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 I’m grateful. Editor Mary Elizabeth Gillilan describes this poem by saying that “Michael translates an abstract reality into concrete imagery. One you will read over and over.” 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.