Flowers on the Roof of Hell

in this world
we walk on the roof of hell
gazing at flowers
—Issa (1763–1828)

Today Issa came over for dinner.
Nothing fancy, just Thai take-out from the place down the road.
He came on foot, carrying a satchel.
I welcomed him at the door, and he removed his sandals.
The low evening sun sparkled
through the tall glass of water I gave him.
He admired it before he drank it in one go.
I showed him to the living room, where he sat on the couch,
almost delicately. Then, as if conscious
of his bare feet, he curled them up under himself.

We talked of poetry all through dinner,
stray noodles landing on the plain wooden table as we ate.
We talked of favourite poets and poems,
and the challenge of writing freshly about old subjects.
We talked of writing one’s joy in a fiercely crushed world,
of flowers on the roof of hell.

When he told me it was time for him to go,
I asked if I could give him a ride
but he declined, as I knew he would.
He had a long way to travel,
but held a finger to his lips and gently shook his smile.
Then Issa took his sandals in hand
and padded off into the dark.

I opened the satchel he left behind.
Inside it bloomed white asters.

Published with permission by the author.

Photo by “Flower Gardener,” Flower Picture Gallery

Michael Dylan Welch is a contributing editor to both Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society and Juxtapositions: The Journal of Haiku Poetics and Culture, and is a founding associate of The Haiku Foundation. He is also editor and publisher of Press Here, which has published many award-winning haiku and tanka books since 1989. His most recent books include Noh (Tokyo: PIE Books, 2010), For a Moment (Pointe Claire, Quebec: King’s Road Press, 2009) and 100 Poets: Passions of the Imperial Court (Tokyo: PIE Books, 2008). Michael holds an MA in English, was born in Watford, England, and grew up in England, Ghana, Australia, and Canada. He travels frequently to Japan, and now lives with his wife and two children in Sammamish, Washington.

[Poetry Break Editor Note]

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