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Haibun

WHR January 2016

Haibun 

 

 RED AND BLACK


 Anita Virgil, USA  


“Should be some haiku hanging around the house with a painter up and down ladders with paint cans and brushes, etc. In fact, seems to me I recall seeing a number of painting-the-house haiku. I even wrote one myself. Think it was just about an empty ladder.


            quiet spring day
            an empty ladder leans against
            the side of the house” 1
                                                                                             
Cor van den Heuvel

            Oh Cor, what to write about getting the house painted at last this spring?  The delicious smell of fresh paint?   The suppressed joy of seeing all come to a perfect conclusion,  layered over by small gestures of cordiality for the  fine workmanship I watch unfold?  Offerings.  Simple gifts.   Hot coffee with cream and sugar on chilly mornings when his white truck pulls up,  ladders on its roof.   Ice cold soda in the hot afternoons when his fatigue kicks in.    How to make connection with a stranger?  A  dedicated worker.   And quite a religious soul I learn from things he says.  At his mention of Armageddon, the parameters are established.  Yet this once I quietly counter, “The book I read about the Middle Ages said back then, too, many felt it close by. . .”     Early one afternoon, he leaves for a church event;  another day he tells of his trip to Israel with his church group. 

               One day—of the many it takes to do the whole exterior what with spring rains interfering -- I hear the clanking of ladders, ratcheting  up.       Outside, before he begins work,  we pause to talk.  He looks up at the Japanese maple and says he has a tree like that—but something is wrong with it.  “ No leaves in the middle. “  To find out what to do, I tell him first he has to know what kind of tree it is.  He’s not sure it is like mine.   “Take some leaves from my tree with you. “    He does not.  

               Next day, I hear his truck pull in.   “Coffee?”  He nods and comes to the door bearing a twig with bronze leaves,  somewhat like the Japanese maple’s.    But not.   While he goes about painting, I look them up.    Norway maple.   What ails it he must find out from an arborist.  Still, how warm  it makes me feel that he brought me leaves from his sick tree.  

               Today,  the Promethean task draws near its close.  All chinks sealed over,  paper wasp nests chipped off, mildew wiped away,  woodpecker holes filled,  old paint sanded smooth,  carpenter bee holes caulked, and the  black woodwork where it meets the ivory stucco--every edge crisp and clean.  The front door glossy red.   I offer a wedge of Glazed Orange Cake.  Its recipe from Fanny Pierson Crane’s 1796 cookbook,   fuzzy soft from use over the years.    And this cake,  made with the  chopped rind of  an orange and dotted with raisins has a crusty blistered topping: a  glaze of granulated sugar wetted with a bit of orange juice and bourbon.  When the cake is baked, the sugar mixture is spread on top and sizzled “with a red hot salamander.”   2 


                 But why, in colonial days,  did they call it a “salamander”?   I have salamanders in my woods.  A tiny young one [a red eft]  found its way out to the edge near the driveway.  Fiery red. Not much of a stretch to perceive it as something dangerously hot.   (Nevermind  it is damp and cool from the forest floor’s litter where it begins its life.)  In states of ignorance and awe at what man-with-dominion-over-all

              




beholds in his piece of world, this creature gains attributes that reach far beyond its nature. But not beyond man’s imagination at a primitive animistic level. To minds accepting witches, devils, ghosts and such, this innocuous five-inch amphibian is given magical attributes. It is believed to go through fire unscathed. By such rationale, it is transmogrified into an iron cooking tool.

                And then we spoke about the Shaker village in his hometown of Alfred, Maine. His admiration for Shaker pieces. Mine, too! We both have examples of their chairs. Along with my weaver’s chair is my ladderback rocker, lightweight as can be “with the peculiar grace due to the maker’s belief that an angel might come and sit on it.” 5

          

   

              The fine paint job  proceeds.   All along, admiring his skill,  I  tell him  he is an artist.  He denies he has any talent.    I remind  him what the Shakers say:  “Hands to work, Hearts to God.  That’s you.

               On his knees, his final  task--painting the chocolate syrup brown porch floor.    As  the birds arrive on time at the feeder waiting for seed,  another question occurs to me before he goes out of  my  life:  “Maybe you know why many porch ceilings on the big 19th century houses here are painted  light blue?  For coolness?  To emulate more sky?”

               “To keep the birds from nesting on the porch,“ he says.   And then thinking more on it, brushing paint,  he looks up at me, adds:  “Some man told me painting that light blue keeps out the spirits.   The haints.” 6              

                                                                          

                                                                               in my home this spring
                                                                               nothing can deter my light
                                                                               blue happy spirit ! 7

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

NOTES:

 

1.  Personal correspondence:  by permission  Cor  van den Heuvel and Anita Virgil,  April 2015.

2.  Fanny Pierson Crane Her Receipts  1796 Confections, Savouries and Drams  adapted 1972

     for Israel Crane House, Montclair Historical Society NJ.

3.   iron  salamander 

4.  photo: red salamander   Bill Peterman, by permission.

5.  Thomas Merton 1840.  Shaker rocker: shakerworkshops.com.

6.  haint is a Southern U.S. colloquialism for  ghost, apparition, lost soul.

7.  A.V. allusion to  “In my hut this spring,/ There is nothing--/ there is everything!”    Sodo Yamaguchi.

 

 

THE TWO DOLLAR MYSTERY


 Anita Virgil, USA


Aubrey Beardsley “Salome”


On the thrift store book shelf the sign reads Hardcovers $2.00    Paperbacks $1.00.   

I  reach for The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.*  Yellow dust jacket by Aubrey Beardsley,  good as new.                

Amid the scent of roses, honeysuckle, and the buzzing relentless carpenter bees, I open the huge book to its end and for the first time read De Profundis. Such a veiled J’accuse to a selfish and worthless pretty face that poisoned an already dangerous existence! Wilde’s veering off into morals and religious philosophizing at the end does not lessen the main cry of a broken man.

Turning next to the first story in the book : The Picture of Dorian Gray. Read decades ago. The film version seen many times. Idly leafing through its pages, I discover divergences in the actual story of Sybil Vane as a talented actress -- not merely as the sweet young singer portrayed in the movie by Angela Landsbury warbling “I’m Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.” Revisiting this past classic from arbitrarily selected passages, I am even more impressed than ever by Wilde’s brilliant quips, his upending of clichés and platitudes about life and morality, turning them inside out to his own cynical truths. His facile epigrams-- devastating. And at the same time I relish more than ever before, his lush prose, the evocative use of all the senses throughout. Elements of nature he employs create the backdrop against which his characters come to life. Metaphor and symbolism he occasionally weaves into his writing, effortlessly.

“The wind shook some blossoms from the trees, and the heavy lilac blooms, with their cluster of stars, move to and fro in the languid air. A grasshopper began to chirrup by the wall and like a blue thread, a long thin dragon-fly floated past on its brown gauze wings. . . “ [p.18]. So opens The Picture of Dorian Gray .

It is redolent with fragrances, textures, visual beauty-- the delicate colors of sunlight, shades of darkness, flitting bird shadows on silk curtains “producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect… “ [ p.18 ] But after a while, my eye is distracted by under-scorings that pepper the pages. Since I am not reading for the storyline this time, I begin to have the feeling I am eavesdropping on some courtship. Of whom? Yes, it is of Dorian by Lord Henry, yet . . . . Now I begin to read more of the meticulously underlined passages and skip past the text around them . I am caught up in what they appear to be unfolding. “You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.” [ p. 20] “…we were destined to know each other” [p. 22] .
      

On and on I race through pages to more highlighted admonitions of Lord Henry,  such as:   “Live the wonderful life that is in you ! Let nothing be lost upon you.  Be always searching for new sensations.  Be afraid of nothing…. A new Hedonism—that is what our century wants.”[ p.32].    Over halfway through the story, he declares:    ”You  will always be fond of me,  Dorian.   I represent to you   all the sins you have never had the courage to commit.” [ p.70].              

As this new layer of reading proceeds, the heavy book’s dust jacket keeps sliding off and with growing impatience, I keep fitting it back on.   Anxious to return to what has become a peculiar quest for answers to other than the original story.  Finally, folding the slippery jacket over the inside cover again,  I notice an almost-hidden inscription.  It is clearly written in small precise upright printing. [I delete the full names here. ] 

 

               From:    L _____________                           

                              10th Grade English teacher

                              as a graduation present

              

               To:        F______________

                              June 23rd, 1998   6:00 pm

 

How very odd.  Obviously this notation was placed in the book by the recipient -- years later .  What struck me most of all was the inclusion of  “6:00 pm” . . .   Ah, the persistence of memory!  Surely, some great significance accrues to that unique detail.               

I read on, and wonder:   Are there more under-scored passages in this volume?  Flipping through the thousand pages,  they  only appear  in The Picture of Dorian Gray!   Another piece of the puzzle fits.  My fingers,  still holding onto  the heft of pages,  sense something bumpy under them.

On  the very first  blank page  opposite  the inscription,  the bottom right corner has an elegant-looking embossed seal.   Impossible to read the tiny letters encircling it.    Lifting the book into direct sunlight, I tilt it,  create shadows of relief.     In the center is a square containing  the initial “F.”  The four corners of the square show the tops of fleurs de lis  like sun rays.  “From the life and time of” circles  the top half of the seal, and the lower half is filled with the full name of the recipient.  ( In the inscription,  he only used his middle initial.  It is a match.)              

Not far from the closing scenes of horror:  “Moments when passion for sin, or for what the world calls sin, so dominates a nature, that every fibre of the body…seems to be instinct with fearful impulses.  Men and women …lose the freedom of their will.…Choice is taken from them , and conscience is either killed, or, if it lives at all , lives but to give rebellion its fascination, and disobedience its charm  . . . “  [ p.144]. 

I feel I am eavesdropping on an incipient relationship of the late 20th century. Not that it is anything new at all. But in 1895, British sodomy laws were firmly in place when the enraged father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, Marquess of Queensbury, left a calling card addressed to “Oscar Wilde: Posing Somdomite”, [sic].     The famous playwright promptly filed a civil suit against Queensbury for libel. Wilde’s case failed when evidence of his true behavior was presented tot eh court by Queensbury’s lawyers. For the criminal offense of “gross indecency,” he was arrested, convicted and imprisoned at Reading Goal for two years’ hard labor. 

The subtext told by all the underlinings in my second-hand volume leads me to infer this English teacher was successful at drawing a very young student into an entanglement like Wilde's. 

                                                                    
                                                                    my head on the pillow
                                                                    languishing after you've gone
                                                                    when a new soft scent surrounds me:
                                                                    a dayful of
                                                                    your kisses

                                 

* The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Barnes & Noble, Inc. 1994





 Out of the Mouths of Babes 


Alexander Jankiewicz

I'm out with my young daughter for an early morning walk. We notice our dog stop up ahead on the path, sniffing at something on the ground. We wonder what it's found. As we near, we see that there's a dead bird with a broken wing. My daughter becomes upset as she wonders how it happened and if there's a family in a nest somewhere waiting for its return. She insists that we bury it and say a prayer. When we get home, I tell my wife about the dead pigeon. My daughter corrects me by saying that it was a dove and not a pigeon. When I tell her that they're the same thing, she says that what we name something is important and that in school she learned that doves symbolize peace. This, she states, is why we had to say a prayer. 

                sunrise... 
                a lone dove takes flight-- 
                hope 




Tug of war



Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy 

  

My baby listens to his bedtime story. Once the story is over he showers me with kisses all over my face and says 

 

"Anna! Come sleep with me now"

 

"I have work to do son. It is very late, close your eyes now."

 

"Ok will you sit with me for another minute?"

 

Five minutes pass and he is still awake. I sternly tell him to go to sleep. As I am about to walk off

 

"Anna! Give me one last hug"

 

Putting his little arms around me tightly, gleefully he declares

 

"I won't let you go now. You can't go to Manchester tomorrow"

 

In a minute I hear his soft snores in my ear. 

 

                    light footfalls—

                         this heaviness 

                    of dawn


 

 

*Anna- dad

 


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