Seventeen Ways of Looking at a Haiku

First published in Clover: A Literary Rag, #11, June 2016, pages 203–207. Originally written in September of 2006. Clover nominated this poem for a Pushcart Prize in December of 2016, for which Im very grateful. See also my essay, “Thirteen Ways of Reading Haiku.” See also Melissa Allen’s poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens” and Ron Padgett’s poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Haiku.”      +     +

            In the morning
            after rain
            that one green leaf
            catching the sun.

            It’s the tilt of the earth,
            I remind myself,
            that produces seasons,
            cycles of metaphor
            for use when a dying man
            hasn’t finished loving.

            Do the words
            capture the moment
            or become the moment,
            the aching swerve of rust
            on an old gate hinge?

            Only when split
            in two
            does the fresh watermelon
            tell its secret.

            In the sunlit classroom,
            the teacher talks and talks of penguins
            at the north pole.

            Your inhalation,
            not quite a gasp,
            is all I need to know
            that my experience
            matches yours.

            You ask me to join you on the porch
            to watch the fireflies.
            I do not ask for an answer
            to the question I have not asked.

            Why count the grains of sand?
            Isn’t it enough
            to feel their coolness in shadows,
            to dance over their heat
            until you reach the surf?

            When walking, walk.
            When sitting, sit.
            Above all, don’t wobble.
            The poem does not lie.

            The heart monitor’s monotonous blips . . .
            To catch just one
            before they end.
            To catch just one,
            any one,
            but the last.
            Or maybe
            even the last one
            will do just fine.

            When it is dark, I turn on my lamp.
            It is because I know
            that you do the same thing
            that I trust the poem.

            How can you interpret joy?
            The nature of things
            is to be what they are.
            Classification and dissection
            is the scientist’s art.

            You laugh at the old dog
            who brings you his leash,
            clenched between his teeth.
            That, it seems to the divine,
            is more important
            than the route you take,
            or whether you lead the dog
            or the dog leads you.

            In the evening,
            the wind chime can be just as silent
            or clangy
            as in the morning.
            It is all you have to do—
            just notice.

            The canoe rounds the river bend
            to show another red-winged blackbird
            singing on a bulrush.
            It does not matter that you cannot tell
            this one from the previous,
            or from the next—or even if you can.
            What matters is that you lifted the paddle,
            lifted it,
            and let the canoe glide.

            There is no escape from self
            the yin and yang
            of good and evil
            but to turn to the sun,
            the moon, the rain, the blossoms,
            the tiniest snowflake
            that first falls in autumn.

            After gossip,
            the words dissolve like sugar
            into the fragrant tea,
            done now,
            with steeping.