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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 4, December 2015

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Glenn G. Coats
Prospect, Virginia, USA


On “A Change of Address” by Ken Jones

As an editor, I always enjoyed receiving submissions from Ken Jones. His haibun were unique in both perspective and voice. I found “A Change of Address” which appeared in the June 2015 issue of Haibun Today to be especially poignant. The author, who struggled for years with cancer, passed away a few months after his haibun was published. The poem describes Jones’ decision to leave his woodland home (Wales) and live out his final days by the sea with his wife Noragh.

As a Zen practitioner, Jones concern was with the here and now—the present moment. I feel that the title refers to more than just the move to a home by the sea. It leads us down roads that have always puzzled human beings, directs us toward the unanswered questions. Is there an afterlife? Is death final? What will be our last address?

Each of us knows that our time on earth is short and most of the people that I know push the thought of it as far on the distant horizon as possible. Yet for those with an incurable illness, time becomes measureable in days, weeks or a few years. When one is given a prognosis of weeks or months, what does he/she do with that small window of time?

For Jones, it is a time of pairing down. He writes, “Chainsaw and strimmer, dear old friends, sold off.” He exchanges the wildwood for a simpler place with a small patch of lawn; settles in a “perch of sea and sky” where he can hold on to his wife and absorb the beauty that surrounds him.

Stretched tight and gleaming
from cape to cape
the sea horizon

Yet in this idyllic place by the sea, there are still the promises and side effects that medicine has to offer. Jones writes, “And now there’s chemotherapy, as our penultimate forlorn hope.” He describes the names of drugs (Biculatimide, degaralex, casodex) as “ugly, heartless words of hope.” All of the drugs named are ones used in the treatment of late stage prostate cancer. Even in the dire acceptance that these last ditch efforts will not do any good as well as the oncologist’s prediction of the time that remains, there is still the characteristic humor that has always been an integral part of Jones’ writing. He notices that the oncologist has a Celtic silver wedding ring just like the one he wears.

“Mean survival rate, two years more or less.” An attractive woman, in her own way.

What does someone do when he is coming to terms with sickness and death? In Jones case, as evidenced by his recent poems, he keeps on writing as well as submitting his work for publication. He allows us to share both moments of beauty and those of terror as Jones captures both with his pen. I am reminded of Johnny Cash who was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease and given eighteen months to live. With a voice worn down to a rasp, Cash went on to complete sixty songs during the last four months of his life, songs that dealt with themes of salvation, faith, and sorrow. It was the songs that kept him going. I think, too, of former president Jimmy Carter who taught Sunday school lessons three days after going through radiation treatment. He continued doing what he had done for thirty years at the church in Plains, Georgia—teaching with humility and grace.

Heeling in our fuschias
how I envy their survival rate

Ken Jones does not sugarcoat his final days as routines crumbled and doubts crept in. “My once well-regulated self, cast out into the bleak wastelands of sickness and death.” Jones keeps on going, holding fast to each last thread of life.

Each in our so-called easy chair, we enjoy the magnificent sunsets.

However, for me it is the haiku that caps this haibun that lingers and resonates long after the reading. I imagine the tides moving in and out, the flash of birds just above the water, and the back and forth roll of waves. Jones knows that he too will exit just like one of the sunsets; that both living and dying are natural parts of life. I hope, when my own time to depart arrives, that I will leave with such dignity.

Some day
I’ll await a sunset such as this
and share its graceful exit


A Change of Address

My end game is best played out atop a sea cliff. So we have exchanged our wrap-around wooded valley for a precarious perch of sea and sky.

Stretched tight and gleaming
from cape to cape
the sea horizon

Chainsaw and strimmer, dear old friends, sold off. The wildwood exchanged for a coy lawn. A dinky electric mower for this, my second childhood. “A better place to die”, she says, turning her face away. And so, day by day, arm in arm, we promenade our love, as wave follows wave.

A red fishing boat
cutting its white wake
through our winter morning

And now there’s chemotherapy, as our penultimate forlorn hope.

In my mirror
this beardless stranger
deceptively smooth

Biculatimide, degaralex, casodex—those ugly, heartless words of hope that trip off the tongues of oncologists. Mine sketches time lines on the back of some scrap paper. Her Celtic silver wedding ring is just like mine. “Mean survival rate, two years more or less” was her estimate. An attractive woman, in her own way.

Heeling in our fuschias
how I envy their survival rate

My once well regulated self, cast out into the bleak wastelands of sickness and death. I struggle to find a foothold on the shifting sands of meaning and purpose. My fading routines of must and should. Is this really how Inconceivable Liberation feels! Each in our so-called easy chair, we enjoy the magnificent sunsets.

Some day
I’ll await a sunset such as this
and share its graceful exit.

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