Preconfigured deities

I arranged this poem as a series of linked morae of seventeen syllables of the haiku/senryu 5/7/5 pattern.

In a world of the brilliant spark of life, the desire to survive, rival species, judgment and chaos, I took inspiration from periodical cicadas.

They are quite an interesting bug of the order Hemiptera, genus Magicicada and comprise seven of the approx. 3,000 species of cicadas which only occur in the eastern United States. Unlike most cicadas, periodical cicadas lay eggs that hatch and then their nymphs burrow underground for either 13 or 17 years, depending on the species, while subsisting on xylem fluids of rootlets. Brood X of 2021 (roman numeral – ten) was one of the largest groups. Cicadas emerge when ground temperatures reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit. This year it was in May. Males of the periodical cicadas sing using special organs called tymbals which are membranes that vibrate very quickly when pulled by tiny muscles and this vibration creates the cicada’s song.

Cicadas protest
the harsh light.       A horary
ear splitting drumroll
            of sunday sermons -

simply pungent polemic
   crowding around in
a bowl of       sticky
      gruel      ad infinitum

   Stars made no promise
to enflame the sky,
poet! Yet,    how we believe ..
      unctuous metaphor,

sparking delusions,
   imagery       combust .. piss ..
on the bathroom floor.
The Stoic's ablaze. We 

rise to bright, indifferent
self immolation.
Stars fade, cool, splutter
supernovas. The light's not
         always about us.

We are,
             because of ...

For those interested, there is the cicadasafariapp available online, that maps annual cicada emergence and helps share and identify species.

Some references:
https://source.wustl.edu/2021/05/brood-x-cicadas-emerge-in-a-rapidly-changing-world/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/martinsvillebulletin.com/news/local/the-secret-underground-life-of-cicadas/article_1c6ac5a5-a40d-5c38-a5a9-622a9150dbce.amp.html

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/cicadas-brood-x.htm

Wetland Haiku

Here are some Haiku I posted at my Instagram handle. I photographed the plants while on a walk in a marshland.

Dark, red rum cherries 
of summer, drip bittersweet.
The heart remembers.
Rose-mallow unfurls.
Lady leaves her parasol
in Eden's bower.
Thick rain lashed burdock.
The sun will hurl a rainbow
at senescent sky.
Long myths of pokeweed.
Healing colours of marshes,
are poison berries.

Polk Salad / Poke Sallet to the Haiku of Richard Wright ~ an exploration

Poisons come in all manner or form and the ones found in the plant body of Pokeweed are potently toxic. Fatal in large amounts, in smaller doses though, they are sufficient enough to make one seriously ill. The ingestion of any part of the plant might result in symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and rapid heartbeat. As someone noted of poke-sallet or Phytolacca: “It will clean you out from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.” [1] The dish Polk Salad (made from its young leaves) itself is a form of survival cooking, a necessary thrice boiling out of toxins, like the purging of demons. Now what does Pokeweed have to do with Haiku one might ask …

As part of the Sealey Challenge [2], I took up the only poetry book written by artist Richard Nathaniel Wright, well known American author of Native Son and Black Boy, [3] who began writing Haiku towards the end of his life, thousands of them during his grueling battle with Amoebic dysentery and it quite melded with the Pokeweed I chanced upon during a marshland walk recently.

Phytolacca occupies that twilight zone between being totem and mascot of  poke-sallet themed festivals in Kentucky to noxious weed turned rare famine food. As a vermifuge (anthelmintic – medicines used against worms) it has had its use at a time when people were constantly plagued by gastrointestinal parasites, but today, it occupies disturbed land and is actually great food for songbirds. Native to eastern North America and the South, it is used as an ornamental in horticulture and is of some utility in biomedical research although for most part it is considered a pest or weed as it is poisonous to wild animals and livestock.

Phytolacca americana, also known as American pokeweed, pokeweed, poke sallet, dragonberries is a poisonous, herbaceous perennial plant in the pokeweed family Phytolaccaceae [4].

The berries develop from flowers that arise on elongated inflorescences called racemes; beautiful, symmetrical, predictable patterns like Haiku emerge, engorged on metaphor it would appear, they ripen to a debilitating crimson philosophy. Thus, they are quite unlike a traditional Haiku in construction, but if the flowering of Pokeweed is used as an analogy to  poetic process, it develops more like a trenchant Senryu.

In the helpful afterword by Hakutani and Tener, the editors of Richard Wright’s ‘Haiku, This other world’, the authors maintain that  Wright’s work was more Senryu than Haiku because he struggled to develop austerity in them i.e. the absence of philosophical or metaphysical comment, the absence of intellectualisation or imposition of an excessive rationality [5] Haiku essentially stresses non-intellectuality, a Zen kind of humour, lightness, a lack of sentimentality, profusion of joy and a deep connection with Nature. 

I understand Haiku to be more of a practice in the ‘where, what and when’ rather than the ‘how and why’, while Senryu is more of a mock Haiku despite the similarity in 5/7/5 syllabic arrangement, they are more logical and less intuitive. Hakutani and Tener suggest that the major themes in Wright’s haiku reveal his desire to create another world in which his black and white focus would be part of his feeling for nature, that he writes more often about death and the setting sun, about the moon and loneliness, about scarecrows, the rain, about farms and farm animals, about birds and insects, and about spring, the season of blossoms and blooming magnolias.

Traditional classical haiku thrives on the connection between man and nature, and has as its central focus, nature centred feelings of unity and harmony similar to Zen philosophy, which also stresses the experience of the present moment in life or in nature. Within the seventeen syllablic construction itself, two entirely different experiences may be joined in sameness: spirit and matter, present and future, doer and deed, word and thing, meaning and sensation (Hakutani and Tener). Haiku embodies Yugen. Wabi and Sabi. Yugen is a delicate principle of philosophy in Zen Metaphysics, applied to art to denote the mysterious, underlying the surface. Sabi is related to loneliness, a quiet graceful beauty, and Wabi to the uniquely human perception of beauty stemmed from poverty. Japan’s greatest Haiku poet, Matsuo Basho [6] is known to have used the aesthetics of Yugen, Wabi and Sabi. His poetry majorly illustrates that if a poet’s feelings were conveyed in haiku, then those must have been aroused by nature, the four seasons, flowers and even the moon.

Yet, the poems of Richard Wright, some of which read as Senryu if viewed under a classical lens, feel like an amalgam of the antithetical, of subtle beauty with a strong flavour, like Pokeweed. Then again, isn’t intrinsic harmony of being, simply a matter of perception? Aren’t our words merely an inadequate contrivance for harmonising that which we are unable to reconcile, given inherited ideas of beauty and perfection? A plant like Phytolacca, viewed from the principle of Yugen, is perfection in symmetry yet a potent poison. What poetic form could deny the clear beauty of a dangerous inflorescence, its inherent toxicity that would arouse  the emotion of fear or an action to self preservation, a serious aftertaste of misgivings. Even devoid of metaphor, Pokeweed is nature at its finest, benign in form but threatening a perilous interaction. Whether it be Senryu or Haiku, words do little justice to the thoughtlessness recommended in classical Haiku, no matter the strict adherence to form and yet words are all we have.

I have selected some of Wright’s Haiku to share, which I hope are not of disservice to what the author accomplished, given his own understanding and exploration of the form. Reading Wright’s process and the illuminating afterword provided by Hakutani and Tener has been useful in my own education on succinct verse.

Long myths of pokeweed.
Healing colours of marshes
are poison berries.

~ davina

References:

[1]~https://www.saveur.com/poke-sallet/

[2]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wright_(author)

[3]~https://lithub.com/the-sealey-challenge-an-expansive-way-of-reading-poetry/

[4]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytolacca_americana

[5]~Richard Wright, Haiku – this other world, pages 255, 279, 282

[6]~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/basho

Seize the day !

At breakfast one day ~ a friend taught me the art of poaching eggs the right way. It requires that you sieve off the very watery white before you poach the remainder of the yolk and  white in boiling water. She poached the perfect egg while I only made the crepe and assembled it. Team work !

Quick edit ~ had to format the poem 😬 posting again!

They heard the sun rise 
in the crack of a shell

as the day's aspirations
spilled onto a strict griddle

and sometimes the sun simply
cocoons itself in a fever,

poached in the liquor of dreams
of yesterday but not today,

for they scramble up the momentous
orbs, defining time in the ribboning

of yellows and whites until it congeals
into the brilliance of light on a plate.

They call it breakfast.
What injustice a word can do.

Zephyr on the Appalachian Trail

We were at the Perkins Memorial Tower yesterday, that can be accessed via the Appalachian Trail, located near Bear Mountain in New York and it was breathtakingly beautiful. There was a couple making music near the parking lot. A young wispy woman perched on a rock while her partner strummed away on a guitar as she sang Leonard Cohen’s “a thousand kisses deep”. Nymph like, she elevated the mountain many rhythmic stanzas and the drop in the heart felt that much  precipitous. The Universe conspires sometimes  to have a nightingale in places you truly desire to hear one and this world of puzzling disparate parts becomes all the more better for it.

This poem is for that beautiful girl with the heavenly voice.

Notice how her wispy voice floats 
like a dandelion seed in a breeze,

meant for a vestal Assumption. Our Lady
here was a Zephyr that swirled through

the senescent leaves of stately trees
and the trenchant needles of pine,

simply in song. This must be valour,
singing to a mountain side; amidst

the self same species that traipse around
in dissonant syllables stricken

by the contrivance of worldly commandments.
She isn't busking, nor basking in accolades

of the tone deaf rocky ledge. She is singing
to the wind because she can and she will

waste words into minutes past, in sounds
that challenge the awakening cicadas

while heartbeats mill around her tone,
rhythmically resonant in utter belief.

Eden on a plate ~ A prayer before meals

We ventured into the woods last month, to stay awhile and it was most serene. Life crawled to the pace of a lazy moonrise over mountains, swift sunsets into the ocean, a glittering array of stars some evenings, the veil of mist and fog on others .

The leaves always have the best view of the mist

The house we lived in, employed a well and septic system, so the owners requested that we not flush any bad poetry or cell phones down the toilet 😁 These instructions duly printed and posted next to the flush tank came as a relief actually, because we were there with dear friends and the days were simply marked in the passage of beauty. All words dissipated as the sun split like atoms on a glittering lake every morning. Mushrooms signaled purpose in mossy undergrowth as we strode through the woods after lazy watermelon breakfasts,  each day unfolded like a breeze through glades happy in wildflowers,  whispering to the woods in meditative repose.

Watermelon Sunrise

There was a lull of the senses coursing through ripples of moments, the kind where time ceased to be a commodity to be bartered, divided or sold. It began to take on a shape of its own. It could simply stretch like bread dough and we would fold into it in the manner of soft herbs while the gluten held the minutes together in the translucence of a doughy windowpane to other definitive realms.

Fungal intentions !

We barbecued away the hours, tested our palate, worked our limbs on winding trails and at one point, I felt my neural impulse had merged with the landscape, when you know the plant brain coursing through the tap root is deeply aware of your presence  as you step gingerly over knotted, entwined surface roots and you can feel the collective body heave a sigh in the fluttering, delightful shimmer of laughing leaves as happy thoughts curl up in smoke through a forest canopy.

We soon established a mealtime tradition of praying and one evening I had the privilege of doing so, except that it was difficult. I am no inverted believer and with  no one to direct my prayers to, I did manage in the end, something that was along the lines of the poem below, made up of facets of our day.

Thunder Hole, Maine; a calm sea earlier that day.
Saying Grace

The day roped in happiness
like tidal waters
streaked with seaweed,
joyous to be afloat again.
The rocky inlet imbued
a stony demeanour, while
calmly contemplating
the resounding consonants
of a cavern within.
I could hear it swish syllables
as it lapped in the waves,
and I now channel
in gratitude,
that exuberant overflow,
and this,
which needs no rationale.
As we sit at a table,
enjoying a meal
cobbled together
from the sweet of corn,
the crunch of lettuce,
the ocean yield
of Piscean gleam,
it has begun to look
like Eden on a plate,
and I allow myself
to feel touched.
I am touched.
Gratitude is a verb
when I feel thankful
for being able to share
in the sacrificial generosity
of plants and animals.
Do we feel blessed?
We must,
for what could be sweeter
than that
we haven't been refused
- a share
of the Universal largesse.
From this bounty,
we take as we may,
so we simply survive
to another day.
It is wonderful to be alive
and I am grateful.
We are grateful.
Seaweed along a sandy beach on the Eastern Seaboard