Tag: Japanese poetry

The road from grief to Zen

HIS TRAVELS

CONFESSIONAL CULTURE

I began this biographical log as a place to park my short stories, hoping to add new ones as I went along.

When my wife died two years ago, it became more of an autobiographical log, mostly about our life together, her death and my grief, becoming at times (in retrospect) an embarrassingly personal confessional.

My self-centered grief for the loss of a soulmate and my sorrow for her loss of life have not diminished. Some people find that pitiful and annoying. They lost loved ones over the years and they moved on, met other companions and so forth.

AGED BUT UN-TATTERED

Why haven’t I? I’m reminded of a line by the poet W.B. Yeats: ‘An aged man is but a paltry thing / A tattered coat upon a stick.’

Certainly I’m aged now and in the scheme of things I’m definitely paltry, but my coat is still of good cloth. I could put it on and don my fedora or my Panama, depending on the season, and take a walk along the boulevard like I used to in my relative youth and perhaps, as I did then, catch the eye of a fine lady, older now but still jolly attractive.

The fact is I don’t have the interest or the inclination. I have my memories of S and my books and a most companionable cat — not to mention my 80-proof security blanket (and yet I mentioned it!).

I began this biographical log as a place to park my short stories
Ryokan (1758-1831)

ZEN MASTER RYŌKAN

Lately I am revisiting the Zen literature of Japanese writers and poets — Ryōkan, Bashō, Buson, Issa and others. The publishing house Shambhala Publications of Boulder, Colorado, has a large collection of excellent translations. They arrive on my doorstep. I never have to leave my bungalow, my ‘hut’ in the haiku-imbued north. It is snowing today.


The new year’s first snow / how lucky to remain alone / at my hermitage — Matsuo Bashō


Late at night, listening to the winter rain
Recalling my youth —
Was it only a dream? Was I really young once? — Ryōkan


Drawing at top by Matsuo Bashō in his classic travel chronicle ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North.’


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Life in the hermit hovel

HERMITAGE

You’ve heard of the Hermit Kingdom, land of a dictator, well, I live in the hermit hovel, an old bungalow with a cat and countless mice, who under threat of death by cat, mostly stay in their hermit holes within the hermit hovel.

I am not a dictator, I’m an affable loner, formerly a gregarious husband and man about town. It’s a different story now. Few people, in fact nobody seeks admittance to the hermit hovel, except once in a while the handyman Tom who comes around when something breaks and we have a beer together but most of the time I don’t call him and I try and fix it myself or just deal with it.

In my brief sorties into the outside world, I drive to the liquor store and the convenience store, conveniently avoiding the supermarket, and then I drive back home where I looked after my wife when she fell ill and was at her bedside when she left the planet and went to another— I don’t know where she went, another planet, a kingdom maybe, I don’t know, I kind of doubt she went anywhere, but you never know, even if you think you know.

I live in a limbo of hopeless hope, or perhaps it’s hopeful hopelessness. I didn’t choose to live this way, especially not live my last years this way but that’s the way it went and there’s nothing I can do about it.

After nearly two years of the hermit life I was getting psyched up to go out and seek companionship, not a new lady, just some friends maybe, go back to the bar my wife and I used to go to, it’s only a mile down the road so you can have a few drinks and still drive home safely or walk home if you get plastered.

But covid had a different plan. We’re all in the same boat there so I’m not going to complain about that. I’m not really complaining about anything, except that I’m out of beer and it’s two o’clock in the morning and I’ll have to wait seven hours to go out and get some more.

One of the things I’ve discovered during my hermitage, besides the stark charm of Japanese poetry and the comforting presence of a cat, is that a breakfast of bacon and eggs tastes even better with beer.


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