Favourite Haiku by Patricia J. Machmiller

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:

The year
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
already sleeping

– Mary Hill

It delights me to see how Linda Papanicolaou put into language the quick, jerky movement of one small creature:

here
then not
newt

– 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:

The War
in the dark at the end of the hall
it stood

– Hakusen Watanabe (trans: Dhugal J. Lindsay)

Nagasaki Anniversary
I push
the mute button

– Fay Aoyagi

Here are some poems about life-first, its beginning:

赤ん坊の乳に吸ひつく稲の花
akanbo no chichi ni suitsuku ine no hana

the infant sucking
his mother’s milk
rice flowers

– 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.

Spring melancholy
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.

Chemotherapy
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.

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