Picking my favourite haiku was not a problem. It was honing it to 10 that was the difficult part. Among the poems that I let go was Basho’s “on a bare branch”. Please forgive me, Master. But I had to keep Shiki’s New Year’s Day poem. The idea of embracing each moment as if it were New Year’s Day is the way I want to live:
has New Year’s Day
one’s whole life has Now!
– Shiki (trans: Emiko Miyashita, Lee Gurga, and Nanae Tamura)
Virginia Brady Young and Mary Hill captured for me so eloquently two of those moments:
The sight of a lark’s
throat throbbing! A woman
shelling peas . . .
– Virginia Brady Young
sliding into bed-
butterflies on the ceiling
– Mary Hill
It delights me to see how Linda Papanicolaou put into language the quick, jerky movement of one small creature:
– Linda Papanicolaou
How can one describe the horror of war; its magnitude seems beyond words. And yet, here are two poems that stun me with their power:
in the dark at the end of the hall
– Hakusen Watanabe (trans: Dhugal J. Lindsay)
the mute button
– Fay Aoyagi
Here are some poems about life-first, its beginning:
akanbo no chichi ni suitsuku ine no hana
the infant sucking
his mother’s milk
– Kai Hasegawa (trans: Fay Aoyagi and Patricia J. Machmiller)
I included the Japanese and the Romaji because I want you to be able to experience the sound of the poem in its original language. Can you hear the baby sucking?
And here’s a poem on life’s struggle. Kiyoshi Tokutomi was my teacher and I know of his life-long struggle with poor health and loss of hearing; yet I admired how he always sought to be optimistic and cheerful – to hold life close, to never give up.
I try to toss a pebble
to the other shore
– Kiyoshi Tokutomi
My other teacher was Kiyoko Tokutomi. She has many poems which I could have picked, but I chose this one which she wrote in her final year when she was suffering from Alzheimer’s as well as cancer. She was a master of writing in the five-seven-five form whether she was writing in Japanese or English. I think it is an amazing poem.
in a comfortable chair
two hours of winter
– Kiyoko Tokutomi
This tenth and last poem is to me like a prayer. I recite it daily.
oh, autumn wind!
blow everything away
but my life
– Shiki (trans: Lee Gurga, and Nanae Tamura)
Editor’s note: Patricia Machmiller began writing haiku in 1975 with Kiyoshi and Kiyoko Tokutomi, founders of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. She served as the society’s president from 1978 to 1981, and co-edited Young Leaves: 25th Anniversary Issue of Haiku Journal. She and Jerry Ball write a regular column of haiku commentary, “Dojins’ Corner”, for Geppo, the newsletter of YTHS. Patricia is also an artist and has incorporated haiku into her artwork, which can be seen at her website. Read some of Patricia’s haiku here.
Read about the lives of the Tokutomis and some of their haiku here.