Workers have been renovating a house across the alley from my classroom, and students sometimes stand at the window and lament the slow progress of the project. They say reconstruction has been going on for years, forever almost. If so, forever isn’t long, since the workers started six months ago, at the end of the last school year.
I’m not so good at placing events in time myself, but I jotted a haiku in my moleskin, dated 6/4/12:
workers like ants
study brick as if no one
had let them in
Haiku make odd labels for time, recording more about the sensations of particular days than events. As above, you can reconstitute the occurrences, but you return to what you made of them, not what they were. And big things—births and deaths and special days—appear as through a keyhole, the rest imagined from finite observations and feelings.
Yet haiku don’t seem false to me but somehow essential, closer to exact moments than anything I write. In a college philosophy text, I read Immanuel Kant led a severely constrained life. He didn’t travel except to take daily walks neighbors set their clocks to. Most of the time, he watched the world from a single window and must have mused over scenes branded onto his cortex. I picture him pausing pen in hand, thoughts adhering to a bird passing or a gust tugging the last leaf from a tree. I picture him forging universal sense from just that.
Haiku are made. Constructed from words, they aren’t the scenes they describe and aren’t the impulse behind their creation. At the same time, they carry odd truth, if only in how they’re made and how their making reflects the maker. Kant said, “The hand is the window to the mind,” suggesting our reconstruction of the world communicates our peculiar perspective and vision. There must be habits, patterns, and models behind our inventions. That we can’t see them clearly ourselves means they may be more true than anything we say about ourselves.
One of my colleagues looked at one of my doodles after a faculty meeting and said, “It’s like seeing your brain turned inside out.” Nothing on the page represented anything visible in the room, but she was right, everything I felt appeared in the organization of its marks. Haiku sometimes seem like that, less about a dance than about movement itself.
Three weeks ago, when I returned to Haiku Streak, a daily haiku blog I’d abandoned in January 2011, I felt as though I were walking into a house of still air. Everything collected was familiar. Some bore tags attaching them to specific days and realizations, but mostly they spoke of a collector who would gather these word objects. I decided to begin building haiku again and now I’m back at it, looking for keyholes, cutting the world into rectangles of single windows.
Across the alley, workers continue hammering wooden frames and draping them in insulating film. The bricks will come soon and the project will be finished. But it won’t really be finished, it will smolder in what they’ve built, their minds made visible.