Kendal Q. Binmore: Until only desert remains: haibun after the quasi-haiku of Benjamin Suzuki

Until only desert remains:

haibun after the quasi-haiku of Benjamin Suzuki


Kendal Quetzalcoatl Binmore

devolved of all title



[Archival note:  a haibun is a short essay, prose poem, or autobiographical vignette explicating or capped by a haiku, a form employed by Matsuo Bashō (1644-94) in, e.g., Narrow  Road to the Interior (final version, 1694).  KQB herein uses the form to imaginatively capture the origins and purpose of Suzuki’s poetic efforts, their generative reality lost to us.  Until only desert remains is Binmore’s last work, post dating even his memoir Quetzalcoatl: journeyman in story.  He directed his publishers to redact all his former affiliations from Until; those interested in these may consult his A cacophony of silence and Quetzalcoatl]



I walk the desert canyon

until only audience remains

He walked alone, lost to civilization, scribbling in the heat, amassing poems, haiku, which fail that definition, failure losing its own definition where no one can see a fall.  Individual stark, so stark as to go unnoticed, as to be unnoticed.  He walked, I imagine, and that is the point, as we can only imagine that not there; he walked in reverie through a land incapable of knowing it could snuff him out, which defines existence through its threatened absence unawares, nothing to be aware, no threat to give or take.

Yet he walked in audience, found audience, high in the canyon cliffs, in boulders passed, on rocks beneath his feet.  Image everywhere, faces and figures which unlike the clouds did not form to erase themselves but stayed firm past the looking, past his passing stride, firm into the night which no cognizance inhabits, still there upon his return.  Did they have an in between as he, a presence in the absence of sight, no one to tell them what they are, Supreme Court Justice, Chief Justice or no, just the night unheard, unfelt, unseen, icons without portfolio, waiting to be upon his sight, or perhaps beyond all being, indifferent to his gaze, nonetheless speaking alive thereby, moving frozen, that which meaning is.

Jettisoned from civilization he hears civilization not in the present tense which mouths Constitution to make avatar, slave, fool, rebel, but in present perfect which never leaves yet is never owned by any now, which promises future by being ever beyond our grasp.  He found civilization not in the abiding present which slips past every mind, condemning us to a world which endures beyond ourselves, where death will be like the unrecognized life beyond our living now expanded to include the world; not there, but in that death called past, not the past owned of memory, but the silent past of civilization unrecorded in the continuing word.

For others walked the desert canyon once, long gone, too distant to speak direct.  They saw the canyoned walls, perhaps the very same images therein, which spoke through their eyes, moved through their tongues, travelled on their backs, burdening them unto civilization.  In that desert Suzuki encountered civilization unspoken, a play where one actor speaks his lines, others fail theirs.  The bounce of words across individuals failed, Suzuki in his walk becomes meaning dissected, what remains when the play is sundered, fellow actors made mute audience, reply silence never filled.  He walks and in his passing audience remains, potential unrealized, charged meaning untapped, yet dancing in his eyes, with nowhere else to go.  Civilization dissected without an anatomical manual, an autopsy performed blind.

No civilization, Henry Mitland once said, permits its own autopsy.  When autopsy can come, it fails the speech that made existence, now call with no response.  Mitland sent Suzuki into this desert, at first as his companion, showing the former Oregon appellate judge desert archeological ruins, then watched him tread on alone, into the lost words which made those ruins.  Suzuki came back laden with many things, among them his Zen culture hero Pau-Pau, who says

I see things not there so others may move beyond what they see.

So comes returning Suzuki, disjoint of civilization, making plays for others’ lives.

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