Haibun Today
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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 4, December 2011



William M. Ramsey
Florence, South Carolina, USA

 

Gurdjieff, Zen, and Meher Baba

1. Desert

the wind numbs:
my fingers slowly grasp
the coffin handle

of my infant's little box, lighter than a shovelful of soggy dirt this early December dusk, yet heavier than a pile of laundered diapers. The hearse door clicks behind us. Soon we climb a short, snow-sodden rise to the sheltered spot, where despite the canvas canopy

the grave is puddled:
the priest thumbs his bible,
and i twist my lip

much as a vine encircling a pine creases the trunk it chokes. Then i'm shaking like a worm impaled by the hook, twitching in spastic, jerking arcs. Latter—after just a while of agony—they lead us off, my wife cold and dazed, like a deer that mutely licks the toothed steel clamping its hoof, while

the body lies stiff
among clods—a felled tree
in a highway cut

or a dead rat in a culvert's mouth. The hem of the priest's robe is spattered with mud. The softened turf sucks my shoes each time they rise, and when they fall the muck sucks them more; i think, in distracted shock,

no more of this:
hymnbooks, votives, vestments,
latin so dead

so irrelevant to how his heart valves, quite unceremoniously, fluttered partly open, partly closed; and irrelevant to his brown irises glinting, in blank hospital silence, like rosary beads left scattered in a salt desert.

2. Sea

Rising from the blanket and my napping wife, i walk far up the beach unknowing exactly what i feel today, until a falling blur of whiteness over the water tells me:

the gull dives in,
lifting to heaven
an angry fish

3. Garden

Shirtless, i feel the sun warming my back as i pull a few weeds, pinch tomato suckers, hoe the corn rows, and feel with blank vacant satisfaction fatigue creeping into me, displacing thought. Soon i go to the cool dark of the shed, and i linger there, inhaling air made sweetly boggy from the open, half-used bales of peat. Later, emerging with the pitchfork, eyes lowered from the day's glare, i stroll toward the compost bins, pausing briefly when a movement in the grass catches my eye:

a beetle eating
what is left—glinting
copper green on dung

and i smile knowing that nothing on earth, not even waste, is waste, and all is somehow incredibly rare, and i will tell this to my wife if she is strong today. Minutes later, bent at work in one of the bins

turning compost,
my smile twitches at a toad
speared on the fork

4. Rice

The moisture rising in the bamboo steamer swells each grain to fullness. It's rice never tossed at bride and groom; but when it softly meets my tongue it will marry my returning desire. Peeking under the lid, i also see the broccoli flowerets glisten, their stalks exuding juices. The peeled carrots gather beads of wetness; the onions are almost clear. Lately, i have lost my old desire for meat. Indeed, today i shuddered driving past

a stiff raccoon
praying for his error
by the roadside

as at the farmers' market earlier, standing near the country hams, i felt agitated, then depressed. But in this dusk, in this nightly rite of urgent flesh and yet more hungry spirit, our hearts find solace in broccoli, carrots, onions—and in one level cup of rice, poured in precise and needed measure. Then, over tea, we talk of Gurdjieff, Zen, and Meher Baba—pretending to assume, once again, that life is sweet as well as rare. Later, at midnight,

her hair smell
in my face, my fingers
count her vertebrae


First published in Modern Haiku V25, N3 (Autumn 1994).

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