Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 2, June 2011

Charles D. Tarlton
Oakland, California, USA


Ironies of Excess

He who is the real tyrant, whatever men may think, is the real slave, and is obliged to practice the greatest adulation and servility, and to be the flatterer of the vilest of mankind. . . all his life long he is beset with fear and is full of convulsions, and distractions. . . .

Plato, The Republic

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

tanka wide enough
for railroads, sonnets
bamboo, plum blossoms
orchid and chrysanthemum

five lines ricochet
this rising moment
off smells of the sea
diminishing. The sun
over a volcano

red-capped Cranes
tancho, sail above
bowed willows in the snow
I look back down
to the oilcloth table

Inwardly, we all know the war of impulses is never over. Each of us is a cacophony of competing desires, lusts, appetites, fears, needs. . . childishness. The way sufficient order is established in the person, sufficient in the sense that we can go about a roughly peaceful daily life, is domination. One impulse rises to the top.

among bees
an order
built of inward stimuli
and nerve conjunctions
fuses each animal

fingers in harsh, discordant
to pluck the
lost, lost

forms not form
everywhere, a rambling
stabs the player's heart
hearing—ping, pning

Things as they are, as they have been, often turn out to be boring; the same old food, people, and games disappoint our fancies. We are perhaps cursed with insatiable desires, desires we learn temporarily to deflect or confuse, but in the end, dams can break and floods come roaring out and carry everything away.

every cycle
repeats taxonomies
cold impatient eyes
wait out seasons
kicking through the leaves

calm even in peril
warm green rivers
on the mountain's far
unseen side

a burst of sun when
clouds part
at dawn exactly
I'm truly awake now
breath in over the teeth

Long hours of careful sanding and shaping, following the natural curve of the wood, gone in an instant—along a nearly invisible line of grain, the graceful wooden arm split in two. It started right at the base of the slender thumb and shattered just above the elbow. My father's face tightened, his lips stretched over his clenched teeth, and, in a rage of curses, he threw the pieces hard against the stones. Turning toward me, he shouted—"God damn you! What were you doing?"

art triggers
(or is triggered by)
heightening emotions
pressures toward perfection
erupt in failure

the sand's insatiable
swallows each wave up
pounds its fist
demanding more.

just below the surface
in their derangement
always threatening
to get loose

Plato, it seems to me, throws all stylistic forms together and is thus a first-rate decadent in style: his responsibility is thus comparable to that of the Cynics, who invented the satura Menippea.

Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

satura are classical
lyrical parodies, poetria
prōsa factually so
—a Dionysian song

wheat and lavender
tied up
in bundles wrapped
with knotted stalks
dropped in rows

two robust dancers
in a single
grand jeté
poised in the air
en masse impatient
to descend



The Satura Menippea, "a medley of prose and verse [lit. 'a mixed dish'] treating of all kinds of subjects just as they came to hand in the plebeian style. . . . Menippus of Gadara, the originator of this style of composition, lived about 280 B.C.; he interspersed jocular and commonplace topics with moral maxims and philosophical doctrines. . . ."

Charles Thomas Cruttwell, A History of Roman Literature (1877), Book II, Part I, "The Republican Period," Chapter 1, "Varro."

See, also, for example, Boethius's Consolatio, in which poetry and prose alternate.

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