A last look


Dear Artist,

The other night while hanging out at a party a friend reminded me of Walter de la Mare’s “Look thy last on all things lovely, every hour.” Together she and I relished the idea that regularized, fleeting time might be added to an intensified appreciation of our world. Today I’m reviewing a system for nailing down my seeing. I call it “Eyeku.” Off and on I’ve filled a few trip-books and ring-binders with cryptic haiku-like items. Sometimes I’ve used a chiming watch to prompt the opportunity. Here’s a few from my patio right now:

Travellers Surprised by Sudden Rain, 1832 Colour Woodblock by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Travellers Surprised by Sudden Rain, 1833-34
From the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido
Colour woodblock
by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Creamy, dappled lichen on the gray trunk and branches of a flowering dogwood tree.

On high pilings, Purple Martin young, fluffed out, windswept, waiting to be fed.

By binoculars, two yellow kayaks with yellow-haired paddlers, girl and boy, heading out.

Airedale half in, half out of the sun, carefully licking up the last of my ravioli.

The potential of this system is to regularly exercise our powers of observation, to build on the joy of simple gifts. While it’s not possible to make a painting of everything within reach, nor would it be desirable, there is value in enhancing a wider life. By writing it down it becomes monumentalized and somehow more poignant. It gets you seeing potential in the little things, the mundane, the ordinary.

Kabarra, 1853 From the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido Colour woodblock by Utagawa Hiroshige

Kabarra, 1833-34
From the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido
Colour woodblock
by Utagawa Hiroshige

The early Japanese Haiku writers like Basho and Buson recognized the value of codifying simple observations. They adhered to a strict number of syllables in order to keep the form pure. “The octopuses in the jars, transient dreams, under the summer moon.” (Basho, 1644-1694) “Leaves, fallen on a rock, beneath the water.” (Joso, 1661-1704) “The cricket, climbs up the pot hanger, the night is cold.” (Buson, 1716-1784) My Eyeku are not so pure nor so poetically evocative, but they grab the eye-stuff and hold it. Any look at any thing could be a last look.

Best regards,


Hakone, 183334 From the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido Colour woodblock by Utagawa Hiroshige

Hakone, 183334
From the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido
Colour woodblock
by Utagawa Hiroshige

PS: “The faculty of creating is never given to us all by itself. It always goes hand in hand with the gift of observation.” (Igor Stravinsky)

Esoterica: What about sharing? Emailing four or five short and sweet Eyeku often result in surprising returns in kind. Give it a try. Copy your best to friends and see if they respond. You hardly need to explain what you’re up to but you can add “You can reply with yours if you wish.” Below are a few I’ve received, myself.  I’m collecting them. They help us to realize that our universe is our constant and replenishing inheritance, and how diverse and great it all is.

The Plum Garden in Kameido, 1853 From One Hundred Famous Views of Edo Colour woodblock by Utagawa Hiroshige

The Plum Garden in Kameido, 1853
From One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Colour woodblock
by Utagawa Hiroshige


Purple cone-flower, softly a bee on yellow-speckled spikes, swaying in the breeze. (ab)

Young sparrow fluffed, momentarily left behind in gravel bath, camouflaged. (ab)

Headless white in shallows, bobbing heavy in swells, then stretching up long eyes to horizon. (ab)

A tiny bar, a lightning speedy robotic maniac bartender mixing apple martinis for 250. (sg)

At 3 a.m. we cross cobblestones and through a signless door, two chicks and a chaperone. (sg)

French toast and our respective cabs, we disturb the rats and climb our bedtime stairs. (sg)

A horizon glow, a prism up to the sky’s green center, shooting stars cutting. (js)

Green lace overhead, trembling, somewhere a big frog speaks. (lv)

A long dock, the sound of water, a cloud of flies hovering, one mad dragonfly. (lv)

(RG note) You are invited to share your own “eyeku” in the comments, below. Thank-you for your friendship.

View of the Whirlpools at Awa triptych, 1857, part of the series Snow, Moon and Flowers Colour woodblock by Utagawa Hiroshige

View of the Whirlpools at Awa triptych, 1857, part of the series Snow, Moon and Flowers
Colour woodblock
by Utagawa Hiroshige

This letter was originally published as “A last look” on August 17, 2004.

It is with my sincerest gratitude that I thank each and every one of you for your words of condolence for the loss of my Mother, Carol Noriko Genn. My family is humbled and deeply comforted by your kindness. With gratitude and friendship, Sara. 

“There is nothing you can see that is not a flower; there is nothing you can think that is not the moon.” (Matsuo Basho)



  1. As a writer, I love this idea. I would enhance it (and my usual neglect of the other senses) by adding “Earku’s” and “Noseku’s” and “feelku’s”. Seems like it would provide rich reading/recall as I craft.

  2. Dear Sara,
    Please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your beloved mother. As a longtime fan of your Dad’s beautiful letters, it was lovely to get a picture of the lady who was his mainstay & strength for so many years. Thanks for this beautiful biography.
    Marilyn White
    ps for your eyes only

  3. Tongue-kus? Or does that sound gross. Perhaps Taste-kus.

    Five senses alert
    But sometimes I need a nap
    Time to process it

    Just taught a haiku books class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Students wrote haiku non-stop, and we put the best into simple book structures. Oh my. What a week.

    Folk School welcomes us
    Muffled, as we greet old friends
    Grin behind the mask

    Mountains fade in grays
    Subtle steps from light to dark
    Rain smudges them all.

    But wait, there’s more. But not here.

    • And yes, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. I imagine that she played a huge role in both yours and your father’s lives. His letters, as well as your own, have been an inspiration to me. This letter about eyekus in particular sums up the whole of the life a a painter. Watch your world, and then record it somehow, not just for others, but for yourself as well. The Japanese prints expand the eyekus even more.

      I greet your letters with joy each time one appears; it gives me something to think about as I work on my gloriously repetitive projects.

      Note: the letter above has 3haiku in it, but the formatting of these comments didn’t allow for line spacing. Hope you can find them.

  4. Rachel Bushnell on

    This is lovely, Sara. Your father’s haiku and the delicate Japanese woodblock prints and your father’s invitation and yours to be still and see and hear . . . this is a very sweet way to remember your mother.

  5. I appreciate your efforts in keeping the spirit of your parents alive. This bit has jogged my memory to days when I wrote poetry. It is like several things clicked, a desire fulfilled. I think I can write again and I know what will accompany my sketches. Blessings.

  6. Such a wonderful post!! I used to get Painters Keys on a regular basis and just realized that I don’t receive them anymore…….and I miss them!!!

    Could I please be on your list again?

    So sad to hear of your mother’s passing. You are keeping your parents’ memories alive through these wonderful posts. Thank you.

  7. Kathy Amspacher on

    What was
    What will be
    What is and what we do now

    Lyn Asselta wrote of “seeing” recently. She is also anchoring in the moment to give time to “see.” I think these moments are nudging us out of the dark feelings we currently experience. Thank you for this eyeku idea.
    I am sorry for you that your Mother passed but happy for her soul.

  8. Dear Sara,
    My sincere condolences to you and your family on the passing of your Mum.
    Your father a giant, your mother his right hand.
    Their arms are around you and your brother now.
    ❤️ From Diana
    Ladysmith, B,C,

  9. Marilyn Patton on

    You so beautifully honour your mother. It helps me to think of how to be in the world from both sides. Thank you.

  10. I am truly sorry about the loss of your beautiful mother. (I lost my own in April and was shaken to my core, despite her advanced age and ample warning.)

    No eyekus to share at the moment, but I’ll work on it! Wonderful idea. Thank you.

  11. To zero in on one component and record a description – what a great way to overcome painter’s block. Imagine the fun and inspiration if done in a group!

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