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Haiku in the Workplace: The Ex-Pat

You know who you are. You are either the person who can write this straight up:

an expat’s worry —
how does one find
reliable servants
	[David Dayson}

or this ironically:

only an expat
knows what it is —
to be British
	[David Dayson]

Or vice versa. The days of Empire are over, and though nearly everyone thinks that’s a good thing, it may not be unanimous:

while ex-pats play
Gilbert and Sullivan —
the sun sets
	[David Dayson]

Fewer things evoke nostalgia with more insistence than the country we left behind, and nostalgia is rarely the road to great art (there are exceptions, of course). Instead, we are often diverted by our sense of personal loss and lack. So it was with the bulk of the submissions for this topic — heartfelt, to be sure, but also a bit maudlin and po’-faced.

Nevertheless, a few of our poets have managed a broader perspective. I think the sharp language of this one, for instance, raises its level by a great deal:

Airport Patriot

Memories of the ‘Auld Sod’
In a streaked pint glass.
	[Kate Corr]

And the metaphor maintained throughout this poem doubles back nicely on the poet:

exotic expat —
siamese cat transmogrified
into familiar pet
	[David Dayson]

(though for my taste dropping the last word would have made this poem even better, while also coming closer to syllable-count rectitude).

My third choice this week is quietly sardonic:

the diplomat retires —
a career of pleasantness
behind him
	[David Dayson]

We presume this person, who has made a career of tact, will now move on to a more honest expression of his or her thoughts and feelings. Surely “pleasantness” is meant to be treacherously loaded, past and present.

Second choice is this charming vignette:

the only one

who takes tea weaker than me —
and always says please
	[Sarah Leavesley]

What makes this poet long for the homeland is not the flag, or the food, or the roistering politics, but rather being in the presence to one who embodies the kinds of cultural politesse and humility that is so hard to find in the brassy world. We have all bemoaned the loss of civility in contemporary life. This poet has found a small way to celebrate it where it still exists.

My top choice this week alludes to one of the best-known of Basho’s haiku (summer grass — / all that remains / of warriors’ dreams, translation Barnhill):

all passion spent —
Heaven’s River stretches 
over soldiers’ graves
	[David Dayson]

Though not strictly an ex-pat haiku, this poem does conjure the idea that these soldiers, buried in a foreign land, are forever disunited from their homeland. The first line comes to be seen as an arch commentary on the human condition — we all arrive at such a point, whether it be early through the tribulations of war, or late, by our natural course. Is the presence of the Milky Way (in traditional Japanese poetry styled “Heaven’s River”) a comfort here? Can it matter to those buried beneath? Or is it only to those remaining that it offers the comfort of familiarity?

New Poems

Visitors flood park
vigil stance given for its . . .
fallen Patriot
     — Katherine Stella
‘Singapore Sling’
the Ex-pat’s preference
at their annual meet
     — Angelee Deodhar
or immigrant
my job description for his
     — Celestine Nudanu
lost and found
in the lives of others
an expatriate
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
working abroad —
my mother’s weekly shipping 
of homemade pasta
     — Maria Laura Valente
martial law
the foreign boss brings back
the expats
     — Marta Chocilowska
i find myself
in your shoes
     — Betty Shropshire
In Scotland
everyone’s a cricket fan
once England lose
     — Mark Gilbert
refugees seek safety —
in the eyes
only one flag
     — Doris Pascolo
the perfect excuse 
for not taking work home
ex-pat assignment
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
the call to prayer 
turns even the skeptic’s
mind toward God
     — Alison Zak
the ex-pat
     — Paul Geiger
living large
the different protocols 
the different bars
     — Devin Harrison
airport lounge
the porter never loses
his asian twang
     — Willie Bongcaron
foreign posting —
the familiarity 
of my pen
     — Andy McLellan
the ex-boss
a bon voyage party
after the fact
     — Michael Henry Lee
long journey . . .
among my old fingers
time goes fast
     — Eufemia Griffo
ex-pats dilemma —
how many cheek kisses
this time?
     — Anna Maria Domburg
learning to drive
on the “wrong side”
     — Sonam Chhoki
expat life
a fish left in
unknown waters
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
job appointment
the expatriate locked behind
second language
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
Everything has the flavor
Of nostalgia
     — Angela Giordano
Switzerland . . .
half of my heart lives 
beyond the Alps
     — Elisa Allo
young ex-pat . . .
feelings and smiles
on skype tonight
giovane ex-pat . . .
emozioni e sorrisi
su skype a sera
     — Lucia Cardillo
apart from her cooking
her accent . . .
merci beaucoup
     — Madhuri Pillai
uprooting himself
for her
     — Lucia Fontana
our new expat boss
gingerly takes a bite
local delights
     — Christina Sng
foreign correspondent
already on his fifth gin
and third wife
     — Marietta McGregor
lunch debate
versus vegemite
     — Olivier Schopfer
le hameau rural
before liquidation
we employ them all
     — Lee Nash
foreign wind
the bird shed old feathers
to join the flock
     — Anthony Rabang
immigration —
in hands of our workers
a skilled work visa
     — Goran Gatalica
we envy his life
amid wild tales he admits
hamburger hunger
     — Trilla Pando
seeking one’s own kind
   getting away from it all
for more of the same
     — Karen Harvey

Next Week’s Theme: Springtime in the Office

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 4 March 2015.

This Post Has 3 Comments

    1. Hello,

      Workplace haiku:
      Theme: Springtime in the office

      Here is my participation :

      Background –
      its flowery skirt makes
      his colleague shiver

      scent of flowers –
      her cleavage trembles
      when she’s typing

      april 1st –
      he wears
      a flowers suit


      fool’s Day –
      he wears
      a flowers suit


      Good reception! Thank you

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