On the Tokaido with Terry Ann Carter – Three Haibun

Hiroshige’s Station 22 – Fujieda on the Tokaido

Living Close to the Pacific; Or, Music as a Low Grey Rain

Eyes  find   nothing   to see   but  sea  and  clouds  and a
colour  without  colour.  Bashô  spoke of  this  one  colour
world  while  birds  scissor  the  water  soundlessly. Garry
oaks  in my  neighouring  forest  and   arbutus, bark  split
like a wasteland. Only the  sickle  moon,  nestled  in black
branches. Buddhists believe  in  several selves. Reinvention
I think they call it. How many waves carry the taste of salt
into sunlit spaces?

Shiki once wrote: remember that large things are large.
Small things are large, too, when seen up close.

             his doctor
             the sky is not falling

Terry Ann Carter from Tokaido, Red Moon Press, 2017

Be very careful before you read Terry Ann Carter’s wonder of a poetry book – Tokaido and its collection of fifty-five poems, all but two in the Japanese haibun form. This is no mere imitative travelogue along the  Tokaido, the age-old Japanese passage between Kyoto and Tokyo. This passage so immortalized by the 19th century woodblock master Ichiryusai Hiroshige in his series of meticulous prints titled : 53 stations of the Tokaido.

Canadian poet terry Ann Carter, author of Tokaido winner of the US-based Haiku Foundation’s 2017 Touchstone Book Award.

Instead this book is a glorious and at times harrowing adventure (so underplayed) back and forth between Hiroshige’s time and life and the now of events in Carter’s own life. Such eros and love in this collection, such foreshadowing of griefs including the death of a brother and a husband.  Eros and grief so exquisitely balanced as demonstrated in this haiku from Station Fifty-Onecurve of daylight/into dark/ your mouth along my spine.

And in all this travelling I did in this collection with Hiroshige and Carter, their startling images. I , too, had to search deep inside my own human journey: my joys, sorrows and griefs.

But none of this touches on how well Carter masters the haibun form. – its descriptive prose followed and ended by a haiku. You can see her mastery in the poem above. The delicate power of her description of a falling-down overcast west coast sky (colour without colour) then her connection back to Japan through the haiku master Basho and the leap to Buddhist philosophy, the enigmatic question of waves and salt in the air followed by Shiki’s epigram.

There’s a lot going on under the hood of this poem! Huge concepts evoked by a gray and rainy day. And then the thunder clap of the haiku. The clue it gives to the dense perplexities of the preceding poetic prose. The realization that what Carter is describing in the outer world mirrors a falling sky inside her inner world. This illness of her loved one, her husband. The doctor may say the sky isn’t falling. The preceding words suggest the opposite. I feel the early presence of grief, a colour without colour.

Hiroshige’s Station 50 – Minakuchi on the Tokaido

Have I Endured Enough?

My brother is dead. I fold him into a book I have made
called Requiem. His mathematical mind split open.

He loved music, angles, Chinese ideograms. Walked in
parks to discover theorems. His notebooks, undecipher-
able. There were voices in his head. Hiro, I walk with you 
and my brother in the forest behind my small home.
Where ravens croak their love songs. A paradisal jazz.

           deserted road
           gilt of sunset
           on Queen Anne's lace

Terry Ann Carter, ibid

What an elegy.

And now to end this post on a gorgeous and erotic note: With a customized haibun, begun and ended with a haiku.

Considering a Declaration of LOve

            in silence
            we know each other

Hiroshige, I want you   under my  skin. If  you practiced
horimono you could  carve  a  tatoo into the small places
between   my  breasts. Across  my back. Down  my   spine.
Instead,  you   might  be sketching  cherry   blossoms at
Kawasaki station. Mount Fuji over your shoulder. Hairpins
will fall like pink petals

            lowering my kimono
            the day moon

Terry Ann Carter, ibid

One Comment

  1. Heidi Garnett
    Posted April 6, 2019 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    How gorgeous and unfamiliar, so fresh. I love her use of understatement, her use of imagery. Brilliant.

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