James Shea’s “Haiku”
February 9, 2012 | by Sarah Braunstein
What poem would I write today, if I had it in me? So many titles come to mind. For instance: On Eating an Orange that is Too Wet. Or: On Drinking Coffee Slowly and Finding it Cold. The poem about Failing to Own a Microwave. Poem After Weird Moon. The poem called Patience.
Of course, the name of a poem isn’t a poem. Or is it? This is what James Shea’s brilliant, funny poem “Haiku” makes me wonder. It is a breathless, cluttered, charming, and heartbreaking list of titles. The poems that follow the titles—were they to exist—would be spare and measured. But Shea refuses to measure himself. These unwritten poems speak of ambition and youth, and suggest a flood of feeling that won't be contained by form. It’s a series of ghost haiku. Yet these traces of other poems, taken together, make a whole no less sufficient, no less moving, for its cobbled parts.
Upon Kissing You After You Vomited.
Upon Walking You Home and You Pissing
in Your Pants. Upon Asking a Complete Stranger
about Our Situation. Upon Reading Issa’s
Prescripts “Issa in a State of Illness,”
“At Being Bewildered on Waking” and Realizing
the Haiku Poets Were Not So Laconic and How
Could They Be? Poem Before Dying. Poem
Shortly Before I Head to Dinner. Poem in Which
I Enter Drops of Dew Like a Man with Tiny Keys.
Hitomaro has a poem called On Seeing
the Body of a Man Lying Among the Stones
on the Island of Samine in Sanuki Province.
Kanyu’s short poem is called A Poem
Shown to My Niece Sonshō on Reaching
the Barrier of the Ran After Being Relegated
to an Inferior Position. Poem Louis Aragon
Would Be Proud Of. Poem I’ll Never Show You.
Poem Written in a Bugs Bunny Cartoon as the
Plane’s Controls Come Off in My Hands. Poem
that Jerks Around Like a Hamster in a Bag. Bashō
wrote a haiku for his students that he claimed
was his death poem. The night before
he said that for the last 20 years every poem
he had written had been his death poem. Upon
No Longer Recalling My Thoughts When I Was a Boy
Within My Father’s Stare. At Being Exhausted
at Having to Explain Why Using Slang
Is More Fun Than Reading a Dictionary of Slang.
The poet Saikaku once wrote 23,500 verses
in 24 hours. Bashō saw Mt. Nikkō and said,
“I was filled with such awe that I hesitated
to write a poem.” Upon Looking Past You
into the Mattress, into the Faces of Prior Lovers.
Upon Trying to Cultivate My Inner Life While
also Killing My Ego. On Watching
a 200 pd. Endangered Orangutan
Rape My Wife While She Shouts at Me
Not to Shoot Him. On Seeing a Bloodshot
Spanish Boy Who Was Not Even Crying He Was So Sad
and Not Even Crying He Was So Sad. Poem
in Which I Embody a Moment So Vividly, So
Succinctly, Yet Decorate It with Such Sills,
Such Elaborations. Upon Doodling Your Name
Which Became Your Face Emerging From Day-Old
Coals. Upon Reading that Bashō Believed “A Haiku
Revealing 70 to 80% of Its Subject Is Good, Yet
Those Revealing 50 to 60% Will Never Bore Us.”
On Finally Leaving My Attic and Hearing English
for the First Time in 20 Years and It Sounding
Like an Animal’s Cry Before It Attacks. Poem
in Response to Flying all the Way to Rome
to Meet You and Being Dumped at the Airport.
Poem about the Next Two Weeks We Spent Together.
Poem as I Sit on This Curb with My Head
in My Hands. Poem After Learning the Japanese
Word for the Simultaneous Feeling of Love
and Hatred. Poem for the Mountain at the End
of My Street. Poem in Response to Some of My
Recent Poems that Seem to Have Been Written
Inside an Aquarium. On Spending a Week in Silence
at a Monastery and Not Being Allowed Pen or Paper.
On Meditating and Feeling Like I Was a Blue Flame.
On Getting Up and Scribbling Something in the Bathroom.
On Stopping at the Train Tracks and Having a Deer
Break His Head Through My Passenger Window,
Stare at Me, and Then Run Back into the Wood.
Sarah Braunstein’s debut novel is The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, published by W. W. Norton and coming out in paperback this month. “Haiku” originally appeared in Star in the Eye (Fence Books, 2008).