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.” I am also reminded of Mary Ruefle, who, in “The Butter Festival,” from Dunce, said, “The fourteenth way of looking at a blackbird is mine.”       +       +


            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.