When I drank whisky, I drank Scotch whisky. Blended. Seems I prefer things that are blended. Friends would sometimes present me with a gift of expensive single malt scotch, and I would share it with other friends while pouring into my own glass from a bottle of Dewar’s.
I like my religion blended, too. Born to a Baptist mama, and from there added some Presbyterian and Quaker, a little Buddhism, Taoism and Sufism; during my Methodist period I applied and was accepted to seminary; I’m a cardholding Catholic, and raised my sons Episcopalian; and, these days I’m not going to church in buildings.
I also like a blended literary experience. Stephen King’s writing and Cormac McCarthy’s, some Tolstoy and some James Lee Burke. Same with philosophy and music and art and politics. Same with a sunset, clouds and some blue sky, too.
And—well, the point is made.
I’ve been absent from this page for a long time finishing up a little book of light verse, called Syllables Go By, a kind of blended take on the Japanese haiku genre of three line poems having five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five syllables in the third.
I added a narrative prelude with each haiku, a form called haibun, a name made up in the seventeenth century by Matsuo Basho, Japan’s haiku master, whose best hits always include:
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
And another one from Basho that I like. I don’t quite get the last line. Which is part of the fun.
Why, just this autumn
I have suddenly grown old—
a bird in the clouds.
And, one more from brother Basho, also for fun. Notice how he kind of fudges the syllable count by borrowing one from the second line and loaning it to the first.
A rolling cloud—like
a dog pissing on the run—
dense winter showers.
A child can write a haiku, and, indeed, some of us were first introduced to the form when we were kids. Maybe that’s the secret charm of the form. But, haiku can be also taken to the level of art, as Basho and others have done.
In a real haiku poem there is regard for kireji, and punctuation, and point-of-view, and focus on nature and careful intention toward cutting—a sort of gotcha moment in the last five syllables. With senryu poems there is a focus on the human condition that leaves off references to nature.
Into an aging and cork-stoppered great barrel of fun, I’ve blended all that.
Because of my thing with 9s, I include in my book 99 of these spare poems that are images of my thoughts in seventeen syllables. I will post some of them here on this page. And if only one of them works for you, then I am grateful and blessed.
Syllables Go By
My little dog Bobby jumps on the bed and curls up in a sleepy ball, hardly budging when a box of muesli falls from the counter and scatters my breakfast on the floor. He is at ease indoors and content to be just where he is. Or is he?
Little dog sleeps late
upon his master’s pillow,
dreaming daylight hunts.
There are stories of devoted dogs who mourn the death of their masters. Sometimes taking up a vigil at their graves, deeply aware of their absence. I wonder, might an animal also have a sense of not only what is gone, but what is soon to come?
Christ on a donkey.
Hosanna’s ride a blessing.
The small, sad beast weeps.
There is vast energy and motion in love, a background of intention, that is sometimes rendered in tiny moments.
Water’s blue green deeps,
go rolling toward the seashore,
When Jesus asked us not to worry, because he had overcome the sorrows of this world, and, further, that the things he did we could also do, it seems to me he was talking about our common origin within the mystery of creation. We all share in one life, breathe one breath, that rises up from the ground of being, from our very souls, untouched by “the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
Spanish moss shivers.
Cold wind blows through the oak trees.
Roots lie still and dark.
Dag Hammarskjold is counted by some as a modern mystic, but his day job was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961. He died in that office at the age of 56, killed in a plane crash on his was to cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis. He kept a journal that was published posthumously as Markings. In the year he died, on Whitsunday, he wrote in his journal, “I don’t know Who — or What — put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone — or Something — and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
finding purchase in a yes
Perception is the root of all and everything in this world. When judgment ceases, this world is overcome.
Rooster’s up at dawn.
Owl looks for breakfast at dusk.
I cannot decide.
We talk a lot about the weather, and the weather pays us no mind. But when we listen to the weather, there are songs and stories to hear.
Rain falls on the roof,
a mother’s sweet lullaby.
I go back to sleep.
Wherever I go, there I am. Still, sometimes, there are places I would rather be.
It’s cold in my house.
It’s soft and warm in my bed.
I sigh and get up.
Cloudy puffballs form a pattern like fish scales scattered across the sky and promise a change in the weather. Meteorologists know why sailor’s sayings are true, why a red sky at night is a delight, and why at morning it’s a warning. My grandmother was neither a sailor nor a weather girl on the television, and yet she understood things the sky had to say. She’d not even stop sweeping the front porch to let us in on what was coming our way.
Pale moon, thin halo
Catches a single bright star.
Tomorrow it rains.
I walked my little dog Bobby outside on a foggy, moonless night. A reflection from the porchlight echoed off the ground at my feet, revealing fallen stars.
Fog enshrouds the night,
cold damp breath blows away stars,
crystal dewdrops shine.
One year for the observance of Lent, I gave up reading. That was hard. Another year, I gave up watermelon. That was not hard to do because watermelons are not available until the summer. When once I sat in a pew and listened to a sermon about Lenten sacrifice, I wondered what the priest might himself have in mind.
Forty days of Lent
replicates the sacrifice—
priest gives up his church.
It’s hard to be an animal these days. So many roads to cross with so many cars going so fast. Even if they do have this uncanny ability to cross at right angles, and never run a long diagonal to get to the other side of the road, they still have it rough. Then there’s the one about the slowest of them all catching a big break.
Making funny sounds,
pickup truck chugs to a stop.
Turtle crosses road.
With that super-power called omniscience, He had to know we’d mess this place up. And yet.
In the beginning,
God’s odd intention to love
what shall come undone.
All of my perception is constructed and maintained by personal preferences. I often hope for seeing that’s not so lopsided. Like, when I look at you, if I couldn’t see you, maybe I’d see you better.
Love sees all while blind,
unknown to not-this not-that,
no degrees or kinds.
Love is like itself,
undivided, outside time—
its rhythm its rhyme.
Love counts one as all.
Moments in eternity
rise upon the fall.
I can be hypnotized by a great blue heron wading in the water, it’s movements so very slow and deliberate, like silence in motion. And there is often a heron who visits this stretch of Waterhole Branch. I usually see him—it has to be a male because he is so huge—somewhere along the very same 30-yard bend. Then one evening when the sun and sky were magnificent together, blue palette and flaming pigment, with night already coming out of the ground low in the underbrush, the giant heron glided overhead, now even a whisper from his flight. He was just high enough above the trees to catch the sun’s yellow beams streaming through the live oaks.
Autumn gold twilight,
great blue heron flies overhead.
Silent wings on fire.
Almost every time I am outside, and present, when I am mindful, and not chasing thoughts across other universes, I am rewarded by some small but magnificent act in nature’s grand theater.
Leaf chasing leaf down.
playful like two birds falling.
they land side by side.
Woodsmoke rises straight,
damp air is still and cold tonight.
Harvest moon looks warm.
Oak leaf floating by,
elongated and narrow.
Or maybe a boat.
Clouds follow the sun,
sunset horizon ablaze.
Masterful brush strokes.
Smoke on the water,
early morning mist curling.
It was cold last night.
Young cypress grows there,
character beyond its years.
River laughs quite near.
And sometimes insight is gained outside. Like this last poem, no matter how great, how cool, how lovely our egos would coax us to believe we are, there’s always some other opinion close at hand.
When I saw the hawk, the starlings were moving in his direction, murmuring, flying together like gathered and drifting smoke across a harvested field of cotton, toward bellied power lines strung between bare poles like so many tall crosses in a row. The raptor was a heavy dark spot in a small copse of gray trees on the edge of the field, and it reminded me of a cat that knows it has won the mouse and lays down for a minute to watch it struggle before the kill.
Murmur of starlings,
flying together as one.
Hawk stares from a branch.
For all of our very human endeavor there is a silent Presence, which, even in its passivity, seems more powerful than all our locomotives and tall buildings.
Farmer works the land.
Sailors on ships work at sea.
Clouds keep watch above.
The story of Saul of Tarsus walking on the dusty road to Damascus is, to me, like the story of Siddhartha sitting underneath the Bodhi tree. Both men were of one mind one minute, and the next minute were transformed by some immediate renewal of their minds, even getting new names in the switch, Paul and Buddha, respectively. I am given hope that it’s never too late, as I see clearly that I’m not there yet, but running out of road.
The thief on the cross
proved grace is not time-bound,