Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 16, 2009

when i die,
it will be alone . . .
an egret
will land on the limb
of an elm tree and stare

robert d. wilson

What is a death poem? A wish? A suicide note? Empty words stirred in a cup of cold tea, just because other people write them? Basho, Shiki, many others have written them, and they stand amongst a poet's best work. We've all had moments when death death beckoned us, telling you that the pain you were (or are) feeling was (is) preferable to life: a wife of 16 years abandoned without notice by a mate who wanted greener fields, left to care for their children, and forced to sign up for public welfare; an old person without Alzheimer's disease left alone by his family to die in a convalescent hospital, unvisited, the place a hell hole without a doctor, urine and Lysol in the air, staring at walls and television until he finally dies or becomes senile, treated like an infant by nurse's aides, wearing a paper plate bonnet tied with a ribbon around this head to celebrate Easter Sunday or Christmas, the celebrants, Orphan Annie eyed, stooped over in a world laced with who knows what.

Life dishes out the unexpected, nothing is for sure, always changing, and unpredictable. One moment this, in the next, that. None of us have gone to school to learn how to deal with grief, loneliness, pain, especially when unexpected. A soldier talking to a buddy and in an instant, holding his buddy's intestines . . . shooting a 7 year old girl to death while charging at him with a hand grenade . . . A young girl sitting in the back seat of the family sedan with her toddler sister, when suddenly, her drunken father rams a telephone pole, leaving their mother and father dead and brutally disfigured . . . a child raped nightly by a drunk father held down by her mother. HIV, cancer, a heart attack . . . no age is exempt. Pain hurts, psychological or physical, the idea killing one's self, tempting.

The death poem. Many are beautiful, lending insight into the mindset of a poet preparing to die. Some commit suicide, some accept death, looking forward to what comes afterwards, a part of the natural progression of life. Books have been written about them, dissertations and essays. My death poem, a tanka, is above under my haiga. It's for you to interpret as you are not me and vise versa. What doe it tell you about yourself? About me? Does it make you uncomfortable? Judgmental? Upset?
Sometimes what you read and how you interpret a poem is a mirror speaking to you.

I like what Carol McRury wrote about death haiku in a past issue of Simply Haiku:

"Basho said that each verse he wrote was in effect his ‘death poem.' This speaks to the practice of mindful living—a deep awareness of the transience of all things. The moment we are born we begin our odyssey towards understanding the meaning of our lives in the hopes of coming to grips with the fact we must die."

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
Sick on a journey,
my dreams wander
the withered fields.

Yosa Buson (1716-1783)
An autumn eve -
An hour of leisure
In a fleeting life.

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827)
A bath when you're born,
a bath when you die,
how stupid.

excerpted from: http://www.simplyhaiku.com/SHv2n5/haiga_modern/carole_macrury/death_poems.html

Mount Fuji, Japan's revered, sacred volcano, translated means "no death." What is meant by this name? Is it symbolic or something to take literally?

The Japanese philosophy of death differs from the occidental conceptualization. Most Japanese see death as something natural, a step closer to nirvana. Writes Yoel Hoffman in his book, Japanese Death Poems, ". . . the Japanese attitude to death, which according to Hoffman “takes place in an atmosphere of serenity, with almost pleasurable expectation of the voyage to the next world”. "the Japanese attitude to death, which according to Hoffman “takes place in an atmosphere of serenity, with almost pleasurable expectation of the voyage to the next world”.

I wake and find
the colored iris
I saw in my dream

translated by Yoel Hoffmann

An excerpt from Hoffmann's book, Japanese Death Poems:

Shushiki's poem reflects a viewpoint of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, of which Sino-Japanese Buddhism is a part, as opposed to that of the older Theravada branch. ...the world of phenomenon [is] called "color" in Buddhist literature... In Shushiki's poem, she awakens from the dream world of colored irises into the world of truth, and there, too, irises are found."

Death is inevitable. To the Atheist, it's an end; to the Japanese it's a journey (hopefully a progressive one), while to the Occidental mind it can represent a host of meanings influenced by religion, guilt, a lack of hope, etc. I have stood an inch away from death on several occasions. i've considered suicide. I've been shot at, hit by cars, mortared, rockets, battered emotionally and physically, but I'm still kicking. In one year, my mother died, I was asked for a divorce on the day I learned of her dying, which wasn't expected, told I'd never se my daughter again, and this was the day after my wife at the time joined me in signing the final papers for buying a house. Suddenly I had to find a place to live, I got in a wreck late at night on a dark mountain rode and went over a cliff, and that's just for starters. Life can be hell, and some of us get more than our share. I am one of them. I'm different than most people, and feel ill at ease around crowds. I have helped thousands of people change their lives for good and not just in the area of teaching, but if I were to die today, I doubt there'd be more than ten people present, and most of them wouldn't shed a tear, and be there out of obligation.

LIfe is never what you think it will be. There's more to live than yesterday and today. Depending on your spiritual or lack of spiritual beliefs can influence how you see the future. I think I am being prepared for eternity and life is school, and yes, I admit, I often get tired of attending school. But it is a 24/7 university without breaks except for sleep and unless interrupted by a nightmare, either awake or unawake. We all live in the Wonderland Amusement Park . . . clouds floating here and there, pushed by the wind and unpredictable weather . . . Life's not our own, our bodies dissipate, and all we really have is a state of mind, and when one suffers from chemical imbalances, that becomes even more difficult. We can learn from the Japanese, not that they are all paragons of peace and perfection.. Their conceptualization of death is healthy. I hope someday I can buy into it 100%. Right now now I'm trying, and sometimes, I am hanging on by a thin worn out thread. I write poetry to share, to exorcise, to rid myself of demons and dragons, and to find understanding. I'm not you, you're not me, and we can never be each other's mirrors. And that's okay. Time for me to take my meds and attempt the impossible, getting a good night's sleep. It's 3:09 in the morning.

sitting in a
stagnant pond
thinking dreams
could come true

sunset . . .
another lie to
live through

love, an
existential term
gray water
bubbling slowly;
home to what isn't

stillness . . .
a moment threading
tall grass

dry stream . . .
another lie
doing what
everyone's done to
me, peeling truth

an anthem
not a password . . .

why do girls
paint themselves and
walk past me
knowing they'll
twist me in two?

clowns, whores . . .
waiting until an
okra blossoms

in and out
of dreams that serve
as mirrors . . .
a cheshire cat
posing for playboy

why does the
sun hide behind clouds?
fucking the moon?

hallucinations, the
lsd trip
pulsing in a
jig saw puzzle mind

hatred . . .
a black widow
wanting love

damn alarm . . .
reminds me that
wet dreams
are shadows born
on starless nights!

the now, a
wall dali painted
with sperm

when i die,
it will be alone . . .
an egret
will land on the limb
of an elm tree and stare

speak to me
bamboo, see me
through my dream

we'll stare
at each other, stars . . .
before dawn,
on the ridge below
heaven's river

after noon . . .
the air caressing
grass fields

i don't want
my smile to come
from a cork . . .
my pillow, tonight, the
softness of your breasts

tonight, moon . . .
no stars, clouds will
mute our words

robert d. wilson