Haibun: Poetry

The poetry teacher at the community college said if she lived in the attic like Emily Dickinson, she too could write immortal poetry. But she’s got to be outside, she said; out there, in here, in the classroom, doing something, making some observable contribution now rather than later, in life rather than after death. I don’t know whether she feels internally or externally obligated to be out there doing something. Perhaps she fears the uncertainty of a life where meaning must be found constantly, every moment, because it is not handed over semi-gratis by a taxable but untenable profession with a tenuous title. Maybe it dismays her to look at the empty page and know that the only way she can find any fulfillment is to fill it. That the only way she can give tenable meaning to her untaxable life is to create it herself, unaided and unpaid. Dickinson, and all the other poets who have faced that blank page full on without fall back, must have courage and resilience. It takes courage to rely solely on your own powers of creativity. It takes resilience to pursue what cannot be overtaken, to run a race with no finish, with no one line to cross but the never visible yet always present line that separates you from another.

Hard rain on the roof
Resounding through the May night
A small bird singing

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Haibun: Summer in Arizona

I’m driving home (Well, back east, where I grew up) shortly after school ends. My mom is getting her Ph.D., after over ten years of working on it, off and on. Which is a shame (the going back east, not my mom graduating) because I’ve never been in the desert in the summer. I’ve worked trails in the fall and winter; this semester I was here for the spring. Never the summer. “But why would you want to be in the desert in the summer?” you might ask. “The heat is miserable.” And that’s probably true. All the more reason to be here, to bear it. You can’t know a place until you know it fully, in all seasons. The same with people. Would you marry someone you’ve only known for a week-long Hawaiian vacation? The midnight sun of the far north is best appreciated when you’ve known its noon darkness. The temperate January of the southern Sonoran is all the more refreshing when you’ve known its brutal July. Though I spent the fall with my cousins in Alaska, I haven’t faced the total darkness of the arctic winter. And I still haven’t suffered the ruthless heat of the desert summer. Maybe to know myself fully I’ll have to experience both.

Born an easterner
Northern fall, southwestern spring
Looking for a home

“The Dwindling Counterculture”

The counterculture is dwindling.
Tamed by marijuana,
Stabilized by half-baked if full-hearted efforts towards destabilization,
Bored by endless smoking of cheap cigarettes,
Dispirited by valiantly inept efforts to become free spirits,
The would-be dissidents
Are content now to express a vague and wilted discontent,
To conform to some commercial style of non-conformity,
To repeat the cast-off catch phrases of the original generation.

Back east the future leaders of America study too much,
And take themselves too seriously.
What potential for originality and rebellion they might’ve had
Has been forgotten over lost years of passive compliance.
Maybe they believe it is technology that’ll save us
While out here the post-hippies still think it’s narcotics,
But have lost the generation-defining defiance
And act like untroubled beatniks who haven’t read On The Road,
Or who have read the SparkNotes
And decided the book gives them some good reasons to get stoned.

Getting high is no longer about breaking ground,
No longer about getting lost and finding out.
It’s starting to look
Less like the freedom of timelessness
And more like the slavish mindlessness
Of Huxley’s soma.
No longer using to help heighten powers of imagination and creativity,
Today’s user serves helplessly in the mechanical routine, held in captivity.

My place is certainly not amongst the future leaders of the east,
But neither is it amongst the post-hippies wherever they may be.
No purpose in either place for me, in the long run
My purpose will be to take the long way home,

To find home as I go along,
Risking road-weariness and deliriousness,
Tearing myself asunder in order to understand division,
Not thinking abstractly about hunger and cold and loneliness and derision,
But suffering them all in order to discover again how to recover with pen,

Moving
Like a return man who glides deftly through the opposition towards the
Beginning-zone,
Returning to where there can be no returning from,
Meandering
Like a river that reaches a goal without pursuit of a goal.

No light from above guides the wanderer wintering in the Far North,
But the wanderer finds home as he goes on,
The light within grows steadily all along.

Haibun: Spring in Arizona

I’m hiking with Matt Seats, one of my orientation leaders. We pass the wilderness boundary and head down into Wet Beaver Creek canyon. We are transported from the heat of the semi-high desert (4000 feet) in late-April, surrounded by mesquite, juniper, prickly pear, Mormon tea, into the cool creek, filled with cottonwoods and willows on both banks. We wade in the water when it’s knee-deep and pack-swim when it’s deeper, calmed and comforted by the sound of water flowing, brought back to the Virginia woods we both grew up by.

Desert oasis
Wrens sing and trout swim downstream
Our home keeps moving

Haibun: Winter in Arizona

Driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix with my friend Clayton. On the road. From the snow-capped mountains to the burning valley. In Flag, it’s snowing. In Phoenix, the sun is out, the Suns are out of contention, and nobody’s content but the cats and crazies. It’s a normal Phoenix day in December. We drive around. We go uptown; we turn around and go back downtown. Then we turn around again. We don’t know where we’re going. We park the car at a park to play basketball. After a few minutes, a man who had been watching comes up to Clayton, who is 6 foot 7. “You are tall, man!” the guy informs him. “I mean, when you started playing, I was just sitting there watching, thinking ‘that guy is fucking tall!’ You probably get this a lot, but do have some sort of a disease, like a growth disorder? Or are you healthy?” “I don’t have a disease,” Clayton answers.

Strange day in Phoenix
Spring or summer or winter?
A state of extremes