A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2007, vol 3 no 4

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Richard Straw


Desert Places

In omnibus requiem quaesivi et nusquam inveni nisi in een Hoecken met een Böcken. Thomas à Kempis

"Everywhere I have sought rest and found it nowhere, save in little nooks with little books." His monastery cell and lancet window reappear now on a second-hand bookstore's shelf, where I find him again remaindered, but translated afresh.

I trust and collect such personal jottings, especially those published anonymously or collected posthumously by friends. Steady correspondents; meditative diarists and fiction writers; reclusive poets, aphorists, and parable tellers; and especially this speaker of homilies to common brethren—all capture the small moments. The words are not short-sighted, despite their authors' often being short-winded. Without them, there's no antidote to the daily bluster.

At home, going at a labyrinth walk's pace, I begin this updated version of the Imitation, penciling in light marginal notes and comparisons with its prior translations. My eyes close to visualize the words. My wristwatch ticks as I breathe air from the past.

I reach out to feel

Note: In "Desert Places," the Thomas à Kempis quotation is from an article by Vincent Scully that appeared in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912, Volume XIV; reprinted at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14661a.htm).