Virals is a section in which one person choses a haiku by another person and comments on that haiku. Then the author of that haiku is invited to select a haiku by someone else and comment on that poem, and so on. For an introduction to this section, see Virals.
From Here On Earth
BY Judith Christian
seems close enough
to swim to
—Diane Gillen Lynch
We are, always have been, and always will be, among the stars. It was natural enough, pleasant enough, to choose this haiku by Diane Gillen Lynch. I first heard the rhythms of language in songs such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and I am dazzled by the images sent by the Hubble Space Telescope. It is also easy for me to travel off into intellectual musings about our relationship to stars. Why do we travel among them? Why do we want to touch them?
Ancient Buddhist cosmology asserted the existence of multiple, if not infinite, world systems. Then, as now, the light that travels from stars is what defines, what gives us the knowledge of those worlds. Epicurus, about 23 centuries ago, wrote, “There will be nothing to hinder an infinity of worlds.” Is it that the light of our minds knows that the stars will never end, and so to be among them means that we, too, have no beginning and no end? Modern astrophysics edges closer and closer to the ancients’ belief in the coming into being and passing away of an infinite number of universes, the system itself having no beginning and no end.
But wait . . . Basho is shaking his head and warning me away from such musings. Look at the first line of this well-tempered haiku. That star . . . of course. One star, the particular (Venus?), shining in the night sky, and from its light, the coming into existence of the observer. From our position on the Earth, with the naked eye we can look at only one star at a time. We can see many, but to really look, to discern the color and brightness with the naked eye, it’s one at a time. It is that particular star, and this particular poem, we are to look at, with the same intense gaze that is required to look at the night sky.
Where is the star and where is the observer? I see the star on or near the horizon, and between that star and the observer is a lake, or more likely, an ocean; but even if there is no intervening body of water, the night sky has its own horizons, and its own endless black pool. And, yes, the star seems close enough, but to swim to? There is a longing set up by the word seems, and the wistful desire to rejoin our eternal star selves is mediated by that word. We are firmly on terra firma, we are, alas, stuck here on Earth, which is exactly where a haiku should be. There is a beautiful hesitation, a gap between the second and last line, a place of expectation. I’m hooked. I’m there gazing into the distance for a moment, until the wave comes in and wakes me: to swim to. There is a dark danger in the last line. Overcome by longing for the eternal, desperate, or just impulsive—there could be many reasons for a night swim to a star; but like a hand grabbing one’s elbow, “seems” keeps us safe. There will be no swim. There is only the wonder, the inscape, the lapping water, and the lasting light of this poet and this poem.
As featured poet, Diane Gillen Lynch will select a poem and provide commentary on it for Viral 6.6.