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Manipulating Moments


Manipulating Moments

The mist settled across the pond like a cottony blanket glowing faintly white in the moonlight. Footsteps woke the surrounding forest as the finest poets in all the land gathered in quiet competition.

I watched Isaku prepared himself, writing notes with a charcoal stick:

late at night

He chewed on his stick gazing over the landscape:

nothing but flowers
and the moon

Fuku was the first frog selected to judge the grand poetry contest. Selected for his uncommon understanding of nature and Zen, he listened to the greatest poets in the world read, occasionally flipping his tongue at an insect.

Mirua stood and quietly whispered:

“the fat
mosquito is slow
and dies”

The soft applause woke several dogs that accompanied Charan, the blind poet from the outer provinces. They quietly wandered about as Busan read his entry:

“friendly dogs
and neighborly fleas
visit us”

Insects hovered around the fires that provided light for the poets. Hirka read his poem:

“spider floats
in silken symmetry
moth struggles”

The poets read through the night, with Fuku listening intently. Just before sunrise, Charan arose to recite his poem. His white robe almost invisible in the morning fog. He spoke:

through the mist
the trees”

The contestants were finished, all eyes centered on Fuku. He thought of the world, of the poems he heard, and of the poetry of the pond around him. He quietly hopped to the edge of the pond, and looked upon the poets.

silent frog
ponders the sunrise
then hops away

In the silence I watched and saw nothing, all had disappeared. Understanding, I was inspired and began to ponder their words, their haiku.
Daisies, little flowers, one by one I counted them. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… seventeen, that number haunted me. I painted with words, with the colors of language. Often, what I didn’t say was more masterful than what I said. I wrote poems, tiny poems.


I plucked the petals, counting again. Seventeen… that number again, I cringed when I said it. Haiku, traditionally poems of tiny moments in life, were usually expressed in seventeen Japanese word sounds. Words, sounds, impressions manipulated to capture life moment by moment.

like little eyes

As I watched the world around me for these moments, it watched back. I wrote of daisies and the flowers watched me. Like seventeen eyes on me. Seventeen… English language is so different from Japanese. Word sounds in Japanese are vaguely similar to syllables, but are spoken much faster. English haiku, therefore is usually shorter than seventeen syllables.

that peek

Flowers, spiders, and frogs peeked back at me as I wrote. I manipulated words, syllables to say as much as possible in only a few words. Many people think haiku is only written in seventeen English syllables, anything different is not haiku. They define haiku as three lines of five, then seven, then five syllables.

like little eyes
that peek

I tried to capture this moment and felt daisies watching. I humbly arranged the words and glanced up. I counted them, one, two, three… realizing there are less than seventeen, I smiled. I think they smiled back.

“You arrogant bastard!”

His lips moved strangely as he spoke, like a poorly dubbed movie. His lips moved as if he spoke Japanese, but I heard English. His gray hair and gray stubble over his face stood out against his darker skin. He looked Japanese.

“How dare you!”

His face appeared vaguely familiar. I saw an ancient wisdom in him. He bent slightly and walked with a long stick. A stick he raised in front of me! I cowered in the corner, wondering why he shouted at me.

“Get up here you simpering coward,” he bellowed.

“Who are you?” I trembled.

“Who am I? Who am I? Who are you? How dare you write of haiku? How dare you judge others?”

“But they have it wrong. They use…”

“Don’t you say it!”

“But, they use…”

“Hup, hup! Don’t say it!” He shouted.

“But how will they learn?” I asked.

“It is not important. Let them count, let them arrange, if the moment is true it will be haiku, otherwise it will not. Do not manipulate their perceptions, let them feel the moment, even if they are blind.”

Then he smiled. The sun shined on his face and each line spoke of the ages. He handed me a book and then faded into the sun’s glare. Before I could say anything more he disappeared.

I rubbed my eyes and glanced at the book: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho. I remembered his face from an ancient painting.

my new book
the ancient wisdom
scent of time

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