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A Journal of Haibun & Tanka Prose
Bob Lucky, General Editor & Ray Rasmussen, Technical Editor
January 2020 Vol. 15 No. 4

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Jeff Streeby

A Brindle Bull
after Kuòān Shīyuǎn

Morning with a caul of mountains
other things
I have not forgotten

Those FWP guys I ran into up at the boat launch told me that right below a big tangle of old blowdown the channel would deepen and widen, and sure enough it did. The river was running pretty high for the time of year, but not so high I had trouble with the few low bridges on that upper stretch.

July 15th
again the hours
disappearing into each other

At an old diversion dam, a little surprise—a dozen late salmon flies the size of hummingbirds climbed and dived over the one big boil.

At just the right moment
fireweed blooms
making good on their promises

After another few miles, things opened out further into a quiet stretch of flatwater maybe a mile long and oh, say, a couple hundred feet wide. On the south side, there was this long deep beach of sand and cobble that rose in front of a hedge of white-flowering something-or-other, I couldn’t tell what— snowbrush maybe?— and it went on like that without a break for as far as you could see. On the other side, there was a patchwork of woods and wide-open country.

Blanket flowers
all our own fancy flourishes
don’t add up to much

In one clearing— a stand of tall canary grass— you could hear the clusters of katydids sunning there sounding off together in their usual chorus, a kind of shuffling melody of tinny clicks that buzzed or tinkled or purred.

Bull thistle, that purple plume
one of summer’s more snazzy

Further down, a narrow game trail, heavily tracked, rank with scat, dropped through a cutbank to the water’s edge where it blurred and faded out in the gravel bottom of a quiet braid. Then a burn scar with its charred snags. A big redtail in a dead pine. A reedbed. And a few rods further on, the chirring of cicadas in a willow thicket was a shrill burr whirring in your ears like a bunch of tiny power saws.

Aspens on the high slopes
like an ancestry
nothing can account for

From the shade of a cottonwood, a brindle bull watched my canoe and its reflection move downstream, watched my paddle rising dripping then dipping again as it passed into itself at the surface where it seemed to disappear. The old orejano, summer fat and slick and packing a pair of the longest, heaviest horns you ever saw, lifted his blunt muzzle to search the air then looked back at me, no more certain than before.

On the Jefferson River
one swallow’s perch song
making a summer

And right then, you know, just like that, something happened. Our gazes met and held for maybe a second, no more, each seeing in the other everything in the space between come into focus all at once—seeing everything, the whole shebang—all the little inklings, all the doubtful notions, all the unlooked-for bits and pieces suddenly showing up together out of nowhere and sorting themselves out. And that’s the truth. That’s all it took, a second—one second, if that—to see it all and figure it out, every last loose end and double meaning clearing up for me for good. Honestly, that’s all it took—the blink of an eye— for all that stuff to pass beyond the surface of the moment into one great big thing perfectly resolved.

Summer noon
among the season’s agreeable

Funny. Not what you’d expect, I know, but for me that’s about all there was to it, really. The bull disappeared behind me, and between the banks the way was narrow, but it was clear from then on; the current carried me through a little riffle of whitewater and off down the reach. The breeze was cool and spiced with its load of July’s heady musks. Elderberry, chokecherry, buffaloberry, golden current, all were heavy with ripening fruit; and from everywhere near at hand came the bright chinkle of cowbirds calling.

The sun in Cancer
its trusty paraphernalia
of wonder