In these lazy summer days, I’ve heard of one person — seriously — devoting a considerable amount of time to making Lego Spongebob figures. Sure, a quick glance through my Facebook feed shows plenty at the beach, a few galloping through Europe, many visiting friends and family. I’m more drawn to stranger behavior. For example, what happens when people-watching, my time-honored activity at bars and bookstores, devolves into object-watching? Here’s Buson, staring at two houses for so long that he felt the need to record himself:
Early summer rain (tr. Robert Hass) Yosa Buson Early summer rain – houses facing the river, two of them.
I guess there are moments in the Dallas area like this. Well, sort of. Early summer rain feels a bit gentle to me. He looks out through it, watches houses across the river. The last time it rained here it felt like a bucket full of the Pacific Ocean was being dumped by Galactus on this city. I could only see sheets of water and I was wondering if my car was going to get carried away and end up in the parking lot of a Dollar General.
Okay, so maybe I can’t directly relate to the weather he describes. I have to imagine his depressed object-watching. In the early summer rain, he stares at houses facing the river, two of them. I don’t think he’s worried about robberies in the neighborhood. Hass says that “two of them” could alternatively be rendered “two lone houses,” and “alone” and “separate,” all of a sudden, emerge as ways of describing what the speaker faces. Hass also makes one of those brief, brilliant, understated comments that I wish I could make: “The houses are seen at a distance, across the river in the rain.”
Across the river, in the rain, the speaker from a distance sees two separate houses. This poem details the relation between distance and closeness, unity and separation. Those two houses are a pair, but they are separate: what comes to mind is that one is technically part of a pair with one’s ex-lover. Water, in various forms, is always the same. In a sense, the water is what he’s contemplating. It’s a bit corny to say he’s distant from his distance, but there he is, watching the houses, thinking about his loneliness, and becoming lonelier dwelling on loneliness. It does not seem inevitable that he would be lonelier — he could work to separate himself from his state of mind — but unity is a strange thing, more present than not.
The Essential Haiku. ed. Robert Hass. New York: HarperCollins, 1944.