All Nite Rain, by Jack Barry



Does this word mean anything to you? And if the word does happen to ring a bell, what use is the object itself? A blunder-buss, of course, was a 17th century Dutch word - thunder gun -for the short barreled, trumpet muzzled killing implements those boys lugged around back then. I think they sparked a flint to shoot one. They might seem downright comical now, but at the time they were the latest thing. No self respecting conqueror would leave home without one.

Yes, we've come a long way from the 17th century. Now we have automatic weapons a child can use, guided missiles - guided atomic missiles‚ smart bombs, cluster bombs, you name it. Of course, our renowned genius hasn't just created better weapons. We've improved nearly everything, inventing new objects to meet almost every human need imaginable - why, we're so good we've even invented new needs.

And yet, here we are, still hunched over our desks, scratching away at another relic from that same 17th century: haiku. How can this be? Surely, such a creative bunch should have found a better way by now! But for all our Einsteins and Oppenheimers and Virginia Woolfs and T.S. Eliots, we haven't merely failed to improve this antique, we're still debating just what exactly the little creature is!

Ahh ... I think it's trying to tell us something.

Perhaps it is this very elusiveness that has allowed haiku to remain vital for so long. Even in my own short haiku lifetime, a mere fifteen or so years‚ I've never satisfactorily defined haiku, or been sure that I'd ever be able to write another one. There is no formula, no shortcut, no trick. This is what makes haiku both so difficult and so beautiful: for just the briefest moment, your mind has to catch you not thinking!

Yes, dear readers. Not thinking. Which leads me to wonder if the whole point of haiku isn't even the little poems themselves - though we are glad to have them, they give us something to show each other - but, rather, those moments when our brain finally quiets enough to let us Be. It is this very stillness, I think, that is the point, the haiku serving as most excellent pointers, arising like dust devils on that ridge where the bright, expressive intellect overlooks the shadowed, mute gulf we in the West don't even have a good name for yet. Somehow, because of the particular and subtle wisdom of their culture, the Japanese happened upon this sharp ridge, where a glimpse of Being can be expressed without turning it into an act of the intellect. No other culture has ever produced such a creature, it belongs in the Harmony Hall of Fame with those other ancient and venerable practices, t'ai chi and yoga and meditation, all of which are also intact to this day.

O.K. enough words ... to think I like haiku because it's so short.

Anyway, I hope I am not being too presumptuous to try to write haiku, this form borrowed from a distant, older culture. I can't read Japanese, haven't studied even one original text. I've never even gone on a haiku pilgrimage, retracing the steps of Basho or Issa across the Japanese countryside. Barbarian that I am, one day I just picked up my pen and started writing. And yet, somehow, I think - I ask - that these masters not be offended by at least some of what we new people try to do now, in the name of haiku, because in many ways we are doing exactly what they did.