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Archive: Contents of American Haibun & Haiga Volume 1

[Return to Author List, Vol 1]

Richard von Sturmer

The University

in the mouth of a dolphin
sits a green frog

bitter tea--my teeth
leave indentations
in the polystyrene cup

The university cafeteria is filled with smoke. Looking into my cup, the marks that my teeth have made remind me of childhood, of those marks left by small teeth--milk teeth--in the skin of an apple or in a piece of cardboard. Perhaps I became aware of myself, of myself as a separate entity, when I grew teeth and could bite into things; when I began to digest matter instead of merely absorbing fluids. But such thoughts remove me from the tea (which is virtually undrinkable). In the midst of the surrounding conversations, I begin to think about another university, a university of forgetting where a body of knowledge could lose weight . . . give up the ghost . . . dematerialize . . .

on a misty day
the quiet man
unleashes his dog

The absence of awareness and the presence of awareness are like alternating currents. The man knows the dog is near, at the bottom of the park, even though the park itself is hidden by mist. And the dog knows the man is there, standing with his hands in his pockets, waiting for a ball that has been thrown to be returned. A tennis-ball. The more moisture it collects from the ground, the heavier it becomes, and the further it can travel through the air.

a ball of light
a ball of fire

The man asks himself what books he would attempt to save if his house were on fire: the philosophical volumes, the ones on religion and mythology, or perhaps his collection of Japanese verse? And would he scoop the books up in his arms or try to find them an appropriate box? This is a complex matter. A bark then brings him back. He looks up and sees the dog running towards him with the ball in its mouth.

late autumn:
the Yellow Pages left open
in a telephone box

A sudden gust of wind leaps out from behind the bus-shelter and hits me in the face. The wind is pock-marked with rain, and I recall a similar ventilation that drove me into a bar in Sicily. Having taken off my raincoat, I asked for a glass of almond milk, but it was the wrong season.

speckled grains of rice
in the salt cellar
and the sound of the sea

A small boy goes behind the bar to an altar set into the wall, picks up a photograph of his father and takes it back to the table. He then places a thin sheet of paper over the photograph and begins to trace out a face, the features of which are familiar yet unfamiliar, as though they originate in a distant land. And because the photograph has faded, the small boy concentrates very hard. On the table there is also an open exercise book with unfinished sums. But the act of recreation, of remembering, is far more important. I drink my coffee and tell myself, one more time, that I have written nothing in several months.

a scrap of paper
blown up
through the rungs of a ladder

It's night and I've walked into a depressing part of the city. A man on crutches curses and kicks at an empty cardboard box. Behind him, lying full length on a pile of rubble, a large Alsatian gnaws at a brick. The sudden perspective of a broken window above the dog, coupled with the man and the dog itself, transforms this desolate space into a stage set. What else could be missing? My outline? No, it's there. Every time I pay attention to my inattention--I stop. And the world, with all its edges and its extremities, comes back into focus.

even an ant
casts a shadow

To mark the beginning of winter, a spider withdraws from the chimney. Flames are reflected in the marble tiles that have been set into the hearth. A field of fire inside a sheet of ice. . . . And what is the spider thinking about? Perhaps winter can be the only answer; a change in temperature which is being transmitted, like a frequency, through the smallest of bones.

a sparrow sits
on the cafe's speaker

across the road
a gust of wind
a clump of bamboo

The way the sparrow sharpens its beak, on the back of a chair, takes me one step further. At that moment I recall a phrase: 'they had to drain the swamp to find the body.' And I'm thankful for my skull, because of its solidity and the way it holds this brain in place. . . . The froth from my cappuccino clings to the inside of the cup. I look away from the cup to a person in the corner, who radiates a calm solitude; then beyond that person to the road outside on which the cars are streaming past.

early morning:
a cobweb suspended
like a transparent L.P.

a child
on a tricycle
singing to itself

a cat on a balcony
casting the shadow of a dog

At midday, another cat sleeps inside a kennel (but this image comes from Italy). Years later, on an overcrowded bus in Kenya, a voice cries out: 'Tell the white man to push push.' To push the university into the universe. To push with both hands. Not to step back, to step forward. Not to examine, but to be examined. To become lucid. Translucent. To receive the gaze of each thing.


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