There, among the dusty trinkets, broken tools, and displaced idols of our messy human history, Chloe and Jeremy embraced in a kiss. His mind raced as he tried to calculate the odds of a workaholic grad student coming by in the wee hours to index, say, some late 17th-century cuff links. Jeremy’s best guess was that he and Chloe probably had the room to themselves until about 7:00 AM.
“Do you know what I’m thinking?” he said, almost panting.
Chloe let her lips brush gently against his neck, and then whispered seductively in his ear, “I will in a minute.” She discretely removed something from her coat pocket – it resembled a flash drive, except where you would expect to see the standard USB plug there was a four-inch-long metallic needle that tapered to a fine point. With a sudden, practiced movement, she plunged the needle into the back of his neck just above the c1 vertebrae, angling for the brain stem.
There was a high pitched whine as the mechanism deployed an energy pulse that surged through Jeremy’s neural networks. It was powerful enough to make his slack-jawed skull momentarily visible through the flesh of his face.
He fell dead at Chloe’s feet, and the acrid smell of singed hair wafted up to her as she inspected the mechanism. A small, blinking red light embedded in the side of the killer flash drive changed to solid green, indicating the Whole Brain Emulation was a success. The entirety of Jeremy’s sentient mind had been transferred and stored in the form of light energy on a quantum memory chip.
“That’s pretty neat,” Chloe said as she tucked the device back into her pocket and stepped over the body. She noted the clock on the wall when she got to ground level: 12:41 AM. She really wanted to stop at Roy’s 24/7 Diner for pancakes, but there wasn’t time. She had to rendezvous with an agent on the outskirts of some little farm town way out in the sticks.
Chloe sighed and fed a few dollars into the vending machine, finally opting for M&M’s and Cool Ranch Doritos. “Breakfast of champions,” she muttered as she headed out the door.
In recent posts, I’ve had a lot of fun with genre writing in haiku. I went back and reread those posts, and for some reason, I felt compelled to look deeper into the history of the haiku form. What started out as a whimsical Google search turned into a rather interesting lesson for me. I thought I’d share my experience with you.
Haiku, as we know it today, was largely pioneered by a wandering poet named, Matsuo Chuemon Munefus, who was born in the Iga Province of Japan in 1644. He quickly gained a following of dedicated students who came to know him simply as, Basho.
For Basho, the true spirit of haiku could be found only in one’s connection to the natural world. It is clear from his teachings that he had a profound reverence for nature. This quote attributed to Basho sums it up nicely,
Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. In doing so, you must leave your preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one – when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there.
For Basho, writing a poem was more than conveying an idea through beautiful language. The haiku was an extension of his beliefs in Zen Buddhism – an endeavor to learn a fundamental truth about existence.
At this point in my research, it occurred to me that I would probably never get the genuine Basho experience while composing haiku. After all, I’m a Westerner who’s inextricably tangled in Western minutia. Major League Baseball is right around the corner, there’s City Hall meetings regarding zoning ordinances, there’s three different deadlines I have to meet in the next 48 hours, there’s motor oil that needs changed, there’s last-minute deductions on Federal tax forms, and none of it is very useful for getting in touch with nature or writing poetry.
But, for whatever reason, I was determined to compose just one haiku in accordance to the teachings of Basho. So, I set out this afternoon on foot to do just that. My first priority was to find some nature. Luckily, I happen to live in a city by one of the Great Lakes.
At the edge of the lake there are plenty of woods that are crisscrossed with little streams and tributaries. And then the woods give way to the beach, and beyond the beach the water stretches to Canada. It seemed like a sufficient amount of nature to get the job done. Everything was nice enough. The temperature was right around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. There were some gulls right at the water’s edge, and some racoon tracks in the sand. There was nothing really inspiring though, and I was pretty disappointed about it.
Then I realized I was missing the point. I showed up with an agenda, which was to write a haiku in accordance to Basho’s teachings. By doing so, I was only undermining his teachings. I was trying to pry something useful out of the surroundings – something I could use to achieve my end goal.
Realizing my error, I decided to chalk the whole endeavor up as a loss. What a waste of time. I sat down on a big rock to rest up before the long walk home. The air was cool, but the Sun was surprisingly warm on my face. I zoned out for a minute and took in the scenery.
Then I noticed a tangle of saplings half encased in dirty ice (pictured below). I had walked by it not ten minutes earlier, and didn’t think much about it. However, the effect it had on me the second time around was markedly different. It was suddenly full of nuance, speaking volumes by doing nothing at all except simply being there in front of me. I had a sense of how the saplings must have struggled to get a foothold in the rocky ground, and the violence of the wind screaming out of Canada, twisting them into knots. I thought about how the water starts to freeze in December, and the ice creeps over the beach, encasing all it touches in a shimmering tomb. Then, the ice must relinquish what it has taken, and life begins the struggle again.
These are exactly the kinds of things Basho wanted us to be aware of: How the seasons ebb and flow, the impermanence of everything, the importance of observing the present moment instead of speculating about the future or reminiscing about the past.
Okay, I’m not saying I attained enlightenment, but I did step outside of my comfort zone a little bit to see the world in a different light. That’s something I don’t do often enough, but I’ll be scheduling more of these little nature walks in the near future.
And, in case you were wondering, I did finally write a haiku based on the experience I detailed above. Here it is.
I ran this serialized Sci-Fi story about two years ago when I didn’t have much of an audience. Now, there are over 200 people following along with my blog. I thought I’d run it again for those of you who might be interested in seeing some of my prose. I’ll parcel it out in ten short installments in as many days.
I’d also like to thank everyone who has been with me since my humble beginnings, and I’d like to welcome all the newcomers. This really is a great community of bloggers, and I’m genuinely happy to be part of it.
Chapter 1. Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?
It was not a dark and stormy night, and that was the scary part. If it had been, Jeremy could have chalked it up to an overactive imagination brought on by watching one too many paranormal videos on Youtube. As it turned out, it was a bright sunny day in mid-autumn. There was no doubting his senses.
He was sitting on a bench outside Hannah Hall waiting for his sort of girlfriend, Chloe, to finish her French exam. He wasn’t sure if it was a date or not, but whatever it was, they were going to walk to the student union for a bite to eat. It was hard to get a read on her. She said she didn’t like to put labels on things, and Jeremy accepted that because she was very eccentric and highly intelligent. She was also smokin’ hot, so he decided to wait a while longer to see how things would play out.
Chloe came walking out of Hannah Hall at about a quarter ‘til two. Jeremy realized she had finished her exam in fifteen minutes. He wondered how she ended up at a mediocre state university when she clearly had Ivy League brains. He wondered about a lot of things. She told him her parents split up when she was a kid, and she was shuffled between grandparents, aunts, uncles, and foster homes until she was eighteen. She said she had lived just about everywhere in the country, but she didn’t think of any place as home.
Chloe descended the stone stairs, looking quite stunning. She was tall and tan with dark hair and blue eyes like glacial ice. A lot of people thought she wore colored contact lenses, but that wasn’t the case. It was just in her genes. And in her jeans, Jeremy chuckled to himself. He was an English major – always on the lookout for puns, especially bawdy ones.
He waved and she waved back. He had a cheesy line he was going to say to her in French: Ça t’a fait mal quand tu es tombée du ciel? He had practiced the pronunciation for a half hour, and he felt like he had it down fairly well. It translates to something like, Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven? He thought she’d get a kick out of it, or at least appreciate the effort. But what he saw next made him forget the line. In fact, it made him forget about his notions of reality.
Chloe began to blink on and off as if phasing out of existence. Then, in mid-stride, she vanished completely. Jeremy wanted to scream out for her, but terror had crystallized in him. He was unable to move or think. A diffuse fog appeared in the space she had occupied. It collected in roughly human form and drifted toward him. The fog seemed to gain density and opaqueness as it closed the distance, becoming less like a vapor and more like a syrupy liquid, then like sand, and finally, Chloe was restored in her entirety.
She plopped down on the bench next to him and said dramatically, “I’m so glad that exam is over. I think I got an A or a high B at worst.”
Jeremy’s faculties were jolted back to life, and he stood abruptly and took a big step backward.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Chloe, what just happened?”
“I finished my exam, silly. Now we’re gonna get lunch.”
“Tell me what just happened.”
“I’m sorry, Jeremy. You weren’t supposed to see that. There are glitches, sometimes. Go home, Jeremy. Forget about this.”
The hauntingly beautiful statue that adorns the tomb of Francis Haserot is titled, The Angel of Death Victorious. The angel holds an inverted torch, symbolic of a life extinguished. The photo was taken in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio (January 2019).
The whiskey is mellow,
and the hammock sways
as a Southerly breeze delivers
me into an oblivious sleep.
I wake to the screams
of a million Mayflies
in their death throes, and
the wind is out of the
Northeast now, siphoning
the heat from my bones.
A red Sun has scribbled
its mad manifesto
across the ugly world
in serpentine shadows:
I will hold you in orbit, and
you will mark the revolutions.
Squander these days, or don’t –
I will not remember your name.
Infinities will be devoured
by greater infinities. Immortality
is an abomination – the gift is
this moment right now.