by Ken Jones
How lonely !
Cultivating stone leeks
in this world of dreams
               -- Nagata Koi

For me two stone leeks on this freezing New Year's morning. First, the letter from Jack. It wasn't lumbago after all. The cancer has spread from the prostate and is now eating away his bones. And it has finished with our mutual friend Gerald, who passed away unpeacefully a few days ago The second letter, from Australia, is his.

His final letter
that argumentative scrawl
to which there's no reply

A heavy overnight fall. Outside a world of whites and greys so still that I go out to touch it. In two elegant white curves my telephone line and my electricity sag high across the yard. The third musketeer, I unzip my flies and expertly flip the catheter tap.

Blood red urine
tracing in snow
the circle of infinity

I crunch across to the road gate. Through the shed window I catch a reassuring glimpse of the Apparatus which Jez and I assembled last week. All jubilee clips and small brass screws, built to last. He asked if he could have it after I'd finished with it. Code name GEM - Graceful Exit Machine, and deceptively simple. 1- Put on Bach CD; 2- Settle into familiar armchair; 3- Don transparent plastic helmet; 4- Fix gaze on distant skyline of larches; 5- Twist the valve anti-clockwise. Arrival at Dontknowwhere guaranteed in 15 seconds. More heroic than being a morphine doped antelope eaten alive, hindquarters first, by that hungry lion. And yet...
Then my eye catches something beneath the window.

Frozen to death
bright eyes wide open
the Tragedy
of a Mouse

I set off up the track. Only a fox has been before me, smudging the deep snow with its brush. Summer motorists who get as far as the cottage ask where the track goes ? Some get quite annoyed when I insist that it goes Nowhere. For a man in an armour-plated four-wheel drive there's always Somewhere. In fact it ends at the only completely empty kilometre square on the Ordnance Survey map. This morning the featureless plateau is just a blank white sheet, bearing only the faint prints of birds. I am disappointed. On a morning like this surely there should be a message pinned to the notice board ? Then it struck me: I am the message ! I chortle aloud; a passing raven chortles back.
Easier going home, and not only because it's downhill. A little black thing darts among the branches of the old damson tree. Whistling and piping, rich and sweet.

for the blackbird
singing his love

Back home I wake up the stove and cut a slice of turkey pie. It sits there on its willow pattern plate. There's something reassuring about the sheer suchness of a slice of turkey pie. Especially with home-made cranberry sauce, so I can even manage a couple of stone leeks with it.
It nerves me once again to update my life.

Correction fluid
across my dead friend's address
a white blanket

The translation of Nagata Koi's haiku is by James Kirkup and Makoto Tamaki.


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