While you are away
thank God I have your pillow …
your fragrance lingers.
While you are away
thank God I have your pillow …
your fragrance lingers.
Father, all I ask —
unbutton your coat, and warm
my toes on your skin.
This weary world is so cold,
and I am a trembling reed.
Tanka is a type of Japanese short poetry that some believe predates haiku. Rather than the three line 5/7/5 haiku for, tanka adds two more seven syllable lines to form a 5/7/5 7/7 pattern.
From what I can determine, the content tanka tends to be more personal than haiku. Some are even love notes passed between lovers. But many also express an appreciation of nature.
I chose the tanka form for this poem inspired by my own father, and written as a prayer.
I had the most excellent good fortune to have been blessed with a wonderful dad. Because of his example, I found it easy to comprehend the idea of God as a good and loving father.
One of my earliest memories goes back to a winter day when I must have been no more than 3 years old. Word came to our farmhouse on the party phone line that something strange had been found in a tree a couple of miles from our place.
We all bundled up and went to the scene. It seems that a large weather balloon had fallen back to earth and gotten snagged high up in the tree. It seemed to me that it took forever for the local high school-age farm lads to determine how best to climb the tree and free the object from its captor.
As the proceedings dragged on and on, I got colder and colder, and my feet were freezing. When I complained to my dad, he scooped me up, took off my socks and shoes, and stuck my tiny feet inside his coat and inside his shirt to warm them up.
He was a provider. He worked hard all his life to provide for his family the best way he knew how. In his youth during the Great Depression, working as a farmhand for a dollar a day (and glad to get it!) Then, after saving up, he bought his own 80 acre dirt farm, which he operated for many years.
I came along as a late child, as Mom and Dad were facing middle age. When I was young, he sold the farm, made the one big entrepreneurial move of his life, and bought a Ford Tractor dealership with a couple of partners. When that business ultimately failed, Dad kept one working, this time as a mechanic. Through hard times and disappointments, he just kept chopping wood, and doing the best he could.
He possessed a merry disposition, quick with a story or a quaint country expression. But he was capable of administering effective corporal punishment when required. His boys learned early on that he was not afraid to use his belt to emphasize a disciplinary point. I must say his spankings, while no fun, were short, undamaging, and few.
He was honest to a fault, even refusing to charge mark-ups on the parts he bought to use in repairing cars, trucks, and farm implements. Even though that was standard practice in auto and farm repair shops everywhere, it just didn’t seem right, he said, to take that money for nothing. It was known throughout the county that if Ray Ball couldn’t fix it, it couldn’t be fixed.
And in those rare cases when he could not get the tractor to run or the corn picker to pick, Dad wouldn’t charge the farmer anything at all.
Dad was faithful to our mother throughout his life, and he clearly adored her. And when she declined in health past the point where he could care for her at home, he visited her in the nursing home every day, personally spoon feeding lunch to her.
Finally, Dad did his best to expose his four sons to faith and to the love of God as he had come to know it. He had seen his own father undergo a dramatic adult conversion, which resulted in a softening and sweetening in the disposition of my grandfather. This must have had an effect on my own father, because he was always a gentle and kind man.
Although my brothers and I all initially rejected the faith of our parents, at least some of us eventually came around. Dad passed away in 2000, but I would like to think that Dad would appreciate this little poem, if he were around to read it.
Faith of our forebears.
No organ. No liturgy.
Just Jesus. That’s all.
This Christmas, I received a couple of poetry-related gifts. The first was an original hand-drawn and illustrated version of a haiku I wrote.
It was done by my talented and thoughtful daughter-in-law, Sarah. I had written this haiku last year in honor of my late father.
Now, it is I who feel honored and delighted!
This is as close as I’ve ever come to having an authentic version of an original haiku. The old haiku masters produced total works of art, complete with beautiful hand-lettering and illustrations to complement the poignant words.
The idea for the verse came about while going through my parent’s belongings before getting their house ready to sell. I came across my father’s old Bible.
It was so well-worn that it was literally being held together by duct tape.
My father never finished high school, and spent his life as a farmer and mechanic. He didn’t travel, and he had no hobbies except for studying the Bible and ancient times.
He became a bit of an amateur scholar, ordering books on theology and history. I packed up a few of books to pass along to my scholarly son, but the prized possession from the old house was that Bible.
Now, my prized new possession is this illustrated haiku.
Father’s old Bible
Held together with duct tape.
Now he’s face to face.
Dad was not just interested in history for history’s sake, or out of a mere intellectual curiosity. He also had a deep faith. He had seen the difference that God had made in his own father’s life and he believed in Jesus as well. He did his best to introduce his own children to that faith.
I’ll write about my other poetry-related Christmas present in a subsequent post soon.
Happy New Year!
That the author casts himself
In such a small role.
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.
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
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.
By all accounts, George Herbert was a cool guy. Our knowledge is limited because he lived long ago … more than 400 years ago. He only lived to the age of 39, but that was in the days before antibiotics and indoor plumbing.
I’ve chosen to write about this poetic champion because of how he expresses his art as a means of worship.
Born into a wealthy artistic family in Wales, he enrolled in Cambridge with the intention of becoming a priest. He seems to have gotten sidetracked by politics, became a supporter of King James, and served in Parliament.
But King James died, Herbert’s secular prospects dimmed, and he became an Anglican priest in his mid-30s. He was reportedly an attentive parish priest. He cared for his parishioners, looking out for the poor and ill. He was only to live a few more years before dying of tuberculosis.
When I recently asked my Anglican son for suggestions he suggested Herbert. Coincidentally, I already had him on my list. His poem The Quiddity has been one of my favorites for some time.
Quiddity is a Latin word for “the essence,” or “what the thing really is.” The poem is a poet writing about poetry. It starts out with a litany of things that a poem is isn’t.
But, at the end of the poem, Herbert gets to the point about what a poem really is. And for him, poetry is the thing that brings him close to God.
by George Herbert
My God, a verse is not a crown,
No point of honour, or gay suit,
No hawk, or banquet, or renown,
Nor a good sword, nor yet a lute.
It cannot vault, or dance, or play ;
It never was in France or Spain ;
Nor can it entertain the day
With a great stable or domain.
It is no office, art, or news ;
Nor the Exchange, or busy Hall :
But it is that which, while I use,
I am with Thee : and Most take all.