Duke started hallucinating about a month before seeing a psychiatrist. At 7pm someone, perhaps himself, went flying off a cliff on a horse, but never landing. That was just the beginning. From that day on, each evening at the same time, he would experience what appeared to be a dream overlaying his reality. The next night while talking to his wife Sally, he suddenly saw someone having sex with movie star Vicky Newsome. The male involved looked to be about forty years old, balding and generally pretty ugly. Sally was talking to Duke, but there was no way he could follow what she was saying. “Duke, you looked like you just went into a trance. Do you have any idea what I was saying?”
Duke tried to pretend that he wasn’t scared shitless and after a lengthy pause, just said “Sorry, my mind just wandered off for awhile.”
Duke was sure he had gone crazy, but was afraid to tell anyone. He just hoped the problem would go away quickly, but no. Every evening, same time, what appeared to be a waking dream would come to him. Sometimes someone was being chased, sometimes it was sex, sometimes it was something that got lost and couldn’t be found. Except for an occasional celebrity, there wasn’t anyone that he could recognize in his hallucination. There was the one recurring character, the unattractive man who had sex with Ms. Newsome. Rather than admit that he was crazy, he started reading a book at the same time his hallucinations started and just accepted that he wouldn’t make any sense of what he read.
After a couple of weeks Duke started to hear a strange voice in his head. He would pick up things like “Its Miller Time” or “I want to go Coney Island.” Duke was able to cheer himself up a little because the voice never asked him to kill anybody, not even his boss, who certainly deserved killing.
When the voices started, he broke down and told Sally what had been happening. She tried to reassure him “Whatever is happening, your behavior has not changed at all. Well, maybe your 7pm book habit, but after what you have told me, I can’t blame you. Could you have hit your head? I hear that can cause weird brain activity, both hearing and seeing things.”
“Any mental trauma – have you had any shocks or losses that you didn’t tell me about?”
“Okay, I guess you should see a psychiatrist. Keep in mind as troubling as this seems, we will get to the bottom of it and get you fixed. In case you’re worried, I don’t mean like we had Kitz fixed.”
“That’s a relief. Finally, some good news.”
Dr. Finley did the standard battery of questions and brain scans, and couldn’t find a thing. In desperation, he asked about Duke’s hearing aids. “Did you get the hearing aids before or after the hallucinations began?”
“I had them for a month before they started.”
“That eliminates my last hope. I can’t find anything wrong with you at all. About all I can do is to start you on a tranquilizer and hope for the best.”
As soon as Duke started using his prescription tranquilizer the various voices and visions muted, but did not disappear. He decided that he would just have to live with his problem. Neither Duke nor Sally told even their friends or family about what was happening.
A year later, Duke was reading “Popular Science” and saw the article “Telepathy – Fact or Fiction?” He scanned the article until he came to:
“Rumors abound that telepathy devices, which look and act like hearing aides were developed at an East Coast lab. Alleged testing began a year ago last August. It is further claimed that a disgruntled employee of the lab smuggled a sample of the devices into a hearing aid store disguised as a regular set of hearing aids. This all seems to be an urban legend, because the recipients of these special telepathy aids would have reported it by now. The unnamed employee has spread the word that testing began first with dreams starting as the telepathy originator slept from10pm on, and then started testing waking thoughts.”
Duke did some quick calculations. Eastern Time was three hours ahead of his home in Portland. Check. His visual hallucinations started before his verbal hallucinations. Check. The time that the testing started was when he started his visual hallucinations. Check.
Prudently, Duke first saw a lawyer who was entrusted with breaking the news if any harm would come to Duke. After thinking about how much money that he could make writing a book, a little discrete checking around found that it was much easier and a lot more remunerative to sell the telepathy aids quietly back to the lab that lost them. Duke sealed the deal by telling the lab “But wait, there’s more – you get my silence along with the devices.”
Duke had no more hallucinations, but he did begin living the dream with the money he got. Sally said, “Given how you suffered, I don’t think that any amount of money would have been too much.”
Receive an email from the “Annual Ipecac Writing Competition.” Excitedly open the email. Entertain thoughts of winning. You sent them a good piece; it was revised more often than a realtor’s face. Imagine a publishing deal. Imagine handing in your two-week notice. Feel relieved about the prospect of never again staring (while trying not to stare) at that mole with two black hairs when your boss stands over your desk.
Remember the new rule about “no personal emails” at work. Open the email anyway; they’ll miss you when you’re gone.
“We at Ipecac regret to inform you that the Annual Lavender Sphincter Poetry Competition received a wealth of stellar manuscripts. And yours. However, you will receive a free three-month subscription to Ipecactus, our award-winning online journal showcasing the best writers from all over the globe. Check out the winning entries below. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.”
Check the email address to make sure they sent the rejection to the correct email. Check again. This can’t be. Decide to take a look at the winner’s poem, but just to determine where Ipecac went wrong.
The winning poem is capitalized like a psalm and uses “gossamer,” “Hyacinth,” and “halcyon.” Stare. The primary subject seems to be pigeons with “halcyon halitosis.” Put on your glasses. The poem’s thematic elements explore the social mores of pigeons on leave.
Take off your glasses; they didn’t help. Wonder what a pigeon could do, or catch, on leave. Try not to think about it. The winning poem is so abstract you can’t decide if the poet is clever or psychotic. Settle on the later. Hope the poet doesn’t live near a park. Open the bottle of antacids on your desk. Eat two.
Grind your teeth and resolve to never write a poem about pigeons. Open the bottle of antacids again. Throw two at the wall. Glare at the screen. Read the judge’s comments about the winning writer. “Sheer genius and what not.”
Check the author’s picture, hoping to find flaws—she looks like she eats once per week. Move to her biography, feeling confident. She probably didn’t win “Best Halloween Poem” in the fourth grade. Click on her list of publications and awards—it’s longer than a DMV line.
Pace around the office trying not to care as you mutter “pushfart” and “tan hooker.” Scan for anything that needs shredding. Consider shredding your computer. Set your email filter so anything from that flatulent journal will bypass your inbox and land in the trash. Unlike on Facebook. Unfollow on Twitter. Unsatisfying.
Go back on Facebook. Block Ipecac. Wish the editors were stuck on an elevator between floors with “that one guy” from your writer’s group who prefers arguing to revision and eats cheese before group despite lactose intolerance.
Drive home from work in the fast lane. Grouse around in the kitchen. Eat blue corn chips. Check emails at the kitchen table. Finish the bag of blue corn chips. Read an email from “that one guy” entitled, “And Now For Something A Little Difference.” Smack your own forehead. Wipe off chip crumbs. He’s getting published.
Read your email invitation to “that one guy’s” bookstore event. Try to think of a schedule conflict. Your teenaged daughter walks into the kitchen. Attempt to point out the injustice of “that one guy” getting published. Point at the subject line of his email for justification.
Your daughter shrugs and says, “School was easier in the old days.” Try to think of a snappy answer as she leaves the room. Watch her leave. Ask the dog, “What are you staring at?”
Reason that the judge could be unaware she’s developing cataracts. Think about mailing her a pair of bifocals with another copy of your poem. You could offer to accept 50% of the prize money.
Attend your writer’s group with two pairs of bifocals. Describe your plan for resubmitting. Use the pink bifocals as a pointer. Ask if you should send Ipecac’s judge the pink frames, the polka dot frames, or both?
The group advises against “bifocal resubmission.” Feel unsupported. Ask your writer’s group if they’d be willing, instead, to request that Ipecac select a different winner? Uncomfortable silence ensues. Suggest if everyone in the group purchased a subscription, Ipecac would be grateful. More uncomfortable silence.
The group advises you to “let it go.” Nod, but silently disagree. Think about resending your poem as someone else reads. After group ends, go home and write several witty emails. Delete several witty emails because the group made you promise.
Eat chocolate chip cookies. Leave the bag open. Pine about never getting a chance to live mole-free. Pine about going into debt to cover college tuitions. Pine about distaste for abstract poetry. Imagine scrambling the words of your best poem and inserting “pigeon” and “gossamer” randomly to get it published.
Thoroughly investigate Ipecac’s prior winners. Realize they have more in common than histrionic poetry—all have an MFA. Calculate the theoretical probability of you receiving an MFA. Use the known variables of teenagers in various stages of puberty, no savings, mortgage, an idiotic ex, and impending college tuitions.
Realize you might get published for the first time when you’re 80—if you make it that long. Wear failure like a cape. Eat more cookies. Stare at the wall.
Remind yourself Virginia Woolf had money, no kids, a supportive husband, and servants. Remind yourself that you have three kids and the only service you get is at the drive-through window, so comparing yourself to others is a feckless hobby.
Think about another way to learn what MFA students learn, preferably without tuition, an advisor with a mole, or leaving teenagers unattended.
Check out all the books on poetic technique at your library. Read both. Decide to purchase used books at a local bookstore. Buy both. Decide to shop at Powell’s when visiting family in Portland. Wait three months.
Visit Portland. Ignore dissenting opinions from the back seat about stopping at a bookstore while on vacation. Roam through Powell’s like a Rottweiler in a meat factory. Purchase their triple espresso and jack it up with sugar. Have a 45-minute turbo-conversation with another espresso-fueled poet about one poem in Jimmy Carter’s, “Always a Reckoning.”
Mail three boxes of books home to save on luggage fees. Set five books aside to read while on vacation. After dinner, put your feet up and open a thick book by e.e. cummings. Sniff the pages; think loving thoughts about e.e. cummings and vacation.
Read e.e. cummings critically, looking for technique. Get lost in the poetry and forget about technique. Catch yourself. Frown. Go back two pages. Repeat.
Reading is thwarted by your youngest teen strutting back-and-forth like a chicken to get your attention. Look up from e.e. cummings and watch your son dance. Try not to laugh. Give up on that. Look at the book on your lap and realize you’ve discarded poetry’s joy in pursuit of a benchmark. Plan to write about it—later. Join the chicken dance.
I can’t think of my cousin without seeing the Chinese Pond Heron. Its yellow bill tipped in black. During mating season gray feathers flecked with white turn red. Low-lying, he wades in brackish water, spears a glossy frog. Cracks him in half before swallowing. One leg tucked under his body, he holds position. Behind a break of water palms, silt seeping through the hole in his boot, my cousin holds position too. Waiting for another boy probably his age, fresh from school, handed a Chicom56 rifle without his asking. They’re two seventeen-year-olds, dropped in a skewed world, chins still fuzzy. Eyes too young to detect hate. When my cousin finally spots him, my cousin begins to shiver, nearly loses his grip. The other boy never notices. Caught by the heron taking flight.
“Many things in the old days
Made one popular among his peers:
A sun tan, smoking cigarettes, slinging a yo-yo into the air,
Underage whisky drinking, shaking hips in a hoop,
Saying ‘Hubba hubba,’ shop-lifting in dime stores.
Son, what makes one popular today?”
“Dad, drug addiction.”
for the record
does not count
as a date
in my book
Across many haiku communities people argue about what haiku is. Some people write mostly haiku and attest that you need kigo (season words) or kireji (cutting words). Others believe that you must adhere to “5-7-5″—though most communities have abandoned this syllable count.
And then there is senryu. As I understand, senryu is like haiku, except for the way that haiku deals with seasons and nature. Senryu deals with more hum drum subjects. And by hum drum I mean human and humorous, although haiku involves humor too, senryu is a lewder humor.
I have read that senryu began as mocking poems so in a way senryu is an anti-poem. Haiku are also anti-poems. Haiku capture a singular haiku moment—they don’t tell a story like much of western poetry.
I think the moment part of the haiku and senryu is the defining factor. In a way, arguing over what haiku is or isn’t can make us forget that moment.
I do believe that there are some rules that define haiku, I do not think they are so easy to bog down. It’s about seeing a moment and capturing it, all image, all meaning. If there is more to it than just a frog jumping in a pond, then that’s so it goes.
Or maybe all the meaning, of haiku and life, is just the reader’s inference.
Basho’s frog and pond haiku has been translated many times by many authors. Looking through some of these translations, I’ve found the following poems, which I consider my favorites. I did not look at the authors until after reading the poems, and Lo, some of these are my favorite authors too!
The old pond,
A frog jumps in:
Translated by Alan Watts
I like this poem because I thought the word “plop” fully represented the sound of water.
(for more Alan Watts, watch this video on nothingness)
a frog jumps into
the sound of water
Translated by Jane Reichhold
Reichold does something interesting by having the frog jump into the sound, rather than into the pond. These of course are the same, however, in Reichold’s version the haiku moment is more about the sound than about the frog jumping.
(Jane Reichold’s resources on haiku are some of my favorite on the web, especially her list of kigo.)
The old pond
A frog jumped in,
Translated by Allen Ginsberg
this version is a bit silly, and the first two lines read like a nursery rhyme. The last word is somewhat of a surprise, not that the frog makes the sound, but the sound that it makes. Maybe it splashed onto a lily pond or landed on another frog! What a silly thought, and I think Ginsberg was going it.
(Ginsberg is most famous for his poem “Howl” but I like his singing collaboration with Kerouac and Cassady on “Pull My Daisy“).
Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water —
A deep resonance.
Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa
I like the balance of this haiku. We start with silence and we end with something moving towards silence, the ripples of the splash. For me this is a very visual haiku which brings me to a zen moment of ripples: stillness moving.
(This is the first I’ve heard of this poet, but here is his bio: http://www.haijinx.com/authors/n.yuasa.html)
Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.
Translated by Lafcadio Hearn
This poem seems to want to get it over with. I think it is a simple representation of how quickly the frog jump happens. The poem even reads as I’d expect a frog jump to sound. Quick and passing.
(Here is a link to Hearn’s wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafcadio_Hearn)
And now, with the help of google translate, previous translations, some assumptions and imagination I will give a few attempts at a translation of this poem. Alan Turing might be rolling in his grave considering that I’m using a computer to assist my translation.
leaps into the river styx
frog leaps into old pond sound
frog leaps old pond plop
crowded pond frog jumps in the sound of water
the frog jumps in
frog hops in the pond plop
Do you favor any of these poems? If so/if not and why?
Before the white chrysanthemu
the scissors hesitate
Translated by Robert Hass