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Haibun by Christopher Herold

Cockroach

Afternoon is quickly becoming dusk as I arrive at Honokalani cottage near the north eastern end of the island of Maui. The cottage is small but comfortable, and only a mile from the town of Hana. Situated in the middle of five very private acres, there are no houses nearby and almost no sound of traffic from the road.

Other than the surrounding jungle and a distant field in which two horses are grazing, all that can be seen from here is the ocean. It's an ideal spot for a solitary retreat. My only plans for the next two weeks are to write, meditate, and do a lot of walking.

I notice the cockroach when I'm getting ready for bed. It's standing in the middle of the bathtub, waving its long, delicate feelers, seemingly uncertain what to do next. Instinctively I turn on the tap, hoping the insect will quickly disappear down the drain. It doesn't. It streaks to the far end of the tub and desperately tries to swim up the glossy white slope. Half way to the top it somehow manages to cling to nothing for several seconds, then slides back toward the rising water.

All at once a powerful surge of empathy comes over me and an equal portion of guilt. I quickly turn off the tap, and the light, and go to bed thinking about Issa.

In the wee hours, I return to the bathroom to pee. The cockroach is still there. I watch it complete a third careful circuit of its porcelain prison, stopping near the drain, then moving very slowly around it. At the more gently sloping end of the tub, it concentrates on finding some microscopic hold with its front legs while its hind legs scrape rhythmically backward, seeking leverage that just isn't there. I make several attempts to catch the roach before finally managing to get it into the fold of a towel. It will be better off outside and I can go back to sleep without feeling guilty.

The day dawns softly. I meditate outside, in the midst of frangipani, wild ginger, and hibiscus. The vista in front of me is the broad blue Pacific. Stillness is in the air, even when the wind unexpectedly gusts up the hillside and rattles the palms. A small, brown bird swoops down to pinch up hapless ants from an endless stream of them crossing the deck. There is no sign of panic among the ants though; the procession doesn't even waver.

My meditation is untimed; it is timeless. A cloud crosses the sun and I get up, put away my cushion, and draw a bath.

a gecko chirps
soapsuds conceal the dark
circle of the drain


Christopher Herold writes:

Born in Suffern, New York in 1948, I lived in the San Francisco area from 1956 until the end of 1998. My wife and I moved into our new home in Port Townsend, Washington during a raging gale on New Year's Eve.

I was a student of the late Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi, one of the most influential Zen teachers of our time. I wrote my first haiku during a training session at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 1968. As a lay monk in the Soto tradition, I continue to deepen my commitment, expanding Zen practice into all aspects of my life.

In the '70s and 80's I pursued a career as a drummer and percussionist, performing and recording with a number of blues, rock, and jazz bands. Incredibly, one of these bands, Kingfish, was the top-selling new band in the U.S. during 1976.

Haiku has been my main passion since about 1980. I write in most of the various genres of haikai but focus mainly on haiku. Renku and haibun are dear to my heart, however, and I hope to have more time for them again in the future.

Over the past twenty years or so, I've been published in many of the journals and magazines in the haiku community and have twice been a winner of HSA's Museum of Haiku literature award. I've also enjoyed judging a number of haiku contests, including the World Haiku Contest, sponsored by Japan Airlines.

I've done a stint as president of the Haiku Poets of Northern California, and have been a co-editor of their (then) quarterly journal, Woodnotes. I've also been an editor of HPNC anthologies produced by Two Autumns Press and was the soliciting editor of a series of essays entitled The Art of Haiku, for the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society's journal, Geppo.

One of my great pleasures is teaching haiku, especially to beginners. I've taught at every grade level and have presented numerous adult haiku workshops, including several for the Zen Arts program of the Olympia Zen Center.

My first two books, In Other Words (Jarus Books), and Coincidence (Kanshiketsu Press), are now out of print. A third chapbook, a medium length haibun, is entitled Voices of Stone (Kanshiketsu Press) and is now in its fifth printing. My most recent collections are In the Margins of the Sea (Snapshot Press), and A Path in the Garden (Katsura Press). The former is available from the publisher. The latter won a merit book award from the Haiku Society of America. (I have copies if you're interested.)

At present my passion is managing and editing The Heron's Nest, a highly selective journal of international haiku written in English. It's the first, and still the only journal to appear on a monthly basis, simultaneously on the World Wide Web and in a paper edition.


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