April 2009

harusame ya

Ranko (student of Basho, fl. 17th c.)

Harusame ya yane no ogusa ni hana sakinu

Spring rain:
flowers opening
on the thatched roof.

*

Taniguchi Buson (1715-1783)

Harusame ya kawazu no hara no mada nurezu

Spring rain:
not enough yet to moisten
the frog’s belly.

*

Harusame ya monogatari yuku mino to kasa

Spring rain:
a patter of gossip
from raincoat & umbrella.

*

Harusame ya dôsha no kimi no sasamegoto

Spring rain:
my lover’s low whisper
in a shared carriage.

*

Harusame ni nuretsutsu yane no temari kana

Spring rain:
a rag ball on the roof
is getting soaked.

*

Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826)

Harusame ya ai ni aioi no matsu no koe

Spring rain:
the voices of a pair of pines
growing side by side.

*

Harusame ya yabu ni fukaruru sute tegami

Spring rain:
a discarded letter blows
into the bushes.

*

Harusame ya uo oi-nogasu ura no inu

Spring rain:
a dog on the shore
chases the fish.

*

Harusame ya na wo tsumi ni yuku ko andon

Spring rain:
going out with a small lantern
to pick vegetables.

*

Harusame ya kuware-nokori no kamo ga naku

Spring rain:
the lusty quacking of ducks
that haven’t been eaten.

*

Harusame ni ôakubi suru bijin kana

Spring rain:
a pretty woman
yawns.

*

Harusame ya imo ga tamoto ni zeni no oto

Spring rain:
in my wife’s sleeve,
the sound of coins.

*

Harusame ya neko ni odori oshieru ko

Spring rain:
a child is teaching the cat
how to dance.

*

Harusame ya hara wo herashi ni yu ni tsukaru

Spring rain:
I draw a hot bath
to settle my stomach.

***

Translated with the help of a dictionary and some imagination.

a numbered post for lucas green

1
A newspaper over the sink to catch the hair — last year’s headlines.

2
It seems some ants don’t work at all, & the others never notice.

3
The peepers’ convocation is full of ominous silences.

4
When we kept pigs, my brothers and I would take turns grabbing the electric fence.

5
Every curse was a dollar closer to owning the OED.

6
Green tomatoes into the hot pickle crock & dollar bills into the jar.

7
The first year we had pigs, we ate their brains & called it head cheese.

8
In Taiwan, I could never bring myself to eat fried chicken feet.

9
Tadpoles in the shrinking puddle bum-rush each fallen catkin.

10
Bobbing in the wind, a bumblebee beside the bleeding-hearts.

11
Bleary-eyed, I run electric clippers over my scalp.

In response to the poem “moth,” by Ivy Alvarez.

The fact that I still remember the word for moth in Japanese is a bit of a fluke — I’ve forgotten so much else. But it was etched in my mind because I used to crash on the couch of a guy who had a phobia about moths, of which there were plenty on muggy summer nights in Osaka. We’d be sitting around drinking, and suddenly he’d leap up yelling “Ga! Gaaaaa!” and waving his arms about, as if trying to take flight. Order would only be restored when the intruder was killed or managed to escape.

It happens that he and I were both mooning over the same woman then, though we’d made our peace with each other. There was a certain amount of comfort, in fact, in getting drunk with someone who shared your predicament down to the smallest detail: being in love with someone who had slept with another man — even if, as in our case, we were each other’s other man. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that heterosexual male bonding can’t be a beautiful thing.

The moths were small, pale, dusty creatures, not unlike the majority of moths here in the northeastern United States. Perhaps like our moths, they represented diverse species, some of them quite rare, and distinguishable one from another sometimes only by a careful examination of their genitalia. I don’t know. I wasn’t really thinking about biodiversity back then, and I was years away from reading Fabre’s classic studies that showed how moths’ acute sensitivity to pheromones makes them capable of detecting female moths from miles away. It is this capacity that allows some species to persist at very low population densities, as long as individuals of the opposite sex can still find each other on the far side of a forest, or a city — and can manage to escape moth-phobics with wildly waving arms.

And the lights, the lights. What explained the moths’ perennial and often fatal attraction to light? Centuries of tradition and the analogy with our own hormone- and alcohol-addled brains suggested that it was desire. That’s certainly how it looks. But to a moth, desire is signaled by chemicals — pheromones — picked up through the antennae. It turns out that a moth spirals into a light not out of desire but from sheer confusion. The only nighttime light of any brightness in their evolutionary history was the moon, and because the moon appears at optical infinity — far enough away that its rays are nearly parallel — it makes an excellent navigational aid. A moth can fly in a straight line simply by triangulating off the moon.

I seem to recall steadying myself by gazing at the moon on a drunken walk home more than once myself. Earlier that spring, there had been a full lunar eclipse, and I made a point of staying sober enough to appreciate it. I’ve seen three or four lunar eclipses since, and the only reason why I remember that one so vividly is because of my surprise at the aforementioned woman when, the next morning, she admitted she didn’t know the moon had been eclipsed. She had gone out with someone else, they’d had too much to drink, and when she caught sight of the blood-red moon she’d assumed the alcohol had affected her vision somehow, she said.

I wonder if she’d been with that other fellow, about whom I was still clueless at that point. How he must have danced when the moths lost their bright compass in the sky and came zeroing in, kamikaze-style, on the nearest substitute! When I think back on that time now, I really can’t recall, except in a very abstract sense, the desire I felt — only the confusion. Those lips and eyes I thought I’d never forget are indistinguishable now from dozens of others in my memory. But that soft rattle against rice paper, a small pale form turned suddenly into a figure of menace: that I can recall as clear as day. Ga!

Shortcut through the fields—
a brush of wings against
my moonlit face.

Amelanchier 3

The last cattails lose their upholstery
in shadblow time
Men in camouflage work their turkey calls
in shadblow time

Amelanchier 2

I found a flattened snake curled like an ampersand
in shadblow time
I read about the army interrogator who put a bullet through her head
in shadblow time

Amelanchier 1

The world first learned about Abu Ghraib
in shadblow time
Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada sings the white-throated sparrow
in shadblow time

Shadbush blossoms

The shocking red of the first tanager
in shadblow time
The talk shows were full of rage
in shadblow time

***

Shadblow, also known as shadbush, Juneberry, sarvis, and serviceberry, is a small tree in the Amelanchier genus native to the woodlands of eastern North America. It can be hard to identify due to hybridization between species: primarily A. arborea, A. humilis, and A. canadensis. It is one of the first native trees to flower in the spring, producing delicious fruit in early summer that tastes like a cross between blueberries and cherries. In Plummer’s Hollow, as in much of the folded Appalachians, it seems fondest of the most acid, rockiest soils, growing as a spottily abundant member of the chestnut oak – red oak – pitch pine – mountain laurel forest type.

Tomorrow is the last day to submit links for the next Festival of the Trees, which will feature posts on flowering trees.