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October 2013, vol 9, no 3

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Edward Dougherty


Matsuyama

Our sour mood in Takamastu mixed with pouring rain, so we were glad to board the train for Mastuyama. I wanted to see the childhood home of Shiki, the poet who hauled haiku into the twentieth century. Though he died coughing blood in his thirties, Shiki brought freedom to these poems, and Japanese culture honors him for it. In a room at the top floor of Dogo Hot Spring, a painting shows the novelist Nastume Soseki in a dapper western suit talking with Shiki in Japanese dress—two writers, still friends, in the green fields of the everlasting. Mastuyama is the only place I know of with Haiku Post, where anyone can submit their poems; good ones are rewarded with some souvenir. I was eager to join the conversation.

from Yamadera
to Matsuyama Station—
the way of haiku

*

Running for a tram
I think of Shiki's pained breath—
lungs like red flowers

Even cleared out as a kind of museum, Shiki's home was so small. I could feel the seed-like density of awareness, the sharpness of focus—one persimmon, a cluster of grapes, seventeen syllables. His writing desk sat in front of the tokonoma, a small alcove for displaying a hanging scroll and maybe some flowers. On the floor, as is Japanese custom, he'd kneel before it, take up his brush, dip it in the black calligraphy ink, and see if details could reach beyond themselves. In front of the house a statue shows him kneeling to tie his shoes, a traveling bundle beside him, ready to set off from this place.

who will take notice
a foreign man counting
beside Shiki's house?

*

Shiki's childhood home
makes me think of the man
—lonely desk and brush

*

at Dogo Onsen
I never saw trumpet vines
just a scrawny cat

*

We didn't bother with Matsuyama's castle because of the heat. Under the full weight of the sun, who wants to climb an exposed hill to get views obscured by summer's haze? Instead, we hopped a bus for Tobe, the pottery town outside the city. Let off on the side of a road with no sign indicating shops or studios or even clay, we wandered across the river then up the main road determined to ask at the first main building we came to. It turned out to be a family's shop.

A lively old man stepped right up to us and started in. Our stares must have indicated that we followed none of it. He asked in Japanese, "Do you understand?" We answered with one of the few Japanese phrases we knew, which was enough though. He launched into what seemed his sales pitch, at one point placing two handleless cups on the top of the glass display case and rammed one against the other. Get it? Strong! One authentic gesture communicates so much.

After we made our purchases, his daughter stepped outside to show us a studio where we could make our own Tobe-yaki if we wanted, then pointed out where we'd catch our bus back. Once ready to return, we got confused and watched as bus after bus passed us, each labeled for destinations we could not read. We waited between the river and the road, the metal guardrail at our calves. All the while the mid-day heat grew; in our bags were empty cups.

I've grown so thirsty
walking black and white sidewalks
—the river's gravel

*

the sound of water—
we stand beside the blacktop
having missed our bus

*

a flock of schoolkids
zooms by on their bicycles
—they fly in summer

*

she stands with a hose
as if she could break the heat
watering her walk




crane