John Ziemba

John Ziemba is a founder of the Boston Haiku Society. His M.S. thesis is about the life and haiku of Seisensui Ogiwara. John gives two  haiku classes a week at the Kaji Aso Studio.

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Hymne a l'Amour


After that party, what was it, twelve years ago, his wife laid out sleeping bags in his living room for us. Soon, the dozen of us were side by side, snore by snore. It wasn’t long before I felt an inkling of a tinkling and tried to mentally plot a course to the bathroom over the spread of bodies. The inkling became a corrosive burn, and I inched out of my bag until I could get to my feet. A little moonlight lined the curtains. By it, I edged around the room to the bathroom. After relief, I tugged at the toilet paper to deal with some errant, drunken splatterings and unwittingly activated the tune: “Hymne a l’Amour.” Piaf.  Musical toilet paper dispensers. Whatever were the Japanese thinking?

It was only three years before that I’d bought an Edith Piaf album, expressly for the song “Non, je ne regrette rien,” to cope with my divorce. I was living alone then, working on a graduate degree in Pittsburgh. I put the album on—just a cassette actually—and listened to it alone in the room where my wife and I had planned to be living together. The song, “Hymne,” chilled me like an unknown hand out of the dark. I didn’t expect it--hadn’t known its title, just the melody.  Despite of or because of the irony, I played the album over and over again on the cheap boom box I still had from my single years.

Every time I listened to it, the scene of my little wedding reception in Tokyo ten years before struck. I wasn’t living in Japan yet at that time—just there to get married. Mrs S., friend of a friend, in a warm, matronly voice crooned it while my bride—now former wife—smiled a smile of excruciating composure. I smiled too, but because of another memory.

And at that time, I could think of nothing but a situation about 5 years before that, in a friend’s house on the shores of the inland sea. I had to use the bathroom, but was ashamed because it was number two. I waited until everyone was in bed, and then a good forty-five minutes to make sure they were asleep. Then I padded down the stairs to the toilet and emptied my bowels. With an air of self-congratulation, I bent down to finish the job and snatched at the toilet paper to be shocked by the beepy clarion call of “Hymne a l’Amour,” announcing to the whole house where I was and what I was doing. And then, through my shock, I could think of nothing but when I was a child, sitting on the basement stairs while my mother ironed the clothes by the deep, cellar window’s light, both of us listening to the old, beige radio playing Jan Peerce’s 1953 English version of “Hymne a l’Amour,” “If You Love Me.” 

Then back around the bags I felt my way to try to sleep.


ocean dawn
from nowhere, summer clouds 
soaking up the sun