My Vacation in Haiku

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It’s been one of those weeks when I’ve thought of several blog topics. Yet, nothing really gelled into anything coherent enough.  Since I’m still getting lots of positive feedback about my posts on Laos, particularly about my iPhone photography, I’ve settled on the easiest post of all: my vacation haiku interspersed with photos.

Most of these were written on the flight(s) back home, motivated by my disappointment that I had been on vacation for 10 days and hadn’t written a single poem to commemorate the journey.

I was traveling to visit my step-daughter and her friend, two professionals in their 20’s who wisely and boldly took a four-month sabbatical to enjoy life and create new experiences.  Fittingly, I took my trip to join them with a friend of my own from college, Angela Casey, with whom I had spent time in several Asian countries 20 years ago. Twenty years? Say it isn’t so!

The first haiku is about youth and how many experiences seem wasted on them. Of course, the motivation for this poem isn’t about Erin and Abby. It’s driven by my recent discovery of my old journals as I prepared to write my memoir, and, likewise, having thumbed through more than a thousand travel photos prior to Angela’s first visit here to Vermont to plan this trip.

“Regret” is wisdom
Condemning youth for missing
The signs. Damned hindsight!

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(Above: Me in rural southern China in 1997. Below: Me and Ange at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore in April 1995.)
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The next one is about my return with Angela to Beijing after so much time. Some of my feelings and opinions developed during the course of my nearly three years as an ex-pat in Beijing were chronicled in this post a month ago.

Beijing, have you changed?
Wi-Fi. Starbuck’s. House of Cards.
Emperor’s new clothes.

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(Above: Ange and me in a Beijing hotel lobby in 1994. Below: The two of us on Tian’anmen Square a few weeks ago.)

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(Above and below: After nearly 20 years, Beijing was different and the same, all at the same time.)

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Most of our trip was spent in Luang Prabang, Laos. This ancient capital and former French colony is situated along the Mekong River and is still home to dozens of active and well-preserved Buddhist temples. None of the four of us had been to Laos before, so we were all discovering new things. Every day was packed with enough bold color and interesting experiences to last a lifetime.

Many of the subjects that formed these haiku were also described in earlier blog posts. And, certainly, also caught in pictures. If you are interested in finding out more about the topics of these poems, be sure to use the links to get more info.

Along the Mekong,
Bold color and bounty spring
From the river banks.

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(Above: Despite the “dry season”, the Mekong banks were alive with crops and boats. Below: Members of a family that farms eggplant along the river. They graciously let us to use their lean-to for our lunch-time break from kayaking.)

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Morning market throng
Fruits, spices, meats of all hues,
Dizzy the senses.

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(Above: Spices at the Luang Prabang morning market. Below: Just a small section of the market.)

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Each temple yard yields
Countless monks by sunrise to
Walk tourist-lined streets.

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(Above and below: Different perspectives of the “tak bat” or morning alms-giving, a daily ritual at sunrise in Luang Prabang’s historic downtown.)

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Blazing orange robes
Catch sunbeams between the trees
To clothe patient monks.

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Fearful ride atop
Elegant, beautiful “beast.”
Wild elephant ride.

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(Above: My view from atop the elephant as we headed into the river at Elephant Village. Below: Our guide’s photo of me and Erin, after I moved from the seat to the elephant’s head.)

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With the months of preparation and research that went into the trip, including a reunion with Angela and a series of planning sessions, not to mention the work and household planning to accommodate it, it’s amazing how quickly the trip arrived and then was gone. With all of the unforgettable experiences that comprise the journey, there’s still nothing like coming back home to Vermont again.

There and back again.
Like Bilbo’s long adventure,
Nowhere else like home.

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When In Doubt, Haiku

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Working on my memoir last year, I re-discovered my old journals. Although filled with many boring entries, every so often, the pages revealed heartfelt poems, prose, and short stories. I was particularly struck by my poetry and regretted that I had not kept writing poems through the years. Seeing that some Facebook friends are writing haiku as statuses, I decided to reacquaint myself with this type of writing.

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form. Traditionally, these poems are 17 total syllables in 3 lines, comprised of 5 syllables for the first and third lines and 7 syllables for the second line. Here’s a good introduction on haiku and how to write them.

Many modern writers do all sorts of things and call them “haiku.” The purist that I am, I prefer the challenge of forcing myself to articulate my thoughts economically, so I stick to the traditional pattern, like this:

When in doubt, haiku.
Just seventeen syllables
To express your thoughts.

In the past, many Japanese haiku were about nature and the last line contained some sort of surprise, twist, or change. I can see why. When I started trying this out for myself, I discovered first-hand how easy it is to be inspired by nature and to see life lessons within it.

The three haiku below, I wrote in the same week, before, during, and after a major snow storm:

Clear. Crisp. New Year’s Day.
Blue skies slowly turning gray.
Calm before the storm.

Quiet, peaceful morn.
Dark with no promise of light,
‘Til after the storm.

Tracks on snowy mound.
Signs of life after the storm.
Can’t hide Beaver’s lodge.

My favorite of my recent nature-related haiku was the most difficult to write. I saw snow whipping up and traveling across our field and I said ”snow devil” out loud to myself.  Then I laughed, realizing that I was talking to myself and also that this was not an actual term. So, I decided to explain it in a haiku.

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This is the final result:  

We say “dust devils,”
When wind whips up desert sands.
Here, “snow devils” dance.

Forcing my thoughts and feelings into these patterns has gotten somewhat addictive. On a particularly long and pleasurable training run with my dog the other day, I decided to articulate my feelings in a haiku. 

My running partner,
Always listens, never tires.
Four-legged “best friend.”

My dog, Cleopatra, has been the subject of a few other recent poems, including these below, written on different days when reflecting on playing fetch with her before my 90 minute drive to work:

Tossing ball for pup.
At peace, playing in the rain.
Montpelier waiting.

Playing fetch at dawn.
Reluctant moon. Purple skies.
Warm despite the cold.

Sometimes, I want to hold fond feelings close to me and preserve them, so I compose a haiku. This happened twice this winter, while I was skiing. The first one was inspired by a great time I had with my nephew Liam.  We composed the first two lines together on the chairlift and each had a different third line. My version is below:

Good light and powder,
Rewards after the clearing.
Welcomed by old knees.

The second flooded over me while I was skiing with my friend Blair. I had to pause on the slopes to count syllables with my ski pole in the snow, until the haiku was completed and memorized.  It refers to a close friend of mine who died four years ago. He’s the person who finally got me skiing again after nearly a 25-year hiatus:

First mogul run since
Stephen said, “You can do it!”
Great times, then and now.

Finally, I come to a haiku that requires more explanation than I can afford here. It’s about my maternal grandmother and the unintended impact her unorthodox and complicated personality had on me as a child. Hopefully, the words can speak for themselves, at least on some level:

Mémère’s voice inside
My head is unforgiving.
Self-doubt in disguise.

I hope you enjoyed this blog, despite its departure from my usual topics. Please feel free to comment with some of your own haiku. I’d really love to read them.