Haiku Hiatus

Haiku hiatus
Who makes rules, who enforces
One breath, trap door step.

I’ve been out on the internet, looking at haiku blogs, and found many haikus that don’t conform to the usual 5-7-5 syllable scheme, with seasonal images and a turn of some sort.   One blogger said a haiku is essentially an experience expressed in a single breath, that’s all.  No other rules.  While the Wikipedia definition does point out that the 5-7-5 scheme is part of traditional haiku, that refers to moras in Japanese, which aren’t the same as syllables in English.  The definition does include a seasonal reference, and some sort of turn to another image, or a “cutting word.”

Right now, none of that seems particularly relevant.  The fly trying to escape the coming winter is buzzing like mad at the sunny window in my study.  Very annoying, which fits my mood.  It’s been a packed week with too many late nights working and too much clutter in my head to stay focused on 17 syllables expressions, whether a single breath or not. 

Another trap door has opened up in my life.  I got the “trap door” reference from Forrest Church’s book Love and Death.  He talks about the sudden challenges and losses in life as trap doors — grave illness, the death of a loved one, those life events that make you take a sharp turn to the left, or right, or maybe not a turn at all but a fall through a gap in the floor.

Cancer had been marching closer for two weeks.  First, the partner of a friend at work was diagnosed with a plum sized tumor on her ovary.  Then another close friend’s husband was scheduled to start hormone treatment for his prostate cancer, a step they’d been putting off as long as possible due to the grim side effects.  Then my sister, a breast cancer survivor of 19 years was diagnosed with cancer on her spine.

Suddenly the floor in front of me is an open door and clunk!  I’m in the basement again.  Okay, I know the basement.  Get out the flashlight, stoop so I don’t hit my head on the rafters, wave my arms around in front of myself as I move so I don’t walk into cobwebs.  It’s cold and damp and dark down here and I’d much rather be in the living room, on the couch, next to the fire.  But I know there are stairs out of the basement, and I won’t be here forever.

Cancer sucks.


Sue met Dennis her first night in Key West.  He was captain of a wine tasting, sunset sail tour , they got talking, she got his number, they went for a sail two nights later on his boat.  She told me about the sail, I said I love to sail, and last night we both went out on his Catalina 42, sailing out of Key West Harbor, into the Gulf. 

I admired his boat.  “I sailed her to Venezuela,” he said.

“What did you do in Venezuela?” I asked.

He looked at me with a quizzical smile.  “I was on a trip.”

Later, when we were underway, I said, “The way you looked at me when I asked what you did in Venezuela makes me think we have very different approaches to how we spend out time.”  He laughed.

Dennis has been in Key West for 11 years.  Before that he “practiced retirement, and was really good at it,” sailing through the Caribbean for a year and a half.   Several years as a boat captain in Key West, then the trip to Venezuela, now back to being a ship captain.  He owns a house in Key West but rents it.  He lives on his boat.

“I’m practicing retirement soon myself,” I’d said and Dennis congratulated me. “I think you’re a good influence on Sue and me.  We work too much.”

Later, with the mainsail and jib both full of wind, the turquoise water slipping by, the water slapping rhythmically against the hull, Dennis smiled and said, “This is the way life should be.”

I wanted to say, “This is the way life is, right now,” but I didn’t.

Later, he showed me a map on his GPS gizmo that had tracked every anchorage of his trip to Venezuela.  The sweeping line of triangles was enticing, the path of a journey across the water. 

Live life the way it’s supposed to be, I thought, and make a sweeping trail of anchorages.  I’m on the right path, I just don’t have a boat and a gizmo to make a picture of my trail. 

Time Out

Morning Glory

The problem with time is how it marches on, no matter what you’re doing.  However, that’s also the blessing of time.  Vacation days pass on, but so do days weighted with grief or anxiety.  On days when I wake up anxious, I know, from experience, that if I can just get through the day, the anxiety will start to wash out as the day passes.  By evening I can feel the tide of release start to seep in. 

I’m in the midst of a time out.  I’m on vacation, with no concrete plans, no trip itinerary or rental cottage, just days off, time out.  David and I get up in the morning, drink our cappuccino, and talk about what we’ll do for the day, which isn’t necessarily what we’ll do.  I’m handling this remarkably well for me.  There are moments of feeling the time off, time out, slipping through my hands, worrying that vacation is passing, but when I do go back to work, those days will pass too.  

When we sit on the porch to get out of the sun, we can see the morning glories I planted this year, blue throats open to the day, big blue faces on the vine that’s crawling up a string I strung from the eave of the barn.  The flowers open in the morning, then close up by late afternoon.  Glory, glorious, timed to be enjoyed, and then pass.

Floating Down River

In March of 2006, my son Sam was home from college for the weekend.  There were a bunch of us at dinner, Sam’s friends and ours, mine and Eric’s, Sam’s Dad, my husband.  Nearing the end of his sophomore year, Sam was insisting that he drop out of college and open a restaurant with Eric.  Eric had worked in food services his entire life, first at his Uncle Babe’s fish market, then at Babe’s snack bar on a lake in Connecticut, he’d waited tables at countless restaurants, fancy and simple, and for almost three decades had directed food and nutrition departments at hospitals.  He’d often fantasized about owning a restaurant, and Sam is a plan-a-minute man, so he thought Eric might bite.
“You should stay in school,” Eric said.  We all agreed.

“What about the bunch of you?” Sam asked.  Of the eight adults at dinner, only one had finished college in four years.  All of us professionals, three had never gotten degrees, one had dropped out of high school but still ended up with a BA in philosophy, one had started her degree in her 30’s, Eric also didn’t get his BS until his late 30’safter attending four different undergraduate schools, and my own college history included a bad marriage break for a year and a half.

“The world is different now,” Eric said.  “You need a degree.”

“Look,” I said.  “This is the path you’re on right now.  Stay on it and see where it leads.  Life is more about floating down river than it is about marching across a field.”

“Where did you hear that?” John asked.

“I made it up.”

Two months later, Eric was dead, at 54, from metastatic ocular melanoma that we’d had no idea was busy eating away his insides.  The river got really turbulent for a good while, and still does from time to time, but we’re still floating and the water is still moving to the sea