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.
(here’s a link to the video in case you can’t see the embedded version.)
If you want to read more Issa, there is a website with all of his poems http://haikuguy.com/issa/
This post is for people who have already grown as old as they want to be. As a result they don’t react as positively to questions about their age as the five-year old in the poem and sometimes can become extremely glum.
Some people seem to go actively looking for this kind of reaction. They can then express their own glumness and start up a real glumfest. You can see walking glumfests every day on the streets, usually made up of two people so deeply enveloped in their dissatisfaction that they pay no attention to the world around them. If they did they might notice an interesting fact: the world is not really base-10.
We have fallen into the habit of counting things in tens. Perhaps because we have ten fingers – (although two of them are really weird). But there are lots of other possibilities. There are very few things in nature which actually divide into ten. Also we generally don’t use base-10 for anything to do with time. There were 10-day weeks in China and Ancient Egypt and the decimalist maniacs in the French Revolution also tried to introduce a 10 hour, 100 minute day, but most of us are used to 60 seconds, 60 minutes, 24 hours, 7 days and so on. So why is it that whenever we reach a multiple of ten in our age we feel it is a defining moment ? It is almost as if you become a different person when you reach 30, 40, 50 etc.
I think I have had an insight and I am going to share it with you: I believe our real ages are expressed using base-12 arithmetic. If you can’t remember what base-12 arithmetic is read this.
Which of you owns that red moon, children ?
That is the entirety of a poem by Kobayashi Issa. It has the magic of successful haiku. It makes a pinpoint in the wall surrounding us and lets in a flood of surprising images and thoughts. I by now have my own story sprung by these few words. Issa reaches a village at twilight, sits near the well to drink and wash, the children gather at a safe distance to watch the stranger. There is a tree nearby and a hill, and following it rising up the slope with one’s glance one finds the red rusty moon in the sky to which he points and asks the children whose toy is that ? Read more…