My First Haiku

When I was six, I wrote my first haiku.  No, I was not a Mozart of Japanese style poetry.  When I was six, I made friends with our bachelor neighbor, Jamie Pollard, the last of the Pollard family.  Jamie was it – fini.  He lived alone in the house several generations of Pollards had been born, died, married, and gone off to war in – just like our house, and many of the houses around us.

I was the only child in a family of adults and two teenaged aunts (heaven help them).  I was great friends with Mrs. Goldie and her Pekingnese, Mrs. Konstantopoulos, old Mr. Michaux (old family Creole who was living “up north” to manage his family’s northern bank branch), and Beatrice, old Mr. Michaux’s Creole mistress.  Let me clarify this:  while “up north” was several states below the Mason Dixon line, it was several states more north than old Mr. Michaux’s N’awlins home.

One day, I was playing under the huge magnolia in our front yard.  I had brought out several volumes of our family’s Encylopedia Britannica and was using several as a chair while I read from another volume.  I was entranced in the article about sarcophagi when Jamie Pollard decided to stick his nose in my business.

He apparently had been standing on his front porch and beheld me sitting on books.  As my back was turned, he could not tell I was reading.  Pushing his way through the hedge that separated his yard from ours,  he came blustering under the tree and stood in front of me.  I ignored him.

“Little girl, didn’t anyone ever tell you not to play with books?  Books are instruments of learning, not for play!”

I followed the line of his precisely creased white linen trousers up to his angry red face and back down to his well shined tassel loafers and began again to read.

“Did you not hear what I just said to you about these books?”

This time, I looked up and straight into his eyes. “Jamie Pollard, I didn’t invite you into our yard.  You may turn around and go home.  I have important things going on and I do not have time for you. You are not in loco parentis and have no right to tell me what to do in my own yard.  My Ninny said I could bring these out here and I did.  Go home.  I don’t have time to play with you.”

He just looked at me and sputtered.  At this time, he was 46 years old, single, and alone except for his housekeeper and gardener/mechanic/yard man.  I went back to reading.

By this time, not only was he angry, but had become extremely curious.  Here was a small girl with big glasses, a long braid of hair obviously reading an entry in the encyclopedia and using a Latin phrase correctly.  He had finally met someone as odd and spoiled as himself.  Snagging a couple of volumes for himself, he sat beside me.

“What are you reading about?”  Since he had the brains not to ask me what I was reading when it was obvious (a book!), I answered him.  “I’ve been reading about sarcophagi. Do you know about them?”  “As a matter of fact, I do.”

I knew he had once been a professor at the university in town and had traveled around the world several times (everybody knew everything about everyone).  He began to tell me about the different types, cultures, on and on.  I listened to him go on nonstop for an hour, until he became hoarse.  Abruptly he stopped talking and maybe for the first time in awhile, apologized.

“I am sorry for taking your time.  I’ll go back home now.”  I reached out and put my hand on his bony knee.  “what else do you know about?”

And thus began a deep friendship.  A 46 year old man and a six year old girl.  Two odd ducks in world of swans.  It was as if there were no barriers between us.  Heart called to heart and we became friends.  My family didn’t think anything of it.  Being around adults most of the time, it was no different than him being one of us.  The Newtons and the Pollards had known each other since the families first moved into their homes generations ago.

Jamie had been the only boy and youngest child in a house full of women.  When his mother died, Jamie just withered and went into his own world.  It was that time he did his world hopping.  Later that summer, I was given a tour of his home and shown some of his treasures.  One of the treasures was an ivory Japanese hair stick.  He had me undo my braid and finger comb my hair and then showed me how to twist up my hair and secure it.  I asked him about Japan.  That entailed several visits.  Several years later, my love for Japan was firmly planted in my heart during a school field trip.   Jamie though, sowed the seed that day.  Zen, wabi sabi, haiku, hanami, momiji gari, katanas, Samurai – all mixed in with fairy tales and mythology.

One summer night, my family and I were sitting on our front porch rocking, after supper.  Jamie came over to visit and bring an armful of roses for my grandmother and mother.  He sat on the porch railing and all of us talked and laughed and drank lemonade.  He was interested in hearing about our Celtic and Norse ancestors.  Suddenly, it began to rain.  I was wanting to play in the yard among the fireflies that night and the rain meant I could not.  Putting on my most solemn voice, I entoned, “Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain….creeps in this petty pace…rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.”  Jamie clapped his hands.  “By God little one, you almost have a haiku there!  Shakespeare be damned.”

He again explained haiku.  He ticked off on his fingers:  five syllables first line, seven second line, five syllables last line.  Kigo -season kireiji – cutting word, juxtaposition of two images.  He was excited as I have ever seen him.  Now we were all looking at him.  “I know you can do it.  Write a haiku for me.”  And I did.

I came home from university to  attend his funeral.  Like a true Southern eccentric and intellectual, he died of cirrhosis of the liver.  A fall down the stairs didn’t help either.  Wearing the ivory hair stick, I stood and spoke briefly at his memorial service.  My first haiku is one of the few I feel satisfied about.  I know I write bad haiku, but it is one of my first loves, one of my first ties to Japan and all that came about in the years after.

Jamie sensei  先生, I keep trying.  I hope I do you honor, my friend.  I quoted one of my favorite lines from Issa at his memorial but amended it to:  “There are no strangers beneath the magnolia tree.”  and then poured forth my first haiku:

Rain rain rain rain rain:
Ducks like rain but I do not.
Rain rain rain rain rain.

39 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lly1205
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 00:54:05

    No strangers beneath the magnolia tree – and you wrote this story so that it feels familiar even to a stray reader 🙂



  2. Line
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 01:24:10

    I loved reading this story! How sweet! 🙂 Thank you for this! 🙂


  3. Maurice A. Barry
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 07:31:26

    blogging always brings
    the finest of surprises
    I really loved this
    Mentorship is what
    brings the adult from the child
    and makes both better


    • kanzensakura
      Mar 04, 2014 @ 12:39:48

      It is indeed. and I believe truly that while we cannot choose our family, that we are blessed in our hearts choosing our friends. In this day and age, poor Jamie would have probably been deemed a pervert. But he was always a gentleman, treated me as an equal, and the two of us found someone with whom to communicate and trust.


  4. Let's CUT the Crap!
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:58:49

    I marvel how at six you sounded like a grownup. At first I thought Jamie was six as well, not forty-six.
    This is a delight to read as are all the endearing stories you post here. 🙂 Nothing I like better than a grown male and a little female with their heads together sharing learning together. This is a powerful picture to me.


    • kanzensakura
      Mar 04, 2014 @ 12:38:11

      He was a good friend. I spoke like an adult because all I had around me were well educated adults. My main buddies were adults. And I was a precocious little bugger who started reading at 3. I sat with my aunts while they studied for school so I picked up Latin, Shakespeare, whatever from them. I had no choice! My youngest aunt said I was “doomed” from the beginning.


      • Let's CUT the Crap!
        Mar 04, 2014 @ 23:44:46

        Hardly doomed, unless you mean to learning. 😀


        • kanzensakura
          Mar 05, 2014 @ 06:23:22

          She meant our extreme oddness as a family and how i was rarely treated as a child. We’re big on education. She herself has 2 ms and 1phd. Plus, she knew, even as a teen that the world is often unkind to those who don’t fit into a popular mold.


          • Let's CUT the Crap!
            Mar 05, 2014 @ 15:37:59

            Wow. I’m impressed with all of you. 😀 😀 😀


            • kanzensakura
              Mar 05, 2014 @ 15:41:47

              Don’t be. We’re just plain ol’ southern girls. The middle aunt, the one that looks like Elizabeth Taylor (but not fat like when she got old) is a nuclear engineer. My mom, before she retired, was a CPA. I’m the screw up of the family, but they love me anyway. guess I was kinda doomed. After all that, it was hard to follow in their footsteps. But…..I’m the only one whose been to Japan and Woodstock!

              Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2014 20:37:59 +0000 To:


  5. gapark
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 23:45:49

    What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself with us. You are very talented. Gail @ Making Life An Art


  6. jaklumen
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 19:27:43

    What an incredible story! It wasn’t until I got married that I had the pleasure of striking up a friendship with someone so intellectual and curious. But I have been fortunate– the turn of recent events for him brought us right to our neighborhood, although I had not met him there, if that makes sense. He was helping me do an errand yesterday, in fact– claiming some shelves from my sister and brother-in-law’s fire-damaged separate garage.


    • kanzensakura
      Mar 14, 2014 @ 18:14:59

      he was truly a curious soul and wanted to know about any and everything. I think that’s why we became fast friends, in spite of age. I’m the same way. My Samurai once said, if there were wizards in this world, I would be one – wizards are notoriously curious about everything. My husband says that sometimes I embarrass him by the way I will ask questions of people about what they do, how they do it…what do they learn from it….he also got ticked because when he and were thinking of taking classes to further our knowledge, I tested out of physics and he did not…


      • jaklumen
        Mar 14, 2014 @ 22:35:09

        Funny you should say that… when I took a little “for fun” quiz on which D&D type of character would fit the real me best, I got wizard. My nickname when I was little was “Little Professor”… I didn’t like it because my parents tended to use it in a mocking, inferiority complex-sort-of-jealous way. My father will catch me all the time when I start dissolving into technobabble, dissertations, or what have you. In public, even.


        • kanzensakura
          Mar 15, 2014 @ 09:39:13

          My family did and still do, call me Brittanica – often in loving jest when I start on one my of “lectures” or illuminations about something. My family, when we were together and not scattered about or dead as we are today, were the epitome of the Southern eccentric family – intellectual, old society family but poor, eating “foreign” food before it became the norm, eating “organic” and “locavore” before it became trendy, books of all sorts in various stages of being read in every room of the house, encouragement of each other in our endeavors (my greatgrandfather decided it would be a hoot to learn to fingerpaint when he was 86, my middle aunt learned to fence when she was 18 and a debutante) for examples. We were all of us odd and fit in with all the other odd, old family eccentrics around us.


  7. David Emeron
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 05:13:28

    rain rain rain rain rain…. Sounds like where I live.

    Oh… and, heads up: as promised.


  8. robert okaji
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 18:06:20

    Thank you for this. A wonderful piece, with a lovely haiku.


  9. huntmode
    Mar 19, 2014 @ 22:20:57

    Kanzen, what a joy this story is. I’m linking it in a post, hopefully, others will come to enjoy it as well. Love HuntMode


  10. Trackback: Notes to Myself ~ March 19, 2014 | Chasing Rabbit Holes
  11. nataliescarberry
    Mar 24, 2014 @ 20:41:13

    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and hope you come again some time. Blessings, Natalie 🙂


  12. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 18:48:14

    That was lovely!


  13. lorriebowden
    May 30, 2014 @ 23:04:51

    Oh! I am so happy I continued and found this. What a wonderful friendship you forged…and to write your first haiku at 6!!! GREAT!! You have done your friend proud…I am sure of it! Blessitude…Lorrie


  14. Rosemary Nissen-Wade
    Jun 27, 2019 @ 18:11:08

    Just found my way here today, and loved this story.

    I too had a poetic mentor as a child, an elderly family friend who called around one day a little early to visit the parents and found only me home. I was in the middle of writing a poem, and he asked to look at it. He then taught me how to count metre, and the word and meaning of prosody, for which I’m forever grateful. (Turned out he himself wrote poems.) However, it was a one-off; never became a wonderful friendship, such as you had with Jamie.


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