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I came to the aphorism by way of haiku and I came to haiku by ways still vague to me. I was 25, living in Seattle, and in thrall to the prose of Jack Kerouac. I spent my days and evenings filling notebook after notebook with stream of consciousness twaddle. Perhaps, I would have continued at this until I was good and dead. There was really no reason not to. I enjoyed the activity. Notebooks were cheap. The hours flew by.Kikaku! That was the unlikely name of the piper who led me on.”
Then something odd: in the middle of the twaddle, I wrote a little poem.
Dandelion, roar!I looked at the poem, and here is the curious thing: the poem looked back at me. Not long after that I wrote:
speak your simple mind.
Hold light,The more I looked at these poems, the more they looked back at me. “What?” I asked. “What do you want?” “Divine us,” they replied. “How?” I asked. “Divine us,” they repeated.
for a short life:
In a bookstore in downtown Seattle, I found a haiku anthology. In it, I read Kikaku’s:
Above the boat,Over the next few years, I must have read that poem a thousand times. Then, one day, I wrote in the margin:
of wild geese.
Perhaps our world is the spirit world of some other world. Perhaps our birdsongs are heard but faintly in some other world, and only by certain ears. Perhaps a poem is like an airlock that carries the breath of one world into the lungs of the next.I read Kikaku’s:
Evening bridge,I wrote:
a thousand hands
cool on the rail.
Kikaku’s bridge spans both the construct of space and the abstract of time; so, all those hands, “cool on the rail,” are also the hands of the dead in their various phases of crossing-over.
*Alex Stein is (with James Lough) the co-editor of, and a contributor to, Short Flights: Thirty-two Modern Writers Share Aphorisms of Insight, Inspiration and Wit, the first EVER anthology of contemporary writers of aphorism. Other aphorists in Short Flights include Charles Simic, Stephen Dobyns, Irena Karafilly, and Yahia Lababidi.