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Archive: American Haibun & Haiga Volume 2

[Return to Author List, Vol 2 ]

Brent Partridge


The Dawn Road

All things and occurrences help us to be freed from limitations—though sometimes limitations are sweet.

I’ve been living in northern Japan for more than a year, teaching English in a high school and helping with translations. When summer vacation arrived, because I’m her only child and because she likes Japan, my mom came from California to travel around Japan with me. We traveled for two weeks after an initial three days in the mountain village and prefecture where I live.

We started from about the furthest point north that Basho reached on his most famous trip, about three hundred years ago. Because she’d seen a lot of Tokyo and Kyoto on previous trips, we went to places that tours don’t much show Westerners.

We stopped in Tokyo for two nights so that she could meet my friend Takada-san; and so that I could chat with him about poetry. During the last four years I’ve helped him do translations of thousands of haiku. He found me a great job at a time when jobs were (and still are) difficult to find here in Japan.

The second afternoon in Tokyo, I navigated across the city to a big bookstore that Takada-san’s son works in as one of its directors. Then, returning to our hotel—when we were just across the street from it, we both exclaimed at the beautiful sky.

the sun disappears
as a cloud canyon changes
between skyscrapers

The next day we mostly spent on a fast train traveling south.

harvest will be late—
storks and egrets form a flock
and fly together

train station study—
shadows’ edges are blurred
despite the sun’s strength

all the green mountains
somehow pulled together
by the castle’s shape


We stayed in Kurashiki just one afternoon and night. It’s famous for pottery, but almost all the pottery was from another famous pottery town, Bizen. And from what we saw on a Sunday afternoon at the peak of tourist season, the businesses must be in trouble. Kurashiki has some great museums, though they’re not large.

a hot museum—
girls plan about reflection
in a still life

the children catching
cicadas with nets, bit sad—
the carps’ empathy

Again the next day we traveled a long way by train, to Matsuyama, the big city on the island of Shikoku.

island mountain
that heat-haze fades blue, orange, grey
—shaped like a wave

a southern journey—
clouds of tiger lilies blur
close beside the train

many lotus fields
—lend their calm feeling to
everything else

mountain beyond mountain
mist beyond mist unmoved
in the sleepy heat

There’s a low mountain in the middle of the city, it’s tree-covered and crowned with a castle. The mountaintop was so hot that cicadas had stopped singing. On the other hand, the heat also brought out sweet fragrances in the castle; also, the castle’s top floor had all its windows open and there was a strong cool breeze.

the hilltop castle
red pine, cherry fragrances—
view clear to the sea

The next day we spent shopping in Matsuyama and took in a museum with three floors full of calligraphy—that we couldn’t read.

in Shiki’s hometown—
I intuit his granddaughter
posing in some silk

The ferry that we took from Shikoku to Kyushu took about an hour and a half. I saw a few flying fish, thinking them to be birds at first.

in the far distance
boat on the sea in mirage
can’t tell what the size

boat’s moving so fast
clouds’ direction uncertain
—a summer vacation

beginning around
Kyushu—bay after bay—
autumn beginning

In Japan, the eighth of August is the first day of autumn.

Miyazaki Shrine—
protective Gods are awesome,
chickens are happy

We broke our journey one night in Miyazaki, a city on the east side of Kyushu. It has a shrine that’s dedicated to the first emperor of Japan.

The  next place we headed is near the mouth of a big bay at the southern end of Kyushu.

happy old woman
with a hat and a bicycle—
road through the cornfields

Kagoshima Bay—
some black porpoises submerge
near the oyster rafts

in the humidity
the base of the volcano
seems all rainbowed

every mountain
has a top that seems swollen
with dark greenery

Our hotel was on a mountain ridge with an excellent view.

most amazing blues
that I’ve never seen before
—evening bay sky

the cloud-hidden moon
still has turned the bay
into a piece of sky

We stayed at the highly placed hotel near Ibusuki for two nights, nearby there’s a beautiful lake in a volcanic crater. It was the midpoint of our journey, and it was the furthest south we went. Westerners were evidently a rarity. There was a lot of lightning in the storm that night. The hotel, made of brick, may have been hit a number of times. There was also a lot of lightning from time to time the next day.

The nights of the tenth and eleventh of August, I viewed the full moon alone.

the upper half of
the just risen orange moon
in a purple cloud

stripe crosses the bay
—orange reflection of moon
here it’s cloud-hidden

though it’s hidden here
bay’s far edge moon reflection
turns into a sphere

lightning lingers on
’round beneath the mountaintop
after the moon’s gone

lightning reminding—
keep going forward partly
as if standing still

before a fall storm,
currents stir darkly snaky
—huge—in the deep lake

An old legend says that if you view this lake just before a monsoon strikes, you can see a dragon. Well, I did, though not its head. It was dark and moved surprisingly quicky at the edge of where the water was of varied colors from varied currents. Also, it was very narrow bodied for all its great length—a fair portion of the lake.

monkey’s white footprints
on a blacktop mountain road
between the fall storms

the moon reveals
a nearly motionless cloud
—freer and freer

moon emerges from
the head of a dragon cloud
—next—another’s jaws

We traveled northward along Kyushu’s west coast to Saga the next day.

hardhatted scarecrow
retains more of human vibes
—even though the birds know

a soft slice of sun
amid tumbled grey clouds—
a long day’s travel ends

And on to the town of Arita the next day, where we saw ceramic shops with the porcelain ware that’s tradition in Kyushu. For more than twenty years, since I was in college, most of my mom’s days  have been centered around pottery . . .

The last leg of our journey was on the main island again. The coast of Wakayama Prefecture near the tip of the Kii Peninsula, while reminding me strongly of Northern California, is even more beautiful. The rocks that form a line out into the water at Kushimoto are the most beautiful seaside landscape that I’ve ever seen, or seen a picture of, anywhere in the world.

into the bay and sun
a line of tall narrow rocks
—such ancient waves

In Mie Prefecture, at Kumano, are wind-eroded caves and rocks that are fairly similar to those in my favorite seaside park in California, Salt Point. The shapes of the rocks are sometimes bizarre, and have given rise to superstitions that still influence even skeptical modern people.

in the devils’ caves
a beautiful sunny day
not writing too much

Three days before the end of the trip, I finally arrived at the title for this journal—after having written at dawn.

near my journey’s end—
sun has just come up over
a very dim sea

At Ise we took a taxi to the Outer Shrine, Geiku, and then walked four miles along very hot sidewalks to the Inner Shrine. Naiku. There is a way through the forests, but it wasn’t evident to us, and the guard that I asked simply showed the way along the street on the map.

great jade stone stairways—
Imperial Family Shrines
hot weather smoothness

walking between shrines—
lily fragrance circles in
persimmon orchard

a timeless river—
pine fragrance on bridge
to the Inner Shrine

Though the weather continued hot, we went for a hike the next day to have a good look at the amazingly complicated Ago Bay. There’s a park on top of a nearby low mountain—the park’s called Yamamoto Tenbo Dai. It’s a place that Basho also liked.

warmth of the ocean
invisible way out there
past the mazy bay

The last train we took was to the Osaka airport—the train was purple and streamlined.

I couldn’t see Mt. Fuji from the airplane, but, like everything else in Japan, the clouds were uniquely beautiful.

lovely thunderclouds
the most detailed I’ve ever seen
—nearly motionless

[Return to Author List, Vol 2 ]


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