You say cicada, I say locust

Cicadas shed their skin
Back in Missouri where I grew up, we had an insect about the size of the end of your thumb that folks called locusts.

The proper name for these critters was “cicadas,” but for me, they will always be locusts.

These bugs made a terrible racket when they started their serenade. Some sources say the noise is so loud it can damage the human ear.

I won’t take that bet. They can be exceedingly annoying.

But they are also fascinating because they molt and leave behind an almost perfect exoskeleton. As a kid, I would collect these artifacts like little relics.

My fellow poet over at Dancing Echoes recently wrote a haiku about these creatures.

Dancing Echoes does a great job coming close to the original idea of haiku.

The old haiku masters combined words with beautiful calligraphy and drawings to form a total experience.

Dancing Echoes pairs each poem with a beautiful photograph. In this effort, she approaches the complete experience achieved by the old masters. You could say it’s haiku for the modern age.

The cicada haiku from Dancing Echoes reminded me of an old poem sitting in my files gathering dust. It’s not haiku. But it does feature a cicada — or rather, a locust.

SOMETIMES IN THE
MOONLIGHT

Sometimes in the moonlight
The feeling comes afresh,
The old familiar feeling,
The aching of the flesh.

Sometimes in the summer
The noisy locust strains
Against the skin that holds him.
To shed his crusty chains.

When the trees grow weary
Of their summer masquerade,
And fallen leaves are gathered
I hunger for the shade

Of limbs that never falter
And love that never cools,
Where ruin never alters,
And where death never rules.

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Hometown Haiku (and a note for Father’s Day)

The Saline County Courthouse looms above the square in Marshall, Missouri
“Once, it was magic”

A recent trip back to my old hometown prompted some haiku.

Thomas Wolfe may have said “you can’t go home again,” but you actually can. It just won’t be the same as it was.

I’m not sure if there were any satori moments on this trip, but there were pangs of the heart. I’m posting this as a Father’s Day remembrance.

The old hometown seems
Smaller than I remember.
Once, it was magic.

Last time going home,
The old place sitting empty.
Memories and dust.

Mother and Father,
And all three of my brothers.
I alone remain.

Well over sixty
Dad built a barn by himself.
Now it, too, molders.

Father's old Bible
Held together with duct tape

Father’s old Bible
Held together with duct tape.
Now he’s face to face.

(A few years ago, on an earlier visit, my brother and I walked through the town cemetery)

Last time I saw him
We strolled between tombstones.
Now he has his own.

I left to find truth.
Yet here I am seeking scraps.
Scraps of memories.

Haiku, with feeling

Mother and father
Father cared for Mother through her decade-long ordeal with Alzheimer’s. After her death, he went downhill very quickly.

My recent infatuation with haiku master Issa, has led me to his poems about his family. Sad story. His mother died very early. His father remarried, but the new wife was not a warm, nurturing stepmom.

So, Issa leaves home early to wander and find his fortune.

Later, as his father was dying of typhus, Issa returns home to care for his father in his dying days. His verse about his father’s last days is a heartbreaker.

Last time, I think
I’ll brush the flies
from my father’s face.

I was reminded of my last contact with my father.  This is a different time and a different age.  Instead of being in the same room brushing away flies, I was 2,000 miles away.  I attempted to reach my father by telephone.

Last call to my dad.
Nurses wheeled him to the phone.

Couldn’t hear a thing.

 

 

Digging Issa, haiku master

Haiku master Issa self portrait
Issa self portrait. The poem reads: Even considered/in the most favorable light/he looks cold

Dropped my wife off at the airport this morning before dawn. The moon was full, and I was reminded why I like Issa most of all the old Japanese haiku masters.

Issa was so human and compassionate, despite the many losses and disappointments he experienced.

He certainly endured his share of suffering. He mother died when he was a young boy. His stepmother was manipulative and cruel. After his father died, his stepmother refused to recognize the will, which would have given Issa part of the estate. He saw all of his children die before him. And he outlived his beloved wife Kiku, who died giving birth.

At the risk of being misunderstood, I’ll quote one of his most touching poems, written after his wife’s death. By Issa:

The moon tonight —
I even miss
her grumbling.

There’s something so honest and sweet and human about that. He loved her and he loved even her imperfections. The sight of the moon brought it all back and stirred up his intense memories. He missed her and he missed all of her.

One other poem by Issa on this theme of loss:

Outliving them
Outliving them all —
Ah, the cold!

I cannot claim to comprehend Issa’s pain. My wife is still very much alive–just out of town for a few days. I’ve never lost a child. But having lost both parents and all my brothers, I have caught a glimpse of what Issa is saying about “outliving them all.” Just a faint glimpse.

I think of Issa’s poem. I think of that old Tom Waits song, “The last leaf on the tree.” I think of the oak trees from my Missouri youth. And all of this made me think of — and write — a new poem:

Late Winter Haiku

One grey leaf still clings
to the branch, curled up and dry.
Could fall any day.