Haiku as the Present Moment

The Buddhist Patriarch Bodhidharma traveled from India to China to establish Buddhism there. Over the centuries, Buddhism spread from China, including to Japan where Zen ultimately developed as a spartan version. Some scholars say that haiku is a further refinement of Zen.  I accept this notion.

James Hackett (1929 – 2015) was an American poet who is known for his work with haiku in English. The James W. Hackett Annual International Award for Haiku was administered by the British Haiku Society from 1991 to 2009. His books include The Way of Haiku, Zen Haiku and Other Zen Poems, and A Traveler’s Haiku.

I am currently reading an account of Hackett’s ‘Way’, by English poet Paul Russell Miller. Hackett was an early initiator, perhaps the first and certainly the most renown, of both the Nature and the Buddhist traditions of English-language Haiku. He has written that “the present is the touchstone of the haiku experience.” Hackett considered himself a “life worshipper, not an apostle of poetry or art.” He recognized the haiku moment in whatever form he met it as “the very pulse of life itself.” Further, he wrote: “Haiku is more than a form of poetry. I discovered it can be a way—one of living awareness. A way which leads to wonder and joy, and through the discovery of our essential identity—to compassion for all forms of life.”

Robert Spiess, Hackett’s publisher and a poet himself, wrote: “There is no haiku moment of true awareness if the previous instant is not dead, if the ego still clings to what it has named in order to feel secure in its desire to perpetuate itself. The haiku poet needs must live only by continually dying. The whole of life is in each moment, not in the past, not in the future—and thus a true haiku is vitally important because it is a moment of total and genuine awareness of the reality of the Now.”

Thus, we are reminded that, as in Hinduism and Buddhism, the ego is an illusion.

The challenge for me in haiku is to reconcile the observations of this self I call “I”, which writes for others to see, while allowing this “I” to recede to a minimum while also allowing the moment to pervade my senses and direct my pencil.

But let’s get practical. What form does the haiku take? We know about 5-7-5 and the seasons and Nature. I like that there are three lines: a beginning, a middle and an end. I like that one uses as few words as possible to express the present moment, which just ended. I think it not important to be precise about 5-7-5, and possibly not even the three lines. As in a religion, there are a lot of sects in the writing of haiku that have rules which may or may not get in the way of expressing this present moment, depending on one’s point of view or how strong one’s “I” is.

I have corresponded with Paul Miller, author of “The Wild Beyond Echoing; James Hackett’s Haiku Way.” He wrote me: “What constitutes a proper haiku is finally for each individual poet to decide, I think, yet hopefully arrived at without undermining the genre’s history or fundamentals. A certain restlessness and desire for novelty seems all-too common at present, sadly, mirroring society at large.”

Basho, the most renown of the ancient progenitors of haiku, tells us:

“Haiku is simply what is happening in this place at this moment.”

PS: To be true to the original form, one should use concrete words. If there is to be a feeling or thought for the reader to discern it must come from the juxtaposition and flow of the concrete words.

Picture, Word, Number

Picture, Word, Number

I arrive at a place of great beauty
I wish to capture it, to keep it
I draw a picture of this place

I observe a sweet child
I wish always to have her cherubic face to view
I photograph her

I am transported by emotion
I want to remember this moment forever
I write a poem

I accumulate some money and goods
I want to know their value
I put it all in numbers so I can perceive my wealth

Yet the pictures, the words, the numbers
Are not enough
They are not the things they represent

I cannot recreate and keep the beauty I’ve seen
I cannot capture and keep the sweet smile of the child
I cannot regenerate the emotion I wrote of
The numbers representing my wealth fail to satisfy

Why, then, do I persist
In drawing,
In photographing,
In writing,
In numbering?

This is grasping, clinging
To a ghost of a moment…

To Listen

To Listen,

Not only with one’s ears
But with one’s whole being.

The words one may hear
Are not important.

How are the words delivered?
What imbues the utterer?

But I’d rather listen
To children playing,
To trees bending in a breeze
Their leaves rustling against each other.
To the lap of waves against a shore
Of sea birds screaming in the wind.

But as I said,
Not only with one’s ears.

The rhythms of movement in all things around,
Sometimes seeming chaotic,
Sometimes seeming in consonance,
Always changing, never the same.

Odors, physical sensations,
Thoughts arising from them,
Become a symphony,
A message.

A message which envelopes one,
Transports one,
To a place with no name,
Complete and whole.

Haiku as an Approximation of Reality

I opened a book I hadn’t read in years, “The Tao of Physics” by Fritjof Capra.

After I read the initial pages I was moved to write this:

I see the same words I read years ago
I understand more than I understood then
The years have been a good teacher

If I read this book ten years from now
Will I understand even more?
Or should I read another book?

Don’t seek an answer
Accept knowledge as it comes
The wise do not force

The third stanza is in the form of a haiku, but it is not a true haiku, something I regret, often, when writing in this form. The discipline of limiting a thought or impression to seventeen syllables is compelling to me, and I tend to forget that the essence of this form is to present ‘reality’ in an indirect, non-linear way. The above poem is too direct.

Here is what Capra writes. I have edited this passage only to eliminate words which I feel are not essential to the message:

Taoists use paradoxes in order to expose the inconsistencies arising from verbal communication and to show its limits. This has passed on to Chinese and Japanese Buddhists who have developed it further. It has reached its extreme in Zen Buddhism with the koans, riddles used by many Zen masters to transmit the teachings. In Japan, there is yet another mode of expressing philosophical views, extremely concise poetry used to point directly at the ‘suchness’ of reality. When a monk asked Fuketsu Ensho, ‘When speech and silence are both inadmissible, how can one pass without error?’ The monk replied:

I always remember Kiangsu in March—
The cry of partridge
The mass of fragrant flowers

This form of spiritual poetry has reached its perfection in the haiku, a classical Japanese verse of just seventeen syllables which is deeply influenced by Zen.

Leaves falling
lie on one another;
The rain beats the rain.

When eastern mystics express their knowledge in words with the help of myths, symbols and poetic images, they are aware of the limitations imposed by language and linear thinking.

Here is a definition of the haiku form of poetry:

Haiku (俳句) is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three qualities:

1. The juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.
2. Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae), in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5.
3. A kigo (seasonal reference).

There is a common, although relatively recent, perception that the images juxtaposed must be directly observed everyday objects or occurrences. (Source).

Upon completing my first reading of this book, I wrote this:

To be self-conscious,
The Universe created
Man, who now asks, ‘why?’

Again, this is not a true Haiku, but I review it here to observe, in public, my perceptions of some time ago.

I have many books, in English, about the history of haiku and its ancient masters, especially Basho, Buson, and Issa.


on a leafless bough
a crow is sitting—autumn
darkening now


the evening breezes
the water splashes against
a blue heron’s shins


“the peony was a big as this”
says the little girl
opening her arms

(Issa is noted for his humor and whimsy)

The nature of eastern spiritual or philosophical thought (or ‘way’ is probably better) is to avoid abstractions, focusing on ordinary everyday things. I wrote these some years ago:

hiking God’s garden
lavender, forget-me-nots
myriad green lives

moon’s full face follows
summer traveler through the hills
brown from sun’s long kiss

horseshit pile on path
reminder of plainspoken
one preceding me

These words speak more directly to me of reality than the millions of words uttered and written by the great philosophers. Yet, I still read them.

one’s contradictions
should be carried carefully
like a basket of eggs

You can read and download the book in its entirety here

The season is ruled by trees

The season is ruled by trees

Only weeks ago their bare branches
were impediments to the views beyond them

Now their lush leaves invade the parks
and walkways and lakeside paths
completing our view of the landscape

We hear the birds hiding in their branches
and countless leaves brushing against each other

They fill our senses
they green our lives

And the great oaks
are sentinels of strength and wisdom

October Musings in Stockholm, 2016

October 1, Saturday

Zephyr is the bringer of breezes.
He visits me as I sit in the garden,
Surrounded by tall, flowering bushes
In their last blooming days.

Moving air rustles through the leaves,
The flowering stalks bend and bounce
At the ends of long branches,
Some so heavy they reach the ground.

These I will remove
So they may grace our home
Before their final fading.

October 2, Sunday

It’s the Autumn cleanup at Johannelunds koloniträdgård. Our allotment is sixty-five square meters, enough for our flowers, fruits and vegetables.

One of our neighbors has a rose bush which dominates the end of a path where our parcels lie. Several years ago I was ordered by the leader of the cleanup, since the parcel-holder was absent, to take the bush down to the nub to clear the path. I was well out of breath at the end of the effort.

Here it is again, bigger than ever, crowding through the path into our mutual neighbor’s parcel. It’s an unruly, globular presence, gleaming with orange and red hips like lights on a Christmas tree.

The path ends at an impassable ditch just a few meters beyond the bush. If our mutual neighbor doesn’t like the intrusion, perhaps she should take care of it, or rally a bunch of younger people to commit to the effort. I don’t see her here today, and I’m hiding out, nursing injured extremities.

This bush is not only a survivor, but has gained intimidating stature. I am in awe of it, drinking its power as I relax on a folding chair, a few steps distant.

The risen rose bush
From Earth’s power and purpose
Sharp thorns and bright fruits


October 3, Monday
Kids at Play

At Four O’ Clock in weekday afternoons the commons is filled with children and parents. Two preschools are part of this planned neighborhood.

There’s a big sand box, a small slide, lots of plastic toys and small wheeled vehicles. Chalk marks and designs in pastel colors decorate the pavement.

The inevitable soccer ball appears, parents training their future players. The younger  kids don’t care where the ball goes as long as it goes, and goes—standing still and wide-eyed, tracking its trajectory down the slight slope toward the gate barring access to the stairs leading to the path around the lake.

Some parents stand in groups, adult-talking, eyes constantly glancing toward their liberated charges.

It has been dry recently, so the unplanned depression in the pavement down-slope from the sandbox merely has a thin layer of dried mud in it. On or after wet days, the parents allow their children to splash in the puddle at will, protected by suitable clothing, to be sure.

There are three swings on a standard playground swing set at the ‘top of the hill.’ Usually, these are occupied by the wee ones, seeming hypnotized by the steady rhythms provided by their parents.

The children don’t have to be reminded that ‘this moment’ is the true reality, as many sages aver.

I watch the children
I feel I am one with them
Just in this moment


October 4, Tuesday

small boats sail the lake
the surrounding green shores will
soon yellow and brown


October 5, Wednesday

A British pub
A British Pal
A satisfying pint

There is a certain comfort
in the companionship of a fellow
with seven decades under his belt

David writes prose and poetry,
plays music and sings,
contemplates the verities,
the patterns he perceives underlying all

A British pub
A British pal
“Another pint, please.”


October 6, Thursday
Transcribing Fred’s Letters

Fred died twenty months ago. I have his letters from year 1989 through the years until his death in 2015, over three hundred of them.

I have been transcribing them to have permanent, digital copies, as are mine to him. I started years ago, and years of work remain.

Today, I completed transcribing years 1989 and 1990, then compiled and integrated everything we told each other.

How have we changed? We grew a little.

Did we learn anything? Yes.

Did the world unfold as we then imagined it would? No.

October 7, Friday
Actual World

I pity the young people, the newest generation. They live ever more in a virtual world, a world without people.

Electronic devices command each set of eyes, down-focused onto a tiny screen for whatever happens there. I don’t want to know.

Last evening I attended a magnificent stage production, an opera about the life of Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa, with live orchestral music by Philip Glass, augmented by and integrated with the players of Cirkus Circör, acrobats extraordinary.

Real people

Colors, shapes and movements

Music and words to fill one’s body

Ancient figures brought to life, bringing wisdom and hope

A feeling of community with the performers and audience

You can’t get all that out of a tiny, electronic box.


October 8, Saturday
How it is to get old-er

One is concerned with one’s blood pressure

One is concerned with getting a sufficient number and kind
of foods and supplements containing the full panoply of anti-oxidants

One wonders if one’s prostate gland is well
despite having no apparent symptoms

One wonders if one will ever have enough self-discipline
to shed the ten kilos one has gained since young adulthood

One doesn’t like losing one’s suppleness, evidenced
by the groans one emits while arising from low to high

One’s feet never don’t hurt, somewhere

One’s irritability is evoked, but necessarily contained
when asked ‘How are you?’, because you have to say

“Fine, how are you?”

October 9, Sunday

We are seated across from each other at a birthday party. He seems to be around my age.

Some of his face was taken by accident or disease, but this anomaly quickly recedes in my consciousness. We engage in getting to know each other, sharing experiences familiar to fellows our age: travels, work, family.

He leans heavily on his cane when arising for another go at the buffet table. His attentive wife observes without intruding.

He is tall, bent, one side of his body lacking tone and strength. He returns successfully, our conversation continues. I reach for another bottle of light beer, but before I can open it he pours some from his open bottle into my glass.

I accept, also without comment. We are friends already.


October 10, Monday
Waiting for the Lotus

“Without mud, there can be no lotus,” asserts Thich Nhat Hanh, renown Buddhist teacher.

In a conversation today with two friends we became mired in the muck and mud of the current political theater in the U.S. A., which the press ecstatically reports and distorts. It is painful to observe the process and to endure the emotions evinced by those invested in one side or another.

The election will conclude within a month, the wailing and gnashing of partisan teeth and the postmortems conducted by the talking heads will last another, before the press will turn its jackal head toward the latest sex scandals and misdeeds and errors of other people in the public eye.

In a fiction by Jules Verne, “The Adventures of a Special  Correspondent,” there is a passage where a Chinese scholar is lecturing the narrator, a Frenchman: “The cares of business trouble us little; the cares of politics trouble us less. Think! Since the first emperor, a contemporary of Noah, we are in the twenty-third dynasty. Now it is Manchoo; what it is to be next what matters? Either we have a government or we do not; and which of its sons heaven has chosen for the four hundred million subjects we hardly know, and we hardly care to know.”

We have allowed the politicians, their partisans, and the press to thrust us into their mud.

I await the beautiful lotus flowers which will arise when the turbulence settles.


October 11, Tuesday
Restaurant Fantasy

There will be tables for one, two, and four people—no more.

There will be sufficient space between any two tables to allow easy passage by humans carrying portfolios, parcels, or plates.

All surfaces will be covered with sound-absorbing materials—no echoes.

No sounds will emanate from the kitchen and other work areas.

When removing vessels, plates and cutlery from vacated tables, staff will carefully place them in a deep, sound-insulated box-cart.

In a cafeteria or buffet with no wait-staff, customers will be encouraged to reserve conversations for the table, where cutlery, condiments, spices, and other supplements will be available.

There will be no ‘music’ piped in from overhead.

Peace and love will be more likely now.

October 12, Wednesday
The Book Circle

Only five of seven in our book circle will meet tonight. This will be sufficient.

Among us we have well over three centuries of fully living in the world.

We were born in widely different places, have traveled and read widely as well.

We can talk about anything.

We respect each other’s opinions, but are not afraid to disagree.

It matters not the book—it will serve as a pivot point for a spectrum of discussion ranging through history, culture, psychology, and more.

Sometimes the book will evoke painful memories which will be shared.

We know how it is.


October 13, Thursday[i]

Consider ‘pure’ music

No words, no story

The God Zeus and the human Mnemosyne together created the nine muses

Euterpe, the muse of music, is “the giver of much delight”

We made music before we had words, it is said

I say, let us have more music and fewer words


October 14, Friday
Bus Stop

I reckon I’ve waited for the neighborhood bus
some four thousand times, probably more

Many faces are familiar, some new to me
some have disappeared

The little plaza has been completely renewed
new pavement, new stone planters, new trees

We had a good schedule fourteen years ago
ten, thirty, fifty minutes past the hour

It’s changed twice since then
the times are now too odd to remember

I often miss the bus now
but it’s only a twelve minute walk to the subway

Unless it’s snowing

October 15, Saturday
Last days in the communal garden

Cut away dried flower stalks
Uproot the spent corn and squashes
Plant the winter garlic

Rest a bit to view the remaining flowers
In neighboring plots and ours
Silently thanking the other gardeners

We walk home through the quiet forest
Yellowed maple leaves floating to the ground
Our footfalls crunching the gravel

Our souls are peaceful
We link arms
“What shall we plant next year?”

October 16, Sunday

Feeling housebound by mid-afternoon
we flee the house

let’s have a late lunch and skip dinner
To atone for last evening’s excesses

To bus, to subway train, to downtown
Noisy, crowded, chilly, everyone rushing

Find a restaurant, get out of the cold
good enough food, eat, finish

Let’s get home!


October 17, Monday
The 1960s, Berkeley

I opened the door, and there I was again
An instantaneous mind-space-travel
Of fifty years and more

Myriad living plants high on a wall
Ferns, orchids, others with names unknown
All watered regularly, along with others
Lining the street-level windows

Big red, but not too red, flower images
On green wallpaper, throughout
Warm and friendly
Wooden tables and chairs
Wooden flooring, well trod

The young and handsome couple, he and she
Behind the counter, at the stove
Like people I knew or regularly saw
In coffee shops and restaurants
In the Berkeley of my college days

Simple in dress and manner are they
Modest and diligent in their labors
Smiling and pleasant to each other and all
Offering wholesome foods and meals
Quiet, jazzy chamber music remembered from my youth

Those were the days…


October 18, Tuesday
Do it in the Dark

Early morning, the sun not yet risen
One long side of the room is all windows

One other club member is there as I enter
Fluorescent lamps blaze from the ceiling and wall

After I gather and place my equipment, he leaves
I rush to the light switches, click click

The predawn light is just enough
I lie on the mat and pray—no more people please

Inevitably someone will enter, thoughtlessly
Without perceiving me, switch on the lights

I begin, slowly, first the knees, then hips
I sense someone entering the room

The lights remain off

The spine, the ligaments of the legs
Methodical breathing, counting

Another person, still no lights
Continue the regimen

I remain as the others leave
Finish with the plank, two minutes

Rise, look out the window, sip water
Peacefully greet the dawn

October 19, Wednesday

Where did the day go?
Carrying me through the hours
barely hanging on


October 20, Thursday

Would it help
if I told you of
your logical and historical errors

Would it help
if I disagreed with
your cherished beliefs

Would it help
if I argued with
your fixed political position

would it help
if I told you of
an annoying characteristic

Would it help
if I just smiled?


October 21, Friday
In the Way

The Afghan wars, past and present
were not about Afghanistan
but, being between other places
of interest to the great powers,
she is trampled in the struggle

I do not know what interest
the Great Powers of the present
have in a land created by the
Great Powers of one hundred years ago
but the people of Syria are in their way

The agonies of Afghans have continued
now for hundreds of years

Can the people of Syria expect
an end to theirs in this generation?

What if all the people disappeared
leaving only the elite and their soldiers?

Would there still be something to fight about?

Someone please explain this to me.

October 22, Saturday
The Martyrdom of Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich

He was gifted, he suffered, he made great music

His most deeply felt pieces were sad, even tragic

Yet, ironic, for his tormentors were tone deaf

And those who knew could see through the façade

A dangerous game to play

He played the game that Stalin put in place

To control the people through control of the elite

The rules constantly changing, people disappearing

The speeches prepared for him betrayed the people he admired

Until Stalin died, he feared death every day, but as time advanced

He feared life even more than death

But lacked the resolve to end it

Because he had more music to make

He remained alive, suffering, suffering, humiliated

Writing for the Russian people

Giving them a spiritual touchstone

The Church being officially forbidden and suppressed

We need to remember our martyrs

Yes, ours, even those without the suffering Russian soul

We suffer too, without being able to name our suffering

Listen to Shostakovich and recognize it

Music speaks to suffering and redemption

More fully than can any words

He suffered for us, the martyr

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)[ii]


October 23, Sunday

She is the one who showed me
how to pitch a small tent in sideways rain
on a mountain pass in Northern Sweden

Now we hesitate to leave the apartment
cold gray sky and gusty drizzle
lamenting that the city weakens us


October 24, Monday

preparing to write
allowing mind to empty
I await a form[iii]

October 25, Tuesday
Spreadsheet Satisfactions

I can create and control this little universe—
Columns so wide, rows so deep.

I can have over sixteen thousand columns,
Over a million rows!

General names for columns
Specific names for rows.

But how do I group the columns and rows?
And name the subcategories?

What about fonts, colors, backgrounds?
Bold or Italic, and where?

Show the grid? Use borders instead?
Thin or thick, and where to use each?

It’s hard work creating a universe.
Time now for a rest to let it all settle
October 26, Wednesday[iv]

I wept upon reading a passage in a novel
An old man needed the hand of a young woman to hold
So he could sing his song to the other old men
Gathered to remember the old country

I have felt such deep sadness at other times
It arises from a secret, sacred place
From a reservoir of pain stored away
In some far, inner recess

I have wept with joy, many times,
Mostly at weddings and births
But this occasion is different,
As if somebody, something died

I stop myself from prying into this hidden place
To discover what it may be which prompts me
To feel this scene as like a death
I will not unearth the secret

As Uncle Harry said, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”


October 27, Thursday
Gulliver Explains his Country to the Noble Houyhnhnms[v]

A chief minister of state is a creature who makes use of no other passions but a violent desire for wealth, power, and titles; he applies his words to all uses, except to the indication of his mind; he never tells a truth but with an intent that you should take it for a lie, nor a lie, but with a design that you should take it for a truth; those he speaks worst of behind their back are in the surest way of preferment, and whenever he begins to praise you to others, or to yourself, you are from that day forlorn.

The officials of his country consist of
Proud Pedants
Censurers and

Judges, in turn, are selected form the most dexterous lawyers biased against truth and equity, favoring
Perjury and

.. so that in the trial of persons accused for crimes against the state, the judge first sends to sound the disposition of those in power, after which he can easily hang or save a criminal, strictly preserving all due forms of law.

As for money, when a Yahoo has got a store of this precious substance, he is able to buy the finest clothing, the noblest houses, great tracts of land, the most costly meat and drink, his choice of the most beautiful females, and thinking he could never have enough of it to spend; the rich man enjoys the fruit of the poor man’s labour, and the latter are a thousand to one in proportion to the former.

Hence it follows that of necessity , that vast numbers of our people are compelled to seek their livelihood by begging, robbing, stealing, cheating, pimping, flattering, suborning, foreswearing, forging, gaming, lying, fawning, hectoring, voting, scribbling, star-gazing, poisoning, whoring, canting, libeling, freethinking, and the like.

Three hundred years have past since Gulliver faithfully reported these observations and many more to the Noble Houyhnhnms. We must thank Science and Democracy for, in the years following to-date, having freed us from the terrors and inequities of the untrammeled power of princes, officials, the rich, and those in control of our most precious assets: the independent press, and that we have the freedom to speak our mind in public on anything (still) lawful…

Wait a minute—who is that banging on my door and shouting…?

October 28, Friday

What is the proper subject for a poem?
An ode to all things wild and beautiful?
A detailed discourse on one’s ripening mind?
How about elucidating on digestion?

A rant against the stupid government?
Another aimed at life’s injustices?
A yearning for a person not yet found?
Lamenting on the one you now wish gone?

Pal, look, no one will read it anyway
Just flush your mind then clean your messy home


October 29, Saturday
Still ‘Fall’ing

Yes, the countless leaves of trees and brush
Still fall and billow

Bright yellow, mostly, but unexpected dapples of red
from unexpected bushes

Berries, red and white, the latter to last
throughout the winter

The sun reflected from leaves of many hues and shades
is welcome contrast to preceding gray days

One must blink to help adjust one’s eyes to so large
a feast of impressions

So good to have a working retina, well connected
to the brain and, thence, to writing hand
October 30, Sunday

It’s become biting, not yet bitter, cold
Yet inviting when the morning sun
Illuminates through crystalline air
The glories of late Fall

There is no hesitation, as when the day is cloudy
To say “Let’s take a walk!”
And the preferred, almost automatic walk
Is to the forest leading to the communal garden

“Look, a deer! No, two… no, a family of five”
They are poking through the gardens
Two young ones engaging in mock battle
We stop to drink in this glimpse of Eden

Other walkers see them too
Stop as we do to admire them
We all move quietly and smoothly
The spell is broken by the yapping of two small dogs.


October 31, Monday

The woman who cuts my hair

Was too long away from her chair

Hair as long as my arm

She retreats in alarm

Then sees it’s me, not a bear


[i] Listening to the works of Gabriel Fauré, 1845 – 1924), accompanied by Södra Maltfabriken Pale Ale

[ii] Upon reading “The Noise of Time,” by Julian Barnes.

[iii] “Form Is Emptiness, Emptiness Is form”—from yogic and Zen Buddhist teachings.

[iv] “Brooklyn,” by Colm Tóbín

[v] “Gulliver’s Travels, Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms,” by Jonathon Swift; 1726


The Pill Box

It holds three weeks of daily doses of Losartan, for mild hypertension, and tiny vitamin B-12 pills. There’s no connection between the two—it’s just that both are small enough to fit together in the twenty-one spaces, measuring around three cubic centimeters each. The multi-vitamin/mineral and Omega-3 capsules are too large to fit with the others.

This morning I emptied the last of the small pills into my hand, thus marking another three weeks of life having past, seemingly, very quickly. After conducting my after-breakfast pill-swallowing, I brought the empty box into the room where I store the refills.

Shortly before my friend Fred died last year, I wrote to him that my life seems to pass in three-week increments, measured by the re-filling the little pill box. He acknowledged in his responding letter that he, too, has certain recurring events in his life which mark the inevitable, ineluctable passage from fertilization to stasis (or, ‘room temperature,’ as Fred preferred to say.)

When not in a hurry to get somewhere else in the morning, as I reach for the pill box in my bed stand I pause to reflect on the three weeks just past. Usually, no particular event comes to mind, but I do a mental body-and-spirit scan to see if I can discern being three weeks older than three weeks ago.  I can’t. It is a mystery. It is inescapably true that I have aged three weeks since I last refilled this little box. Yet, I feel no different from the last time I conducted this review.

Now, gazing out the window of my home-office, where I do my writing and pillbox filling, I see the quiet lake welcoming the return of birds who nest and feed and breed here. They have an annual rhythm to guide them, but I cannot imagine they have the capacity to dwell on having aged another year. They are just living their lives as Nature and experience have inculcated in them.

a sunny morning
the birds and I are aging
alive together

Stockholm, November 2014

Saturday 1.

Now the dark begins
Gold and amber leaves turn brown
The days are colder

Sunday 2.

We stay inside our cubic caves,
Windows unshaded, yearning for sun.

A silent sigh, we turn from the past,
And soldier forward.

Summer slips away as a dream.
This becomes the real world.

Monday 3.

2010-11-04 Johannelund and Minneberg-0402This soggy day, with sunlight diffusing through the overcast,
Allows the dark- and damp-loving mosses to assert themselves
Between concrete tiles and on the trunks and limbs of trees.

Grounded leaves wait to be brushed away to the city’s compost.
Those still clinging weakly to the near-naked trees
Have lost their brilliant colors.

Dusk arrives four hours after noon.
Released school children and office workers
Won’t see the sun’s light until they return tomorrow.

Tuesday 4.

Ancient spice, a gift for monarchs and gods.

The British, Dutch, and Portuguese fought over control of its sources, and over the peoples enslaved to grow and harvest it.

Now, five nations produce enough each year to provide, for a pittance, two tablespoons of the pungent powder for every person on earth.

What is its magic?

It enhances food and is a nourishment.
Its perfume encourages our appetites.
It is a medicine and a preventer of maladies.

The darker, colder months in Sweden are times for baking, with anise, cardamom, fennel, saffron… and cinnamon.  Along avenues and through subway passages, the odor of the spice wafts from countless konditori, fast food and convenience shops, and restaurants. The undeclared manna, food for the tongue and spirit is everywhere offered: kanelbulle—cinnamon buns.

Ancient sacrament
Once for just the high placed few
Now a common delight


Wednesday 5.
In the Library

Quietly seated people
Soft-sharp sounds of moving paper and feet
The occasional clearing of breathing passages

Heads down to read
Up to contemplate
Eyes closed to rest the brain or mind

Many thoughts are held within the uncountable pages
Impatiently reside in this vaulted room

Streams of consciousness begun uncounted years ago,
Engraved in words and held behind the dams of shelved books
Await release by exposure to the eye of a reader.

A cascade of old things made new
In the awakened senses of my silent companions
Surrounding me in the quiet library.


Thursday 6.
The first snow always surprises

Isn’t this too early?
Is it that cold already?
I haven’t got the right shoes!

The snow begins to melt on the pavement
While patches persist on colder ground
The day advances, warms, and the rain returns

The ground is dark
We begin to yearn for the bright and beautiful snows of winter

Friday 7.
Two Trees

On my accustomed Friday path
Leaving the health club
Toward the café for my usual
Two fried eggs and a small salad

About to turn left onto the walkway toward breakfast
I am stopped by the sight of the oaks to my right

Their now naked limbs soar skyward
Reaching toward the top of the tall building
Whose grounds they protect

I continue to… be with them
Care-lessly impeding foot traffic
While people struggle past me

I, two persons in one, stare at the trees
And watch the passersby
Don’t they see the trees?


Saturday 8.
A Visit to IKEA-Land

It’s the biggest IKEA in the world
Near King’s Curve, where the Cadillac of Gustav V
Skidded into a ditch, 1946

We watch the children moving in their childish ways
Through the circular levels and ramps and side passages
Surrounded by colors, shapes, and sizes

Calm Swedish parents keep quiet control
Especially in the long, but briskly moving line
For good, cheap food

Yes, it’s much like an amusement park
At least for the children


Sunday 9.
At The National Museum

Two hundred years of Russian art
Before, during, and after the political convulsions
And great wars

“Are we European?” some ask
“We are fierce and indomitable patriots”, others assert
“We have a soul as deep as the earth”
“Our people are strong and beautiful”
“Our landscapes are harsh yet spiritual”
“We have endured much suffering”
“Our leader is like a father to his country””
And, quietly, “We must break away from this oppression”


Monday 10.
In the Café

Seats for fifteen if we sat cheek by jowl
Or hip to hip, but never more than six or so

Most customers arrive breathily through the small door
Cold but not yet frigid air surrounding them
Order, collect their goods, and leave, hej då!

A sandwich saved for lunch
Kanelbulle for coffee at the desk
A fancy coffee to start one’s engine
Sipped while on the subway train

Unflappable Marie smiles,
Smoothly satisfying everyone’s expectations
And through all of this
Suddenly appear on my small table
Two fried eggs and delicious black coffee

My day has started
The muse hovers

Tuesday 11

2014-11-11 Chestnut on SvartviksvägenAs I walk from the subway to home in the pleasant air
I feel, at nine forty five, sudden warmth on my right shoulder
The sun has briefly broken though low clouds
To remind me of its daily, if diminishing presence

It hangs low above the horizon
Traversing the northern sky for eight hours
Shining directly into one’s eyes
When walking toward it on a clear day

Foregoing the bus, I walk westward
The city’s sweepers are waiting
For the trees to finish their annual work
In releasing their leaves to cover the damp walkways

The lower branches of the old chestnut
On the sloping lawn which overlooks the lake
Cling to their remaining foliage
Over a broad, brilliant carpet—
Golden-yellow and amber on vivid green


Wednesday 12.

Where do the birds go?
A swan flies quickly past
Only magpies remain


Thursday 13.
A Long Waiting
I am a long way from everyone in my previous life. My children, their partners, and my grandchildren are at least twenty hours distant by air in Alaska and California.

I have new family in Sweden—Eva, her children, and their partners—and new friends.

Frederic Buchanan Pape 1937 - 2015

Frederic Buchanan Pape
1937 – 2015

My oldest pal Fred, in the Great Central Valley of California, is available only through the post and during my visits to California. When we meet at my daughter’s home we are essentially present to each other, having said almost everything over our sixty years of friendship.

As fellow expatriates in Sweden have voiced, were it not for modern communications, we would feel severely isolated from family and friends in our home country.

Fred has been with me through three marriages, many jobs, countless addresses, and has seen my five children grow. His last letter arrived two months ago. Is he ill? Is he alive?

If he expires before I do, a great chunk of my life will disappear, just as when my sister died. I have no contact numbers for his neighbors and relatives.

The day darkens, the post arrives, no letter from Fred.

I sit at my desk
Recalling Maezumi Roshi’s:
“Expect nothing””


Friday 14. 

Ancient enjoyment
Carried through the centuries
Brown October ale

Saturday 15. 

The sky and the lake have the same color
Steel gray

The trees on the other side are not quite bare
But they look tired

Humans become gray and tired too
And keep on keeping on

Sunday 16.

The nearest full-service recycle station is not too far, good for a huff-and-puff if one walks briskly. It follows the route of the Minneberg-Alvik bus, up a winding hill and around a corner just past the second bus stop from home. I always look forward to seeing the wild roses serving as a thick hedge between the pavement and grass below the tall apartment buildings, around the large curve in the road

Suddenly—where are they? My God, they’re gone! What’s there? Skinny, newly planted hedge bushes. Two rows of them, following the road’s curve, sticking up from newly spread planting soil. Not a rose bush in sight.

I have written poems about these roses–they were mine! How dare they?


The ground beside the curving path looks naked, even vulnerable, trembling in the damp cool air. No doubt the new hedges will grow to fill the great space occupied by the murdered roses and be less trouble to maintain.

I vow to remember the roses,
Their small, pink flowers,
And their red and orange autumnal hips

Monday 17.
Men at Work

1379297_10152600221319773_2339787193028668158_nI left the health club feeling righteous from my exercise and atoned for a one kilogram gain over the weekend. I was in a relaxed, open mode, not hungry enough to hurry to the café, and looked up and into the large windows of a new office building opposite. I was struck by the immensity of the offices inside the building, but occupied by few people.

I stopped to gaze at two of the well-lighted tiers, windows uncovered, one large office on each tier, two desks placed near the windows, again each tier. And one man each desk, one facing one, with two computer screens between them, impeding their view of each other as they stared straight ahead.

I guessed they were working, But what work? Processing information? Old stuff, new stuff? Writing code?

I quit looking for ideas at this point, because… I saw all the space inside the expensive structure given over to four men, their desks, and desktop computers. I could not reconcile the lavish use of physical resources for work that could be done at home or in a modest office containing all four men, with a much lower ceiling and less expensive to heat. To whom is the large overhead expense of the offices being billed? And for what else could all that space be most efficiently used?. We are paying for this unnecessary expense, somehow.

And the building is ugly.

Harrumph! Time for breakfast.


Tuesday 18.
The Tao of Physics

I see the same words I read years ago
I understand more than I understood then
The years have been a good teacher

If I read this book ten years from now
Will I understand even more?
Or should I read another book?

Don’t seek an answer
Accept knowledge as it comes
The wise do not force

Wednesday 19.
I Saw the Sun Today

The sun arose just before eight
The thin clouds had dissipated to reveal it
After weeks of unbroken gray sky

I sat at my desk, looking out the window at this welcome sight.
A unexpected message caused me to leave the house for an errand.
Annoyed, I secured my computer and got properly dressed,
Just as I was beginning to wonder about today’s writing.

I gave in to the task
I ran
I didn’t need to run
My body wanted to run
I was my body was me
I accomplished the task
And ran back home
As the sun went behind the clouds

I sat at my desk
To wonder about today’s writing


Thursday 20.

one’s contradictions
should be carried carefully
like a basket of eggs

Friday 21.
About the Beggars

They’re from another country. They have invaded the streets and subways and my consciousness.

They squat in front of heavily trafficked stores and shopping malls, and inside the portals of subway stations. They cry, mostly, “Hey Hey”, with a sort of whine that grates, or they merely rattle the coins in their paper cups as a presumed inducement to put more noise in.

Some prostrate themselves on the walkways of highly-trafficked shopping and restaurant areas.

They have cardboard signs in Swedish or English or both, telling about their personal travails and displacements, and many children at home (but not in Sweden).

One cannot help but sympathize, but I cannot help but become disaffected when I see able bodied men begging. I admit to having automatic empathy for the younger and the older women, especially when obviously pregnant—I have given money to a few.

Why do I not, can I not, ignore them and their piteous glances?

They have learned their art well.


Saturday 22.
Local Artists Display Their Work

What if my writings were posted, page by page on a wall for passersby to see? I would stand back, silently, hoping to be unobtrusive while praying to the gods and muses:

Please stop
Please read my words
Please like them
Please tell me
And, maybe, maybe, buy some?

I imagine this is what these many artists experience, person by person, couple by couple passing by, not quite directly glancing, trying not to look too interested so as not to encourage unwanted attention by the artist, hovering, discreetly, but still…

I toured the offerings slowly, like a pasha surveying his universe:

Still Life Theresa LeBlanc

Still Life
Theresa LeBlanc

That’s kitsch
Too busy
Interesting, but don’t stop
Lots of butts and breasts, hmm
Nice landscapes, talented

I was glad to see my friend’s aquarelle still lifes, colorful and direct.

And I was glad my writings aren’t posted for people to casually pass-by.


Sunday 23.
Mozart’s Requiem at Sofia Kyrka

He, touched by the transcendental,
Transformed his perceptions into notations
Which flow through musicians
Into the sensibilities of ordinary humans
Now made holy


Monday 24.

strong winds this morning
clearing weak twigs and branches
for new leaves next spring


Tuesday 25.
The Tao of Physics II

I am a local manifestation
Of the universal quantum field
Not yet ready to dissolve
And return to the void

Still busy, inducing other manifestations
Which may remain un-dissolved
Beyond my time upon the stage
To give the illusion that “I” existed

Wednesday 26.

Fog over the lake this morning
Evoking San Francisco
And the fog horns of the Golden Gate

First childhood memories
All so far away


Thursday 27.

All this day, with an interruption to visit a friend, I listened to some works of Olivier Messiaen:

The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
20 Contemplations of the Infant Jesus
Quartet for the end of time, for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano
Seven Haikus for piano and small orchestra
L’ascension: 4 meditations for orchestra

During the visit with my friend we talked, among other things, about the mystical, flowing nature of life and the Universe. But words cannot adequately describe this.

“He who knows does not speak
He who speaks does not know”
—Lao Tsu

But music is not speaking
Messiaen reveals the mystical

Stop speaking


Friday 28.

We celebrated Thanksgiving today with a friend and members of her family who have  roots in Sweden and the USA. The turkey and trimming were traditionally American.

The guests ranged in age from two months to around sixty, not counting my superannuated self.

The young people were compelling to me—their energy, their optimism, their beauty. And their quietly proud seniors.

I am thankful the world has these young people to carry on in the face of all the forces of disruption and decay this elder too much dwells upon.

the wheel of life turns
growth, decay, rest, and regrowth
no need to despair

2011-09-01 Heron-03Saturday 29.

A short day of light in late November
The sun glances off the light-colored buildings across the lake
Low clouds behind them defining the horizon

The light, persistent breeze sends confused ripples toward the western end,
But there are no sailboats to catch it.
No one sits at the bench on the pier below my window.

Eva begins to decorate the house for Christmas.

 Sunday 30.

Perhaps these writings
Will reveal some of
What is already known
But unstated
In each of us

Gray Day

I’m trying to make the best of it
After all, I’m alive and well
Despite the many years
This body has traveled

But there it is beyond the window
That there
This here
Gray day

We’re beyond the Spring Equinox
The days are longer than the nights
And daylight continues to gain
Each day

But days of gray are not sunny days
And the body
No the mind
No the whole being
Yearns for the warmth
Beyond the gray

But like I said
I’m trying to make the best of it

It ain’t easy