jornales

for a moment of joy or moments no one pays for, i give myself a ‘jornal’. this makes me rich. try it.

How a hole in the sky turned into a pair of wings in my heart: A Japanese haiku experience

The white gold moon: A Japanese haiku experience
Or how a hole in the sky turned into a pair of wings in my heart
(written for the Vancouver Haiku Group)

Not with the thought of learning more about haiku but more out of curiosity or perhaps an “ego-trip”, I had this really enlightening experience in October instead–I met Mutsumi. I didn’t know her but she kindly agreed to meet me through her friend, Diana, my friend who volunteers at the 411 Seniors Center in Dunsmuir; I volunteer with Women Elders in Action, a project of 411. One day a week before, knowing Diana is Japanese, I wrote a haiku on the cashier’s tiny table where she sat, pushed it toward her and asked her to try to translate it. I read it to her, gesturing what it meant:

cloudy day–
my thoughts caught
on a spider web

She demurred to even look at it at first, but did. She looked at it, no gazed at the scrap of paper on her table as she leaned far back in her chair, and then violently shook her head (I exaggerate, but it is how her head shaking struck me). “No! I don’t know English! I don’t know much about haiku (ha-y-kyoo)” she said.

I asked her to explain what she meant. “Not simple,” she says.
And she took my phone number so, she said, she could call a friend who knows more English, quite well read, intelligent who might want to help. She promised a phone call that evening. She did call but to tell me, her friend, Mutsumi will see me a week later.

Mutsumi and I did meet over spare egg sandwiches and coconut muffins at the 411 Seniors Centre Cafeteria. I was late. Mutsumi hardly smiled, hardly met my gaze in that known Oriental mien veiling the person, veiled of emotions. I sort of stepped back, forgetting for a moment as I’ve since been submerged in Western social gestures especially among Vancouverites that I too, in a way, am Oriental, a Southeast Asian, to be exact, a Filipino. Unease made me fidget as we munched our sandwiches. Then she asked for the haiku I had wanted her to read and translate, still naïve better yet, ignorant of what haiku is to one who has been brought up reading it. I laid the printed sheets out on the table, two pages of ten haiku. I had noticed her wince as she read them and then, she pushed the pages away.

“No, not haiku as I know it,” she had said. “I don’t know much about it. I don’t write haiku but these— these are something not like haiku.”

I wilted in my chair but I urged her on. “Tell me what’s wrong with them.”

She pointed to one of them and asked me, or to my mind, accused me, “Where is your heart?”

The haiku she had her forefinger on is this:

hole in dark sky?
but
the white moon

“What do you mean?” I had countered.

“When you wrote this how did you feel?”

“Well, in the dark night sky on a full moon, I looked up and there was the moon like a white hole in the sky.”

“So…”

“Seeing a hole although it was bright sort of scared me but it also delighted me because I realized it is but the moon.”

“And so…”

“That’s it.”

“That’s why, it can’t be a haiku. It cannot stop there. It has to stop right here,” she tapped her chest with her hand and to mine, finally a gesture which uplifted me, “in the heart, your heart.”

We plumbed the idea deeper. She focused on my delight to see the moon. What did I want to do about it? And how would I have wanted to reach the moon. I said the only I could would be “to fly”. She began to smile and latched on to the image, to the idea of flying. She asked how I would have wanted to fly. And I said with wings, of course.

“But you can’t have wings. Still you can fly with your thoughts, your thoughts of happiness,” she said. “Think of where these come from,” she urged me on.

“In my heart, of course!”

“There you are! There is your haiku!”

She took the piece of paper from my hand and began writing in Japanese, translating the characters into this:

gin-iro* tsuki no hikari*
kurai yoru watashi no kokoro
tsubasa

I asked what each word meant and the haiku flowed:

white gold moon
on a dark night in my heart
a pair of wings

As explained by Matsumi:
1. gini-iro* literally translates as white gold. She wrote down “silvery” first, but admitted she only thought of using the word in a Western way—as in silvery moon she has read about. “You could use, ‘gin’, meaning silver,” she said. I chose ‘gin-iro’, seeing in its solidity a contrast instead of a repetition in ‘gin’ the concept of sparkliness in the flutter of wings.

2. tsuki no hikari* literally translates as ‘light in the moon’. Apparently in Japanese, both words are not inclusive of each other.

She was smiling by then, a lovely smile. She had wanted to work on another haiku next: “against the sky/bare willow trees sag/under the full moon”. Again, she commented on my tendency to have a rather dark, heavy heart about nature as in the sagging branches of the willow that I focused on, which she said is their nature. To her, the willow trees speak of romance because where they grow their branches create sheer veils under which lovers may walk, whispering. Willows, too, move freely with the wind, hence, inspiring freedom, she had added.

By the time we said goodbye, Mutsumi and I felt like we’ve melded in spirit and we hugged. But before she left, she pulled me out to go see the three gingko trees in the park right on Dunsmuir beside 411 and across from the Holy Rosary Cathedral. I pass under these lean trees almost everyday and I know they are gingkos. But Mutsumi’s excitement that afternoon has since made me see them the way she did so much so that one of my haiku was chosen by Karina Klesko, editor of Sketchbook, in the journal’s Sept-Oct issue as third of the three best in the haiku thread. It goes:

a chill
seeps into the gingko leaves—
she folds the day bed

Mutsumi and I haven’t seen each other since then but there’s still our plan to meet in a Filipino restaurant from me and a session to demonstrate how to make miso soup from her. We also planned a ginko walk under the willow trees in the summer.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | haiku, language views, poetry, reflection | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments