Motorcycle Maintenance haiku

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

There once was a time
motorcycle maintenance
meant something to me


NOTES:  Got the news today that Robert Pirsig has died.  When his book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was published in 1974, it became an unlikely best seller, and an iconic work as the counterculture was fading away.

Like many a child of the 1960s, I read the book, and pondered its ponderous philosophy of “Quality.”  As the son of a mechanic, I resonated with his idea the “classical” personality, who pays close attention to his machine and makes sure it runs at peak efficiency.  I wanted to be like that.

But I realized I fell more into the category Pirsig calls the “romantic personality,” that was more focused on living in the moment at the expense of rational analysis.

To this day I’m not sure if “Motorcycle Maintenance” is a great work on the level of Plato, or a pop phenomenon.  But I sure thought a lot about it.

The primary reason I perked up my ears when I heard the news today is more poetic than philosophical.

You see, the very first date I went on with my wife was at the Blue Heron Café in Minneapolis, a hippy-dippy veggie establishment that was operated by Pirsig’s ex-wife, Nancy James.

Who needs online dating services?!  The first time I saw my future wife, she was glowing.  Honest to Pete.  She was bathed in a golden aura, sitting a darkened auditorium, listening to the chaplain of the U.S. Senate speak about living “the deeper life.”  We were both independently reading St. Augustine’s Confessions.  (Is that weird or what?)  We were both footloose and fancy free and unencumbered by any other relationships.

After I finally screwed up the courage to ask her out, among other things, we discovered that we had the same favorite restaurant in common — the aforementioned Blue Heron.

So, of course, we had to go there for dinner there on our first date.  Which we did.  I do not remember the main course, but I do remember drinking a bottomless glass of herbal iced tea.

Then on to the second part of the date, the initial screening of the German World War II movie, Das Boot.

In case you don’t remember this classic, starring Juergen Prochnow, 90% of it took place on a German submarine.  Close quarters, high tension, and lots of dripping water.  Lots of water.

I was quite sure that it being a sophisticated foreign film, there would be an intermission when I could go to the restroom and relieve myself of all the iced herbal tea.

Wrong.

No intermission.

When the movie was finally over, and the final sub was sunk, we both sprinted for the bathrooms.

Quite the romantic first date.

Somehow we survived this inauspicious beginning, and 35 years later are still together.

So, tonight, I raise a glass of herbal tea to you, Robert Pirsig.  Godspeed.

Good Father, a Tanka

Raymond Ball gave me a good example of fatherhood
My father with one of his grandsons

 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.


Notes on the form:

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.

Notes on the content:  The example of a good father

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.

A bit about my dad

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.

An example as a husband

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.