Truth, Lies, and Desk-ku

According to haiku poet David Lanoue in his book Write Like Issa, “Many poets and some editors of journals dislike so-called “desk-ku”; haiku dreamed up as works of pure imaginations. Such writers and readers much prefer haiku to erupt from raw, genuine sensations and feelings.”

the furious sea’s
cat-and-mouse game with the ship
the band plays on

I guess this is desk-ku, since I’ve never been on a cruise, nor at sea in a storm. I was on a whale watch cruise once and did sense the power of the deep sea below. Also, I’ve read A Mighty Tempest by Michelle Hamilton, who describes her own experience in a small craft during a ferocious storm. So I let myself envision what might go on if a wild storm suddenly swept down on a cruise ship and picture the wild sea tossing even a behemoth like that into and out of troughs. I imagine the crew trying to distract passengers from the danger and keep up morale. I remember the story of the Titanic, how the band played as the ship went down.

In reality, cruise ships nowadays have enough weather-watch equipment to avoid that kind of a storm. Passengers would be ordered to their cabins until the danger was past. Oh, well…exciting to imagine.

This thought of genuine experiences and emotions versus writer imagination brings to my mind a similar sentiment expressed by a couple of different friends: “There’s no point reading fiction. It’s just lies someone’s dreamed up.”

To which I’ve replied, “Not very many writers just dream up everything they write in their stories. While the setting itself is invented, fiction involves weaving in incidents we writers have seen, heard, and experienced ourselves. The characteristics of our heroes and villains may be over-balanced compared to real-world people, but if they behave too irrationally, the story is spoiled and the reader disgusted — unless they like fantasy.

I think of Jesus, whose parables have come down to us through the ages, and how He left his stories open so readers could put themselves in the place of his characters. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus no doubt had a real situation in mind. He didn’t tell this as a dry account, however. He didn’t explain how “Twenty years ago back in Bethlehem, A, a middle-aged farmer, had two sons, B and C. One day C decided he’d had enough of working long hours in the fields; he wanted to see the world. So he says to his dad…and then he takes his share of the inheritance and heads off to xxx where he shells out his shekels on booze and parties. Etc.”

Leaving the actual facts unsaid, Jesus invites his audience — and us today — to see ourselves in all those characters. Haven’t all of us wandered down some wrong path — in attitude if not in fact? Then something woke us up, we saw where we were headed. We sensed we were polluting our minds, bodies, lives, with garbage, and we turned around. Haven’t we all had to go back and admit, apologize, figuratively if not literally ask to be taken back into the family or friendship?

Years ago a teen wanted “freedom” from the restrictions of her Christian home. She became infatuated with a ‘leader-of-the pack’ type, the head of a biker gang, and became his girl. But those bikers worked their girls; she ended up in the pigsty of prostitution, not at all free, and was finally cast aside by the leader. One day, soon to give birth, she finally came to herself, thought of her parents, the love she once knew, and started walking. She started to hemorrhage there on the sidewalk; a good Samaritan picked her up and drove her to the hospital. From there she and her baby girl went back to Mom & Dad and were welcomed back into the family fold.

Most parents can identify with the father, anxiously watching for the return of his prodigal. Whether the child has distanced himself in fact or in spirit, haven’t we hoped and prayed they’d come to their senses, deal with their sour attitude, and get their life back on track?

If we’re honest, we can place ourselves in the role of brother B, who kept his nose to the grindstone, bearing an extra-heavy workload because C took himself off to the fun-fair for a year or two. Now here comes his long-lost brother, crawling home broke and wasted, and their father lays out the red carpet, kills the fatted calf, and is in the middle of a big “Welcome Home” party for this loser.

Some writers do spin fantasies. Even if they try to cover their tale with a realistic setting, no real human beings would react the way their characters do. In real life, if you’re harsh and demanding, often rake your friend or partner over the coals for minor faults, he or she is not going to respond with profuse apologies and promises to get it right and pay attention to your feelings from now on. Trust me. Won’t happen. Modern romances really lead you astray on this one, because real human beings will either lash back or clam up and resent — just like you would if treated that way.

When I was a girl my mom wanted me to take an aspirin for whatever “growing pains” I had, so she’d crush it on a spoon together with sugar. The sweetness masked the taste of the medicine that relieved my pain.

That’s what writers do, sort of. A good fiction writer can take real life situations, dream up a fiction setting, give various incidents a twist — so Aunt Vanilla doesn’t know this humorous bit is based on her baked beans and Uncle Shellby doesn’t realize we’re describing his snoring — and head into a story that has a theme, a point. Something to ease the reader’s pain if they’re hurting.

I recall a time when I was worried about a situation that needed to be addressed somehow. It seemed someone(s) must see the light before too much damage was done — but I could hardly go and educate the attitude-riddled parties involved. Then a story seed dropped into my fertile mind and expanded into a somewhat exaggerated illustration with the point snugly wrapped inside.

My take on the gossip after a minor accident in our community, and how you just can’t believe everything you hear, became Brother Ed’s Accident in Silver Morning Song. Poor Brother Ed had a simple incident when hauling cattle, and thanks to the arrival of a helping hand, the problem was easily solved. But when he got to church the next Sunday… When I asked another writer for a critique, he told me, “This exact thing happened to me after I had a minor accident; the gossip had us dead and dying and what-not-all.”

One local farmer read that story and said he didn’t believe cattle could ever be rounded up that easily, I told him, “I’ve seen it done.” I also researched stock trailer doors online to find out if they might occasion pop open. Yes, it has; a horseman once lost a good stallion that way.

Writer integrity is the key phrase here. Realistic fiction, like all other writing, is a blend of personal experience & emotion, eye-witness accounts, stories heard, and a LOT of research. It shouldn’t be dismissed as “Just a bunch of lies.”

Thieving Wind

that thieving wind
has robbed another clothesline
the flowers all pink

I posted this account 18 months back, but my new followers may enjoy it so I’ll post it again.

Does anyone remember this old song?

“I was strolling through the park one day
…in the merry, merry month of May
…and I got a strange surprise…”

Back when we lived in Moose Jaw, SK, my husband and I were strolling through Crescent Park, located right near the heart of the city, early one morning. And we did indeed get a strange surprise…

In the center of the park is a cenotaph, a memorial to those soldiers from Moose Jaw who were killed in action in the two world wars. This marble pillar with its bronze plaques was encircled by a flower bed in the shape of a big star. So think five points of the star planted to flowers and between the points lush green grass. This flower “star” was encircled by a sidewalk round-about, with several lanes or paved paths going off to the south, west, and north, leading to other park attractions.

As I said, we took our walk soon after sunrise — and it was early spring, so the bedding flowers hadn’t been planted yet. Thus the points of the star were bare black earth awaiting the bedding plants. Bob and I had come up the south path and were following around the main circle when we stopped, amazed.

There, nicely laid out in one of the star points was a pale blue nylon nightgown.

We stood there eyeing it for awhile, contemplating the possibilities. It obviously hadn’t been just dropped there; rather, it was spread out as if on display. Across the street from the park were several three- to five-story apartment buildings. Had it blown off someone’s balcony when they’d hung a few things outside to dry?

Or was this someone’s idea of a practical joke?

I stepped into the flowerbed and retrieved the nightgown. It had a few spots from its tumble on the dirt, but was fairly clean for all that. I held it up. It was sleeveless and double-layered, the outside being sheer nylon, the inside opaque. Not bad. I took it along home and washed it; the fabric proved to be in good condition with hardly a snag.

There was at the time a small paper put out locally, called “ The Shopper,” full of ads anyone could place for free. We decided to give the owner a chance to claim her lost property by placing an ad in this paper, but Bob suggested giving the ad a humorous twist in case the whole thing was a joke. So we sent in the following:
Found in bed (flower) in Crescent Park: one blue nightgown. Free to the person who can come up with the best explanation of how it got there.

Nobody answered the ad. Seeing as the nightgown fit me just fine…I decided, “Finders keepers.”

Work Clothes

I read a little quote yesterday from some highly acclaimed musician and decided to capture his thought in verse this morning. Let me know in the comments if it gives the picture or seems too vague.

the famous artist
buried his lack of talent
in splattered smocks

Of Puffer fish & Willpower

after weeks of
cleansing fast  a large pizza
her puffer fish act

Another haiku with a story behind it.

Twenty-some years back I met a lady in her mid-forties; in time she became a dear friend. Was it because of her dysfunctional childhood, or the accident she was in that left her in a coma for twelve days, or maybe some of both? At any rate, you’d have to say she was emotionally unbalanced — and had been attending a church where emotional responses were often stirred and encouraged. She was cheerful, likeable, outgoing — but not very disciplined or stable.

At some point she had accepted the concept cleansing fasts, and even discovered a retreat in the country where she could go and cleanse her body of all the impurities tainting our modern diet. In addiction to the physical benefits, she felt that fasting brought her closer to God and told me that one time she had actually fasted for 40 days, just like Jesus. However, I suspect the dream of getting back to a slimmer figure hovered not far in the background.

My dear friend had a couple of weaknesses that affected her health. Like most of us, she was fond of tasty food — which included baking and other sweets. Plus, she smoked — a habit she didn’t like at all. So she viewed going to this retreat for a month or so, where she neither eat nor smoke, was a blessing four-fold: she could relax in a no-pressure environment, lose weight, crack the nicotine habit, and gain spiritually.

We visited her there a couple of times. It appeared she had nothing much to do at this retreat except relax, read, meditate, and detoxify in the small room she was given. There were a number of other guests, with a nurse present 24/7 to make sure no one suffered serious health problems because of the regime. When my friend’s fast was over she was put on a juice diet for a couple of days to re-adjust her body to food. Then she paid the rather hefty bill — this place was into making money as well as healing bodies — and went home.

This “coming back to the real world” got me involved one day — and my involvement brings me to story behind the senryu I’ve penned.

Early one morning my phone rang; my friend was telling me she needed watermelon and could I help her out? Could I buy one and bring it to her apartment? (She didn’t own a car.) She explained that she’d just got home from spending several weeks at the retreat and her body was reacting negatively to food. She needed watermelon to “flush out the salt” being retained in her tissues.

I didn’t know much about what fruits & veggies have diuretic properties, but she mentioned a few and was glad to help. I picked up these foods and went over to her place, where I heard the facts of her current health issue.

When she got home from her fast she’d been so hungry, she ordered an extra-large pizza and ate the whole thing. Her body was reacting big time to the sudden overload.

Reading history I’ve learned this isn’t an uncommon reaction for people who’ve been starved for a time. Their brain registers FOOD! and common sense is lost among the impulses. Their hands automatically start stuffing and people may even eat themselves to death. For my friend, all that salt in her pizza spread through her system, causing her tissues retain fluid until she was uncomfortably bloated.

Maybe puffer fish is an exaggeration, but the simile came to me and I thought it an interesting comparison.

In time my friend discovered one long-term side-effect of those prolonged fasts: starving drains your bones of much-needed minerals like calcium. One day she tripped going down some stairs and broke her leg. Her doctor, after seeing the x-ray, told her, “Your shattered bone looks just like corn flakes.”

It seems self-discipline and will power are rather like muscles. If we don’t use them, they become limp. Bypassing self-discipline in favor of complete abstinence, she short-circuited her willpower. Later, faced with the same temptations, she caved. Food and cigarettes became chronic problems. I won’t say that fasting is either wrong or harmful, in moderation, but nothing can build up the muscles of self-control, or deliver us from our vices, like the day-by-day exercise of resisting temptation.

Sad to say, my friend didn’t live long enough to reap the benefits of all that system-cleansing, either. Shortly after she turned 65 she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and died a year or so later.

I think of her often, and miss visiting with her.

Seasons of Gold

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

…a time to ponder; a time to write down your thoughts, and a time to share the things that impress you.

Though I wasn’t specifically thinking of these verses when I chose the title for the new book of poems I’ve been working on, they are very fitting when it comes to verses about nature, the seasons, and human nature.

The book is pretty much compiled, but I want to organize the verses I’ve chosen then set up my file on Kindle Create and insert some graphics. I’ve obtained the ISBN for both print and e-book but will do only the e-book for now.  I’m thinking the title font should be the same as we used for Silver Morning Song; otherwise here’s what the cover will look like:

GA.Rain.largest flower

My next big question: How many poems make a proper-size book?