A Stray Note, Shiki’s Sister

VOL1- 2 AUGUST 2001

 WHC Shiki Celebrations – poetry: haibun

Centenary of the Death of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

A Stray Note, Shiki’s Sister

Debra Woolard Bender

I have been many women (roles) in my fifty years. Once, I was also a Ritsu, as a personal care attendant for my husband’s former employer who was quadriplegic. My family joined with him as an extended family when his mother passed away.

the echo of feet
on a wheelchair ramp
cold rain

Lloyd had been paralysed from between the 4-5th vertebrae down. The tumbling accident happened soon after a marriage in his very early twenties. It was quickly annulled. He was fifty years old when we all took up residence together. I was thirty-four with a husband and two young teenage children.

where your mother
once kissed your forehead,
now my kiss, too

May I be honest, as Shiki was about his feelings toward his sister, Ritsu? While I had developed a bond of filial love with this friend whom I physically and spiritually cared for (usually twenty-four hours a day), I also experienced great frustration, sense of imprisonment and many times, resentment. He sometimes felt resentment toward me as well.

my portulaca
overtaking those junipers
you bought regardless

He was my brother, not by physical family, but by spiritual family. Ritsu’s “life of poetry” would include all those same emotions, but over a longer period of time. My health broke after two years, but we stayed for four. I did not write poetry during this time, that I can remember, but it was not the reason why I did not.

parallel tracks
two rows of oxfords
never scuffed

*oxfords: men’s style of leather shoes

I do believe we are poetry and music, and that what we think, do and say is the writing of it, not in a book, but in truth. Until now, I have written only a few haiku about Lloyd, but not about the everyday living of that time as if to journal this part of our lives.

turning leaves
tweeds or corduroys?
corduroys or tweeds?

I’ve not even been sure that anyone would really wish to hear about those everyday acts of caring for one in such a manner as Ritsu and her mother did for Shiki, or as I did with Lloyd.

holding my breath
on Christmas morning
I brush your teeth

The poems could not be “beautiful” to hear or look upon. They would be more like hearing about Shiki’s phlegm, coughing and sores, and yes, with a sense of humour, as that is essential to living through these things, for the afflicted one, and maybe even more so for the care taker.

wool weather
your crotch rash unattended
by the male nurse

Many of us do these kinds of things for aging parents or loved ones with chronic illness or disability, or as health care professionals.

up five times
or maybe six tonight
the draw sheet drenched

As a Ritsu, my poems must need tell you about the careful daily cleaning out, with latex-gloved fingers, the bowels of a man, dressing chronic bedsores, staying nearby him day and night…

before church
I wash useless manly parts
once wasted in passion

…giving monthly pedicures to calcified toenails, sponge bathing a man not my husband, taking special care of genitals inflamed by the long sitting in one position, interrupting sleep several times a night to change his position, making sure his favorite foods were stocked…

the growing bulge
in his khaki trousers
a full leg bag

When one has been placed in such a position of Shiki or Ritsu, one’s views of life change — some for bitter, and some for the better. It reduces and reveals much negativity and argument over trivial issues to the pettiness it truly is.

a gentleman —
pissing behind a van,
the slow drain of his leg bag

I have no stomach for such things, especially in haiku poetry. I am speaking of the picking apart of bone and flesh — the biting and tearing which men inflict to prove “right” and to gain power over others.

tornado warning
the van’s wheelchair lift
slowly grinding

Being in such a position as Ritsu or Shiki also reveals the greatness and strength of the human spirit. I hope my life and Ritsu’s changed for the better. I am more aware of the huge weaknesses and dark places of my own soul (and sometimes those of others) because of it.

morning glory
covered the bars and rail
of a hidden fence

Lloyd died two years after we moved from Kansas to Florida.

scent of prairie grass
the look in your eyes
when we said last goodbyes

I hope that when reading about and examining the poetry and the lives of Shiki and Ritsu, one might learn something of his own spirit, as we share a common humanity, no matter what the culture. I offer my small gift of words.

ah, Ritsu,
you are also my sister;
the weeping sore
Ritsu wa ware nimo
imoto nari*
For Ritsu, Shiki and Lloyd, three tanka

Once, dreaming,
I tried to hold you up;
the heaviness
of a tall man’s bones
beneath a broken neck.

I fed a man,
his withered hands
already dead;
wheat fields of Kansas
white with early frost.

The night we talked
of greatest loneliness
reached morning;
before leaving your room,
I dried your tears, not mine

kunikoete Ritsu wa ware nimo imoto nari

transcending nationality
Ritsu is also
my sister   

*haiku translation version by Eiko Yachimoto

(Edited and revised from a posting to WHChaikuforum, August 1, 2001 in response to WHC Shiki Translation Project #2 postings in which the relationship between Masaoka Shiki and his sister, Ritsu were discussed. Observing that Ritsu’s life was her poetry, a challenge was made by Paul Conneally to write poetry from Ritsu’s point of view.)

Ritsu, Shiki’s sister, along with their mother, provided personal care for Masaoka Shiki when he became bedridden with degenerative tuberculosis of the spine. Jane Beichman, in Masaoka Shiki,1 notes:

“Shiki’s relations with his mother and sister seem to have been difficult even though they nursed him devotedly after he became invalid. The vignette of his mother in the episode from Stray Notes2 … makes her sound a rather ineffectual person. Elsewhere in the diary, he claimed that both she and his sister were completely lacking in the imaginative resources necessary to cheer an invalid like himself (I can not resist adding that they were probably too busy simply accomplishing the basic tasks of life — cleaning, laundry, cooking, and attending to Shiki’s medical needs, as well as waiting on the guests who came to call — to have much time to spare for imagination).

‘Shiki’s particular wrath was reserved for his sister, Ritsu, who became the subject of one of the most extraordinary series of entries in Stray Notes.”

1. p. 133, Shiki Masaoka, Jane Beichman, Twayne Publishers, G. K. Hall & Co., 70 Lincoln St., Boston, MA 02111; 1982.

2. Stray Notes While Lying on My Back (Gyoga manroku), A, VII; K, XI, Shiki Masaoka.

This entry was posted in Haibun, Haiku, Shiki, Vol 1-2 August 2001 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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