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A Hundred Gourds 3:4 September 2014

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Commentary: On a haibun by Ray Rasmussen

By Jim Sullivan


Counting

the days until she arrives.

Our first morning offers a pink dawn filtered through light snow.

Let’s stay in bed and count snowflakes, I whisper.

the tawny cat
kneading—
lace curtains

Ray Rasmussen, Haibun Today, June 2014


In the haibun 'Counting', Ray Rasmussen has created a limited slice of life. A man counts the days until a woman arrives and he would like to count snowflakes in the morning, the cat kneads, and there are lace curtains. A very contained view.

In this minimalist haibun every word and every image has to carry its weight. In addition the reader needs to find the vastness of this haibun. How does it break out of the close confines of its sparse images and speak about the human condition? I am reading expectation, apprehension, and tension as dominant themes of this haibun.

What struck me early on was the very last image, "lace curtains." Why are they even mentioned? For sure curtains mirror the kneading cat. The cat stretches, the curtains billow in the breeze. The cat is very comfortable in the room and, most likely, the lace curtain and the cat have been around for awhile. The curtains have hung there, they are familiar, they breathe "do not disturb." The curtains are also an echo of the real image of counting days, lace curtains are real, no fabrication. They bracket the haibun between a beginning image and an ending image that are grounded in reality.

However, in the larger story the lace curtains are vulnerable (and maybe the cat too). Once "she" gets comfortable here, she may well want to change window treatments. The apprehension lives just under the surface in these taut images.

Going back to the beginning of counting days, a very natural and rational approach to the arrival of a significant woman in a man's life - a pleasant expectation. The blending of title and prose leads the reader perfectly into the tale. But then this image "a pink dawn filtered through light snow" strikes a discordant note. I have seen a pink dawn and I have seen light snow. They do not normally coexist. Dull gray clouds accompany light snow. The haibun has shifted into a dream of a perfect dawn with a woman and light snow and the very romantic phrase of counting snowflakes - nothing major but apprehension has begun. The apprehension is the forcing of perfect pink dawn and counting snow to stretch out the moment and push the limits of what might be possible in this relationship.

The haibun dream of counting snowflakes is no longer tethered to reality. One cannot count snowflakes, it is impossible. But romantic, unexpected, and perfectly logical in a dream world of expectation. Will she be comfortable with him, the cat, the curtains, his life?

The image of the cat kneading struck several chords with me. Ever since The Beatles wrote their song with the words "I'm lonely as can be, I need you," I have always thought of two needs - the regular "need" of another person and the verb knead like one kneads bread and one kneads another's skin and muscles. And now a third knead, the languid comfortable stretch of the limbs. This is a full image that enhances the different moods of this haibun.

There is expectation, apprehension, uncertainty, tension, and drama all wrapped into Ray Rasmussen's minimalist haibun. This is indeed a vast area beyond that one small slice of life that began with counting days.









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