9/22/01

EPIC haiku salon

At the Ehime Prefecture Cultural Center a group of Japanese haikuists meet once a month to discuss haiku they have written in English. The group is composed of many talented individuals and shepherded by a charismatic haikuist named Yoshino Yoshiki. The discussion is lively and, when necessary, translated by Solveig Manthey who works at the center as Coordinator for International Relations. She herself is also a haikuist of considerable talent. Actually, it is wrong to single any one out: I think the list would read as a who's who of haiku (quoth the owl) in Matsuyama. I had a great time at the meeting. It may be I was a little too enthusiastic. Once I suggested, lobbying to keep a couple of words in a particular haiku; that - though shortness is always desirable - if a tall American beauty walked into the room, she would not be improved by shortening her legs. All in all though, my sometimes ill-advised polemics were received with a neutralizing grace that kept me out of trouble.

Shiki Memorial Museum

This was a day of contrasts. It was a contrast between the living word and the word held in reverence. The Shiki Museum is a quiet place, displaying items that tell the chronology of Shiki's life. There were numerous books and photographs and such. It is a place where a man's effects are on display. It is a memorial site and does an effective job in honoring the father of modern haiku. Some of Shiki's drawings were there as well, though most were being exhibited at a nearby gallery. "Effects" is a triggering word for me. If Shiki's effects were on display, I found his "effect" more evident at the Mourning Anniversary where the living relatives sang shigin and where a palpable spirit was evoked. I found his 'effect' it in the advertisement booklets distributed in the shopping arcades, on posters near the baseball stadium, and in conversations everywhere. His true legacy is in the city and its people who are and will continue to be energized in the presence of literary history. His spirit abides in the lively exchanges of the E.P.I.C. haiku salon. Shiki wrote even when he was too weak to hold the paper; death closing in on him like a blank sheet or a ceiling tile closing in on his face. He filled the blank space with life.
Sometimes I think the saints, the true martyrs are not those who die for their beliefs so much as those who live for them.Much of this is hindsight. In approaching this section I found myself at a loss for words. Yet, as many haiku fall into a category of "greeting haiku," honoring a place visited

how quiet
the Shiki Museum-
house of bells

with Shiki's statue

so too, will travelogues generate according to their own devices. May we chime as well as our housing and the hour permits.

Professor Sumioka

It is with such in mind that I recall most poignantly being taken to the Matsuyama Hospital to visit Professor Marabu Sumioka. Professor Sumioka is largely responsible for making a bell of the internet, ringing Shiki to the world. The poignancy is not sympathy for a man suffering from leukemia as much as it is for a man very much alive in the hands of his destiny. It is because of men and women like Professor Sumioka that literary history is not simply a history - but a continuing history. If Shiki's effect on haiku was something kin to CPR, others have assured the patient survived. Professor Sumioka had asked to meet me and Kim asked if I would mind going.

sunset-
a beggar will not complain
the coin is too heavy

In my brief case (both the physical one I carried and the existential one inside me) I had several CD's of music (original) I brought to Japan as gifts for my hosts. The CD, titled, "The Trinket Box" was the only thing I had to offer Professor Sumioka. I took it as an omen that behind the nurses' station there was a somewhat abstract rendering of a guitar among flowers. Further, Kim reassured me when she said she believed my music had healing potential. Well, I thought, at least it is a placebo for empty handedness. How could I truly repay this man who was responsible for my being in Japan?

Kim and I take a taxi to the restaurant where the Shiki team waits. There are many entrees on the table, but it has been a long day and I do not take notes to preserve them in my journal's springhouse. The strategy of asking and jotting just doesn't seem the correct response to a party thrown in one's honor. Additionally, there are so many types of sake demanding my attention that I think it best to prioritize. The centerpiece of the table is a sea bream, beached in its entirety on a platter. Sprawled across the plate like a wide-eyed pin-up it, sports a beamish expression that is incongruous to its predicament. Not certain how to proceed or who is to start this feast, I decide to take a picture of the fish, apologizing to the beautiful ladies present for seeming to prefer its aspect to theirs.

the sea bream

last feast of summer-
the ladies smile when I take
the sea bream's picture

wide-eyed-
the fish does not blink
when I eat it

A fair maiden of Ehime took it on herself to assist me. She was sitting directly across from me and must have realized my cultural confusion. If I fell in love many times in Japan, it was natural, innocent and spontaneous. I fell in love with people and I fell in love with moments. I fell in love with this woman who served the sake I dubbed "mono no aware," as later I would fall in love with others as I was led through streets on the other side of the earth in a city that could make ones head spin with or without sake. Who is so blind he cannot be ambushed by beauty, or conversely, so aware? Let this be my rapture for everyone and every moment I fell in love with, each as brief as a haiku moment -- and as lasting. One may talk of myth and reality as if they were separate entities, but the "fair maiden of Ehime" walks everywhere in Shikoku. And-yes-I think my fair maiden at home would understand the spell I was under, as she knows my brain is not a box of rocks and my eyes are not peeled grapes. She also knows that the genealogical instinct for self-preservation has been effectively sublimated by the instinctual proclivity toward self-expression in the medium of the language arts.

Contrary to the way I thought it would be - I enjoyed Japanese cuisine immensely, yet, after consuming many delicacies and many quaffs of sake, I knew something was up when all eyes shifted between me and the next item the fair maiden placed upon my plate. It resembled mustard slime. It was not delicious, but neither was it offensive; still, an eight year old lives inside me: I fell back as if poisoned, then, recovering, ate the rest of it.

sea urchin-
I swoon,
then smile

The only dish that gave me pause was a platter of cow tongues. It didn't look good and it didn't taste good. Everyone, like me, must have been thinking of mad cow disease. Only the tiniest slivers slipped down our throats:

summer's over-
the plate of cow tongues
has told me so

Somewhere/sometime during all this, the fair maiden of Ehime disappeared to walk in other parts of Shikoku, but in the way that, when one's life is charmed, charming things occur; she returned presently with a gift of candied beans, the name of which this Jack-in-the-bean-stalk character can't recall.
I play a couple of clumsy tunes on my guitar- Hiromi had been kind enough to deliver- and distribute my (now international) CD to the group. Soon, after more feasting, conversation and sake - the fairy-tale night is finished. Hiromi and I go "home" in a taxi.