Some people (I call them explaneedfuls) need an explanation for everything and often an explanation of the explanation as well. A long time ago I met one of them. I was asked to go to a TV studio in Italy to assist the host of a programme covering the Oscar awards ceremony. I thought I was going to be there to interpret, which is what I usually do, but it turned out that the core of my job was to make sure the Italian host understood the jokes people made during the ceremony.
Jokes are definitely one of the hardest things to translate but in this case the real problem was that the person was devoid of any sense of humour and the more one took the pieces of the witticisms apart and described how they were supposed to interact the more bewilderment descended on his features. I began to wonder whether he was actually an alien from a race with no jokes who had infiltrated our society to spy on us. They had managed to copy all our bodily components perfectly but they had no idea on how to instil humour into a fake human.
I’m sure you’ve met at least one explaneedful person. I sometimes think about them when I read haikus.
Very often I find stuff in my pockets. Usually it’s receipts or old tickets. Sometimes I extract a crumpled piece of paper I can no longer decipher but which I know is a now unidentifiable idea which I tried to jot down while tripping over a dog or avoiding a motorcycle.
There are pockets in my mind as well. Mostly I find junk there too, but every now and then I come across something which makes me smile mysteriously while I am waiting to cross the road or just as they announce that my flight has been delayed again.
For example there are three or four haikus by Kobayashi Issa which I keep on coming across again and again:
Pissing in the snow
outside my door–
it makes a very straight hole.
The holes in the wall
play the flute
this autumn evening.
In a dream
my daughter lifts a melon
to her soft cheek
Visiting the graves
the old dog
leads the way
I first encountered Issa’s poems while reading an anthology of Haiku edited by Robert Hass (The Essential Haiku), so when I noticed a clip of him reading some of his translations of Issa I thought I would share it with you. Perhaps some of them will end up in your minds’ pockets too.