river does its thing
morning light falls with a bang
on single-hair brush
I had to battle Paul Robeson, O.C. Smith and Robert Redford to arrive at this haiku. But here it is and I hope you like it now it's yours, John.
"John"? John who?
John Megas. John Megas is a painter and printmaker working out of Minneapolis, MN. When recently I stumbled upon his paint-on-demand blog Panda Licking on a Light Bulb I was on a natural high for hours, just falling in love with everything I found there: The miniature paintings, the stories behind the commissions, the reflections on the process of painting – the whole package. I left a comment and I couldn't believe my luck when, the next day, John suggested a trade: A painting for a haiku! I leapt at it!
No further directions were given, just the request that I write a haiku for him and he would then make a painting for me of anything I wished. The fact that I leapt at it doesn't mean I didn't realize that writing a haiku on demand sort of goes against the grain of how a haiku will normally uncover itself. You need some kind of flash to set you off, whether you think of it as inspiration or as having at some point in life had a teeny tiny glimpse of a kenshō experience and suddenly you know that if you apply yourself to the task RIGHT NOW you may be able to take the experience just a liiittle bit further and come away with some contraband on a piece of paper. Pompous? Nah. Consider the zen saying: "Before Enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water." We're still here, it's still life – ain't nothing pompous about it. (BTW I'm not calling myself enlightened, if it sounded like it…!)
But you are gonna need that particular flash, one particular "glimpse moment" that will send you reeling. (In a Zennish way, of course;-) If you are to write a haiku on demand, then where do you look for that flash? Can it be hunted down? Will the haiku be any good? As haiku poet Issa noted:
Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art
What if something similar applies to writing a haiku to use it as currency for a painting=:O But I desperately wanted one of John's paintings and so I hurried to say yes before I could say no…!
I knew I had to refrain from writing about his paintings - they hadn't settled yet, for me. I turned first to the tools of a painter (more about that later) and next to Minneapolis itself, where John Megas lives. I needed to see what he sees, every day. It took some fighting to get through to the city though; I was attacked by Little Green Apples in my head repeating the line It don't rain in Minneapolis in the summertime over and over again, insisting that I use the summer rain image along with some ultramarine. But the draft wasn't too good and I abandoned it long before I googled the lyrics just for fun and learned I had been confusing Minneapolis with Indianapolis all along, duh. Minneapolis is snow, not rain, and bearing Issa's words in mind I'd better steer clear of snow haiku right now, ha ha… But I still love ya, O.C. Now will you please unstick yourself from the inside of my head and stop humming that one single line please, the game is up.
Anyhoo. Minneapolis turned out to mean Water City. Wikipedia tells me there are twelve lakes within the city. That struck a chord with me – my own city, Stockholm, is built on fourteen islands. At one point I had an outline down on paper involving the words "Twelve Lake morning", where Twelve Lakes was my haiku name for Minneapolis and where my cunning plan was to plant an oh so subtle suggestion in the reader's mind luring him to superimpose the image of the twelve lakes on his own mental image of a palette never directly mentioned by me. A hidden double exposure. Yeah. Neat, that.
Perhumps a bit too neat? I'm not sure, but either way, those twelve puddles had nothing on the Mississippi, which had now planted itself firmly in my mind. Minneapolis lies on both banks of the river and I really wanted to harness the great Mississippi. Odd as it may sound, I do have a special feeling for it, although I've never even been to the US of A.
But now I was invaded by the film title A River Runs Through It, instead of Little Green Apples… The title of Robert Redford's film doesn't even refer to Minneapolis and the river isn't the Mississippi and even if it had been I could hardly have used that line…! …but it's such a great title and I blocked myself for a while there, obsessing over not-writing-those-words. Still, trough it all, I stayed connected to some kind of genuine feeling for the spirit of that Big River and I knew I had to stay on that track. Knowing which track to stay on is half the work done so I never despaired.
Not until Paul Robeson started singing.
And persisted to sing. Ol' Man River inside my tortured brain, over and over. Of all the clichés… I give up. I'm a ham poet. Sorry John I just can't deliver. The wrath of Issa is upon me and he's feeding me sound bites he knows I can't use. (I mean, had it at least been Stan Freberg's more politically correct version Elderly Man River…;-)
But the great Mississippi was still there the next day, still strong, still willing. I tried to contact the spirit of the river to ask which words would carry what a river does. Its job description. Is it "run"? Yes. Obviously. A river runs, we learned that at the movies in the previous chapter;-) But I was after something else. A long list of verbs presented itself but none of them conveyed the true mississippiness, the way I imagined it. So I watched the Mississippi on YouTube ha ha. And I carried the Mississippi inside me all day and all through the night. And I felt it and it spoke to me by not saying nothing and the message was it jes keeps rollin' along. Aaaaaargh!
But that really was it. The cliché had turned warm and living in my hands. Yes indeed: It jes keeps rollin' along.
Doing its thing. This was what I had come for: The river heeds the call to be a river. The river knows about riverness. What to do and what not to.
John speaks about his tiniest brush on the blog, it's mentioned in the blog post entitled Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo. (I shit you not.) He says it looks like one fat hair and he originally bought it to make the needles on an acupuncture painting. That charmed me. I was playing around with palettes, gesso, paint, ink, palette knives - but I kept on returning to that single-hair brush and I saw it lying on a table bathing in sunlight. Not the vamos a la playa kind of sunlight.
To me, John's haiku has something to do with dedication and the sacredness of work. A while back I came across the Italian phrase for giving birth: Dare alla luce – literally to give to the light. It was that kind of light on the single-hair brush, the kind that you give to.
John Megas' paint-on-demand blog Panda Licking on a Light Bulb where you'll find my miniature painting. Sweeter deal was never closed on this blog - I love the painting!