Haiku Postcards from Japan: the trains and the adventure

I did not get to post yesterday, as it was a day for great adventures: a bus ride from Tokyo to Mount Fuji, a bus ride up to a point about 7,000 feet up the incredible dormant volcano, a boat trip across a crater lake in Hakone, a gondola ride up another massive mountain that provided spectacular views of the world and Pacific Ocean, and then … the coup for my youngest son … a ride back to Tokyo on the super-fast bullet train. Wow.

One observation: the commuter trains here are brutal at rush hour — the trains are packed full and yet, no one speaks, no one communicates. It’s a small space with no sound. Unless you are Americans with five young kids and then all you hear are our voices. Also, the train waits for no one. There is a strict timetable – to the minute — and the doors close whether or not you are all the way in. There are even train employees called “pushers” that jam you into the train to make sure the doors close on time. If you have little kids, this is a bit stressful, as you might imagine.


Doors close, in or out;
This train stops for no one;
Unrelenting pace

Mount Fuji is as impressive as you might imagine — rising as a white landmark from miles and miles away. We got lucky – it was clear skies and blue and we could see all the way to the top. It was breathtaking in its beauty.

Magnificant cone;
white-capped, majestic beauty;
its power:dormant

And finally, after a gondola ride up another mountain, we were greeted by an ornate temple, standing like a sentry thousands of feet up in the air.

Red temple standing
near five volcanic craters
peaceful and serene

Peace (in poetry),


Frozen Saxophonists: a Japanese city haiku

We spent a good amoung of time outide the naval base yesterday (after getting rattled awake by a small earthquake in the morning) in order to get a sense of a Japanese shopping district. It was bustling with activity and a food court, in particular, was interesting to experience — all the different kinds of foods, exotic and strange to our Western tongues.

On the city streets, though, what intrigued me were a series of statues … of saxophonists. I play the saxophone, so I kept being pleasantly surprised to find these solitary musicians embedded into the chaos of the city streets. I guess it must be some appreciation for jazz music, although there were no explanations — just statues here and there.

Thus, today’s haiku from Japan:

Music as language;
Frozen saxophonists play
cool Japanese jazz

Peace (with city music),


From the Imperial Palace: a haiku

Tokyo is a modern city, with the ancient Imperial Palace closed up inside of it. It’s an interesting collision of the old and new. The modern Tokyo that we saw yesterday on our train and foot travels was nothing too special — just another boxy skyscraper city center. But the fortress-like walls of the Imperial City, where the Emperor and his family live, is impressive — moats, walls, stately buildings on the rocky outcropping of the hills. We had hoped to get inside and see the gardens, but all access was closed off and so we had to use our imagination for what it might be like to be so cloistered.

Here is my Tokyo-Imperial Palace haiku:

Modern city, guard;
protecting the past from this:
concrete invasion

Peace (outside the walls),


Japanese Shrine: A haiku reflection

Yesterday, we wandered many streets of the surrounding Japanese cities — getting a glimpse of the Japanese culture far from the well-traveled roads. It’s hard to avoid the observation that this island is cramped, with narrow streets, narrow sidewalks and bustling activity everywhere.

We also visited two important cultural places — a giant Buddha (we even went inside the belly of the Buddha, which should be the name of a rock band, as Dave Barry used to say in his columns) and a beautiful temple shrine complex. Both sites are hundreds of years old. The temple, in particular, was astounding, using the landscape to capture the essence of spirituality.

I wrote this haiku to capture my thoughts of the shrine:

A water whisper:
Music amid the temples;
we walk silent paths

The site is known as Tsurogaoka Hachimangue Shrine and it is in Kamakura.

Peace (in 5-7-5),


My Haiku Project from Japan

We arrived .. sanity intact.

I am keeping a journal of our visit here in Japan (of course) and my goal is to write at least one haiku each day while we are here. A short poem to capture the experience. I’ll get on here and blog the haikus when I can and when I have time.

This poem is about losing an entire day as we skipped across time zones.

Hurdling time zones
like jumping picket fences
Everything stands still

Peace (from the land of the rising sun),


The Red Sled

This photo is from my backyard and it reminded me of the imagery from the William Carlos Williams’ poem, Red Wheelbarrow. (The photo is part of the Photofridays project, too)


so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

What about:

so much depends

the red plastic

covered with white

beside the children’s

Peace (in a poetic mood),

Cell Phone Novelist

This week, I was skimming through my New Yorker magazine and came across an intriguing article about the rise of cell phone novelists in Japan. Mostly composed by young women who are writing for publication for the first time in their lives, this phenomenon has not yet crossed the world but is gaining some traction outside of Japan. The novels are written line by line on cell phones, in episodes, then put up on websites, and then some (the irony here) are published into best-selling books.

The article by Dana Goodyear (read an excerpt of it here) gets at both the views of the writers but also the criticism the cell phone novels are getting from literary circles. People argue against calling these pieces “novels” and scoff at their importance, while others see the popularity as a signal that literacy, even in the wired world, is not quite yet dead, even if the depth of the stories remains fairly simplistic. Perhaps this is just the start of something bigger?

Anyway, the article got me thinking and inspired this poem, about a cell phone novelist who feels under the cultural gun for publishing stories in this new-fangled way.

The Plight of the Pajama Novelist
(listen to the podcast of the poem)

I stand accused of being nothing more than
a pajama novelist
padding about in bare feet
with fingers twitching on my cell phone
as I unleash yet another sentence, word by word by word,
into this text-ural world.

My accusers use their diplomas for prosecution
as if a piece of paper
might yield some artifact from the past
to determine the present state of affairs
when words are so cheap that anyone is a poet;
anyone, a novelist;
anyone, a composer.

Locked into the ribbon of their old punch-key typewriters,
they don’t imagine that writing can ever be different than it was,
that it might change with the pulse of the times
and become stories scribbled out on the thumbpads
during the afternoon commute back home.

Odysseus remains lost in the mire
but Genji is alive and well,
immersed in the politics of the palace
of internal intrigue which we — the denizens of Keitai Shosetsu —
pick and choose from of the remains of the skeletons
of the past.

Yet who am I to defend myself as I sit in anonymity,
disguised as a woman of heartache
whose lover is in chains;
whose past remains broken;
whose heart is in flames;
with passions, spoken: all for public consumption
as I sip my beer and imagine the possibilities.

A million hits can’t be wrong — a million eyes on the screen —
as they wait with eagerness
while my accusers stew in their discordant certitude
that this signal the End of the Novel.
So yes, I plead guilty to charges
and wait for the jury of my peers — one million strong —
to come to my defense so we can write this new tale of ours:

Peace (in new forms),

Ants: An Angry Poem

Darn those pesky little ants. They’ve found our home. My only response was to write a poem about them.

Ants — A Tirade
(listen to the poem)

The ants invade
these days
in waves
and my brain is just crazed
with ways to contain them —
stop them
although, I’m afraid,
that that can of Raid is no longer part of
our chemical brigade
and while finger-crunching-kids may play
the role of the Giant,
it remains a fact that more and more ants
are coming in out of the shade
to stay
and our only hope
is to sweep the crumbs from the counter tops
Be gone, ants,
I’ll make you pay with another of my
terrible, awful, insubstantial

Peace (in little things),

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 10

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday, we all sat around and wrote. It was another freewriting opportunity for the kids and for me, too. I didn’t give them any directions, really, just space to write. We didn’t share. We didn’t talk. We wrote and then when it was time to leave, we put our notebooks away and that was that. While they were making comics or writing stories or reflecting on their past weekend, I was hit by an urge to write some poetry, and my mind was wandering around the idea of the End of the School Year.

So, these are three of the four poems I wrote during the freewriting times of my four writing classes yesterday. The fourth poem didn’t make the cut, but there still might be some fragments to pull from the fire on some other day. Words are never lost, they just await their time.

Let You Go
(listen to the poem)

I’d count the days
if I had the time
But time is elusive here
as the days slip past.

I am torn
between who you were,
who you are
and who you are becoming,
and wonder where
my place in your story will be
when the years have washed ashore.

You are more than
what my pen can hold
and beyond a form
to take shape on this paper
beneath fingers.

I watch you — I whisper
and let you go.

Stage Presence
(listen to the poem)

On stage
you were transformed
into something unrecognizable
even to me —
the silent one no longer silent
but with a voice
like a wolf
pouncing on those words
like prey.

I was there, with you, on stage,
in the moment
behind the curtain
I believed you in a way
I (perhaps) had not believed in you before

I wonder where that person lives
in you —
when I call on you,
I am only met with confusion.

(listen to the poem)

Another summer awaits you;
your parents are content to let you sit
and simmer in the heat —
and you, thinking your thoughts of no way out;
I know you need structure
an excuse to write,
to learn;
to move among us in the living
from your world behind the mask.

In the days ahead,
I will mail you a book — some pens and paper —
anonymous, as always —
and cross my fingers that it reaches you
in time ….

before the doldrums move you
into the path of the thunderstorms
of summer.

Peace (in the waning days of the school year),