Another Day Gone

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I sit alone in this room,

alone, as I always am,

save for the sun, slanting across the tatami.

Outside, a crow calls, and a telephone rings.

Unanswered, they fade into the stillness

of a grey afternoon,

and another day

gone.

Copyright 2021 Heather Dixon

The Poet

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You, the hour, are deserting me,

wounding me with the beat of your wings.

Alone: now what use my mouth?

What are my days and nights to me?

I have no sweetheart and no house,

nowhere that is my home ground. All things

into which I give myself

grow in riches and give me out.

Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland)

Masaoka Shiki

Matsuo Basho is the most famous haiku poet in Japan, but there is another haiku master who was just as prolific and talented – Masaoka Shiki.

Masaoka Shiki was born into a samurai family in Matsuyama (Ehime Prefecture) in 1867. He is said to have written 20,000 haiku, as well as poetry in other forms, and essays. He started writing haiku when he moved to Tokyo in 1883. He enrolled in the philosophy department of Tokyo Imperial University in 1890, but soon changed to the Japanese literature department. Around this time, he started to write haiku under the name “Shiki”.

“Shiki” is another name for the bird hototogisu, or “Lesser Cuckoo”. He chose this name, because in Japan, this bird is said to sing until it coughs up blood. Suffering from TB, and coughing up blood himself, he thought this name appropriate. He was diagnosed with TB in 1889. He was bedridden during his last years, but continued to write haiku and tanka from his sickbed.

His most famous work is arguably

柿食えば鐘が鳴るなり法隆寺

Eat a persimmon

and the bell tolls

Horyuji Temple.

During a visit to Horyuji Temple, he stopped to eat a persimmon, which is an autumn fruit, and as he took a bite, the bell of the temple rang, and he could sense the season in its echoes.

He developed into a master poet, and has a lasting legacy in Japan. There is a museum dedicated to him in Matsuyama City in Ehime. In 2002, he was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a keen player of the sport, until his illness took its toll, and in 1889 co-wrote Japan’s first novel about baseball – Yamabuki no Hitoeda. It was serialized over a year, and remained unfinished.

His life was tragically short – he died of TB in 1902 at the age of 34.

Advice from a Rat

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Stay underground – the lower the better.

Lie in wait.

Come out at night.

Stick to the sides,

watch out for traps.

Be quick on your feet.

Get there first and feast

before they find you.

Retreat in silence,

head down, belly full.

And if that fails,

show them your teeth.

(Copyright 2021 Heather Dixon)

Oh plum blossoms!

東風 吹かば 匂ひをこせよ 梅の花 主なしとて 春な忘れそ

When the east wind blows

let it send your fragrance,

oh plum blossoms;

although your master is gone,

do not forget the spring.”

Sugawara no Michizane

Mirror – Sylvia Plath

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I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Strangers

I could see into your bedroom window
from my seat on the bullet train,
even though I was travelling at 170 mph,
I could still catch the picture on your wall,
your beige shirt hanging from the curtain rail
and you,

standing in the middle of your room
staring out at the speeding train,
and I wondered if you could see me
sitting in carriage five,
forehead pressed against the window,
eyes straining to catch glimpses
of whole worlds like yours
through the falling dusk.

(Copyright 2021 Heather Dixon)