Haiku vol. 2

These haiku were written between the end of last year and the first half of 2020. So they include the first months of the coronavirus lockdown in the UK. The order has been somewhat rearranged from the order in which they were written. I hope they will be of interest to people who like Basho, Ikkyu, and other Buddhist hermit poets.

1.

Through shining roof tiles
the reflection of a bird
flies out of this world.

2.

Stones rise with each wave
like ballerinas en pointe
then fall with a click.

3.

A light grey drizzle,
bright petals in the gutter –
Thursday afternoon.

4.

Dream of a woodland
beside the road, steeped in mist,
trees drowning in mist.

5.

When we meet again
it may be in the haunted
forest of our youth.

6.

Yesterday three geese
flew over the house – today,
a sky full of rain.

7.

An unkempt garden –
two pillars but only one
protector lion.

8.

Semi-detached home –
a tree caught by a street lamp.
Empty sky above.

9.

Pink blossom falling –
it’s business as usual
in other kingdoms.

10.

Beautiful spring day.
Washing hanging on the line –
trees still have no leaves.

11.

Blue blanket, white cloths.
My shadow on warm concrete –
nowhere else to be.

12.

There’s water rushing
in the cool darkness beneath
this blossoming street.

13.

Everything we make
feels the gentle push of time
like this old brick wall.

14.

I’m waiting to hear
birdsong on the roof again –
nothing but silence.

15.

Spring blossoms appear
without hurry. Spring blossoms
leave without delay.

16.

The old granite wall,
here since Victorian times –
bursting with snowdrops.

17.

Incandescent moon
above this uncertain world –
silence can be kind.

18.

There’s nothing between
us and countless lonely stars –
upward vertigo.

19.

On my daily walk
a blackbird virtuoso
sings without applause.

20.

Rain on the skylight
brings gratitude for shelter –
may we all have homes.

21.

Just the same old moon
and same old constellations –
but who sees them now?

22.

Hazy orange sky.
Streets trickle with window-light –
stillness everywhere.

23.

Suburban garden:
bright plastic and broken tools
catch a swell of light.

24.

The freshness of birds
singing after weeks of rain –
Dartmoor in the sun.

25.

Rain shines on the path.
Hoods up and heads down, we each
make our own way home.

26.

Open the window.
Listen for inspiration –
birdsong after dark.

27.

A lopsided moon
hangs beside the empty church.
Blurry stars above.

28.

Blue sky, yellow moon
obscured by clouds. Streets echo
with evening talk.

29.

Stars circle the world
of names and maps, maintaining
anonymity.

30.

Brittle ferns of frost
disappear no matter how
intricately formed.

31.

Tall trees on the hill.
Seagulls caw from the church roof –
we’re all hermits now.

32.

Clear sky, empty sky.
Brilliance cast on rooftops –
look, the harvest moon.

33.

Lobelias bloom
along the old granite wall
like they did last year.

34.

Unlit church beneath
a night-blue sky. Chimneys, stars –
faint scent of wood smoke.

35.

Looking out at stars
as the feedback loops begin.
We will disappear.

36.

Writing in the loft
when suddenly the old church
sounds a lonely bell.

37.

September morning,
the lake impossibly still –
light splashing on leaves.

38.

A quick wind outside –
better unpack the blanket
for my evening sit.

39.

The neighbours’ wind chimes
dance in dark gardens – even
stars could blow away.

40.

I take the coast path
hoping for inspiration –
waves applaud the rocks.

41.

Seasons turn around
a eucalyptus rooted
beside the steep path.

42.

As the sky darkens
a seabird crosses the cove
leaving only this.

43.

Rooftops slick with rain.
The sky unknowable, blank.
What will today bring?

44.

Tyres roar in the wet.
Gutters overflow and drip –
the rain hears nothing.

45.

In meditation
we see thought-worlds bud like dew
and evaporate.

46.

Fisherman’s lookout
on the tourists’ island –
now open to the wind.

47.

Rain on the skylight
blurs amber bedroom windows –
happy solitude.

48.

Before work begins
I tip sand out of my shoes,
breathe fresh autumn air.

49.

Rain all afternoon.
The hills are bordered by fog –
islands of being.

50.

Bindweed creeps under
the sash window. Fine weather.
How long will it last?

51.

Stone houses darken.
Clicking on windows and tiles –
Devon in the rain.

52.

Through the rain-streaked glass,
against a matte grey sky –
geese follow the river.

53.

The quiet willow
allows its leaves to whisper –
wind stirs on the path.

54.

The deleted world
lies behind October mist –
one undo away.

55.

My brother’s garden
borders a wood of unknown
depth and wilderness.

56.

This autumn village
has an abundance of time –
the tang of coffee.

57.

Caught in sudden rain
while looking towards the moor –
might have worn a coat.

58.

Autumn-rust acer;
garage with blue paint peeling –
somebody’s childhood.

59.

Breathing after rain,
a gull calls in the blank sky –
stillness in the heart.

60.

The fact of a crow
embedded in blue dawn mist –
unspoken question.

61.

This floating world
is falling into emptiness.
Nothing to see here.

62.

Always rushing past
like a metaphor for time –
but it’s also wet.

63.

We play dharma talks
in a municipal room –
pregnant moon outside.

64.

Waves break on concrete.
Towers of spray rise and fall –
boom and hiss repeat.

65.

Carrying shopping.
Thinking, thinking – white smoke from
a neighbour’s chimney.

66.

Ghosts of rain teem through
valley fog, blind to their own
brief constellations.

67.

Wind roars in darkness.
Tragedy and farce – this world
exposed to cruel stars.

68.

This delivery
of wind and rain is a gift
already opened.

69.

Reflections hurry
through puddles in market square.
World is awareness.

70.

Unknowable sky
glitters above this hovel –
teeming with buddhas.

71.

The church on the hill
stands in darkness – a bell rings
suddenly, faintly.

72.

At home among tors,
away from the busy town –
cold wind, spacious mind.

73.

Dark morning. Somewhere,
the year turns on its axis –
coffee keeps me warm.

74.

Barefoot winter beach.
Remembering not to be
lost in memory.

75.

Morning refreshes
the garden with quiet rain.
Live simply this year.

76.

Composing haiku
while a barn owl calls the hunt –
just these empty words.

77.

Full moon behind clouds.
Awareness is all we have –
woodsmoke in cold air.

78.

Driving through the mist
these words about emptiness
appear and then fade.

79.

Goodbye permafrost.
Love this momentary world
where blind kings maraud.

80.

The fat moon hovers
serene above a stone pine.
Storm Ciara howls.

81.

Woken by thunder –
echoing cacophony
from a broken dream.

82.

Small autistic boy
watching trains by the river –
love breaks you apart.

83.

Those who look will see
primroses among gravestones –
time, relentless time.

84.

Surprise! A slow-worm
flicks and writhes as it travels
unforgiving realms.

85.

Still suburban night.
Streetlamps and mist. TVs paused –
a dream of a dream.

86.

The onrush of night
reveals what’s most important –
warmly lit windows.

87.

Let’s not overlook
simple moments of beauty
as they come and go.

88.

There’s a bird sculpture
rooted to the driveway gate,
desperate to take wing.

89.

Breathing the rain in.
Hearing it click on the roof –
time’s arrows falling.

90.

Petal-strewn pavement.
Blossom falls through an iron fence,
soon to be traceless.

91.

Spring petals brighten
the grey stone wall. How they grow
without permission.

92.

While the blackbird trills,
a woodpecker taps one note –
no less important.

93.

Rain on the skylight.
Luckily, I have nowhere
important to be.

94.

Rain on spring flowers.
The colour of everything
darkens and deepens.

95.

Skylight left open.
Rainwater meditation –
touch and fade, repeat.

96.

It’s long past midnight.
No sound except a light breeze
in the willow tree.

97.

What difference is there
between memories and dreams?
Morning after rain.

98.

The red flowerhead
fallen on the wet, black road
seems even brighter.

99.

Quiet neighbourhood
except for blackbirds singing
– early evening walk.

100.

The garden buddha
smiling enigmatically
in leaf-dappled shade.

101.

Early evening breeze.
Oak leaves rustle. Fractal roots
thread the old stone wall.

102.

The street feels different.
Memories drift in the breeze
where the willow stood.

103.

There it is again,
miles inland, unexpected
– the smell of the sea.

104.

Still no visitors.
The blossom has been and gone
– Devon in late spring.

Early Buddhist systems map

I had a go at mapping early Buddhist practice systematically. It’s over-simplified, of course, despite the fact that I couldn’t get it to look as elegant as I’d wanted. There’s a lot missing, such as the brahmaviharas’ value as concentration and insight practices, and their role in facing off against the hindrances. Some of the value was in my own reflection, and maybe it highlights a few connections at a glance.

A map showing how qualities and systems relate to each other in early Buddhist thought.

Haiku on Twitter

I’ve recently been writing some haiku on Twitter. I like the concision and concreteness of the form. But I especially like that a haiku is a place where my interests in poetry, nature, and Buddhism converge. I’m particularly interested in using the form’s traditional focus on nature to highlight the climate crisis. There is a disconnect between the ancient worldview of the world as eternal and cyclical, and the precipice at which we now stand.

Some of these are senryu, which aim to satirise human follies.

But not all of these were intended to be taken seriously.

Urgency to live

How should we live, considering that human history–as we’ve known it so far–may be coming to an end? If the ice caps melt, if the Amazon burns, if the world becomes a hot and desperate place we will lose the narrative of progress and security upon which our choices and values are based. What is the point of our commercial and cultural endeavours when this civilisation is so far out of balance?

Impermanence is nothing new, of course, but previously it was easier to turn a blind eye to the precariousness of life. We could believe the world would always be there, much as ever it was. There have always been parents, governments, schools, employers, and advertisers who are all too ready to give us a game to play to keep us busy. These forces have preserved their momentum but nothing matters in the way we once thought it did. What are the works of Shakespeare when crops fail? Who cares about an ambitious startup? Sporting successes? These things seem to be haemorrhaging relevance. It was ever thus – but now it becomes harder and harder to filter out the roar of emptiness.

To be aware of our finitude is a bittersweet thing. It makes urgency the currency of our times. Urgency for gratification, urgency to act, urgency to fix problems. However, there is also an urgency to live in the present. Whatever else we do, an urgency to show up for life whatever it contains may be the trait that ultimately decides the quality of our lives. This means being present and reflective. It means giving time and energy to things that matter, however we decide what they are. Perhaps this global crisis clarifies what is truly important in our finite lives. It teaches us that we can’t depend on a future that has always been uncertain and indifferent to our designs.

We keep playing the same old games, looking around to see how earnestly everyone else is playing. At the same time, it’s hard to know what’s next. Can we give up consumerism or will we continue destroying nature? Do we want economic growth or economic contentment? I find this very hard myself and frequently ruminate on what kind of device will make my life easier — usually when stressed out by those very gadgets.

So what do we really need as human beings? This is where the humanities can be restored to their rightful place after decades of devaluation. You could say that Shakespeare’s plays matter more than ever, especially to the individual mind and heart. Art has an inward effect. It can enrich our appreciation of life beyond the urge for sensory satisfaction and conspicuous consumption. It can make sense of our relationship to the world, to ourselves, and to each other. And art is often less destructive than other things we can engage with. The carbon footprint of reading a poem is smaller than many outward-bound activities but the personal reward over the long-term can be much greater. Art, literature, music, psychology: we may value these things more as a society in years to come, rather than seeing them as luxuries.

Meanwhile, in the 2,500 year old Buddhist tradition, we find the Pali word “samvega”, often translated as “spiritual urgency”. In this unpredictable world, meditators have always been chastened not to waste time but to practice meditation as though their life depended on it. To seize the moment. Ironically, I avoided my meditation bench to futz around with this piece and enjoy my favourite (unpeopled) view in the world, above. Even so, looking out at the horizon and finding myself actually where I was taught me a brief lesson in taking things as they come, and not trying to get anywhere but where I am. I was able to put down my ambitions and neuroses for a second and realise some very basic things about how I want to experience the world. It reminded me that even if the future is uncertain there is always this moment–only this moment–in which to live.