Thursday, August 15, 2013


by Ray Jason

     It was a subtle, delicate, watercolor sunset.  The sky was not ablaze with vivid reds and oranges battling for attention, but was a serene panorama of gentle saffron and peach.  I was seated on AVENTURA’s cabin top with my back against the mast, drinking what I call Tarzan Tea.  It is the water of a young coconut which I have just opened with my machete.  My notepad and pen are within arm’s reach as I settle in for the last stage of my IMMERSION TIME.
It begins in the late afternoon with a vigorous swim followed by a very un-vigorous float.  Lying on my back, buoyant and content in the salty Caribbean water, I am joyously mindful that I have sculpted my life to not just enjoy Nature or visit Nature - but to IMMERSE myself in it.  I pull myself from the sea into my dinghy in one smooth and powerful motion.  I am wet and sleek like my dolphin neighbors, and I feel strong and lithe and sensuous.  My thoughts turn to the hundreds of millions of civilized humans, who are incarcerated in office cubicles, and who never get to experience such primal pleasure.
Back onboard AVENTURA, I reposition my plastic solar shower, which has been lying on the deck heating the sky water which flowed from my awning to my tank during last night’s squall.  My refreshing hot shower uses less than two gallons of water, and while toweling myself dry, I recall one of my favorite Mark Twain aphorisms, “We have turned a thousand useless luxuries into necessities.”  I chuckle at the realization that I am not just a right brain man in a left brain world, but I am also a solar shower guy on an iPod planet.
After slicing open the young, green coconut I surrender to high-tech temptation, and use a straw to drink its delicious, nourishing water.  Placing the nut in a small dog bowl so that it doesn’t roll over, I grab my notepad and pen.  My hands are almost shaking with anticipation, because it is now the final phase of my Immersion Time.  It is the HAIKU HOUR.
My appreciation for this simple and elegant form of Japanese poetry began in an unusual manner.  The military draft had ensnared me just after college, and I was about to ship out for Vietnam on a U.S. Navy ammunition ship.  On my last liberty in San Francisco before our departure, I was searching through the almost magical shelves of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore.  My quest was for a book that was both enticing and small - because our shipboard lockers could barely hold our clothes and toiletries.
Suddenly a mere sliver of a book caught my attention.  It was entitled HAIKU POETRY and was written by an American named James W. Hackett.  What made this tiny volume extraordinary was the fact that these were not translations of works by the great Japanese masters such as Basho or Issa, these were original haiku in English.  I read the first few pages and each poem was simple and exquisite.  Then I switched to the final pages to see whether his later efforts had dissipated into mediocrity, but these were as perceptive and moving as the first ones.
Also in the back of the book I encountered a brief set of guidelines that he had composed to assist others who might wish to try this form.  It was called “SUGGESTIONS FOR WRTING HAIKU POETRY IN ENGLISH.”  This was amazing – an author who was so in love with his art form that he wanted to selflessly share his knowledge of it with others.
At the cash register, the clerk complimented me on my selection and mentioned that there were three other books in this series.  She then led me to them and I jubilantly left the great little bookshop with all four tiny volumes that weighed less than my wallet and would fit just as comfortably into a back pocket.
During those extremely difficult times aboard that ship in the Vietnam theatre, those miniscule books bequeathed me great and abiding solace when little else was providing me any consolation. During that grim period I repeatedly attempted to compose haiku of my own, but was never satisfied with my efforts.  The environment was just too antithetical to “haiku mind.”
But decades later when I embraced the sea gypsy life and cocooned myself in Nature, the little poems just flowed as effortlessly as a full-moon tide.  When my immersion in the Wild finally awakened my haiku sensibility, I re-visited the American master’s “SUGGESTIONS” and found that their guidance remained wise and helpful.  Here are the main principles of his teaching that have proven most valuable in creating my poems.
Greater Nature and not human nature is the place of haiku - and NOW is the time of haiku.  Solitude and silence are vital for interpenetrating and empathizing with the Wild.  Modifying words should never be superfluous, and should suggest season or location or time of day.  Use verbs in the present tense and singular subjects whenever possible.  Haiku should be intuitive and direct and NOT abstract, symbolic or intellectual.  And finally, one of his suggestions is phrased so perfectly that I offer it verbatim: “Remember that haiku is a finger pointing at the moon, and if the hand is bejeweled, we no longer see that to which it points.”
    It is now over forty years since those tiny books inspired and comforted me.  I think of them every night at dusk when I sit on my little boat nestled between the Sea and the Sky with my notepad and my pen and my fervent desire to once again discover my “haiku mind.”  Here are some of my poems.  I call them Sea Gypsy Haiku and I hope that they bring you a smile - or a surprise - or some solace of your own.

The sea gypsy life –
all of my neighbors live in
the sea and the sky
A mother dolphin
shows her baby - clouds of fish -  
and seas of wonder.

You noisy parrots –
always chirping when you fly.
Do you sing of Joy?

No road before me –
vanishing wake behind me –
sea gypsy freedom!

Four egrets flying
so close that they look like a
single eight-winged bird.

Happy fisherman –
a little rum, a full moon,
and perhaps a fish.

Safely at anchor –
a night breeze cools the cabin –
sea gypsy heaven!

Not just a great blue –
your enormous wings make you
a huge blue heron!

Weary sea gypsy –
a kindly woman shares her
house of happiness.

Twin brothers rowing
their cayuco perfectly.
Oarsmen in the womb?

A white sail passing
on the distant horizon –
deep sea loneliness.

Native fisherman
laughs at the rain – if the fish
don’t mind, why should he?

I blow my conch shell
to salute the rising sun –
a tribal greeting.

Ocean reverie –
wind and wave and sky and stars.
What more is needed?

Moon path on the sea
tempts my sailboat to seek
the endless horizon.

Bright stars in the sky,
luminescence in the sea –
ocean harmony!