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

Butterfly in the winter? Wrong kigo! (12th for NaHaiWriMo)

butterfly sleeves—
she sway-balances her arms
against the breeze

Butterfly in the winter? Wrong kigo!

No, this haiku comes from memory, from the way we wear and dance with our terno or patadyong, the Filipina formal dress. I suppose you’ve seen them. Patterned after European 18th century women’s fashion but made of sheer fabric woven out of pineapple fiber, its main feature is a pair of stiffened sleeves made to look like folded butterfly wings. It’s a hassle to don it on because the bodice, which is entirely made of pina can only be fastened with pins, and for a woman like me, who wore it only once or twice, it makes her feels boxed in the first time. But because it has to fit perfectly, it can look absolutely elegant.

And we wear it not only to socialize but also to dance! Sway-balancing, twirling on its long skirt, while gathering its train so we don’t get snagged on it and fall on our faces. We can’t wear shoes with it as well—it has to be a beaded ‘zapatilla’ (slippers) that covers only the toes…but this is going too far for my haiku and why or how this came about. So…

I pulled out this conversation from comments of Rick Daddario (19 planets) and my reply on my post two days ago (Nine for NaHaiWrimo) because it’s about butterflies, to put it simply. And I’d like to pass it off as my 12th for ‘daily-haiku-write’.

Wrick:

island trail
in the back yard today
butterflies

yeah. that was today – feb. 9, 2011.
in some ways this has become curious to me… when the concept of kigo originated it must have been in one area – so the season was probably basically the same for everyone writing ku. now that ku is planet wide it seems it’s hard to say when a kigo matches the season. the butterfly trail in my back yard has become active in the last week or two – yeah, in January/February. it’s not a major trail but it’s been there since i’ve been here – 20 plus years or so. normally i wouldnt think of butterfly trails as a winter season indicator – i think it does start up about this time of year tho. may be late january… sometimes i think all we can do is write what is around us and let others decide if that’s right or not. i like this butterfly season. cool on the month of haiku. and cool on you revisiting your haiku each day. bwahahahahaaha – i see WP thinks i wrote this on Feb. 10, 2011. my case exactly – it’s still Feb. 9, 2011 for me. okay okay, it’s 11:54 PM on Feb, 9, 2011 – but that’s still today for me.

Me:

We got the same problem though I think we’re earlier on this side of the Pacific!

First off, I love your haiku, Wrick! It could well be mine if I weren’t consciously trailing about in my new country, taking note of the season’s imprints and non-prints. I still find myself looking as if through a fractured glass though, where the sun, for example, shines in hues so like yet unlike what I recognize. And yes, butterflies! Back home in the Philippine archipelago, they flit around amost all year. I loved the tiny yellow species, which flutter like disembodied petals. Did you know that when a butterfly just suddenly bursts into sight, we believe it is a soul?

butterfly
oh, on my shoulder–
name long an epitaph

A ‘season indicator’ aka ‘kigo’ is intrinsic by tradition in haiku, is what I understand. And a kigo to my mind is nothing else but life’s details. If it’s possible to simplify it in these terms, it’s quite easy to understand why haiku thrives anywhere and up to now. It’s an art form that could never fade or die because its womb is the spirit. Reading more and more of its history, I’ve come to believe that it aims at nothing but truth and joy that comes with its flash, ‘aha’! Joy from uncovering a secret–life’s or nature’s secret, that is. And that is infinite, right? Aren’t we lucky to have stumbled on haiku? (I caught it on the internet years ago.) At least with it we can be certain of finding bits of truth and ‘joy’ everyday or as I had set out in this blog, a ‘jornal’! Cool on you for your thoughts and your butterfly! Thanks to you for finding my revisits cool!

February 11, 2011 Posted by | haiku, language views, poetry | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Unabashed (a sparrow speaks in three tongues)

unabashed–
a sparrow speaks in three tongues
twirling on willow twigs

It’s the subject of my post yesterday but I can’t seem to let it go! “My soul speaks in three languages” as in the three tanka I wrote from English, which I translated roughly into Spanish (and had it edited by Sr. Javier Galvan y Guijo, director of Instituto Cervantes in Oran, Algeria formerly of Manila where we met) and in Iluko, is an awarness that has been consuming me–this composing of words from three different dimensions that I believe are of my soul but not finding the right stage to unleash it, let it leap, dance, sing, sigh.

Finally, last month I dared to submit three tanka in three tongues to qarrtsiluni–an online literary journal where I’ve been reading awesome poetry–with an introductory essay I had posted here about the “willow” not having an equivalent in Iluko, the tongue I was born with. The editors accepted it, an honor I’m still riding on an upwind.

Unabashed, I would like to share here what Alex Cigale, translation theme editor, said as well as Jean who posted her comment on the qarrtsiluni site, and Patrick who sent it to my inbox. I hope you, dear readers, bear with me in this moment of exhilaration!

Alex Cigale (editor, translation issue, qarrtsiluni) January 12, 2011 at 4:35 pm | #1

What a treasure you sent our way, Alegria! So perfect for us, this window onto a language constructed according to logical grammatic structures that are yet so different from those we otherwise take for granted, qualities such as number, possession, direction, tense, intensity. And what a perfect illustration of the notion that there can be no words that do not represent real objects, so that such culturally-specific idioms are nearly ICONS, your example: “saning-i … portrays … usually a woman in a dark corner, splayed on the floor….” And the recording, the Iluko sounded last and thus echoing so musically, its music so liquid I am tempted to imagine that it was formed among the various sounds of water surrounding the islands. A big thank you!

Jean (tastingrhubarb)
January 13, 2011 at 6:47 am | #3

Oh, these are exquisite and exquisitely satisfying! Listening to the podcast is essential. This is a richness of experience of poetry and language and translation that no publication with only printed words could provide. So beautiful.


Patrick Gillespie (poemshape)
January 13, 2011, 7:14 PM

Finally, I get to hear your beautiful language. Such is the beauty of the language that I could fool myself into thinking that anyone who spoke it would write poetry such as yours. I have always loved the sound of the Mongolian Language, but I think Iluko is just as alluring and beautiful. I would love to speak it.

It’s also beautiful to see how you bring the sensibility of haiku into your longer poems. It’s something I’ve wondered about trying myself, but haven’t yet. Again, how wonderful to hear Iluko. There’s a Japanese expression which I can’t think of right now. It expresses the aesthetic of beautiful sorrow or beautiful sadness. Your poetry is so often imbued with it.

January 14, 2011 Posted by | culturati news/views, haiku, language views, poetry, tanka | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

la luna blanca (not-quite haiku) for Margaret

Re-post from July 20, 2009 for Margaret as I mentioned in a conversation on Lorca, his “la luna blanca” poems, my own Spanish-entrenched culture, and my own caged, wounded but singing heart! I realize now that these are not quite haiku. I hope you enjoy it.

1.

la luna blanca

llores en mi corazon

el silencio en la aula

(white moon

weeps in my heart–

the muted cage)

2.

los ruisenores

mosca en la noche blanca

deje heridas

(nightingales

fly into the white night

leaving wounds behind)

Listening to Julio Iglesias, I was suddenly composing these haiku in Spanish! I feel like winning the lotto! But I can’t reward myself with a million dollar “jornal”–that would not match the value of joy (alegria!!!), which, of course, is priceless. I’ll say for these haiku, I pay myself $1000.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | language views, lyric poetry, poetry | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

ember/beggang (iluko/english haiku )

morning ember
fanned
by broken word

beggang ti agsapa
naparubruban
ti puted a sarita

I wrote the original in Iluko, the language I was born with but hardly spoke and never written with as an adult, trading it with English, a borrowed language I thought was really mine. Iluko of the northernmost edge of the Philippine archipelago traces its roots in Austronesian language. Rediscovering it has been exhalarating! The truth is, I am writing in both languages now with a deeper sense of where both seem to spring from–my being.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | haiku, language views, poetry | , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

willow tree in Pilipino

I take a break from the haiku that I usually post here and would rather reply to someone who got to this site searching for the word willow in Pilipino (the national language of the Filipinos). 

I don’t think we have one like we don’t have a Pilipino word for snow–we call it hielo, which means ice in Spanish (Pilipino and some other Filipino dialects have a lot of Spanish words, understandably imprints of 300 years of colonization). Citing both cases of the willow tree and snow demonstrates how language is deeply entrenched in culture, the totality of one’s being layered over by influences of earth, air, water, living things, language whispered, sang, murmured, chanted, stated, shouted, screamed, written for one to read under flourescent light, Coleman light-flood, moonlight, candle light–how we whine and laugh and cuddle up wordless or word-ful, with what flowers we offer our sighs, what trees we carve arrow-pierced hearts, from what looming shadows we scamper away, what wings we shot down, what edges of cliffs we plunge off to get to our dreams.

Borrowed language, borrowed tongues entangle the mind like words to describe autumn turn into phantom leaves in tropical groves narra trees crown. Red and gold in song  that trail sorrow are mimed on plastered walls in made-up nooks while out on a window in constant blaze, a row of arbol de fuego (fire trees).

In languages like mine born of life, a borrowed word–just one, say cry or sob–fail to bring out how anug-og in Iluko (the dialect I was born with of the 87, one of which is Tagalog out of which Pilipino is derived) pictures a bent figure broken in grief, shaking with spasms of pain, sobbing an animal cry that escapes from the depth of caves. Dung-aw, simply translates as lament in English but in Iluko, unravels a dirge a man or a woman unleashes during a wake. A woman veiled in black sadness has wrinkled, creeps to the dead kneels  and beating her breasts, relates a life story now a dirge on the footmarks which those attending the wake follow in sorrowful steps, sniffling, but some chuckling, too, with humor thrown in–what life is ever without it?

Language is as mysterious as the spirit, indeed.

Yes, I recall willow trees along a highway that ribboned a small town still miles away from mine. I named them but they didn’t seem to root in my mind. When I came to north America and walk by them through the four seasons, their name, willow, took on a breath as in one of my sequences published in The Cortland Review, Issue 39, May 2008 and the haiku pieces I had posted here.

No, dear friend who’s asking if there is a translation of willow tree in Pilipino, there’s none I’m aware of.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | language views | , , | 2 Comments