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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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Contents Page: March, 2010, vol 6 no 1

 

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Guy Shaked

Fortieth Birthday

It wasn't simple, being forty at daycare. While all the others were being potty trained – I was having a mid-life crisis, wanted to completely change my life, no longer wearing diapers, but using the toilets.

It wasn't simple, being forty at second grade. When the boys in class were starting to define girls as "yucky" – I was ending a short-lived relationship with Tracy, my girlfriend, giving her back the bracelet she once bought me.

It wasn't easy, being forty at high school. While everyone was dating – the girls focusing on seniors – I was behaving like a pedophile, being intimate with Stacy, an overdeveloped fifteen-year-old.

It wasn't simple, being forty in university. While everybody was trying to improve their chances for a high paying career – I wanted a better professional rank, which meant a fifty percent raise.

It wasn't easy, being forty at forty...

Fortieth birthday,
Watching on a used TV,
How new snowflakes form.


Comment by Jim Kacian

What We Will Be

What is it that we seek when we read the work of other poets?

I suppose I look, for starters, for some way of mapping what I know of "reality" onto the work. This is not essential to all readers, I know—some people love pure fantasy, completely strange worlds, whether here on earth or somewhere out in time and space. But for me, I need to feel as though there is some corroboration with the human—however broadly defined—in me for it to matter. And this is just as true for haibun as it would be for a novel or a haiku.

Which is not to say I have much truck with "realism". In fact, I find art that aims at verisimilitude boring as a whole. What has always interested me has been the verges of "reality" where states that have come to be defined (that is, have terms for themselves) merge with other such states. So I am less happy with a nice, neat "anger" or "joy" than with some sloppy, inchoate "grief" or, better yet, "undetermined." But I like whatever these are to emerge from the realm of the humanly possible—the best science fiction has always been about "us" at bottom.

So this—this mapping of the "real" onto the real—is why Guy Shaked’s piece intrigued me from the first time I read it. Just what is he intimating with his multiple forty years of life? Is it mere fancy that he imagined himself preternaturally old as a child, as a youth, as a young adult? I suppose this could be one vein, though likely the least productive. And the haibun does work if read in this fashion—I was old before my time, and now I've caught up with time, and must learn what to be.

But a couple other readings present themselves to me as well. One is that the poet has created a mythos surrounding a particular age, as I did as a young person, and as I suppose nearly every young person does. I was sure I wouldn't live past age thirty-five. Anything past thirty-five was unimaginable, and so I simply dismissed the possibility that I should live to see it. I can't say I imagined my death in any detail, but however it was to be, it would have happened by that point. And of course I was right—whoever it was that held those beliefs was a mere—and distorted—memory by the time my thirty-fifth birthday came about. So, perhaps, it is for Mr. Shaked. The forty of his imagination and dread has arrived—the way that he has couched his previous reality is now calling his bluff. And what can he do about it?

Yet I don't think this is the whole of it here. I think what is likelier is that the poet recognized that life is a long series of present nows, and this is where the poet finds himself, with his three-year-old being—and his six-year-old, and his 17-year-old, and his 21-year-old—filtered through his now-universal forty-year-old reality. It sometimes seems as though possibilities in life narrow as we age. What is perhaps truer is that the arcs of our personal patterns simply become more apparent to us, and our movement in certain directions seems more inevitable, and the inertia that carries us forward more inexorable.

Technically, this piece keeps the door open to all these possible readings, and perhaps others, through its seemingly transparent narrative of progression, the easy leaps from state to state bound together by the mantra of "forty-ness." We can read it with humor, with self-recognition, with despair, with ironic detachment—the poet leaves us to our private musings while he is publicly baring his own. And he salvages himself—and us—with a haiku which suggests the possibility of newness—certainly no guarantee, but perhaps there is something besides the notion of forty which resides in him and which might yet be discovered. We leave without any assurance at all, but with hope. Hope is something human, often the least logical aspect of ourselves, and perhaps the most closely allied with our acceptance of the fantastic—that is, of the real. So, in affecting prose and resonant poetry, the poet achieves a mapping of what is known against what seems to be known—the very thing, as I say, that I look for in other peoples' poetry.

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