by Jaime Balboa
“I’m Carrick,” he said with smiling eyes and attentive posture. We were twenty-three then and filled with fire for one another. But only now have I finally come to understand Carrick's devotion to poetry and his love for haiku. Three lines, seventeen syllables; compelling to him but it had always been less so for me. Poetry just didn't hold me the way it held him, despite his undaunted attempts to convert me.
Haiku seemed too slow for us then, at least from my point of view. At best, it didn't match our intensity: corporeal, vibrant, explosive. Tingling skin on tingling skin. Heat, surging well into the night.
Carrick would read me his poems. "Tadzio, listen to this," he'd say, his warm and piercing eyes electric with anticipation. I would listen to him, watching his lips, studying the way his body moved or the way he sat at rest. That was poetry to me. He could have been saying anything and I would have been his audience. In quiet moments, I realize now, haiku provided a view to his heart, a way to see his kindness. The first one he wrote for me a month after we met.
Endless sandy strand
Infinite ocean of shells
I see only one.
Four years later, at our ceremony, well before marriage would be legalized for us, he read it again. It's inscribed now in the framed portrait of us, so young, so pregnant with the possibilities of what might come, of what we might become.
When we were thirty-six and preparing to adopt a baby, Carrick tried to persuade the adoption agency to put a haiku he'd written into our statement. I was secretly glad they wouldn't allow it. It was too specific, they said, and a mother looking to place her infant with a family for adoption might not read it the way we did.
"But isn't that always the case with poetry?" Carrick protested. "Tell them, Tadzio. What two people ever get the same things from a poem?"
"Babe," I said, "that's exactly their point." After some convincing, he agreed to omit the haiku.
House brimming and warm
Two men yearning, expectant
Please accept our love
Fatherhood found us, without haiku. A baby girl we named Genevieve.
Turning fifty was harder for me than for Carrick. He made it look easy. For me, it was difficult in many ways. Difficult because I remembered the ways my body used to move, athletic and powerful, without strain. Difficult because gone were the ways others used to look at me, with desire or even lust and who cares that nothing had ever come of it? Those looks were at me, they were mine and they were gone. And difficult because, already I could see that the confidence of youth had given way, eroded day by day, to a different way of being, to the beginnings of time-tested, but not yet mature, wisdom.
So, on my fiftieth birthday, just five months ahead of Carrick's, we had a quiet dinner after a hike with Genevieve in the hills at the state park. Instead of a large party with friends flown in from wherever time had scattered them, Carrick and Genevieve planned something small. Poetry had been for Carrick a younger man's pursuit. He had stopped writing haiku by then but, for my birthday, he wrote one more. And that gift to me was to be an unexpected gift to Carrick, as well, because it fanned the ember of his writing and reignited the flame.
Time, a waterfall
Standing in resplendent mist
I awoke to a stillness in the house that chilled me. I called to Carrick from our bed. When he didn't respond, I struggled to my feet with the help of my walker. "Carrick?" I called, but my voice was more of an aged, dry croak. He would be in his reclining chair, with his breakfast tea, reading. And if not there, then in the living room, practicing Tai Chi. "Carrick?" I crept along, willing my bones to move more quickly, fearful of losing balance.
My gasp gave way to coughing when I saw him in his chair, tea tipped over on the side table, puddle gathered all around it. Perfectly still and not really Carrick anymore. His eyes, open and fixed, had lost their light. I wonder if he knew it was his time because, instead of a book or tablet, he held only a framed picture taken the year before, on our sixtieth anniversary: me, Carrick, Genevieve, her husband, Brent, and their son, our grandson, Mickey, huddled together at a roundtable at our favorite restaurant.
"Carrick, my Carrick."
His skin was cold to the touch and our modest home felt suddenly large, desolate. I would have taken him into my arms but he was too heavy, too stiff for me to move and I was too frail to risk it. When I called Genevieve, Brent answered. They were in the car.
"Carrick, he's..." I said, before choking on guttural sobs.
Brent tried but failed to make me say something, anything, that he could understand.
"We'll be right there," he finally said.
The paramedics arrived first. The rest of it was lost to me, a blurry whirlwind of questions and activity. All I could think about was how quietly and suddenly Carrick was gone. When Genevieve arrived, she held me and we cried together, long and deep.
At the wake, Genevieve, Brent, Mickey, and I displayed photographs, newspaper clippings, and all the poems that Carrick had written: some from before we met, the poem from our wedding, one he wrote after we had a fight, the funny one he read at my retirement and the more contemplative one at his own, the haiku when Mickey was born. That's when it dawned on me, after all those years, what Carrick was trying to show me: every haiku was a photograph, an archive, flawless and true.
Sweet love chronicles
Trails of haiku images
Each moment perfect.
Jaime Balboa earned his BA in English Literature and Writing from Adrian College. His fiction can be found in The Timberline Review, Flash Fiction Magazine and Streetlight Magazine (forthcoming). An open water swimmer, many of his writing ideas come to him in the waters of the Pacific. He and his partner live in Los Angeles where they are raising a son.