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Haiku in the Workplace: Kindness from a Colleague

Relying on the kindness of strangers is a hard way to go. That’s what we have family for. But what of the middle ground, those people who are peripheral to but regularly present in our lives, our colleagues and fellow-travelers? What is it we can expect from them?

humankind —
how else do we want
to be defined
	[David Dayson]

Given the rather reduced number of submissions on this topic, apparently not much. Perhaps the workplace, which can be a breeding ground for competition between employees, makes us wary of being too familiar.

A tissue to dry my eyes
I cowardly pretend not to know
That she is taking my job
	[Samuel Sibony]

Either that, or the everyday kindnesses found in the office are usually too small, too subtle, too private to lend themselves to good evocation. But not always:

Puff-eyed, desked, I dozed.
Passing, you slipped your sweater
beneath my mute head. 
	[Leaf Arbuthnot]

Still, we are reluctant to grant all our trust in such circumstances, knowing that several elements are in play.

Flowers for my birthday
Even my wife had forgotten
Then she asks for a raise
	[Samuel Sibony]

And so we find ourselves second-guessing such gestures, not wishing to be misled, or guilty of misreading the signs.

Crying after my review
How sweet of her to bring a cuppa
Buy why no milk?
	[Samuel Sibony]

At least there is a hint of humor here. The bulk of this week’s submissions were homiletic quintessences, applied at large, and as such, not very much in the spirit of haiku, which work best as particular instances keenly perceived. My three selections illustrate this: the sharper the evocation, the higher the prize.

through
the help of a workmate —
warm smile
	[Ernesto Santiago]

My third choice conjures a general scene — it merely suggests the assistance of someone only slightly known, not a named person, but a “workmate”. Though slight, the poem does have something extra to recommend it. The first line, simply “through”, can be read at least two ways: most obviously as the preposition to the phrase that comprises the first two lines. But by having it stand alone, the poet also intimates “completion” which also suggests that the help was essential to that completion. In other words, not just accessory to the work, but essential. The “warm smile” could be from the persona of the poem, but also from the workmate, and most likely, both, and so becomes a shared success and gesture, boding, perhaps, a closer connection in future. Most of this is hinted, admittedly, but even if unintentional, the words make it possible, and we should trust the words.

pressure sores —
a weight lightened
by kindness
	[David Dayson]

My second selection relies less on ambiguity, but is not altogether bereft of it. Though not stated, it is not difficult to visualize this setting: a nursing home, perhaps, or at least a bedroom of someone who is not greatly mobile. The kindness of an attending nurse or worker is most likely palpable, the turning of someone who cannot turn him or herself, and though such an act may be done for remuneration, that fact does not lessen its kindly aspect. And the language suggests that the act is appreciated on both the physical and symbolic planes. One could argue that a specific mention of the act would make for a better poem than the generic “kindness” (the same could be said of the previous poem’s “help”). This is why the following, so simple in its unfolding, is my top selection.

in the night rain

someone’s umbrella

over someone
	[Ernesto Santiago]

This quiet poem, seen at a distance and conveyed objectively, nevertheless perfectly captures the concept of kindness without ever having to say the word. It is the embodiment of the virtue, rather than its explanation. Its cinematic presentation is easily visualized, and the fact that the people involved are “someone” and “someone” universalizes the moment without resorting to abstraction. And the fact that the poet notices it in such a context suggests that he knows a kindness when he sees one, even in its subtlest evocation. Nicely done.

New Poems

share price sinking —
we hand out
life jackets
     — Mark Gilbert

          *

comforting 
a dying co-worker
a good dog
     — Ernest P. Santiago

          *

flat tire . . .
the boss's secretary
punches me in
     — Michael H. Lester

          *

model plane —
my coworker tells me 
we are reaching far
     — Ana Drobot

          *

Marketing woes soon
flip out over media
swarming with thumbs up
     — Catherine Gates

          *

rumbling stomach
my co worker offers
his half eaten biscuit
     — Rachel Sutcliffe

          *

integrity sowed
beyond life’s stepping stones
gratitude welcomed
     — Katherine Stella

          *

demoted   
a condolence card 
from my replacement
     — Michael Henry Lee

          *

smiling
he loans me his science book . . .
grumpy senior colleague
     — Marina Bellini

          *

price offers —
among emails
writing a haiku

oferte de preț —
printre emailuri
scriind un haiku
     — Florin Golban

          *

On my birthday —
found a plant on my desk
and a chocolate cake
     — Monica Federico

          *

a bouquet of roses
from my boss
I’d rather have the thorns
     — Celestine Nudanu

          *

heated discussion
his nodding smile
slows the pace
     — Pat Davis

          *

a card with a poem . . .
a colleague remembers
mother’s death anniversary
     — Madhuri Pillai

          *

translation work
our dog tries to grasp the sense
of my growling
     — Eleonore Nickolay

          *

first bell
my para-pro brings me
fresh apple cake
     — Marilyn Appl Walker

          *

So gallant —
a new colleague
takes me home

Così galante
questo nuovo collega
Mi riaccompagna a casa
     — Angela Giordano

          *

getting a clue for
bugging mystery on time
unasked
     — S. Radhamani

          *

presentation day
she passes me 
her smile
     — Andy McLellan

          *

break in the hearing —
the barrister brings coffee
to the jury-box
     — Marta Chocilowska

          *

my desk neighbor . . .
one of Issa’s poems
his unexpected gift
     — Eufemia Griffo

          *

kindness
in showing me the ropes
one more time
     — Erin Castaldi

          *

sprained wrist
my workmate
lends a hand
     — Mike Gallagher

          *

revving the engine . . .
from an online colleague
a thumbs-up
     — Angelo Ancheta

          *

understanding
she needs the cash
office amway
     — Marietta McGregor

          *

forgotten lunch
the colleague offers
half of her bento
     — Elisa Allo

          *

working day . . . a smile from the cubicle next door
     — Paul Millar

          *

chilly night
our cigarettes glow
at the bus stop
     — Anthony Rabang

          *

our boss stopped
the spreading rumor
with a kind smile 
     — Tomislav Maretic

          *

dead of winter 
your flowers breathe
new life into the office
     — Olivier Schopfer

          *

covering her back
while she goes out for a smoke 
data-entry clerk
     — Devin Harrison

          *

near retirement 
my colleague can fix 
our Royal Typewriter
     — Paul Geiger

          *

colleague at a loss
every day filling
her candy jar
     — Cezar Ciobika

          *

tending my bruises
a chat with the lawyer
our boss
     — Karen Harvey

          *

young co-worker
the gentleness
of a good listener
     — Carmen Sterba

          *

back at work
hugs from a colleague
i don’t know
     — Roberta Beary

          *

sendoff . . .
shaking off
a Judas kiss
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah

          *

back in the office
a colleague has made
my cactus bloom
     — Eleonore Nickolay

          *


Next Week’s Theme: The Conference Call

Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!

kacian_jimFrom October 2014 through April 2016 Haiku Foundation president Jim Kacian offered a column on haiku for the London Financial Times centered on the theme of work. Each week we share these columns with the haiku community at large, along with an invitation to join in the fun. Submit a poem by Sunday midnight on the theme of the week, from the classical Japanese tradition, or contemporary practice, or perhaps one of your own, which you might even write for the occasion. The best of these will be appended to the column. First published 15 September 2015.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. understanding
    she needs the cash
    office amway by Marietta McGregor Marietta’s poem resonated with me, as I’ve done the same. Also, I like that it is the writer who is showing the kindness.

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