Jay Gelzer’s Haiku Soul

Written in November and December of 2013, about a year after Jay’s death. Not previously published. See the Jay Gelzer memorial page on the Haiku Northwest site for additional reminiscences and sample poems.

Jay Gelzer
26 March 1943 – 29 December 2012

If anyone ever had a haiku soul, surely that person was Jay Gelzer. The first time I met her was the day, to my knowledge, that she became interested in haiku. It was 2006. I had just given a haiku workshop for the Mensa Society of Western Washington, and Jay was in the audience. She talked to me afterwards, as did several others, and I encouraged each of them to come to Haiku Northwest meetings. There was something warm and relaxed about Jay that stood out, though, and I had a hunch that she in particular would really enjoy the group. She began attending, and enjoyed each meeting she could make it to, despite the challenges of illness, especially her first bout with cancer that kept her away for more than a year. During that time, I occasionally emailed encouragement to her, and while she was mostly too ill to respond, her close friend, Jean Dinaburg, contacted me to say how much Jay appreciated my gestures. I and others were pleased when she was able to rejoin the group, and we especially enjoyed her participation in the 2011 and 2012 Seabeck Haiku Getaways. I took pictures of Jay at both retreats, and they’re both shown here.

                that ready smile—
                her tale of finding
                a marvelous morel

        Despite a clear love of haiku and a deep love for Haiku Northwest, Jay seldom shared haiku of her own. We learned later that she felt her haiku to be too dark, often reflecting her health challenges and the sudden death of her son. I had created a member page for Jay on the Haiku Northwest website, and wrote to ask if she had poems I could post for her, but despite my asking gently several times, over a period of several years, she never sent any poems. But she didn’t say no, either; she wanted to send work, but didn’t think they were right for the page. Another facet of Jay we all came to know was that publishing and sharing her haiku was not nearly as important as the friendships and camaraderie she enjoyed in and out of our monthly haiku gatherings.

                autumn haiku meeting—
                all of us smile at the poem she says
                isn’t any good

        After the 2011 Seabeck Haiku Getaway, I had the privilege to visit Jay’s home. She was fortunate to live on a floating home, one of Seattle’s most uncommon and distinctive housing options, on Lake Union, across from the Space Needle. That was Jay. She knew what she wanted, what she loved. Despite obstacles, she did her best to get herself as near as possible to whatever fueled her spirit.

                a Japanese maple
                red by her window . . .
         
       a sort of blooming

        
That gentle spirit was infectious. All of us around Jay felt a close connection—she had that effect on everyone, it seemed, an openness to life and its celebration, even while she remained largely private and even closed about painful aspects of her personal life, including much of her cancer. It was not so much that she was private, but that she was compassionate in not wishing to burden anyone else with her troubles.

                the glance between friends . . .
                a stranger’s mention
                of cancer

        Jay’s son died suddenly in 2012, and I cannot imagine the grief that caused her. Yet she was still able to come to the Seabeck retreat that fall. She told me she had the energy, both emotional and physical, to attend only some of the weekend’s many activities. I checked in with her several times during the weekend, and talked about my uncle’s sudden death in a plane crash that summer, and my sister’s bout with breast cancer. Even though she had so much on her mind, I delighted in the fact that she made the effort to be there with us all, as much as she could manage. Whether it was haiku or other haiku people that fueled her spirit, she needed that fuel. Yet she fueled others even more.

                the nurse log
                wet with moss and ferns—
                sorrel swaying

        Of course, none of us could imagine Jay Gelzer would be dead two months after we had all seen her at the 2012 Seabeck retreat. But she died as best she could, on her own terms, when she learned that her cancer had returned—severe, inoperable, and terminal. I have a photo I took at Jay’s houseboat in the fall of 2011, a close-up of a potted Japanese maple. Somehow, I think of those bright red leaves when I think of Jay Gelzer. Strong, vibrant, yet warm as could be. I am personally honoured to have known her, and to count her as a friend. What a haiku soul she had!

                perfect for the seeds—
                rain and sun
                on her memorial day


Jay’s Memorial at Seabeck

The memorial time we had for Jay Gelzer at the 2013 Seabeck Haiku Getaway was very moving—I cried, when I hadn’t expected to. Leading it was harder than I anticipated. A few others were in tears too, and the sharing around the room was transcendent, filled with love. I wish we could have recorded what everyone said. Only six or seven people spoke (in a room of 35 or 40), but they spoke for everyone. There were moments of quietness, too. Immediately afterwards, we took turns reading the Japanese haiku translations from William Higginson’s “Butterfly Dreams” multimedia presentation, viewing the nature photographs of Michael Lustbader, which added to the tribute. It was something I think Jay would have loved.

                 twilight—
                 the crows outlast
                 the gardener

                         —Jay Gelzer