By Gerald Hausman
Santa Fe, NM, USA

I remember my first trip to the Caribbean. I had been in a revolution. The island federation of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla had broken up and suddenly there was a “mouse that roared” event, and we were right in the midst of it.

Guns were going off outside the little room we’d rented above the barber shop and bar. You would throw open the window and hear the reports of small arms, roosters crowing, shouts of anguish on the street. You could see bottle lamps burning and barrels exploding.

Gerald Hausman
We waited and wondered if it would ever be over.

We waited, my recently married wife and myself, and hoped we’d not be murdered in our sleep.

In the days that followed we got on an overloaded ferry going from St. Kitts to Nevis. It was weighted to the waterline with people and animals. There was a feeling of doomsday running through the churn of that engine, and our honeymoon of sorts was no more than an escape from one maelstrom to another. A week after our ferry ride, the boat sank with a full load of travelers. All of them went down with the ship.

I was writing about everything that happened. The words galloped out of my head and landed on notebook pages and galloped off the page into oblivion. I couldn’t seem to make it sound real. I was writing prose, but I wanted to write poetry. I switched horses. Poetry then.

It came out of me cool, clean and composed. Zen and the craft of writing, the art of waiting.

Now I was waiting for the poem to come and I wasn’t galloping, I was sitting on a mile-long sand beach, in a coconut grove or a bar and I would patiently wait. The poem came in its own time. I bowed to it. And waited for another.

It wasn’t long before I had a whole book poetry about what it was like to be in a revolution. But, in truth, that revolution was over before it began. It was featured in Time Magazine, a picture of British tanks facing a herd of goats.

The Anguilla Revolution

But the poems were another thing entirely. I had been trying to write good poetry, decent poetry anyway, since I was in grade school, but it had never come out the way I wanted it to; it always sounded like someone else had written it.

It was at this propitious time, I began a long correspondence with Zen poet Philip Whalen.

“Take your time,” he said, “and don’t lose your sense of humor.”

I tried not to, but sometimes my ego got in the way.

So it is now fifty years from that halcyon time of Whalen, Snyder and the other beat poets with whom I shared my poems.

I look back now and see that the magic was in me all along.

But somehow a little worm lived inside my head and insisted I was no good.

It was, once again, Philip Whalen, writing to me from Kyoto where he was a practicing Zen monk and self-supporting English language teacher, who gave me strange comfort by saying: “I wouldn’t write to you if you were no good.”

Where had I ever gotten the idea that I wasn’t worthy, as Mike Myers used to say in his funny SNL performances.

Really, aren’t we all worthy?

Phil told me to do whatever I wanted with my poems, “Just don’t publish in the same magazine as Eunice Bilkington Fazzbazz,” he warned. I could see him smiling.

I assured Phil I would stay well away from Eunice.

Once I asked him what fame was. I wanted to see what his reaction might be to that incendiary word. He said, “Fame is winning the Pulitzer and the Nobel on the same day and all your friends are out to lunch and miss the news on radio and television.”

Fifty years later, I can still see Phil smiling.

He became a Zen roshi; I became a school teacher.

But thanks to Phil, I learned how to meditate.

My cousin built a tree house in a huge juniper tree and I meditated in it sometimes for a half day at a time. I did this when I wasn’t teaching.

Once in a deep meditation in the treehouse, it started to snow. I had a blanket wrapped around me like some bent configuration of Basho, and I came out of my cross-legged trance and stared at the falling snow. On a juniper branch the snow had formed a face, a man with a white beard. It really looked like Hemingway, and he was smiling.

I wondered at this epiphany and then the sun came out from behind the clouds and a bright beam of light melted the face.

I could hear Phil say, “All your friends will be out to lunch.”

I know, beyond an element of doubt, that writing, like the kind I did in the Caribbean, well, it’s as magical and as transitory as that Hemingway face etched in snow.

I know today something that Phil could never quite teach me – the thing that makes poetry in the human imagination is not poetry. It is something mysterious that waits to come out into the sun. It is, in the words of Milton, a person also serves who only stands and waits.

Or sits and meditates.

With a smile.


Gerald Hausman is an award-winning, bestselling author and a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine. His latest book, Little Miracles – A Memoir, will be released in the Spring of 2019.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.