Welcome to the haibun section of the World Haiku Review. In this issue, the work of both old hands and newcomers to haibun composition is featured. As you will see, contemporary English-language haibun has travelled a long way since Basho launched the genre by infusing his travel journals with a poetic prose and haiku. (If you’ve not read Basho’s haibun, do an internet search for Basho, The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling and Narrow Road to the Interior).
Contemporary haibun includes writing about an experience that in some way stands out for the writer. The content can include an experience in the human community or in a natural setting, a memory, a dream, a fantasy, or, as in Basho’s case, an account of a lengthy journey through the countryside. The contemporary form tends to be succinct, to utilize poetic prose, to describe experiences, events and places. In my view, good haibun contains a compelling or interesting theme, although the theme is not expressed through telling or philosophizing. In short, a haibun is not an essay. It is a deeply personal account of an experience.
If you would like to know more about haibun composition or start writing in the genre, I suggest that you expand your reading of contemporary haibun by visiting the WHR archives and other online haibun journals like Simply Haiku and Contemporary Haibun Online.
Special thanks to my partners Johnye Strickland and Carol Raisfeld for their help in preparing this section of the World Haiku Review.
WHR Haibun Editor
THE SURFACE OF LAST SCATTERING
Marjorie Buettner, US
Unable to sleep, last night I imagined that I could hear the echo of the big bang, listening to the beginning of matter as if it were my heart beat, the disintegration and reintegration of particles colliding, resurfacing, submerged, mimicking the chaos in my veins. Just so, 50 years too late, I think, to shake my father awake from his own reenactment of this first disorder, his last scattering, our only heritage.
looking for your grave
prairie grass rippling
all the way down hill
Deborah Woolard Bender, US
Winter or summer, the exchange continues. Tiny plovers chase the endless ocean’s receding surf. They dart along the freshly wetted sand, pecking at coquinas. Suddenly, with well-timed steps, they turn and scamper away from the returning wash. Again and again, the game goes on for what seems like hours. Between waves, a few rest in shallow human shoeprints left by a group of untanned children who were playing tag between pilings. Several yards away, the little children have rejoined their parents for something to drink while the big ones rummage through bleached shells. A scattering of white gulls bob up and down beyond the breakers.
a few oyster crackers float
on my clam chowder
reprinted from the World Haiku Review, volume 1, number 1
Allen McGill, MX
Only the glint of its eyes are visible in the semi-darkness beneath the car—not of fear, but wide as if curious. No matter how much I coax, the pup refuses to emerge. Wary from experience?
I return later, a handful of biscuits to offer—but the pup has gone. “Just a street dog,” I convince myself and, to a friend: “But so much like yours.”
Later still: “We found her … four months old, the vet thinks … would have died.”
through an open window
Betty Kaplan, US
Entering William’s Island Road, I am greeted by a canopy of trees. I always sigh with delight that nature has created this lovely entrance to my home. As we ride on, Royal Palms line the road.
Alas, returning home after hurricane Wilma, the canopy is gone! Bare branches cover the road. Fronds hang limply from the palms.
We look to find what has been spared.
out of a stone wall
a small white flower.
JOURNEY TO THE FAR MALL
Deborah Russell, US
(Beyond and Nowhere Near the Basho Experience)
I was almost surprised to learn how exhausting it was to carry a suitcase, a laptop, a purse, a coat and two carry-on bags on the journey to and throughout, Japan.
I dare say, it was on about day three (after yet another shopping excursion in Kamakura), when it suddenly dawned on me; I’d have to quit shopping or learn (asap) how to pack efficiently. Unknown to me at that time, neither of these ideas would come to fruition.
Cool rain –
of new friends and soba
From the beginning of the trip, there were turnstiles, escalators, airport limousines, planes, trains and automobiles. Once you feel you have mastered the art of stair climbing and descending, it is nearly “a piece of cake”. You will soon begin to feel energized, refreshed and experience an invigorating sense of accomplishment. (Note: not to be confused with haiku.)
One thing you may want to keep in mind is the fact that each airport, building and hotel floor plan is slightly different and you must learn to remain flexible and open for the challenge.
not knowing when
to enter my pin
Since this was my first visit to Japan, I wanted to make a fairly decent impression but being “almost a diplomat” is mind-boggling and can make life abroad, a little strenuous.
Autumn breeze –
my skirt caught up
in the turnstile
In the Kamakura train station, I experienced a classic haiku moment when I suddenly realized I had developed a near Olympian endurance for travel. I was almost certain I was being spiritually prepared for “better and greater things”.
Arriving at the hotel, in Kamakura, (quite an adventure of mental agility and strength) my only thought was to drag my belongings into the room, and claim my new found freedom.
In the hotel, after the initial shock of being sandwiched between the elevator doors, one leg extended—foot hooked around the strap of my bag, dragging it behind me—I experienced yet another haiku moment.
I became aware I had accidentally discovered a traveling secret. If ever in Japan, and you find yourself in the position of holding several bags (and no one is there to help) place one bag on each side of the elevator to prop the doors open. You are able to load your bags and equipment in the elevator, then simply remove the propping bags and you are “good to go”! Isn’t that a revelation?
The downside (for women travelers) is, before you manage to get everything in the elevator the most attractive man in the hotel will suddenly appear from nowhere, look at you, slightly shake his head and smile.
the fragrance of
a stranger’s smile
Once settled in my Japanese style room, I began to explore the facilities. I learned straight away the difference between bath and house slippers, because I am (let’s face it) practically a genius.
my kimono sash
the wrong way
I was also able (almost instantly) to determine I was to use the small stool in the bath for initial washing before bathing in the generously deep tub.
tracing a smiley face
on the mirror
The room was quite unique and typically Japanese with tatami mats and pillows surrounding the low table which was set with complimentary tea and almond cookies. It was, sincerely, just perfect.
the sudden flight
of two ravens
After several days in Japan, I began to adapt to my surroundings, learning various ways to make traveling easier. I did observe a sign in Akita that led me to think my newly acquired skills might be put to better use on the golf course.
In my “Walter Mitty” state of mind, I wondered momentarily, how much caddies might earn, in the course of a lifetime.
I admit that many things in Japanese culture were a bit confusing and sometimes unusual, to me—for example, I had never seen beer sold in vending machines, packaged nuts referred to as relish, nor seen digital toilets with touch control bidets or heated toilet seats in commercial sections of remote tourist areas.
Bento box –
the lemon scent
of a courtesy towel
Another thing I found overwhelmingly realistic was a Coca cola machine at the top of Mount Gassan, one of the three holy mountains of Dewa, which separates inland Yamagata from the coastal Shonai region.
a bubble of laughter –
I am grateful for the opportunity to travel to Japan and the ability to enjoy this remarkable clash of cultures, which is most evident (in my mind) in Tokyo and Kyoto. I also enjoyed the idea that coffee and tea vending machines were available nearly everywhere we traveled, even in a small country village in the north.
I believe I learned a valuable life lesson in Japan; nuts are relish and there is a very good possibility “nuts” are relished in Japan.
Dru Philippou, US
the splash of a bird skimming the glacial lake changes the emptiness between each thought taking me back to winter light on an overturned rock, cold hands pouring tea, the sound of snowshoes crunching up the trail . . .
snow sifting through
fallen pine cones
shifting the silence
Elizabeth Howard, US
Three-year-old granddaughter arrives for a week’s visit. We go to the zoo, shop, read books, do all the grandmother-granddaughter things. But we have a problem. She will not enter the room with an African mask on the wall. The huge blank eyes and gaping mouth frighten her. “It’s a monster,” she says.
At last, I know what to do. I take the mask off the wall and show her the carved eyes and mouth, the sharp nose. We examine each part of the mask until she is at peace with it. We return it to its place, thankful it’s no longer a monster.
the hooting owl’s
Gary Ford, CA
The vet gently strokes, prods, takes his temperature, speaks endearments, listens to our description of the latest symptoms.
“His liver and kidneys have shut down completely. I’m sorry but you’ve got a tough choice to make.” A syringe appears.
We nod … and within minutes a syringe appears.
an old friend leaves
Helen Ruggieri, US
A white haired woman in jeans and sneakers and a pink windbreaker stops her car in the middle of the road and gets out. I pull up behind her, lean out the window and see she’s stopped for a turtle crossing the road by Stink Run. Cars line up behind us.
She tries to shoo him with a newspaper but he’s not having it. Cars honk behind us. A trucker in the east bound lane gets out of his cab and marches over to take control. The turtle didn’t like him much either.
There’s a short siren blast and a state police car pulls up. A woman statie gets out. She smiles at the situation. This is why I went to traffic control school, she’s thinking. She walks over, prepared to pick him up.
The turtle leaps. She jumps back. Her big white Stetson falls to the road. The turtle fastens on the brim.
She and the white haired woman both start laughing. I didn’t know a turtle could jump like that. Neither did they, I guess.
The statie goes over and picks up her hat from the opposite side of ths brim and carried it to the culvert where Stink Run makes its way to the river and shakes him off in the weeds. It appears there’s no damage to the hat. She puts it on and begins waving the traffic along.
on West State Street –
a snapping turtle
tips his hat
REVELATIONS OF AN EGOTIST
Jamie Edgecombe, MX
Looking down the hill. Landscape cut; the twin bridges, panzer-tank-grey and mottled khaki float, as iron outlasts its pealing paint; wall of river mist. Soup vapours fumble guard rails, split and curling back over themselves; gulls dive to thick shadows, to be flung back twenty feet higher. The head-down-on-foot-mind wanders, as whiteness approaches. Its presence to project makes the lines of blind commuters vanish. Oh, for a pocket camera to haiga this foundering novelty!
Then distance cuts away, the world the few feet around you—the rush of a lorry more inferred than witnessed; its tires becoming chained, churning by; near silence returns quickly, sound hanging close to the ear: breath, thought, memory, those times of Sapporo serenity that encroach upon the present
heavy snow underfoot
the tactility of
a previous journey
Kate Creighton, US
The ocean scent floats half a mile inland on the soaking wind. For the first time in months a hard rain falls. The ground, hard and dry, refuses to absorb it. In the road a steady stream is flowing east towards the sea, washing away all the bits of litter that have collected along the curb.
By the window I sit, my book in my lap. No birdsong today, just sporadic crow caws and the tap of the rain. It falls steadily, this autumn rain, pulling down with it dead leaves and fragments of abandoned nests. The weaker tree branches creak, then separate from their stronger trunks. The neighbor’s cat is asleep under his porch; his boys and his dogs absent from the yard. Except for a few barely visible gulls with their bellies snug in the sand, the park across the flooded street is empty.
The only color in the world today is gray. The deluge appears endless, judging by the darkness of the afternoon sky. I pull my sweater closer.
our final conversation
another branch breaks
THE MALL WALKER
Linda Papanicolaou, US
The school, deserted. I’ve turned my grades in and as I head for the bike rack, wonder if I’ll be able to get home before dark. Suddenly there he is—the little man from the nearby apartments who is our mall walker—up and down the covered walkways that connect the classroom buildings to each other. A baseball cap and inexpensive cross trainers, he shuffles along tapping his pace with a cane so you hear him coming before you see him.
“I haven’t seen you around lately,” I say.
He stops. “I change my times,” he says. His cheeks are pink and his eyes sparkling. “I must walk three times day—Three times I walk,” he repeats. How are you?”
We exchange the pleasantries and I decide to finish what I had started to say. “When I didn’t see you for so long I was wondering if you were alright.” [He’s eighty five and has had a stroke and two heart attacks. I know this because last year I said hello to him and in ten minutes learned his life story—what it was like on the other side of the Cold War (Ronald Reagan is his hero), his son the engineer who begged him to come to America, the grandson of whom he is intensely proud.]
He pauses, nods, then shakes his head. “My wife she says, ‘I need you, I need you living.’ In Romania we say ‘God gives you and when he comes He takes you.’ You cannot change nothing. I walk three times day. For my heart.”
“That may be, but do you carry a cellphone? What you don’t want is to be hurt and no one knows where you are.”
Brief consideration, then a dismissive chortle. “What comes you cannot change. You choose be good or bad, but you change nothing!” He looks piercingly at me to see if I have grasped his point.
“You good person,” he says. “I must go now.” And he’s off, out of sight before I can even get my helmet on.
the chain of my bicycle
click-ick click click-ick
Louise Linville , US
Red flames lick oily smoke, the night black, snow gently falling. The Red Cross has set up a command post, the area cordoned off as fire trucks and ambulances arrive.
They wheel my friend Marge out in her nightgown, her socks on but no shoes, wrap a blanket around her and gently place her shivering wet kitten on her lap. Her cane, usually by her side, sits forgotten by the front door.
Her Multiple Sclerosis is much worse tonight from the excess of excitement and adrenaline. Firemen rush back in and out again, place a small wet bag of clothing and medicine next to the kitten.
The fourth story of her apartment building collapses onto the third. Soon after, a Red Cross worker hands her a voucher for necessities—$50.00.
her whole world
on her lap –
Norman Darlington, IE
My mother’s mother was the eldest of 10 children. Across 40 years, I vividly remember the glitter of her eyes and the softness of her cheek.
in a palace where they
mispronounce your name
Her mother was Lina Perrenoud, from Neuchatel Switzerland, who married my great-grandfather in 1883 at the age of 21 (he was 37) in an Irish port. Their marriage certificate tells us she was a ‘governess’ and he a ‘naval schoolteacher’. They lived out their days farming his family’s land, in Ireland’s northwest. What circumstances might have conspired to bring them together? Much as I may yearn, some things will remain forever beyond my grasp.
last month’s moon—
the incandescent glow
already half forgotten
Paul Pfleuger, Jr., US
My friend Albert, a teacher in our school, lost his only son in a car accident this week. I call to wish my condolences and ask if it would be alright if I come to visit. He tells me I am welcome, though I find out later that night after my visit that while the family is in mourning guests are not to go to the house. It shows that he is not offended by my unacquainted step over the line of a Chinese tradition and, that being a Westerner, we allow each other unwritten flexibilities, as we’ve shown each other in the past, when it comes to taboos. We talk in the living room over many cups of tea.
he’s finished playing
the zither’s echo
Terrie Leigh Relf & Willow Katsumi Relf-Discartin, US
Willow attends the Webster Academy of Science and Research magnet program. One day, she brings home a lab project: crystals growing in a fluid-filled hot sauce container.
“It’s a mini universe!” she exclaims.
For several weeks, we observe the growth of the multi-hued crystals. Occasionally, but very carefully, we pick up the container to peer more closely. One day, the crystal miniverse seems heavier.
“It’s gaining mass,” I tell Willow, who responds with a knowing chuckle.
One day, I hear a loud “pop” from the kitchen …
learning how the
Sharon Dean, AU
At home the next day I walk out into the paddock and squat to pee. The puddle spreads over the hard earth between my feet. It catches the sun and the sun sends a gash of fire into my eyes—oh beauty oh beauty in a puddle of pee in a winter paddock. Will I ever be as captivated as this when I’m sitting at a table of academics competing to be the loudest the most adorable oh hey hallelujah the most mind-riveting absolution of right? A cold breeze tugs at my hair as I pull my jeans back on.
the loud noise of birds
with small brains
Erin “Sunny” Harte, US
Today I found an old greeting card, tucked away in a dusty box I’d labeled ‘Memories’. It was sent, years ago, by my recently departed grandmother on the occasion of my birthday.
“You will always be ‘Erin Michelle the Wonderfel to me’, it read.
No, it doesn’t truly rhyme or fit any rules of meter or flow, this loving whisper in my ear upon each and every visit to Grandma’s house, this scribble on every letter, package or card she sent.
I used to wish my name had a little more song to it, something Grandma could work with…now, I realize that she was, perhaps, the first person to see the poetry in me.
Today, I see the poetry in her silly little rhyme.
jenny luvs chad, bad!
in permanent marker
Days pass into shadow, the sameness of each piling like leaves gathered carefully with a rake, at the mercy of the wind. Notes meticulously written on the calendar punctuate my life with fleeting moments of interest, their impact lost in each turn of the page.
Stacks of papers surround me, littering the work table and the file cabinet, shouting at me in silence, ‘how can you live in chaos?’ After ten minutes of sorting what to keep, what to throw away, my fingers close on the hard cover of an old calendar.
A list of events that controlled our lives is carefully noted on the back of the calendar: grande mal seizure, surgery, tumor excised, 40 staples removed, wary prognosis. The words are stark and brittle like dust in my throat. My handwriting stares back at me. I have no clear memory of writing them, only of enduring their impact.
Finger puppets line my daughter’s bookshelves, gifts for her sacrifice of blood, delivered at the point of a needle. My pain then is echoed now, with each teardrop splashing loudly on the calendar, joining the dried tears dropped a lifetime ago.
A door slams, feet pound the stairs and my daughter shows me a photograph taken by a neighbour last week. She stands under a crimson tree, the sun filtering through, reflecting graduation dreams forever.
My eyes caress her smile, their progress stopped briefly by a leaf caught in her hair.