Zentao Verses for 2020

Every morning, I write a haiku-like verse with the goal of catching what’s going on in my mind at that moment. These are closer to senryu than traditional haiku, since only a few of them are about nature and they sometimes have a humorous or satirical turn.

I call these “zentao” and you can find them on Twitter with that as a hashtag. I also post them on Facebook.

I’ve been doing this since January 1, 2015, and I don’t seem to be able to stop. When I go back through them, I find that I have often said the same thing in slightly different words.

Since it’s 2020, you won’t be surprised to find that many of this year’s verses are related to the pandemic or to U.S. politics. This verse from January 9 – pre-pandemic unless you were in the know – kind of sums things up:

I feel unsettled.
The whole wide world’s unsettled.
I guess I’m in sync.

This one, from later in January, was motivated by the political mess, but it’s on point for everything that’s happened:

Our system assumes
people will act in good faith.
Our system’s broken.

Though since I got a chance to go to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia after the Australian wildfires were under control and before the pandemic began to spread, I did get a chance to make this science fictional observation. I will note that we left Melbourne at about 11 am on March 2 and arrived at San Francisco’s airport at about 6 am the same day. (It was of course, March 3 in Melbourne when we landed in San Francisco.)

Trips around the Earth
are as close as we can get
to real time travel.

And here’s one that has horror potential.

Powerful women
must be monsters, given how
they frighten some men.

Here’s a pandemic verse posted a few days before the San Francisco Bay Area locked down on March 17. Still very relevant.

Observe basic rules:
wash your hands; keep your distance;
when in doubt, don’t go.

A week into lockdown and I was already thinking about all the people I wasn’t going to get to see, not to mention all the lives that were already being lost. The Jean-Paul I’m referring to is, of course, Sartre, whose play No Exit I read in French class when I was young.

Jean-Paul missed something.
Hell’s not just other people,
it’s missing good ones.

I wrote this one in April. It’s another one that’s even more true now.

Some believe “freedom”
means that they — and only they
can do what they want.

By June I had realized just how bad off the U.S. really was.

I wish my country
was the exceptional place
we were told it was.

And I started to realize the deep error of saying that we had to choose between the economy and our health.

Health and death are real.
Economics is made up.
Money’s not worth lives.

By September, I had recognized that the important fights are rarely the dramatic ones of movies.

Doing the right thing
is rarely life or death fights,
just lots of small ones.

But by October I was reaching my limit.

I’m tired of outrage.
Of course, things are outrageous,
but it’s exhausting.

But I got back to politics in time for the election.

The scariest day
this year isn’t Hallowe’en;
it’s Election Day.

The virtual meditation retreat I did in November, following as it did on my reading of Rutger Bregman’s book Humankind, brought back a few positive thoughts.

Most people are good,
but we’ve been taught that they aren’t.
Change the narrative.

This insight came from meditation.

Anger’s important,
but don’t let it eat your soul.
Bring love to anger.

But the most prescient, and frightening, verse I wrote all year was written on January 3. 2019 was not a great year for me, so I was looking for improvement.

I still plan to hope
that this year improves on last.
But the news so far …

I see that damn senryu every day when I open the folder to write the new one.

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