then turned to look at David and me, and decreed: “Nay-nay.
Nay-nay.” Now that’s a horse.
Seventeenth-century haiku master Basho would’ve rendered
that anecdote in a three-line poem, perhaps something like—
in the horse’s eye.
—but more precise, of course, more resonant. Because the
haiku is wedded to “the instant” and to speed of comprehension, it serves as an ideal poetic net for the mind hoping to capture such minnow-quick moments of ba<ement or awe. And
because a good haiku mirrors the swiftness of the world it
describes, the result is often a paradoxical slowing down that
allows poet and reader alike to meditate on a single intrepid
moment. Picking morels today with one eye on the ground and
one eye on Luka, I keep thinking that the haiku poets, with their
uncanny sense of detail—Beads of dew / on the caterpillar’s / hair,
wrote Buson—would have made amazing morel hunters. But
Issa, who was enamored of children, chides my task-oriented
brain in the face of Luka’s goallessness:
The moon and the flowers—
walking around, wasting time.
Better to keep my eyes tuned to my young Sherpa, spirit
Closer to levitating
than any monk—
boy gazing at hovering hawk.
Some days the double-layered paper grocery bag that is the
heart, or the heart’s memory, brims over with images such as
these: moments of kana at Luka’s kana, his amazement at the
everyday (use the commonplace to escape the commonplace, Buson
wrote). And some days I can feel Luka’s wonder spurring me
into deeper relation with the world, despite the too easily found
ironies and horrors that tend to knock my romantic impulse on
its rump and cause me to retreat into a spiritual hesitancy. This
morning, for instance, I can’t stop wondering if the soil from
which my beloved morels have grown is laced with the same
mine-tailings—arsenic and lead—that have made the upper
portion of our valley an EPA Superfund site: the irony of the
organic meal that leaves toxic grins on the foraging family’s lips.
This line of thinking quickly gains a dangerous momentum.
Gripped by casual cynicism, I pull back, disengage. But the
boy’s moment-to-moment discoveries pull me back in, drag me,
the way he’s dragging behind him a newly found whitetail
antler: Come along, now. Toppling the coveted morels ($35 per
pound in Chicago markets!) as he goes, he is either in a daze of
boredom or he is walking kana, penetrated each step by the
world, not penetrating it. It’s tempting to call this spirit naïveté,
but it’s not: it’s wisdom we lose along the way. Polish poet and
Holocaust survivor Czeslaw Milosz echoed this dichotomy
when he wrote:
Pure beauty and benediction: You are all I gathered
from a life that was bitter and confused,
in which I learned about evil, my own and not my own.
Wonder kept seizing me, and I recall only wonder.
I know the world is dying from my eyes, and that my
a=ection for the world contributes to its destruction. I know
also that it is emotionally safer to lie estranged beneath the
false warmth of cynicism’s down comforter each morning
rather than venture into the world with a posture of openness,
ready to receive, to live, rather than simply emote. Yet here
I am, for starters, walking atop centuries of dead cottonwood
leaves, while overhead new buds, sticky to the touch, smell
like this: a sweet long-steeped tea, the sweaty neck of a lover,
an infant’s head. Last night, after soothing a nightmare-stricken Luka, I fell asleep alone on the couch and dreamed
I was still holding his small frame to my chest: his heartbeats,
beating into my heart, sent a raw blue wind pulsing through
my dream-body—I awoke quickened, a layer of the in>nitely
layered veil blown away.
Now, just now, Luka scrambles out from underneath a deadfall he’s been referring to as his cave and hands a brittle leaf to
me: “And a mushroom!”
“Oh—thank you,” I say, and place the leaf with what we’ve
gathered: a heaping load of morels, a bright orange ?icker
feather, a few rocks, a fork-horn whitetail shed.
Midafternoon—sun high, birds loud, dewdrops hard to >nd—
Luka’s nap is calling. I zip the bulging paper bag inside my
backpack so our cache won’t spill when we wade the river
channel again. We’ll cross the river and still be here, our existence
intensi>ed through our attention to the particular moments
Where are we? What canopy of clouds and birdsong have
I lived beneath? a
Can you capture a moment of kana in three lines? Post your haiku