Christmas 2013 and two delightful books of haiku revived my interest in this beautiful and meditational form of poetry. So few words, so much said. But if haiku surprised me back then with the wealth of feeling and meaning it encapsulated in its brevity, it no longer does so now. Living with our Chihuahuas over the last several years has proved the diminutive more pragmatic and powerful than many times the size. For example, chicken necks fly from the fridge to open mouths; the bed is no longer one’s own; the five-k daily walk becomes an inevitable part of routine; the two innocents manage to be, brush or no brush, instantly and constantly adorable. And I’m no easy pushover. Just ask my husband. Such, too, is haiku.
Rather unsurprisingly, I first discovered haiku when living in Asia and it was for me – at that point in my life – the perfect counterpoint to the unfolding and unceasing drama of my time in Hong Kong.
I found Hong Kong harsh. The average tourist spends 3.1 days in the colony and I reckon that’s about spot-on. I spent five years. So why? And what didn’t I like? The why is simple and the subject of an upcoming memoir. What didn’t I like is simple too. Just as savage, but shorter.
What didn’t I like about Hong Kong? The hawker police in their bright yellow helmets who so savagely overturned livelihoods, so that chilli sauce mingled with blood in the gutters along with the filth and the trash. Ever stood and watched that? Leaves an impression. And then the heaving crowds; the ubiquitous temperatures that bled yet more water into the already humid air, the cyclones that sucked the air cons from their holes in the walls to send them flying across the city; the old-boy club-centric chauvinism; the rats that ran across my feet on the ferry from the New Territory to the Island; the chickens so crudely rooted from their crowded pens in the market adjacent to this ferry and slaughtered in front of their squawking comrades; the sound of this as I waited, waited for maybe an hour, longer sometimes, in the early morning under an iron roof with holes for the rain, huddled away from the widening puddles together with the next ferry-load of 900 other souls, sometimes more than one ferry-load waiting… To the ferry landing Hong Kong side, where just to breathe meant holding my chin above the palpable layer of carbon monoxide to jog through the wakening city, arriving at the office with bands of grey grime settled on my arms, around my neck. Hong Kong took. And didn’t give back.
The reality of my own circumstance on this island: the final faltering of a marriage that had been entered into against all odds, the difficulties of the children as they coped beyond their years, the friends that came and went along with their contracts, a single white person without the usual company-subsidized rent on a Hong Kong (vs expatriate) pay, the black-edged panic of losing my last $20 from my pocket on a day-out with the kids, my longing for my children to be with me some place, somewhere there was a home, a dog, a garden, some stability in my life, less change. I think this is where haiku helped: little nuggets I could hold in my mind, knowing I wasn’t alone, that there were others experiencing just this, just then.
It’s the eve of yet another New Year and a young woman stands alone at the entrance to the famous harbour with the neon of the city lighting the shine on her cheeks. Her thoughts are darker than the dark water, her eyes fixed high on some place she can’t see. I wish I could have let that young girl know that, although it might take longer than she would wish, one day all her dreams would come true. I wish I could have told her that persistence was one thing, but resilience was another. But she wouldn’t have listened.
But this is about haiku and its ability to soothe. It would be too arrogant to duplicate my own attempts here – it’s said that some masters reckon on one win out of every 30 attempts – and I can’t reprint my many favourites without permission, but if you are interested, I can recommend Haiku in English: WW Norton & Co., 2013. For an Australian outlet see www.haikuoz.org/. Competitions advertised on this, too, folks. See you there.
And if you’re looking for some time-out to help the haiku do its work , check out the West Australian women’s retreat at http://www.nickyhowe.com/p/retreats.html
Happy reading, writing and retreating.
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