haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2006, vol 2 no 4

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Jim Kacian

Determined to Know Beans

I set the cold weather crops into the garden today—spinach, peas, cabbage, chard. The tomato seedlings, thin as hairs, nourish themselves in the window of the sun room. The rest of the seeds lie dormant in their packets, a promise.

planting season—
the greater heft
of the good seed

This turned earth seems cold and inhospitable, yet pigweed and shepherd's purse have already sprouted in abundance. I pluck them up, and lay out the geometry of my small plot, long thin lines, not very deep into the blackness of the soil, into which I spill the tiny germs, and cover them. The peas go along the perimeter, up against the lattice where they will twine and climb towards the sun. I mark off the spaces for the tomatoes and squash that I will lay in, in the warmer days to come. There is a deep satisfaction I derive from these actions, something wordless within me which nevertheless binds me, returns me to it each year.

These are the ways in which we come to know the earth: one may settle, or one may rove. These disparate paths are at odds with one another: Cain, a planter and thus a sedentary, slew Abel, a shepherd and nomad, perhaps because the sheep had wandered into a cultivated field. One cannot plant without a sense of ownership of the land, and this cannot help but affect our beliefs, our aspirations, our sense of law, culture—our very selves. And ever since we have sided with the murderer—cities and fences proliferate. Access to the way has become a matter of negotiation and exception rather than a right of passage.
Those who have chosen to travel with the seasons regard us with deep suspicion, and our works as evil. The Tuareg avert their eyes from the settlements they skirt; Kurdish nomads shoulder rifles to ensure their passage, and that of their flocks, over the steppes of Afghanistan; Mongols will cross the fierce Gobi rather than move their herds through settled land, if their usual way is blocked; the Romany who rove Iberia and France snub their brethren who have lost their way and have come to reside in the slums of cities. There is no arguing against a culture which identifies itself with the way, which lives so exclusively in the present.

In our own country and culture, migrant families drift in caravans up from Mexico and farther south along the California basin deep into Canada with the spring, and down again with the fall, banding loosely in camps outside of settlements, along rivers, beneath underpasses. From our vantage point in the darkness outside their circle, they appear as outlanders, wanderers adrift somehow within the perimeters of our cultural bounds, hungry ghosts cadging scraps—

hands to the fire...
shadows of men disappear
into the woods

—restless as weather, outside history. They are not garden people.

But if we live with the illusion of the importance of history, and less close to the edge, we have in return the consolation of the continuity of our designs. My predecessor at Six Directions has planted crocuses, lilies, irises in the rock ledge which runs alongside the house, and they point their tips to the angling sun. In a month this ledge will be abloom with the architecture of that now-departed mind, and I will reap and share the benefits. Settled, we are the center of our universe, and open outward, whereas in wandering we always travel the circumference, moving about a center for which we must look inward. I have lived both at one time and another, and would be loath to sacrifice either way, either truth. Just now, however, not all the earth comes clean from beneath my nails, and I do not try too hard to dislodge it.


First published in Modern Haiku and excerpted from Six Directions: Haiku & Field Notes, La Alameda Press, Albuquerque NM, 1997, out of print.