Haiku by Verse Novelist, Leza Lowitz

By Leza Lowitz


“Seisai (Single Pine Fuji)” © Peter MacMillan

The Single Pine

A haiku sequence about the 3-11-11 Japan earthquake and tsunami

I want to become,
frozen at 2:46

earth rumbles,
ocean sweeps back
like a giant carpet

beeping horns
cars swept away
the egret cries

the giant wave takes everything–
cars, homes, and oh god,
people, too

hawks circle
my ruined

cold night
in the evacuation shelter–
precious blankets

I dream of cradling the earth,
like my mom
once held me

7.1 aftershocks
feel small and muted–
nothing left to ruin

History ends here,
someone says–
yet the sun still rises.

old black pine
I never noticed–
now I see a miracle.


I was in Tokyo when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami struck at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011. Long-term Japan residents like myself were used to quakes, but this one was different. The massive sharp thrust followed by a violent back-and-forth shaking grew in intensity with each second. I ran out of the building. On the street, I watched a skyscraper sway from side to side above me, hoping it would not come down. Strangers huddled together as the pavement rippled and buckled under us like a wave. This kept on for six minutes. What registered as a 7.5 in Tokyo was a 9.0 along the Tohoku coast. We didn’t know that yet. We didn’t know that minutes after the quake hit, a massive tsunami slammed onto the shore and devastated those ancient seaside towns.

With no way to know if my six-year-old son was okay, I traversed the city by foot as the sky turned red. Dark clouds hung over the horizon. Sudden rain poured down. When I arrived at my son’s kindergarten, I discovered that his eighty-year-old grandfather had already walked the two miles to get him. Safely at home, we watched the news in horror as aftershocks kept coming, jolting already-weakened foundations and rattling nerves. My husband arrived home late that night after walking seven hours from work to our home in west Tokyo. News of a nuclear leak had many residents packing up to leave. Though the decision was agonizing, my family and I chose to stay in Japan. Japan had given me so much. It was the least I could do to try to give something back. As I watched from the relatively close (but far enough to be “safe”) distance of Tokyo, I wanted to write down everything I saw, heard, and experienced. Though I wasn’t in the tsunami zone, the very real and constant shaking of the earth was enough to remind me of the magnitude of the experience. I recorded what I was hearing on the news from friends in Tohoku, seeing on the news, and experiencing myself in Tokyo. Thousands of people were lost in the waves, and thousands more would never be found. It would be years before life would return to normal in Tohoku.

In the coming days, many who stayed mobilized to help. The yoga studio I own organized relief to send up north. I traveled to Tohoku and volunteered at the temporary housing shelters. Later, Sun and Moon Yoga’s community class funds helped open a library in Oshika, a town that was devastated by the tsunami. Now teens can have books to read and a quiet, clean, homey place to enjoy them.

But I wanted to do more. Inspired by a young boy I met in the disaster zone, I began to write Up from the Sea, (Crown Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House) a novel about a boy who survives the tsunami by climbing a tree, but loses everyone and everything he loves. These haiku were in the original manuscript. Kai is helped by a visit to New York, where he meets kids who experienced losses in 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina. He rekindles his childhood love of soccer and creates a team to rally his town after the tsunami. This meeting really happened, as did many other stories of strangers helping each other which appear in this novel.

These events reminded me of what the Dalai Lama said–that even in disaster, if we lose hope, that’s the biggest disaster. The way people helped each other in real life during this disaster gave hope and underscored the fact that we’re all interconnected on this fragile planet. What happens to one affects all. I wrote this novel as an offering to the people of Tohoku, so they would know the world hasn’t forgot them, and so that we could continue to support the rebuilding efforts. And because I firmly believe that books build bridges that are among the strongest in the world. Thank you for this opportunity to share Kai’s story.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERALeza Lowitz has written twenty books across many genres, most recently her debut verse novel for young adults, “Up from the Sea,” which was named by BUZZFEED as the #1 YA you should be reading this January. She’s received the APALA Award in Youth Literature from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian’s Association for her debut YA novel, “Jet Black and the Ninja Wind (Tuttle Publishing),” the PEN Josephine Miles Award in Poetry, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, grants from the NEA and NEH, and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Award. She’s written for the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Shambhala Sun, Yoga Journal, the Manifest-Station, Wanderlust, and more. Lowitz also runs a yoga studio in Tokyo, where she lives with her husband, their young son, and two wolf-dogs.

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  1. James Pounds says:

    What a worthy novel, Leza, and a noble project for Sun and Moon to provide the library. Indeed, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami was maybe the most horrific event in my lifetime and truly shows the character of the Japanese people. Incredible.
    I’m so happy to have received your update and to know you are ever moving forward. I, too am writing again after a bout of losing my faith.
    Best! Hope to visit in Japan in the future.

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