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A haibun in honor of Kiyoshi and Kiyoko Tokutomi

 

Narrow Road to the Redwood Mountains

by Patricia J. Machmiller

A haibun in honor of Kiyoshi and Kiyoko Tokutomi

          1

          ah! this woman . . .
          charcoal gracefully arranged
          gracefully added

                    Sosei Hasegawa (translation by Fay Aoyagi and Patricia J. Machmiller)

This is the poem that drew Kiyoko Tokutomi to haiku as a young college student in Saga near her hometown, Nabeshima, Japan, where she was born to the Shibata family on December 28, 1929. In later years, as a teacher and mentor to the haiku group that she and her husband, Kiyoshi Tokutomi, would create, she would recite from memory many haiku of the masters like this one, for example, of Bashô:

          2

          At first with delight
          then with sadness I watch them
          fish with cormorants

                    (translation by Makato Ueda)

But I get ahead of myself. After graduating, she begins teaching literature and dance at the Nabeshima Junior High School. Here she meets Kiyoshi Tokutomi, who is teaching English there. Kiyoshi is a young American who was studying in Japan when the war started. I suspect one of the reasons she was attracted to him was the kindness he showed toward his students. She told me she had had to admonish him for giving his food away. You are not the Buddha; you have to eat. It was in these circumstances of wartime Japan that he contracted tuberculosis. With no medical help he became extremely ill.

After the war, in 1951, he returned to the United States. In 1954, Kiyoko followed him, traveling to San Jose, California. They were married in 1957.

          tinsel

          tinsel sparkling—
          through the afternoon we two
          writing

In the beginning of their marriage they didn’t really write haiku together—that would come later—but they were very devoted to each other, and in 2003, in going through Kiyoko’s papers after she died, we found notebooks of Kiyoshi’s. He had started writing a journal in 1957, the year his daughter was born, which he continued to write until he died in 1987. He was an inventor with a patent; he dabbled in mathematics. With Kiyoko’s help he started a mathematics competition for high school students between the United States and Japan.

          evoking

          evoking clusters
          of algebraic symbols—
          smell of tangerine

All the while he was battling tuberculosis. Finally they decided on surgery—he survived with half a lung.

          puppet

          the puppet’s master
          hidden in the shifting light
          old year turns to new

In 1967 a medication that was meant to cure his tuberculosis left him totally deaf.

          mountain

          mountain crevices
          marked by a flow of snow
          a cloud like a hand

          cold

          cold emanating
          from the renovation site
          centuries old

After first searching for a way to reverse his hearing loss, including a five-month stay for Kiyoshi in a hospital in Japan when they wrote to each other daily, they came to realize restoration was not to be and with this acceptance they turned to haiku.

          withering

          withering blast!
          through parted clouds the glitter
          of the Pleiades

They join the Kari Haiku Society of Japan in San Jose where they become very active, recording all the haiku from each meeting and sending the haiku to Shugyo Takaha to be judged.

          spring rain

          spring rain—
          a downpour of light filling
          the tea garden

They were such thorough record-keepers that all the haiku, the transmissions to Takaha in Japan, and his replies now reside in the Haiku Archive in the California State Library in Sacramento, California.

In 1975 Kiyoshi decides that English-speakers might like to write haiku, and with Kiyoko, founds the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, of which I am almost a charter member. At first the society was a division of the Yukuharu Haiku Society until in 1978 it became independent.

          rim

          the rim of the sun
          touches the rim of the world
          spilling out spring dawn

With a happy exuberance they build a community of poets.

          conception

          Conception Bay—
          small islands poke out of
          the sea’s vast night

Kiyoshi is the first president of the society. He publishes the first Geppo, the Society’s monthly newsletter. Kiyoko compiles the society’s first kigo list. Teruo Yamagata of the Yukuharu Haiku Society is a regular contributor. Kiyoshi bubbles with enthusiasm.

          unstoppable

          unstoppable
          the river and its stories—
          the laughing mountain

Kiyoko is always by his side. At meetings she writes in the air in Japanese calligraphy what is being said by the participants so that Kiyoshi can keep up with the flow of the conversation.

          at the bay

          at the bay’s entrance
          water becomes sky becomes
          spring dusk

It’s a busy, joy-filled time—a time of learning, growing, and building. I work with Kiyoshi translating Shugyo Takaha’s The Enjoyment of Haiku, several chapters of which we publish in Haiku Journal, once an annual publication of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. One warm summer day I came to the Tokutomi’s house on Eighth Street to continue our work and find him sitting outside in the shade of an oleander. He is very pleased with himself because he had been strong enough to walk all the way around the block that morning. As we worked, I noticed a small wind chime hung in the oleander. When I remarked on it by writing him a note (this is how I communicated with him), he said that Kiyoko had hung it there for him to “listen” to.

          windchimes

          wind chimes in a calm—
          the pensive listening to
          the sound of no sound

The two of them, Kiyoshi and Kiyoko, lived this way, paying attention to the small details in their life, being kind to each other, and appreciating the life they had. In all the time I knew them, I never heard them complain of the way life treated them or of the difficulties that came their way. Then in 1987 Kiyoshi dies.

          far out

          far out on a sea
          the color of spring dusk
          a white kayak

It is a time of deep sadness for Kiyoko. Sometimes she forgets to eat. Once she is so weak she faints.

          winter wind

          the winter wind—
          how are you, I ask and from
          her bed she says, fine

It had become a tradition for Kiyoko and Kiyoshi to come to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. That year when I invited Kiyoko to come, she declined saying she didn’t feel up to it. Then on Thanksgiving Day she arrived at my door. She had had a dream, and in it Kiyoshi had said to her, I don’t know where you’ll be tomorrow, but it’s Thanksgiving and I’ll be at the Machmillers’!

          thanksgiving

          Thanksgiving dinner—
          with a gust of wind the late
          arrival arrives

Kiyoko continued on the path alone.

          white caps

          white caps on the sea
          and a vacant stare—
          spring melancholy

She became the guide and spokesperson for Yuki Teikei.

          on winter shore

          on the winter shore
          she notices the white sand—
          a white happiness

In the month of her 65th birthday (January 1994) Kiyoko retired from National Semiconductor.

          driving

          driving to the heart
          of the red-leafed mountain
          to live her last days

Ben Lomond, a small town in a redwood forest, became her retirement home. There she cared for her grandchildren, whom she loved, but the days were long and sometimes
lonely . . .

          plain of seaweed

          a plain of seaweed
          off the Monterey Coast—
          spring melancholy

          absentmindedly

          absentmindedly
          eating a persimmon
          in the poet’s house

She made several trips to Japan during those years. In 1997, members of Yuki Teikei and other poets accompanied her on a tour of Matsuyama, Sado Island, Kyoto, Yokohama, Tokyo, and Shizuoaka. She spoke at the Milky Way Renku group on Sado and at the Haiku International conference in Tokyo, giving the history of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. In Matsuyama, Kiyoko and her group of traveling poets were graciously received by Mrs. Yoshino and her Hoshi members. Mrs. Yoshino hosted a lunch, and Minako Noma and Miyoko Iwasaki led us on a tour of the Shiki Museum. That evening we watched the sun go down from Matsuyama’s famous castle. It was a magical time.

          hazy moon

          hazy moonlit night
          we dart into a shop for
          noodles and quail eggs

When we returned from Japan, Kiyoko told me that Shugyo Takaha had made her a dojin in Kari. This was a great happiness to her.

In 2000, Yuki Teikei celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Mr. Yamagata came from Japan. Kiyoko gave the main address. She attributed the continued vitality of Yuki Teikei to Kiyoshi’s decision early on not to hold onto the presidency of the organization, but to pass it along to other members of the group. I was the third president of Yuki Teikei following Dr. Edwin Falkowski who followed Kiyoshi.

          with a clink

          with a clink they sink
          deeper into themselves—
          the ice cubes

And then there came the time that memory became illusive.

          dog days

          dog days of August—
          she lingers in the twilight
          waiting for Godot

          autumn sky

          autumn sky—as if
          whisking its corners the which
          which, which of bamboo

          young leaves

          young leaves: this feeling
          of wanting to know what now
          I can never know

          sun sea

          sun on autumn sea—
          its shining iridescence
          masks an ocean

          one who

          the one who would quote
          Bashô no longer knows
          the cormorant’s name

          house

          house in the redwoods—
          the river rushes by beneath
          blank windows

I used to visit her in her house in Ben Lomond.

          hear

          I hear Shikibu
          among whispering redwoods—
          on good days she weeps

Most times we would drive to Santa Cruz for sushi, and then I would take her to the ocean.

          autumn seashore

          the autumn seashore—
          the constant muttering stops
          where breakers flower

          singing

          singing to herself
          she doesn’t notice lovers
          by the autumn sea

Once a year I would bring her to the Yuki Teikei haiku retreat at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California, where being around haiku and haiku people would seem to pull her out of the coming darkness.

          night mutterings

          her night mutterings
          what did they know in Salem
          of the winter mind?

          winter strawberry

          winter strawberry—
          she apologizes to
          the teacher not there

Once as I was tucking her into bed at Asilomar she said: Who are you, Pat? I know you’re Pat, but who are you? When I said that I was a long-time friend, she said, Oh. Then, after a pause: I thought you were a relative.

          snow

          snow on the hilltop—
          her mutter-mutterings
          fall into silence

All through her decline she continued to write haiku. At one point after a bad fall:

          rehab

          rehab courtyard—
          wrapped up in a plaid blanket
          she counts syllables

Her English seemed to fall away and since I didn’t understand Japanese, we often didn’t talk. But she continued to write haiku in English whenever I would come.

          sitting

          sitting together
          a circle of pigeons watch
          us watch the cold sea

Haiku was like a light in the growing fog of Alzheimer’s

          glintering

          glinting winter sea—
          I don’t think I can compose
          haiku anymore

She was pleased when her book, Kiyoko’s Sky, translated by Fay Aoyagi and me, came out in early December of 2002. In mid-December her daughter brought her to the Yuki Teikei winter party along with her nine-year-old granddaughter, and she read aloud from the book for the first time. We didn’t know that it would be the last time.

          red glow

          red glow of charcoal
          she hears her grandmother’s voice
          reading her haiku

On Christmas Day, 2002, she passed away.

          blush

          blush of winter moon—
          this woman that comes in grace
          that leaves us in grace

In 2007 eight members of Yuki Teikei traveled to Japan. In Tokyo one evening we had dinner at the home of Takeko and Teruo Yamagata and on another evening we wrote renku in Masajo’s Pub with Emiko Miyashita and others. We then traveled to Matsuyama where we attended the third Haiku Pacific Rim Conference, held at the Shiki Museum where this speech was presented for the first time.

It was after Kiyoko’s death that we found an exchange of letters written in Japanese between Kiyoshi and Kiyoko. These letters, translated by Tei Matsushita Scott and me, were published by Hardscratch Press in 2009 in the book, Autumn Loneliness: The Letters of Kiyoshi and Kiyoko Tokutomi, July–December, 1967. The original letters reside in the American Haiku Archives in Sacramento. The letters speak to the extraordinary love between these two people and their enormous capacity to overcome hardship and to find beauty in the simple and the everyday. Theirs was a haiku life.

          in the hearth flames
          separate like their separate dreams
          yet like the fire, whole

 

 

Acknowledgements

This haibun was first published in The Proceedings of the Third Conference of Haiku Pacific Rim (Matsuyama, Japan, April, 2007) and later in Autumn Deepens, Yuki Teikei Members’ Anthology, eds. Jerry Ball and June Hopper Hymas (Sunnyvale, California: Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, 2010). Patricia J. Machmiller’s haiku translated into Japanese by Fay Aoyagi. The following are previous publication credits for individual poems.

“absentmindedly,” “sun on autumn sea,” and “the one who would quote,” One Hundred Gourds, Carolyn Hall, ed. (San Francisco: Two Autumns Press, Haiku Poets of Northern California, 2003)

“autumn sky—as if,” Spring Sky, Yuki Teikei Members’ Anthology, June Hopper Hymas, ed. (San Jose, California: Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, 2001)

“dog days of August,” Bashô Festival 2002 Anthology (Iga Ueno, Japan, 2002)

“young leaves: this feeling” and “her night mutterings,” Haiku: A Poet’s Guide, Lee Gurga (Lincoln, Illinois: Modern Haiku Press, 2003)

“I hear Shikibu,” Kurumaza, Emi Goto, ed.

 

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