Martin, in the preceding poem, also moves from many gravestones to just one—his father’s. This poem is from Frogpond 32:2, Spring/Summer 2009, page 12. The abstraction of the “father’s life” carries the weight of every story and memory that filled it. Also, we cannot help but feel that the poet is contemplating his own life, the quality of the dash that will appear on his own gravestone.

Reading a tombstone.
The hyphen between the years
tells many stories.

This poem by Jermaine Williams appeared in Pebbles 25:2, October 2012, page 9. The last line is more explanatory compared with the same implication present in other haiku shared here, but it’s ultimately the point of each poem—that each tombstone tells a story. Or, in reality, it doesn’t, but we are left to wonder about each of the stories suggested by the dash.

the dates on Dad’s gravestone
what matters is the hyphen

The preceding poem by Frank Judge was published in Last Ginkgo Leaf: Rochester Area Haiku Group 10th Anniversary Members’ Anthology, edited by Michael Ketchek and Carolyn Coit Dancy, Rochester, New York: Rochester Area Haiku Group, 2015, page 16. It previously appeared in Brass Bell, September 2014. Whether a dash or a hyphen, yes, what matters is the life it represents.

tombstone—
between two dates
the length of life

This poem, by Kwaku Feni Adow, is from his book Between Two Dates, Kumasi, Ghana: Mamba Africa Press, 2020, page 17. He means not just the length but the quality of that life. What do we do, during the length of our lives, between the two dates each of us are given? That, as with all the other examples, is the question these poems raise, an introspective challenge to improve ourselves.

The shared observation in these independently written poems is one to be celebrated. As we remember those who have died before us, and think about their lives, represented by that simple dash on their gravestones, we may all be inspired to deepen the quality of our lives. We might do that, in fact, by writing haiku.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Watching Haiku: People

GoodA surprising number of haiku present the experience of someone or something watching someone or something else that, in turn, is watching someone or something . Sound complicated? The following example poems, fortunately, are clearer than my description of this shared sort of experience. I’ve presented essays on “Watching Haiku: Cats” and “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures,” and now it’s time to focus on people. Each one of these haiku, created independently, offers its own celebration of a common experience, and it’s this very sort of commonality that makes haiku poetry rewarding to both write and to read. All poems are arranged by year.

      watching my daughter
watching her daughter washing
her doll’s white socks

The preceding poem by Louise Beaven appeared in The Haiku Hundred (North Shields, United Kingdom: Iron Press 1992, page 15), a book edited by David Cobb, James Kirkup, and Peter Mortimer. A common variation of these “watching” haiku is one generation watching another watching something else, which we see here. And although the youngest daughter is “washing” rather than watching, we know that her doll is being watched too.

watching you
as you watch
television

Jocelyne Villeneuve’s poem, from Marigolds in Snow (Waterloo, Ontario: Penumbra Press, 1993, page 54) takes places indoors, where she’s watching a friend or loved one. We get the sense, too, that the poet might be feeling a little bored, or wishes she could interact with the other person because the television show isn’t nearly as interesting.

breakfast time—
watching strangers across the way
watching televised war

Another television poem. This one from New Cicada 10:1, Summer 1993, page 5, is by Norma C. Plummer. Readers cannot quite know exactly what “across the way” means (a road, an alley, a gap between tenements?), but whatever the interpretation we do see the watching of those strangers watching war on television. Perhaps the author is weary of that war, and can watch its unfolding no longer, yet she cannot get away from seeing others who are still watching it.

First China trip
Watching people watching me
Watching them

We often watch creatures in nature to see what they’re doing. Here the creature being watched is a tourist, who in turn watches those who are watching her. The poet is D. Ronnie Barrett, and the poem was published in A Solitary Leaf, the 1996 Haiku Society of America members’ anthology edited by Randy M. Brooks and Lee Gurga (page 8).

in the river reflection
he watches himself
watch the sunset

This poem appeared in 1997 in the Australian poetry journal Paper Wasp. Poet Alan J. Summers gives us someone watching himself. And yet that “himself” is not the poet, but someone the poet is seeing—and he is surely empathizing with that person’s introspection (self-reflection). The sunset must be reflecting in the water too. I’m not quite sure how the person watching a sunset (far away in the distance, with eyes looking up) could also watch himself in a river’s reflection (close by, with eyes cast down), so the logic is not quite solid with this poem, unless we take it to mean the person watches himself in the river’s reflection after he has just been watching the sunset—they cannot quite happen at the same time.

silence—
the sculptor and his head of clay
watching each other

Tomislav Mijović’s poem was published in Knots (Tolmin, Slovenia: Prijatelj Haiku Press, 1999, page 132), edited by Dimitar Anakiev and Jim Kacian. Here we have an inanimate but anthropomorphized object watching a human, a different take on this watching theme. One kind of watching is literal, the other figurative.

watching her watch
on the way to the pawn shop
for groceries

Dwight L. Wilson’s poem appeared in “Family Sequence,” in A Half-Moon Shining: Haiku from an African-American/Quaker Perspective (Princeton, New Jersey: Leopard Press, 1999, page 51). In this case the “watch” is a timepiece (a noun rather than a verb) so not strictly connected to the commonality of someone watching something watch something else, but I include it here for being in the ballpark. It’s a sad poem where the watch is being watched . . . for the last time (pun intended).

watching my daughter
watch her daughter
miss the basket

This poem is by Nina Wicker, and it appeared in Frogpond 22:3, 1999, page 44, and also in Wild Again: Selected Haiku (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2005, page 24). Here we have a hint of empathy—more than a hint. The grandparent feels love, surely, for her daughter, who is so intent on paying attention to her own daughter, perhaps worrying how the youngest daughter feels after missing a shot in a game of basketball. Even if no words are exchanged, or no pat on the back offered, the youngest daughter no doubt feels the support of her mother and grandmother who are both present to watch the game—and watch over their youngest.

4 a.m.
a neighbour I have never seen
watching the eclipse

Seán O’Connor’s poem appeared in Haiku Spirit #19 in March 2000. In this case the poet’s act of watching is not explicitly stated. However, it’s clearly implied that the poet is watching his neighbour watch the eclipse. A small tension arises in that the poet has never seen this person before, yet we also feel that they have at least a small bond in both appreciating the eclipse. Perhaps, too, this neighbor is not known to the poet because something else has been “eclipsing” the poet’s view of his neighbour, such as that neighbour being reclusive.

a short pause
watching tourists watch me
rappelling

I have no publication credit for this poem (it came to me via Charles Trumbull’s haiku database—thanks, Charlie), but it would have been written before August of 2003, which was when Kylan Jones-Huffman, its author, had died—a casualty of the war in Iraq. Here the focus of attention is on rappelling, and in this case the poet is doing the activity rather than watching someone or something else do something. The poet becomes aware that others are watching him and for a moment he is watching them watching him. And thus the reason they are watching him, rappelling down a mountain face or climbing wall, is probably no longer happening at that moment. But after that pause he will begin rappelling again.

waiting for bats
you notice me
watching you

Malcolm Williams published this poem in Presence #26 in 2005. Here we have noticing instead of watching, but still we have one person seeing someone else watching him or her. This contrasts intriguingly with the context of bats, creatures that notice their prey by echolocation instead of by sight. The bats, however, are not being watched, but two people notice each other while waiting for the unseen bats. We can imagine that both of the people are hoping the bats will fly soon, presumably at dusk. Because the bats are not present in the poem, this is more of a people poem that a creature poem.

linden shadows
watching people watching
the blind man

This poem, by Helen Buckingham, was an award-winning haiku in the English section of the ninth Suruga-Baika Literary Prize in 2007. All the other example watching poems here are about the act of seeing, but this time the poem presents someone who cannot see. The viewer is apparently under the shade of a linden tree, most likely in a place of comfort and repose, where it is easy to watch other people who are watching a blind man—who is perhaps not at ease at all.

clear sky
the window washer
watching us watching him

Ed Markowski’s poem tied for eighth place in the Shiki Internet Kukai (anonymous haiku contest) in November of 2008. The window washer is the source of attention, and we may immediately worry about being up at such heights. Such risks have become ordinary and accepted by the window washer, but perhaps the window washer watches the people below with a touch of envy, not necessarily to be on the ground but to be idle enough to not be working. Over and over, these “watching” poem imply empathy for a nearby person or animal.

early dawn—
I watch her on the balcony
watching it

This poem, by A. Thiagarajan, appeared in Modern Haiku 40:1, Winter–Spring 2009, page 88. It preserves that moment of appreciating someone else appreciating a natural phenomenon. It must be a beautiful sunrise, and the love or admiration that one person surely has for the other must be more beautiful yet. There’s an unspoken love here, in that one person might feel a deeper pang of love when seeing someone he or she loves appreciate something beautiful that he or she also appreciates.

watching his face
watching the moon
a passing cloud

Pat Benedict Campbell wrote this poem. It appeared on the DailyHaiku website on 4 May 2009, and later in her book The Alchemy of Tea (Carleton Place, Ontario: Catkin Press, 2019, page 39). Here we have a moon poem—the moon is so much more watchable than the sun. There’s an overtone of love in this haiku. As with the previous poem, the poet sees someone else watching the moon, and surely admiring it. And when a cloud passes over the moon, surely a “cloud” also passes over the face of the male being watched. The sense of love comes to mind because of an inherent empathy for that moment of loss because of the passing cloud. The unstated emotions of the observed person seem to extend to the concern of the observer as they both share this moment together, but in different ways.

speechday
watching my son
watching his son

Quendryth Young published this poem in the online German haiku journal Chrysanthemum, in issue #6, October 2009. Here we have intergenerational attention, and no doubt pride. So often in these poems the connection between human watchers is between generations.

I catch him
watching me
watch someone else

The word “catch” suggests an interpersonal relationship between the “me” and “him.” Did someone attractive catch the poet’s eye? The poem does not say “he catches me / watch someone else,” which would suggest guilt on the poet’s part for being caught. Instead, the poet catches someone else catching her watching someone else, which complicates the nature of the relationship. Is the “him” jealous, perhaps? We may also infer any number of possibilities for who the “someone” is—is it a child at a playground, a cute guy at a bar, a skater pirouetting in a competition? But quite aside from that, the poet has “caught” someone noticing her noticing something else, and the poem draws us into that moment. This poem by Philomene Kocher appeared in Hearing the Silence (Pointe Claire, Québec: King’s Road Press, 2011, page 14).

Come in her nightgown
to watch the moon—
I watch her . . .

We turn from possible jealousy to love. David E. LeCount’s poem appeared in his book La Honda Journal (El Granada, California: Day’s Eye Press and Studios, 2011, page 13). When the poet and his lover (so it seems) both go out to look at the moon, he finds her the more attractive option. The word “nightgown” also gives the poem a potentially erotic overtone. No wonder he is watching her instead of the moon.

approaching squall
she watches his eyes
undressing someone else

This poem, by Cameron Mount, brings to mind the earlier one by Philomene Kocher, but more overtly suggests guilt and eroticism. Cameron’s poem appeared in Frogpond 35:2, Spring–Summer 2012, page 49. That approaching squall is not just a rainstorm but quite likely a storm of protest from the woman in this poem.

I catch her
watching me . . .
pitch on my fingers

Bill Pauly published this poem in Modern Haiku 44:2, Summer 2013, page 96. The poet is obviously busy at an important task, working with his hands, and the only clue as to what the task might be is the word “pitch.” Perhaps it’s also dangerous, which might be why the female is watching him carefully. Or perhaps she’s just admiring him for being industrious, doing whatever the work is, whether it’s dangerous or not. Either way, there’s a connection, with the “catching” having nothing to do with guilt, unlike Philomene Kocher’s earlier poem.

watching people watching me
condo balconies

This poem by Ben Moeller-Gaa appeared in the German online journal Chrysanthemum #14 in October of 2013. This is a common inner-city experience, but it could be anywhere—we’re always watching each other, or at least aware of each other because of our increasingly close proximity.

ICU
watching the machine
watching me

Jane Reichhold’s poem, from her book A Dictionary of Haiku (Gualala, California: AHA Books, second edition, 2013, page 252) lets us imagine what the machine might be in the intensive care unit. Perhaps it’s an ultrasound machine. Or perhaps it’s a machine providing medication, sustenance, or some other benefit, and thus “watching over” her. Or is it a closed-circuit video recorder, for security or safety purposes? Whatever it might be, the poet is watching back.

losing her mind—
watching a woman
as she watches herself

This poem, by Fran Witham, appeared in Bottle Rockets #31, 16:1, 2014, page 19. The poet is watching a woman who is somehow watching herself—we don’t know how. Nor do we know how the watched woman might be losing her mind, but that fact or presumption is offered as a given. Perhaps the act of watching herself incessantly is why the woman is losing her mind.

I watch someone
watch someone else
the promise of rain

Rainy and overcast days are conducive to watching—and introspection. This poem, by Nicholas Klacsanzky, is a small confession. We don’t know why he is watching someone else, or who that person is, but something that person is doing is enough to catch the observer’s attention. The unstated aspects of this poem empower readers to engage with the poem to finish its unfinishedness. All of this is presented in the context of a promise of rain, and we might easily assume that the rain, if it comes, will change the activities of the person being watched—and the watcher as well. This poem appeared in Zen and Son, by George Klacsanzky and Nicholas Klacsanzky (n.p., 2017, page 36).

watching them
not watching us
sun-hatted gardeners

Now we have a turn—in this case the people being watched are not aware of being watched and are not watching back. By this fact we can easily gather that the gardeners don’t know they are being observed because they so engrossed in their work or pastime. We get a sense of the summer season from the mention of sun hats, but we don’t know who the people identified as “us” are. Somehow we feel that the watchers are self-conscious, not necessarily for watching others at work but for not also being similarly productive or engaged in a hobby. This poem, by David Jacobs, was published in his book Buzz (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2018, page 13).

night train
watching myself
watching myself

This poem by Alan S. Bridges appeared in his ebook, In a Flash (Ormskirk, United Kingdom: Snapshot Press, 2019, page 25). It shares a moment of introspection, of seeing one’s reflection while looking out a train window. That reflection, of course, is both literal and figurative.

condolence card thinking of you thinking of him

Susan B. Auld’s poem, from Chrysanthemum Dusk (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2016, page 9) moves from sight to focus on an idea. This is a poem of empathy once again. The card is a sympathy card, but the poem is all empathy—the poet is motivated to send condolences because she wonders how her friend must be feeling when thinking of a lost loved one. While this poem is about more than the sense of sight, it extends a similar perception to other senses and feelings.

Haiku poems dwell in experience. Haiku poets write similar poems because they have similar experiences—and cannot help but have similar experiences, simply because they are human. In some cases the writing can be tired, saying what too many people have already said, or even plagiarizing another poem. But aside from such extremes, poems that have a common topic offer a cause for celebration. The similarity of such poems serves to validate our human existence, and how we share much more than we may realize. In the opening paragraph of The Haiku Handbook (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1989), William J. Higginson emphasizes that the purpose of haiku is to share them. We cannot celebrate this sharing if we do not hold much experience in common.

 

Note: Some poems do not appear with indented lines as originally published, due to a limitation in the WordPress blog software. A nod of thanks to Charles Trumbull for his help in discovering some of these poems through his invaluable haiku database. See also “Watching Haiku: Cats” and “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures.”

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Watching Haiku: Other Creatures

GoodIn my essay “Watching Haiku: Cats,” I offered sixteen poems about watching cats watch something else, sometimes with a circular sort of awareness that makes watching a conscious act. Each poem offered empathy for something smaller than the observer, sometimes with hints of danger or foreboding. Many other haiku are similar to these poems, although not about cats. Sometimes they’re about other creatures, large and small. For example, the first few of the following poems are about a frog, a squirrel, a rabbit, robins, and a mouse. Humans also appear, but each verse features some sort of creature in addition to the watching human (read more about humans in “Watching Haiku: People”). These poems, despite their similarities, are uniquely told celebrations of a common phenomenon—noticing something that notices something else and writing haiku about it. We need not shy away from writing poems that share this surprisingly common observation, so long as we write what we experience and convey what we feel in fresh ways that we make our own. I’ve arranged the following poems chronologically by year.

            green and hazel eyes
watching their first frog watching
green and hazel eyes

Elizabeth G. Hood published the preceding poem in Modern Haiku 3:1, 1972, page 23. There may well be earlier English-language poems that offer this experience, but I haven’t yet discovered them. The first and third lines undergo a sort of transformation, because we may wonder if they describe the frog’s eyes or the child’s eyes. Perhaps both. And surely this is a child, since it’s their first frog, giving the poem extra delight. Surely the frog and the child (I picture a girl) both have the same eye colour.

Cold, blustery day—
a squirrel at the pecans
spies me—spying him.

This poem is by Louise Somers Winder, and it appeared in Haiku Six, edited by Phil Garland, the sixth collection of winners from an annual haiku contest run by the Washington Poets Association (Tacoma, Washington: The Rhododendron Press, 1980. page 22). There’s a measure of delight in this poem too, in noticing something that is clearly paying attention to something else—or, in this case, you. We are left to wonder if the poet will shoo away those squirrels to protect the pecans.

Watching
the rabbit watching
the falling.

This poem appeared in Ten Years’ Collected Haiku, Volume 1 (Fanwood, New Jersey: From Here Press, 1987, page 16). Out of context, the poem does not make it clear what is meant by “the falling.” However, it appears under the heading of “3 Poems at Niagara,” so “the falling” is obviously the great waterfall. We can wonder how conscious the rabbit is of the falling water, let alone its fame and magnificence, or if it’s just looking in its direction. That speculation may well be on the author’s mind as he is watching the rabbit. For humans, and perhaps rabbits too, the endlessly falling water is mesmerizing.

Watching
Robins watch
the snowfall

The preceding poem, by Richard Balus, was published in Haiku Zasshi Zō, Winter/Spring 1989, page 11. Here we feel the poet’s empathy for the robins, for surely that snowfall is cold, and a danger to their survival. And yet, by extension, cold temperatures are also a challenge for people. Or perhaps we feel a contrast, in that what is a nuisance to small birds is perhaps beautiful to human observers.

watching the mouse watching me

Joanne Morcom’s one-line poem saw first publication in Frogpond 17:4, Winter 1994, page 20. As with so many of these poems, the watched thing is vulnerable and wary. The watcher and watched are trapped in an instant of stalemate, and we may wonder who will twitch first.

at picnic tables
people watching gulls
watching people

This haiku, by Gordon Dickens, appeared in 2000 in the Mainichi Daily News. There’s a mutual wariness here, with both the people and the gulls deeply aware of each other. The people want to protect their food at the picnic tables, and the gulls are watching for an opportunity to snatch something to eat. The poet is another unspoken observer, watching the people who are watching the gulls watch the people.

watching my daughter
watch the sparrows
at the feeder

It amazes me how many variations this theme can take. This poem by Susan Scholl appeared in Crinkled Sunshine, the 2000 Haiku Society of America membership anthology, edited by D. Claire Gallagher. Just as the mother has compassion for her daughter who is intently watching the sparrows, so too the family demonstrates compassion for the sparrows by stocking a birdfeeder. In so many of these poems, something being watched is either something vulnerable, such as these sparrows, or a predator (in other poems), such as a cat.

Watching the gulls
watching the fishermen
watching the sea

This poem, by Ken Stein, was a “work of merit” in the 2003 R. H. Blyth Award sponsored by the World Haiku Club. In this case the stated watching begins with seagulls rather than with a person, but the unstated watching begins with the person who sees the seagulls. The fishermen are watching the sea to determine if the weather will permit them to go fishing, and if they do, surely they will bring back spoils that the gulls can enjoy too. A similar poem is the following, by Elizabeth Crocket, published online in Chrysanthemum #16 in October 2014 (and thus presented here out of chronological order):

watching the osprey
watching the fisherman
watching the fish

The details have changed but the here the fishermen have returned from a successful trip, and the bird, itself a fisher, is eager for a share.

watching the rat
watch me—
we both run

Doris Thurston gives us some humour here. I published this poem in the 2005 Haiku North America conference anthology, Tracing the Fern, which I edited with Billie Wilson (Sammamish, Washington: Press Here, 2005, page 18). Again the poem speaks of empathy, with both the human and the rodent being afraid of each other, a shared feeling, even if the poet has no sympathy for the rat.

dragonfly
watching me
watching him

Those dragonfly eyes are multifaceted, so their watching is very different from the poet’s, both in vision and in understanding. Marie Summers published this poem in White Lotus #2, Spring/Summer 2006. This is a fleeting moment, too, for surely that dragonfly will soon dart away. And yet, the other “watching” poems here are just as fleeting too, even if the creature being watched isn’t as fleeting as a dragonfly.

cold morning
a pair of ducks watching me
watching them

Yu Chang wrote the preceding poem, and it appeared on the Cornell University Mann Library’s Daily Haiku website on 4 December 2006. It also appeared in his book Small Things Make Me Laugh (Rochester, New York: Free Food Press, 2016, page 5). Haiku poetry has a tradition to write about established season words. Haiku poets and readers do not hesitate to repeat any of these common seasonal subjects, such as cherry blossoms or icicles. We should similarly not hesitate to celebrate other subjects repeatedly as well, of which this poem is another example. It takes its turn to express what the poet saw, without worrying about whether others have seen the same thing too—or perhaps doing so because others have seen it too. Here the ducks and the poet are mutually aware of each other, and perhaps the ducks are also wary of the poet—or perhaps the ducks are eager for a handout, and maybe the poet is feeling guilty for not having any bread to toss.

whales
watching
people

D. Boyer’s poem surfaced in Bottle Rockets #16, 8:2, 2007, page 16. In this case it’s clear that the people are whale watching, where they are seeing the whales (apparently) watching the people. The watchers are being watched too.

            desert path
a coyote watches me
watch a coyote

In Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror (Baltimore, Maryland: Modern English Tanka Press, 2008, page 13), James Tipton offers the preceding take on this surprisingly common haiku trope, this time with a coyote. The poem’s last word introduces an ambiguity—is it yet another coyote that isn’t aware of being watched, or is it the same coyote that is watching “me”? Either way, the poem creates tension, a tension that may be deepened by that ambiguity, which suggests that there could be more than one coyote nearby, increasing the danger to the observer. On a desert path the poet has encountered at least one coyote, and they are both suspiciously eyeing each other—and we don’t know what will happen next.

southern shore
watching a penguin
watching me

Nola Borrell published this poem in Taste of Nashi: New Zealand Haiku (Wellington, New Zealand: Windrift, 2008, page 67), a book she edited with Karen Peterson Butterworth. New Zealand has three species of penguins, which you can see on the South Island, thus the reference to the southern shore. Tourists, of course, are fascinated by these birds, but the birds may be just as fascinated with human visitors.

boy watches heron
watching for a glint
on the water

Alegria Imperial entered this poem in the Shiki Internet Kukai (anonymous haiku contest) in May of 2010 to fit the theme of fishing. That glint on the water will no doubt indicate a fish, which the heron will surely strike. The poet is an unstated observer here, watching the boy watching that heron, which is intently watching the water.

watching the deer
watch my morning train
pass by

Mark E. Brager’s poem was published in The Heron’s Nest 13:4 in December 2011. No doubt the person in the poem is on his way to work or some other obligatory destination and momentarily envies the deer’s idleness and its lack of obligation—or at least he empathizes with the deer.

me watching
something big
watching me

Previous poems have identified specific creatures that are being watched. But here we have a mystery—just something “big.” That uncertainty creates additional tension—the creature being big and unknown increases the danger. This poem, by Stephanie Baker, was published in Mariposa #32, Spring/Summer 2015, page 10. It brings to mind the following poem, by Issa, here in David Lanoue’s translation (from his http://haikuguy.com/ website):

我を見る姿も見へてうすがすみ
ware wo miru sugata mo miete usu-gasumi

that shape’s watching me
watching him . . .
thin mist

So as you can see, haiku poets have been inspired by this watching theme for centuries, and surely there are many further examples in Japanese. In Issa’s poem, like Baker’s, we have the mystery of not knowing what “that shape” might really be, made a notch more ominous by the mist.

The solstice
I watch an owl
watching the moon

Christina Sng’s owl poem appeared on the Asahi Haikuist Network online on 16 September 2016. To me it feels like it must be the winter solstice, because of what I perceive to be a cool moon, but it could also be summer. When not modified in Japanese haiku to indicate otherwise, the moon is normally an autumn season word, but here the solstice puts this poem on the cusp between autumn and winter. Again we feel tension in wondering what the owl might be seeing by moonlight, and thus about to devour.

watching the deer
watching me
morning moon

This would seem to be a delicate and contemplative time of day, when one can see the morning moon. Perhaps the moon’s light is enough for the deer to see, if it’s not a day moon. The poet sees the deer, which is watching the person, and in that context the moon is also mentioned. The poet, John Hawk, does not need to specify whether either he or the deer are watching the moon, but that is still possibly implied. John’s poem placed in the Ninth Yamadera Bashō Memorial Museum English Haiku Contest in 2017.

           rainy day
I watch you watching
an ant

Christiane Ranieri’s poem can be found in Wild Plum 3:1, Spring/Summer 2017, page 15. We feel at least a little empathy for the ant on this rainy day, and perhaps that’s what the “you” in this poem feels, and by extension so too does the observer of that person watching the ant.

flaring nostrils
smelling me
smelling the horse

This poem goes in a different direction, speaking of the sense of smell instead of sight, but its structure is reminiscent of the watching poems. Jerome Cushman wrote this haiku, and it appeared in his book Amidst (Windsor, Connecticut: Café Nietzsche Press, 2007, page 37). Somehow the horse smelling the human makes us more deeply aware of how the horse must smell—and our nostrils must be flaring too.

Whenever we write about our experiences, those experiences are very likely to have been shared by others. In fact, for haiku, we hope that they have, because that sharedness, that empathy, lies at the center of haiku appreciation. There’s a point when poems about similar topics might cross a line and be excessively similar, but I don’t find that to be the case with the preceding “watching” poems. Instead, we can celebrate their sharedness, celebrate their commonality, and revel in how each poet takes a turn to say, in his or her own way, what they hope others have experienced too.

 

Note: Some poems do not appear with indented lines as originally published, due to a limitation in the WordPress blog software. See also “Watching Haiku: Cats” and “Watching Haiku: People.”

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Watching Haiku: Cats

GoodFor years I’ve admired the following poem by Marco Fraticelli, which first appeared in Beyond Spring Rain: Haiku Canada 25th Anniversary Members’ Anthology, edited by LeRoy Gorman (Aylmer: Québec: Haiku Canada, 2002, page 13):

watching the cat
watching the bird
watching the butterfly

Later versions also appeared as follows:

watching the cat
watching  the  sparrow
watching   the   butterfly

I tend to prefer the more specific mention of a sparrow rather than a bird, but what’s your preference? Either way, the poem has made me more aware of other poems that capture a similar moment, of noticing someone or something that is noticing something else. It’s a sort of double or even triple awareness, sometimes circular, and the reader adds another level to it all by noticing the poem that notices the poet that notices something noticing something else. The following are additional examples of similar haiku, arranged by year, all celebrating the same shared insight in unique and independently created ways. In addition, each of these poems features cats. For other animals and people, also check out “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures” and “Watching Haiku: People.” The abundance of these poems demonstrates how common this experience is, making this commonality all the more celebratory.

Second coffee break:
I watch the cat watching
the twig-tapped window

This poem is part of a set of several haiku, “A Sequence of Hours,” published by Geraldine Clinton Little in Modern Haiku 4:2, 1973, page 14. The key detail of the poem is that this is a second coffee break, so the observer seemingly has more time to observe. Cats are inveterate watchers, too, especially when kept indoors, longing to go out.

a black cat’s eyes on us watching the silence in reeds and water

This poem, by Elizabeth Searle Lamb, appeared in Frogpond 4:2, 1981, page 4. The people indicated by “us” are watching the silence in the reeds and water, but surely the cat is too, even while it also has its eyes on its observers. We are caught in a moment of mutual observation, and we may contemplate what might happen next.

I watch the cat
watching
the empty corner

Debra Bryson’s poem, from Tidepool #1, 1984, page 42, mirrors other cat haiku collected here, in that the cat is paying attention to something it might eat or at least catch. In this case, the empty corner is where some creature used to be, perhaps a mouse or an insect, or where it might soon be again. As readers we are caught in that suspended moment, just as the cat is caught in its own suspense.

August morning—
watching me watch it,
the feral cat

Neca Stoller’s poem was published in Gerald England’s book, The Art of Haiku 2000 (Hyde, United Kingdom: New Hope International, 2000, page 7). Another cat being watched, with the cat watching the human, and both are probably wondering what the other is up to.

bay window
a persian cat watches me
watching her

We can easily imagine the watcher in this poem being outside, seeing that cat in a bay window, watching the person passing by. This poem, by Kirsty Karkow, appeared online in Haiku Harvest 2:1, January–April 2001.

spying in the bushes
watching a black cat
watching us

We may wonder what the cat in this haiku might be seeing. This poem, by Connor Brearley, was printed in Around Haiku: Celebrating Haiku: Words, Music, Visual Art (Leeds, United Kingdom: ArtForms / Education Leeds / British Haiku Society, 2006, page 7). In this case we have not just one observer but many, a plural “us” that makes this a shared experience beyond just the animal being observed.

robins watching me—
watching the cat watching me
watching the robins

It’s amazing how many of these watching/cat poems there are. This one, by J. D. Nelson, appeared on the Tinywords website on 4 May 2006. Here we can wonder if the robins are in danger from the cat, which may well be why the person is watching the robins—and the cat.

I watch my neighbor
Watch her cat that is watching
A fallen fledgling

This poem is by Lorraine Ward. It was the third-place winner in the 2008 Tokutomi Haiku Contest sponsored by the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, and first appeared Geppo XXXIII:4, July–August 2008, page 10. Tension again here, and danger to the fallen fledgling instead of to the observer. The poem offers a chain of attention, a chain that binds everyone and everything together, at least for a moment.

wire fence
cat watches the dog
watching her

G. R. LeBlanc’s poem appeared in Mainichi Daily News daily haiku selection online on 15 July 2010. This poem offers mutual uncertainty and surely apprehension, hence the close watching.

his last days at home
my son and I watch the cat
watching a bird

The anticipation in this poem and perhaps the danger awaiting the cat both echo with the idea of the son about to leave home. This poem by Deb Baker was published in Bottle Rockets #26, 2012, page 23.

watching the cat watch the rabbit
watching me

The writing team of Jan Conn, Mary di Michele, Susan Gillis, and Jane Munro, known as Yoko’s Dogs, produced this poem in their collaborative book Whisk (St. John’s, Newfoundland: Pedlar’s Press, 2013, page 65). The renku-like context called for a two-line poem, or they might have presented this verse in a more expected three lines. Yet something about the combination of “watching the cat” and “watch the rabbit” in the same line makes those elements more instantaneous. And then we have the turn to “watching me,” creating a full circle. This circle makes this poem differ from other examples, where only two things are watching each other, or a short litany of observers ends with something other than a return to the first observer. Again, a moment of tension—what will the cat do, and what will happen to the rabbit? But also, what about the person observing all of this? What will he or she do?

watching the cat’s eyes
watching me
watching the night

Here’s a poem by Jane Reichhold, from A Dictionary of Haiku (Gualala, California: AHA Books, second edition, 2013, page 212). The night may be foreboding to many people, but to a cat it’s an opportunity to explore, perhaps to hunt. But here the cat is no doubt confined to the house and cannot go out, yet it longs for the night, just as the person in the poem seems to long for something out in the darkness.

bird-watching
my neighbour’s cat
watches

The poet here, Ernest J. Berry, is engaged in bird-watching, and notices that the neighbor’s cat is watching him—perhaps not even aware of the birds that the poet sees. Or is the cat also watching the birds rather than the poet? The poem, which appeared in Berry’s book Getting On (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2016, page 43), engages us with that double possibility.

Watching the cat watch the pot smoke I just blew its way.

This poem, by Jonathan Hayes, appeared in the online haiku website called Haikuniverse (posted 30 December 2016). Cats seem to be disdainful about everything. Here, however, readers can’t help but imagine that the cat is particularly disdainful about the pot smoke. Whatever the case, the cat and the person in this poem are mutually observing each other, locked for a moment in the arms of attention.

lazy afternoon
watching a cat
watching the waves

Cats seem to appear in a great number of poems about watchers watching watchers—in contrast, I know of just one such poem about dogs (shared earlier). And here’s one more cat poem, by Bob Lucky, from Acorn #40, Spring 2018, page 52. We get a feeling for the day’s laziness if we have enough idleness to notice a cat that is staring, perhaps vacantly, at the waves. This might be by the ocean, or perhaps by a lake, but we easily get a sense of summer vacation from this poem, and may also wonder what the cat is thinking as it watches those waves—if it is thinking anything at all. In contrast to some of the other poems mentioned, this one does not present a tension or danger (I doubt the waves are any kind of threat). But still that watchfulness occurs, and the poet is watching too.

And so we take our turn saying what others have seen, and by doing so we join a dance of celebration. Watching cats watching something that catches their interest, just as the cat is catching our interest. We appreciate these poems because we’ve had similar experiences ourselves, or can empathize with them even if we haven’t. As writers, it is useful to be wary of keeping one’s poem from being too similar to what another person has already written, but if we remain true to our experience and let the poem speak of our own heart, our own voice and point of view, then we too can join the dance of every poetic subject imaginable. And thus we can easily agree with the poet Dobby Gibson, who wrote the following in his book Polar (Alice James Books, 2005):

It may be true that everything
has already been said,
but it’s just as true that not everyone
has had a chance to say it.

 

Note: Some poems do not appear with indented lines as originally published, due to a limitation in the WordPress blog software. See also “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures” and “Watching Haiku: People.”

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,