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2023 Touchstone Awards for Individual Haibun – Awarded Haibun

The Haiku Foundation is pleased to announce the second-ever Touchstone Awards for Individual Haibun, honoring haibun published in 2023. More than 225 haibun were nominated by poets, readers, and editors around the world, from dozens of journals, books, and contests. After much deliberation, the three panelists narrowed the field to a Long List of 15 haibun, then a Short List of eight. This third and final round recognizes four haibun with the highest honor of Awarded.

The panelists and I were very impressed with both the number of haibun, as well as the overall high quality and range of the nominees which made these final decisions especially difficult. These Awarded works represent the very best of the English-language haibun that were published last year. Thank you to all the editors and individuals who nominated haibun this past year. And thank you so much to the hard-working haibun panelists—Keith Polette, Renee Owen, and Marietta McGregor—for their time, effort, and expertise in making these selections and writing the commentaries.

The panelists’ commentaries for these Awardees will be shared in the near future, along with those of the Awarded Individual Poems and Distinguished Books.

Please join us in congratulating the awarded poets!

Kristen Lindquist,
Coordinator, Touchstone Awards for Individual Haibun

 


A Thousand Thens

wind-shimmered wheat
the kestrel’s belly
uplit

A solitary walk through the fragrance of all that’s green and golden, and suddenly, I am not alone.

Breathing in, I am my dead-too-young father whom I thought invincible, secretly afraid of thunder, and the sea that took a cousin. Breathing out, I am the song of the blackbird he loved the best.

Breathing in, I am my mother, wound by worry, in her rocking chair to nowhere. Breathing out, I am the light of a wagtail across the river stones, and a memory of being taught how to skip with a rope.

Breathing in, I am my grandfather, bitterly disappointed by the lie my father told. Breathing out, I am the drowsy lap, the delight of pencil on paper.

Breathing in, I am my grandmother, straight and stern as the poker on the hearth. Breathing out, I am the crispness of freshly baked pastries made by cool hands and a warm heart.

Breathing in, I am not just born of love, but of pain and joy, triumph and loss. Breathing out, I am so many hopes, dashed and dared, so many dreams, burnished and broken. All are here, on this rung of the twisted ladder, this one moment on the double helix that unravelled me between a thousand thens and now.

endless sky . . .
two kestrels hunt
as one

—Claire Everett, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19


All These Things

In front of a store in Manila, mask on. A queue. People stand six feet apart. Men with guns check everyone who wants to go inside. They send some in. They send some away. She crumples a piece of gum wrapper in her pocket, while she enters. A quick walk along the shelves, in her hand a list of several people’s requests. What does this mean? She picks, unsure. Checking her list again and again, she calls, she texts. When she leaves, her eyes are smaller. She carries everything to others’ homes. Her friends’. Her family’s, where they complain about the things she has brought, about their lives, their homes. About Corona. She texts me, and we type “hugs” and “hugging you”. She asks me to tell the universe to answer her prayers. And I do.

her foot hovers
between metro and platform
warm up-draughts

On the table: a set of magnetic tiles. Each one has a word on it. Her hands move across the surface, pushing the magnets here and there, here and there. After a while, the words shape lines. The lines build verses. Houses made of verses. A poetic map. She reads them aloud and pauses. This is how she creates sense.

Before the lockdowns, she goes to the park to smoke. To write to her friends. To smoke some more. To breathe. That’s not a contradiction. She sends a picture of her hand holding a cup of coffee. The coffee is sweet and black. She sips. Her friends send random pictures of pets and selfies. I send a picture of my garden from a thousand miles away.  A home in the rain in the park.

drips and drips
in the locked bathroom
a clouded moon

In front of her: a box of rectangular stickers with short quotes. They all begin with, “Hello, I am …” Some people come to her little counter at the art market, read, smile and buy. Hello, I am a customer. What is not on the counter is: Hello, I am someone who listens. Hello, I am a human being. Hello, I am asking for help. I am stronger than I think. I am right by your side. I am weaker than I want to be. I am tired. I am …

Between, during lockdowns, she finds a marble. It rolls on the ground. There is a wild, white spiral inside which seems to be circling as she slowly rolls the marble between her fingers. This small, big thing. People rush by. People stop and stare. People’s voices mingle and mesh. She covers her ears to keep them from getting to her. Her fingers slowly clasp the marble. This is hers. The marble in her hand she begins to walk. Of course, this is not about a real glass marble. She knows it. I know it too. More importantly, it really is a small big thing, hope.

still water
maybe a carp deep down
taking a turn

In the middle of the pandemic, she says yes. In love. Very much so. And I wish I could have been there.

Love is: the way she insists on using her own kind of ellipsis .  . just two dots and two spaces in between. The power of two.  The impossibility of yes and no. The first thing that captivated me in her art.  Another way of surviving: she writes prose that sounds like poetry because it is. Love is the way she says yes anyway and no without doing it, the way she writes the longest and shortest sentences. They run all over the place. It is a serious creative business: a rope she feels along and away from rooftops.

rock salt mango
another sleepless night
moongazing

She writes to me that she will move out tomorrow. That she will still do the grocery shopping, put on the mask. She will still help her father feel safe in a world that threatens to be swallowed by a tasteless fog. Tomorrow, all the weight of the illness will still be there, and there will be a home. She wants a home. She wants her home. She has an idea of what her home might look like. When she looks up at the stars, she sees hope like pinpricks in the blackness of everything. The blackout poetry that she has to create herself. That there will be someone to hold her hand. That she will take more small steps, and that she will pay attention to them. She writes, “Mother, I have kwento.” And I read. This is what we do. We are making space for each other. She writes that there will be a tomorrow. That tomorrow is closer now.

It stinks. She rips a page of a book out, paints it almost entirely black. Over phrases, fragments, words.  Then she moves on to the next page. But after a while the ink becomes transparent. There is less and less of black. The page would need another round of ink to become truly dark. In the end, it is what it is. The paper can only hold so much ink before it tears. There are only a few words left that can be read well. They combine in new ways. That too is a language: Where nothing seems to be, something is.

ulan sa hardin
more than a starlit sheet
fills the cradle

kwento (Tagalog) = story
ulan sa hardin (Tagalog) = rain in the garden

—Kati Mohr, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.1


Deep Water Port

barbed-wire fence
winter stars hung out
for the night

A ripple of harbor lights becomes some recurring dream. Moving aft and fore on this floating world, I seek to unfind my sea legs. Enter the pub. Longshoremen long off duty unloading still. With another dark n’ stormy, the barkeep serves up an attitude. Especially for the one who keeps on about the waterspout and how all the fish just landed in his boat. She turns to seamen mansplaining the supermoon. Shrugs. Asks if I’d like one for the road.

night fog
the joss sticks
refuse my fire

The morning comes too soon. I look again. No ship on the horizon. A frigatebird edges instead a slow scissoring of the sky. I wade into the shallows. Allow salt and sea to scrub me clean. Sun dry on the shore. Washed up beside me like a drowned rat, a drowned rat. Blown out of the palms during last night’s storm or a stowaway escaped from one of the ships at anchor. I bury it in the sand. Climb the hill above the port. A stevedore sets down in the sprawling dockside maze the last container from a freighter already smoking at its stacks.

off-island news
a crease of sailors
along the fence

Back down the path to the spot where sea poison trees drop intricate blossoms into brackish waters. The fire coral below hasn’t bleached itself. I worry the change. Above these coral skeletons, I will a rainbow to bend back to the rising sea. To offer up some sort of treasure. Ever more the link and shift of dolosse counter the erosion along the coastal road. In the distance, a boy skips atop the seawall. Higher and higher. Sea monsters edging ever closer. Licking at his heels.

morning moon
among the whitecaps
a shark’s fin

—Matthew Caretti, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.1


What’s Underneath

Bianca lays out the cake just as her father is wheeled into the dining room. The orderly pats his shoulder — “Happy Birthday, Mr. Gorman” — before slipping back into the busy corridor. Bianca cuts a slice of cake, taking care to capture a creme rosette.1

1. After Mom died, I read through her diaries and found the entry about how, in her fifth month, she hung wallpaper with pink roses in my soon-to-be nursery. She had seen the ultrasound, something you refused to look at or believe. It’s going to be a boy, you insisted. She underlined that, noting how important that was for you, to have a son. That night, after too many shots of whiskey, you ripped everything down; I pictured strips of paper cowering along the baseboards. The next day Mom painted the room white. A fresh start.

in utero
her prayer mingles
with votive shadows

Bianca slides the cake onto a plate and places it before her father. Next to it she lays a thin package wrapped in blue2 foil.

2. That was your color. I still see you strutting around the house in your jeans and faded work-shirts, smelling of sawdust and nicotine. Even your eyes were blue — a cold blue whenever you looked at me. Sundays you’d watch football with the other men on our block. Sometimes they’d bring their sons and I could see it on your face, the way it darkened. Or at dinner, when Mom asked me about school, how you just ate in silence as I talked about my girlfriends — Jenny’s new sweater, the charms on Cindy’s bracelet. When you started to stab at your meat I knew to stop.

late sun
every shadow straining
to break free

His eyes narrow.3

3. I remember that look, your eyebrows lowering like storm clouds. I saw it that afternoon I tried to have a catch with Jimmy. He had been next door in his backyard, throwing himself popups. I was taking down Mom’s dresses from the clothesline. He called out to me — “Bianca, throw me a few flies” — and tossed over the ball. I tried, but my throw barely made it over the fence. That’s when you appeared, your eyes two slits. You grabbed the ball and began throwing Jimmy pitches that disappeared into his glove. Smack. Smack. His eyes lit up. So did yours.

twilight blue . . .
in the first star
a second chance

He pokes the package as if it were a wounded animal.4

4. Of course, Jimmy had to bring you that stray mutt he’d found. By then, you and he had become inseparable. He’d come over while you were tuning the Chevy, and you’d teach him how to change a spark plug. When his mother bought him a new baseball mitt, you both oiled it and wrapped it with twine, the ball a small fist in its pocket. Then he found that mutt, its matted fur the color of tar. You both washed him, gave him water. Jimmy’s mother, Mrs. Foley — Roselyn, you called her — came over later and couldn’t thank you enough. She had long red hair and a too-big laugh. One evening, after you left again for the pub, I asked Mom if Jimmy had a dad. She just shook her head real quick.

diary entry
between each line
the sound of rain

With a quick tug, Bianca tears off5 the wrapping.

5. I learned how easily things can be stripped away, that day you drove off in the moving van with Jimmy and Roselyn. After that, you were only a cramped signature on a monthly check. That’s when I started to keep a diary, just like Mom. I wrote page after page — first wondering, then pleading, then spitting hate. Every photo I could find of you I tore up. Except for that one of us on the Atlantic City boardwalk, sitting on a bench. I was three, sitting on Mom’s lap, my face looking up in wonder. You sat stiffly beside her, your hair close cropped. I wondered who took the shot — no doubt someone Mom hailed over. I kept it because of how young she looked. How she kept one hand around my waist, my palm wrapped around her raised thumb. How with her free hand she cradled your cheek. In that moment you looked like a lost boy.

waking from a dream
and yet . . .
morning moon

The light from the chandelier shimmers on a white6 box.

6. That was always Mom’s favorite color. After high school, when I worked in Mitchell’s Floral Shop, I brought home snowdrops, daisies, white roses. Anything to make her brighten. When she started to lose weight I’d buy her creme donuts from Mrs. Fillari’s bakery, where her son Matthew always slipped me an extra cruller. By then you were living upstate, although we weren’t sure where — the return addresses on the checks changed every few months. Summer evenings she and I would sit on the porch in those frayed lawn chairs that you and she had as furniture in your first apartment. Mom bundled a blanket around herself even in the height of August humidity. Sometimes we’d just stare at the sky and she’d tell me stories. Of you. How you loved to go camping with your father and grandfather when you were a boy. How they had taught you to be hard, a man, but still you sang to her at your wedding, your voice as tender as a silk ribbon. How things had been fine until she became pregnant. I’d feel my face tighten, but Mom would touch my hand. Bianca, don’t hate your father, she’d tell me, over and over. Until she couldn’t.

moonrise
adding one more
stone to her cairn

Bianca touches his cheek.7 “Happy birthday, Daddy,” she says.

7. Funny, when the hospital called, the first thing I thought of was the Atlantic City photo. Matthew and I had moved to the coast, and I was working at a motel that overlooked the bay. It was winter, and I spent most nights checking in one-hour lovers and listening to the Spanish songs of off-season families. Somehow I wasn’t surprised that I was your emergency contact. You had written a few times after Roselyn left you, a handful of crammed words about your latest job and how you hoped to see me soon. The paper always carrying the scent of nicotine. I tore up the letters just like I did all those old photos. Well, almost all. Will you come to take your father? Outside in the courtyard, someone was singing a song with my name in the chorus, and something inside me fell away. It took me a moment to realize the nurse couldn’t hear my head nodding.

storm clouds
break — every wave
spreading moonlight

Bianca lifts the lid. His eyes widen.8

8. Matthew got the same look when I told him I wanted you to live with us. After all that he did? he kept saying, over and over. I had told him everything, of course, including how the police found you in the doorway of your walkup, the left side of your face drooping like a Dali painting. And how lost you looked when I saw you in the hospital after all those years — your good blue eye tearing up, your crumpled face so weak in the last of the sun’s light. All I could think of in that moment was Mom. Her words. Her touch. Her painting those walls.

new diary
the first word’s
weight

—Rich Youmans, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19

Please note: We did our best, but the formatting of the above haibun differs slightly from the published version, in which the text of the indented footnote sections, including the subsequent haiku, is grey, with a visible border on the left margin; the haiku is also centered under the indented text.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. All great!
    I particularly love Claire Everett’s ‘A Thousand Thens’ for all sorts of reasons.

  2. Congrats to all of awarded poets for their moving and fascinating haibun, to the panel for their efforts and to Kristen for coordinating the awards!

  3. Well done to all the winners and everyone on the listings. These are real works of literature and perhaps the best examples of how these haiku-linked forms can be made accessible to readers outside this community. Congratulations – well deserved!

  4. Congratulations to all the winners! A tremendous achievement. It has been such a pleasure to read all of the haibun on the long list and watch the process down to you four.

  5. 😮😍🥰😭 I’m a little speechless right now!!! Omg! I hope you know that it’s not just me who’s over the moon about this, but also my friend who I wrote this haibun about and for… THANK YOU <3

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