When my husband came home from the hospital and from rehab, we had to learn to enjoy life again. He could no longer move about without a walker, and his pervasive arthritis cast a pall on the simple pleasure of walking. During the winter months, a visit to a theater or a museum was a rare event. There were fewer party invitations. Fortunately, we both enjoy solitude. We rejoice in our many-windowed living room on Riverside Drive from which we can observe trees—near and distant.
Twenty years ago, when we were each in our sixties, we met through a slim ad I had placed in the New York Review of Books. He was caught by my words keen on poetry. Poetry is an abiding link between us. I am my husband’s caretaker, the keeper of our house, the tutor for several special students, and the sometime poet. I rise each morning hoping I will rise to the occasion of the day. I do not always succeed. One morning after some bleak early February days, as I was returning from an errand I noticed a tree that gave out uncommon joy. The rain had just stopped. I paused to understand whence came the joy:
between late winter buds
I won’t despair
The next morning after the usual exercises, I saw from my bedroom window:
upturned twigs catch the rain
every moment counts
When I went outside in the days following, splendid trees on Riverside Drive would call out to me, and each time I would respond:
bare tree—how to contort
who else will soar
in your bare arms?
Familiar landscapes opened in an unfamiliar way:
I’ll find my way
When the winds took over, the company of trees was heartening:
yet you declare
“here I stand!”
pretend to fiddle
In different hours and different weather, trees I befriended gave solace:
cradled in the oak tree’s fork
through the dark limbs of elms
our river stroll
After an all-day conference on dyslexia, a handsome tree awaited me in Washington Square Park:
wide thrust of boughs – pray
hold me a moment
At home at a long and solemn breakfast:
nodding at the window
bless our silent meal
Twenty-six haiku days later, a sense of closure came one moment on Broadway:
boughs a sudden silver
My husband would drop whatever he was doing and listen to the haiku I had written that day. I would hear in his voice the degree to which he had been moved. As I revised, I’d realize how right were his judgments. His own artistic work had been in singing and his parents were poets. Perhaps that is why he was quick to grasp small changes in sound and rhythm.
In the midst of this cherished time, one night he took an extra dose of Ambien. A mistake. At five in the morning, I found him in the living room with his clothes scattered about and everything in disarray. His walker was jammed in the narrow bathroom doorway; he was on the floor with one arm holding the seat of a swivel chair that he had been using to navigate. When I helped him up and managed to wrench his walker loose, he took it over and headed off toward the front door in a futile search for his bed.
In the afternoon, the pounding in my heart that had begun in early morning was still there – it frightened me and I erupted in fury about the pills. I left the house, dreading to come back. When I did, I walked cautiously down the long hall to our living room and found him in the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, with a pad, pencil and a serene smile. He offered me the pad on which he had written tankas—the five-line Japanese poem, a predecessor to the haiku. A look of wonderment was on his face; he had written only a few poems in his life. Now there were seven. This is the one he likes best:
through your leaves the stars
burn like candles
against the window
I’ll sleep tonight
He has cut the pills in half. Tonight only one half is left. He tells me he may stop taking them altogether.
the wet twigs say
“just you wait and see”
I am bowled over by the exquisite and delicate strength of this traveling haiku. Such a tale of resilience and tenderness, delivered in beautiful, careful packages, to take along every one of life’s journeys. Total gratitude.
Janet, what you have done is made courage delicate and strong, like you, and framed it in a passing moment, a reflection on nature, changeable and enduring. These are sustaining poems, wrapped in a beautiful exchange between lovers. I’m enchanted.
An exquisitely sensitive revelation of deep feeling in few words, all conveyed, miraculously, through images of Nature.
What an exquisite piece of writing, both delicate and profound, with stunning imagery. Let’s hope there’s more from Janet Brof in your pages.
What a beautiful depiction of love, old age, poetry,, the beauty of nature.
These are small miracles from a unique, musical and poetic mind. In a few pages Janet Brof has evolved a world that is true to her personal struggles, where poetry reflects the deepest part of self – of deep loss and revelation. She has put together an extraordinary and utterly beautiful work that is seamlessly and perfectly sculpted.
Wow. Such important advice: stop, observe, feel, express the wonder and the joy.. thank you. I will try to remember this.
This highly personal, beautifully written—What should I call it?— An essay? A haiku story?— hit me like a blow to the solar plexus. Each haiku describes more than a physical reality; it describes an emotional one, and the prose portion allows us to witness two individuals striving to cope with age and infirmity, to maintain an equilibrium, and through poetry, to survive with dignity and grace. I was very moved.