I want to write words tonight but I cannot seem to catch them, they are twisting all around me formed and unformed, absurd. I do not know where this is going. Write a haiku to contain the universe, he says, and it feels especially genius because he is the one saying it and also there is much to say about passion, how it can stir you like unsuspecting sand under a winter breaker, physically up-ended from your apathy into pure movement, suddenly gold and glittering on the surface against the sun.
It is an exercise in the small and simple, he insists. Haiku are so informed by their littleness, they are saying who we are and how we are and where we are is sufficient, even amongst the vast and eternal. Write a haiku to contain the universe. For a short spell I am caught up in the current, but in the undertow of afterthought I settle again to more shallow shores; his words are pretty but impossible.
Haiku haunt me. It is a personal prejudice, a hatred happenstance of the very first round of my second spelling bee in my fifth grade year. For days afterward and even when I ran into him, once, on an elevator in a city twice removed and unexpected years later, Ben Bertch breaks it down to me by way of greeting, H-A-I-K-U, he says, and I feel just as useless in that moment as I did in the one where I stood absolutely letter-less, the expected champion outdone by Japanese verse before ever even getting around to spelling denouement or entelechies, both of which I knew but maybe did not yet understand, not beyond dictionary definitions anyway, because this was back when things were less complicated, when real heartbreak did not yet exist and I felt betrayed only by my first love, my wildfire ardor for words and the shaping of them; haiku made me useless, so useless, therefore, was the haiku. There it is, I have decreed it, it is so, and such stands the ego limping even eleven years after the fact. Universes? Hardly. There are never even so many seventeen syllables enough to contain today.
At home tonight my best friend tells me about her day. “I talked to so many useful people,” she says, and I find this inherently hilarious, unable to breathe, because how many useless minutes are there, anyway? I remember that part of the morning where I suddenly sat incapable on the couch for the space of a hollow heartbeat, or the time when I took the stairs only to find the bookshelf empty of the novel needed and so I just turned right back around, back to where I came from, nothing gained, not even any new thought.
But I also remember the text first thing that said isn’t it beautiful today? and the way the mountains moved especially lush and lovely in the morning light and how the air against my skin was barely below the heat of my blood in a fusion that feels a lot like floating, one of my favorite functions of fall. I think about reading Sartre with my glasses on, when he sees her with her face towards the sky and I wondered if I were not going to love humanity. I remember the girl who daydreaming came so close to walking right through a lamp-post, another girl who said your sweater sparkles! as if goshdarnit life depended on exclamation marks, the boy who ate lunch alone in an empty courtyard of the library, carefully folding his chip bag across the string cheese wrapper like a boyscout boondoggle. I think of the kid in my film class who I am secretly in love with writing REDEMPTION REDEMPTION REDEMPTION across the top of his notes for Le Corbeau, I think of the trumpeted symphony spilling from the abandoned car in the Smith’s parking lot, the trunk oddly slightly open, like a toddler’s mouth while dreaming.
The world is a thrumming throbbing fluttering aflame thrill of a place.
Have you ever at the beach been waylaid by a wave? You turn your back to the sea for only a second, your mom wants to know if you put extra sunscreen on your shoulder, your sister is wailing at you to wait, the Amtrak pounds past and you are wondering about its passengers but the breaker rumbles suddenly too close in your seashell ear and takes. you. out. You are all arms and legs and unprepared lungs, you are going to die, you know it, you know it especially because you can see it, strangely, as if from above: the vision is murky like the water thrashing all around you and the sound is submerged, but it is there. I have read about Near Death Experiences (NDE) exactly like this, this angelic perspective and the choice to return–which you do, spitting and shaking on the sand–but what is amazing to me is the duality of the drama. You are here, you are there. It is at once absurd and absolutely plausible, you are testimony to it, you saw your own wild eyelids flickering blind.
When I was little I assumed this was a peculiarity of the sea only, but since then and hundreds of miles from any such coastline I have been metaphorically mauled by the surging surf enough times to count far past my fingers. I have watched myself say sentences like I woke up this morning and felt like it’s over or listen to an entire lecture unaffected or hear heartache and accept it raw, without question. Sometimes I seem to have been drowning for days. I thrash against the words and images all around me–excavating dinosaur bones in my front lawn before kindergarten, holding hands in the Smithsonian, building cairns for my family to follow to Nine Mile Lagoon, falling asleep across three chairs in the EastTV studio, watching a cast-off cat tip into the gutter while I learn the flavor of sop buah on my new tongue and across the broken road a veiled woman lights a candle from her open window. Grasping for ground long since swept away.
The apostle asked us what we wanted from all this, our purpose in coming so far to often only be able to say so little. He had a very specific answer in mind, one printed out in a small, neat sentence within the first few pages of a book we all owned, but I liked Elder Lopis’ answer best.
To be useful, he said. I would like to become a useful person.
(A haiku humbly/to fall and to resurface/sufficient to save.)