Vignettes: Five Haiku in Honor of International Haiku Poetry Day

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My wife informed me that today is International Haiku Poetry Day. Believe it or not, I was completely unaware! She heard it from good friends of ours who, chose to celebrate with ice cream. (Yes, we’ll be heading out to the local ice cream parlor ourselves despite the sub-fifty degree weather here after I post! I’m always ready for an excuse to celebrate with ice cream!) Rather than forging forward with my “yellow” poem, I’ll save that for next week. Instead, lets park on the deceptively simple Japanese form that many of us learned, but likely never mastered, at some point in school.

Few of us will ever reach the heights of haiku greatness where Matsuo Bashō dwells, but the five-seven-five syllable count over three lines is more than achievable. Tie in nature, and you’re even closer to capturing the power of this compacted form. Below is a series of five haiku, one for each of the five senses. They are snapshots of a visit to my parents’ house back in July 2015, one of the last times I visited my childhood home outside of Philadelphia.

Vignettes

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2015

SEE
tiny pinpricks of
floating light -- luminescent
smear on my windshield

TOUCH
toddler hands tightly
grip as I support each step
more firm and secure

SMELL
from pots and ovens
polyphonic armoas
delectable life

HEAR
many voices speak
like streams that merge together
under this one roof

TASTE
tall medium roast
heavy cream, stevia sweet
many miles to go

Orange: Poems Inspired by Color

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I hate to waste things. The peanut butter jar is nearly empty? I’ll get the spatula and clean it out. (Makes it easier to wash out before recycling!) Have a few heels of bread? I’ll finish them off for breakfast. Is there a soft spot on that orange? I’ll cut it out and eat the rest. I’m also the guy who works the very last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, nearly spraining my thumbs to push that last ounce out onto my toothbrush. Do I need help?

This tendency of mine led to my “orange” poem. What this says about me, you must judge. It’s time for an Orange Reckoning.

Orange Reckoning

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

The fresh bag of Cara Cara oranges opened,
the citrus sunset suns roll out
into the heavy cardboard box.
I finger them, lightly squeezing,
inspecting each for imperfections:
discoloring, soft spots, or mold.
Among the dozen or so ripe fruits,
a rotten globe spins,
threatening to disturb
the wholesome universe
awaiting eventual consumption.

Yet I cannot discard these spoils,
these missives of mutability,
fruits of my own labor,
though I did not plant,
tend, nor harvest this crop.
They moved from display to cart
to car to cardboard box
in the basement until finally eaten.

Gently, then, I remove them
from their salubrious peers,
carry them up the cellar stairs
to the unfinished kitchen
where I cut away the offending decay
and savor the succulent piquance
of thrift.

Crimson: Poems Inspired by Color

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Finally! After a long hiatus spent tending the various fields of my life, I’ve found my way back to the deepening ground. So much was going on here over the last fortnight, including closing out a marking period at school and multiple birthdays, that it left me little time to just still myself enough (and stay awake) to write. I had multiple fits and starts in my Moleskine black pocket journal, but nothing took root. Then I cut my finger on the canned salmon lid while washing it off in the sink…

That incident inspired me to write seven color poems in order, one for each color of the rainbow. So far, I’ve written the first three pieces covering red, orange, and yellow (which I’ll release one day at a time). Initially, I thought I would force myself to make all seven poems be of the same length, but “orange” refused to be restrained and “yellow” refused to break free from the sonnet form. Like my own children, I’ll celebrate their individuality. For tonight, I’ll simply give you Crimson.

Crimson: A Reflection

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

Unawares I cut my finger
on the canned salmon lid,
washing it clean
prior to throwing the tin
into the recycling bin.
Only when I moved the stack of bills
from the kitchen table
did I notice
my crimson fingerprint
marking the pages.
Selah
Unawares I cut your back
with the sharpened edge of my sin,
raking you raw
prior to nailing your flesh
to the rigid tree.
Only when you removed the weighty debt
from my feeble shoulders
did I notice
your crimson fingerprint
marking my pages.

Struck by Loneliness

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A few years back, the start of my school year was interrupted by jury duty. Rather than welcoming students back to the study of Advanced Placement English or British Literature after another seemingly-too-short summer (I know, I shouldn’t complain), I spent my days weighing the evidence in a civil court case. In all, I only lost about a week of school, but gained a greater appreciation for our justice system. If you get the chance to serve, you should. It’s not the nightmare that some television shows paint it to be.

On the daily twenty-minute commute between the courthouse and my home, I started to notice the faces of the people in the cars traveling in the opposite direction. My usual commute to work being five minutes (or less), I never took the time to notice faces (also, isn’t that a bit nosy and generally unsafe? ). In this high-speed people watching, I noticed how few cars had more than one person inside. So many people traveling all alone, likely to work, perhaps to spend the day sequestered in office cubicles in front of a computer screen. Solitary digits doing solitary jobs. Such loneliness. (Ah! Bartleby! Ah! Humanity!)

The poem is titled “Loneliness,” but rather than using the letters that make up the word, I chose to represent the title in the binary alphabet, a silent nod to the isolation that occurs in the guise of progress and through many forms of social media. As much as I love the ability to post my thoughts and poetry online so that anyone with internet access around the world can read them, it’s not the same as sharing around the table with close friends over a cup of coffee, or a good pint of ale if you’re fond of the Inklings. Oh, for less of these wireless lives!

01101100 01101111 01101110 01100101 01101100 01101001 01101110 01100101 01110011 01110011

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2015

On this rushed commute
	to the courthouse, Thursday morning,
I am struck
	by the stoic faces
	passing me at sixty or seventy miles per hour
more forcibly than steel on steel —
	crumpled, twisted wrecks
	backing up for miles
	on the metaphorical interstate of life —
these fleeting isolated binary digits
	cut adrift
	wireless, if you will,
	untethered
traveling to any number of provisional places;

And I am struck
	by this loneliness
	driving by myself
		a 0 or 1, depending on the day,
	passing cars
	passing homes
	passing cemeteries;
And I wonder

what could we create
if our lives collided
under the tectonic force
of relationships -
	risky, inexpedient, laborious,
	but abundant in recompense
	for the weight of loneliness:

these wireless lives.

Appreciating Where We Are

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This morning, March appeared to be moving out like a lion rather than a lamb. As I sat drinking my coffee before heading up to my room for a day of distance learning, my greatest joy was watching my nearly seven-year-old son running around outside gathering the fallen branches and collecting any toy debris blowing across the yard. Even more wonderful, he blew about the yard in his inside-out t-shirt and pants. YES, you read that correctly: inside-out pants! I still don’t know how he kept them up.

Over the past few days as I’ve read many wonderful posts on Visionary Poems and My Pastoral Ponderings along with my daily serving of Mary Oliver from her book Devotions, I’ve longed to return to thedeepeningground to share what’s been blowing about my heart. But it’s the end of a marking period and I have “miles to go before I sleep,” to quote Robert Frost, except, for me, it’s stacks of papers. All that’s piled up over the past few weeks must be processed by Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. No time for creative imaginings…

But seeing Theodore outside this morning and just taking the time to look at the billowing sky, I found myself grateful for a heart able to see the art of where I am. And that brought me back to one of the songs I used to perform with my two eldest sons. Here, then, is the song, The Art, in audio and lyric form. May God give us all hearts to see (and savor) the art of where we are rather than fall victim to the temptation to see the grass as greener by the siren’s side.

“The Art” by Vincent H. Anastasi from The Kochis Basement Sessions, 2016

The Art

Vincent H. Anastasi – 2014

Muddy fingers paint the windowpanes;
patchwork patterns of the carpet stains
Laundry landscapes in their darks and whites
fill the canvas of the well-lived life

Earthenware for our food and drink,
the composition of a kitchen sink
This drywall plaster and pinewood studs
are the architecture of the world I love

     Give us hearts to see the art of where we are!
     Give us hearts to see the art of where we are!
     Turn our eyes from green mirages
     and all these counterfeit collages;
     Give us hearts to see the art of where we are!

Same eight hours for the same five days,
beats the regular rhythm of our daily trades
The bookend journeys of a day’s commute
draw us on to the coda of our common tune

     Give us hearts to see the art of where we are!
     Give us hearts to see the art of where we are!
     Turn our eyes from green mirages
     and all these counterfeit collages;
     Give us hearts to see the art of where we are!

These syncopations of the lives we share
jazz up the strains of each doleful air
Though another song boasts a siren’s kiss,
it’s a finale flat when compared with this

Where Are You Positioned? Before, Behind, or Beside the Freight Train

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Last week a freight train stalled my usual morning commute. Of course, in the vast scheme of things, the few minutes I spent waiting at the crossing were nothing. But coupled with two other events over the past week, I found myself asking the question that I’ve used as the title of this post: am I before, behind, or beside the racing freight train?

BEFORE THE TRAIN

As a father of six, married for nearly twenty-five years, taking care of a live-in mother-in-law, working as a high school English teacher, paying a mortgage, tending three vehicles, and all that comes with such responsibilities, I feel I spend MOST of my life trying to outrun the relentless train. We all know it’s humanly impossible to outpace a freight train without supernatural aid, but I envision myself frantically pumping away on a pump trolley in an old cartoon (perhaps Tom and Jerry), just barely staying ahead of the speeding train. In this state of being, the only goal is to survive.

BEHIND THE TRAIN

Then there’s that feeling of always trying to catch up, of always being behind. I feel this the most as a teacher. Give me all the prep time you want, I will never feel fully prepared to teach a class, even if I’ve been teaching it for over a decade (or two). There’s always more that could be done to make it better or more effective. There’s always another paper or essay to grade. There’s always more that I could do to communicate with parents about their children’s progress. And that’s not even addressing how behind I feel at home as a husband and father! In this state (just as exhausting as being before the train), the only goal is to NOT give up.

BESIDE THE TRAIN

This is where I found myself last week on the way to school, watching the black hopper cars race by until the Illinois Central Engine finally roared past in the caboose position — a forced pause put on my day that could have easily disquieted my soul: now I’m going to be late!

Our world has been in a forced pause for just over a year now, with some experiencing this more severely than others. Rather than focus on all the negative consequences of times such as these (though honest and grave concerns exist), I needed to be reminded of the invitation to welcome this as a season of rest. Admittedly, I did find that to be true from March through August of last year, but now, not so much. Was this a divine interruption, a reminder to slow down? That’s how I took it. What follows is the fruit of taking the time to enjoy the delay beside the train, a reminder to slow down rather than race to beat the clock.

Beside the Freight Train

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

The horn and rumble of the freight train
signaled inconvenience and delay,
my just-in-time routine derailed
by the interminable chain
of empty black hopper cars
pulsing down the tracks,
the moving wall paralyzing
a morning's routine commute.

South of the Broad Street crossing,
I wait the lifting of the arms,
the gentle easing-off of the brakes
as the red eyes winking go blind
and it's business as usual:
right onto Erie,
left across the rails
onto North Center Street,
each turn perfectly choreographed
down to the parking spot
beside the slowly melting mounds of snow.

Shouldering my backpack,
the weight of it all becomes real.
I'm not racing to beat the clock;
the bell has tolled a thousand times before,
and I am still here,
traveling and yet arrived,
more willing to encounter freight trains
on my wonted way through life.

Devotions with Mary Oliver: “Tides”

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As we come to the end of the week and go forth with boldness into that annual test of one’s fortitude – daylight savings time – it felt fitting to share Mary Oliver’s “Tides” from the A Thousand Mornings (2012) section of her collection of poems, Devotions. When I read it the other night, I immediately had flashbacks to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” In each poem, there’s the meditation on the nearly unspeakable beauty of creation and its overlooked constancy: days, seasons, and tides.

Here, Oliver focuses our attention on the “blue gray green lavender” of the waves. It inspires awe, like watching the film Hidden Figures with my family tonight. In the presence of something so majestic, something so much bigger than we are, our actions can seem so insignificant, so small. Yet, I do not believe Oliver seeks to glorify nature and demean humanity. Once again, it’s an invitation to see more clearly, to join her “on almost any morning / walking along the shore.” Come! Let me show you what I’ve found! No wonder we sing “How Great Thou Art!”

So, as this week comes to an end, as we draw closer to the vernal equinox, as we lose that precious hour of sleep, let us remember the often ignored testimony we can find in creation’s constancy, and remember the One who called it all forth – every natural law, every mathematical equation, every sub-atomic particle – with the power of His word and the life of His breath.

Tides – Mary Oliver

Every day the sea
    blue gray green lavender
pulls away leaving the harbor's
dark-cobbled undercoat

slick and rutted and worm-riddled, the gulls
walk there among old whalebones, the white
     spines of fish blink from the strandy stew
as the hours tick over; and then

far out the faint, sheer
     line turns, rustling over the slack,
the outer bars, over the green-furled flats, over
the clam beds, slippery logs,

barnacle-studded stones, dragging
the shining sheets forward, deepening,
     pushing, wreathing together
wave and seaweed, their piled curvatures

spilling over themselves, lapping
     blue gray green lavender, never
resting, not ever but fashioning shore,
continent, everything.

And here you may find me
on almost any morning
walking along the shore so
     light-footed so casual.

Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 52)

Devotions with Mary Oliver: “Don’t Hesitate”

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Don’t be afraid of joy. In hard times, I can see how someone might shun joy’s exuberant embrace. How can I be joyful when… [insert horrific or difficult or sad reality here]? Such thinking isn’t worth a fig, to use the old idiom. I don’t believe that we were made to only indulge in joy when everything arrives at some peaceful state of rest – “When the sun’s shining down on [us] and world’s all as it should be,” to quote Matt Redman. From what I’ve seen in my life and read in history, such times don’t truly exist. To refuse joy in times of trouble is to willingly starve in the midst of plenty, thereby depriving oneself of one of the core means of sustenance provided to enable us to persevere through such hardships.

I have been overwhelmed by the depth of wisdom in Oliver’s collection of poems all neatly gathered into one bound gem in Devotions. Even tonight, as I read a handful of her poems by streetlamp while waiting on the bridge to meet my daughter, I had a hard time narrowing down which poem to share with you for today’s devotion. “I Own a House,” “I Worried,” and “Tides” all vied for tonight’s post. But after reading the Madeline L’Engle post on My Pastoral Ponderings for Lent, I knew this was a companion piece.

Let me encourage you to read Pastor Laurence’s post for Lent first, and then add to that Mary Oliver’s advice to give in to joy. For “[j]oy is not made to be a crumb.”

Don’t Hesitate – Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don't hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that's often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don't be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 61)

For Lent, 1966 by Madeleine L’Engle

I came across this post today, nearly a month late. As a lover of L’Engle’s works (the inspiration for my site itself), discovering this poem brought life to my weary soul today!

My Pastoral Ponderings

This year’s Lenten season begins tomorrow, and with it taking place in the midst of this ongoing pandemic, in which we have already given so much up, I can’t help but think of the opening line from a wonderful poem by Madeleine L’Engle: “It is my Lent to break my Lent.” In case you are not familiar with it, here is her poem:

For Lent, 1966 by Madeleine L’Engle

It is my Lent to break my Lent, To eat when I would fast, To know when slender strength is spent, Take shelter from the blast When I would run with wind and rain, To sleep when I would watch. It is my Lent to smile at pain But not ignore its touch. It is my Lent to listen well When I would be alone, To talk when I would rather dwell In silence, turn from none Who call on me…

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Devotions with Mary Oliver: “At Blackwater Pond”

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“Well, I built me a raft
and she’s ready for floatin’
Ol’ Mississippi, she’s callin’ my name
Catfish are jumpin’,
that paddle wheel thumpin’
Black water keep rollin’ on past just the same”

“Blackwater” by The Doobie Brothers, from What Were Once Vices are Now Habits (1974)

I know, I know! The Doobie Brothers and Mary Oliver aren’t talking about the same body of water, but I can’t help but hear that opening guitar lick fading into this post…

Today’s meditation actually graces the back of the book but also appears on page 393 as the first selection from Three Rivers Poetry Journal (1980) and “Three Poems for James Wright” (1982) collection. Even before I dove into the depths of Oliver’s works, this tantalizing teaser brought me great joy. It’s an invitation to drink from Blackwater Pond after a night of rain, wherein “lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” as George Herbert so aptly put it.

I’m sure some of you will want to break out your water filter straws before kneeling to sip from the pond, but don’t miss what’s happening in the poem. Oliver would not expect your body to respond so profoundly (notice all the casesuras!) to the tap water from the currently taped off water fountain, nor the 100% Natural Spring Water conveniently bottled in plastic that you grab in a twenty-four pack at Sam’s Club.

No, no. This… THIS must be what Adam and Eve said when they took their first drink in Eden.

At Blackwater Pond – Mary Oliver

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 393)