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Haiku in the Workplace: The Office Ghoul

Our respondents took this week’s topic in two distinct directions: the first, in honor of Hallowe’en, was replete with the ghosts and goblins associated with that occasion; but the second was directed more at the (actual or faux) everyday horrors of the workplace, often embodied by the authority figure. As a result, our selections bounce around in some unexpected directions. Are they the more chilling for the seeming disconnect? Or are they in truth all of a piece?

Let’s begin with a general invocation of the spirit:

along the Thames —
autumn’s shadows pass by
wreathed in mist
	[David Dayson]

This mild poem gently hints at what is to come. The seemingly innocuous shadows are but gathering their strength:

digital ghoul
knocking on profiles —
trick or tweet?
	[Kevin Millicheap]

Are electronic gremlins to blame for security breaches and malware irruptions? If they are, they have taken pains to cover their tracks:

Search for “office ghoul”.
Get “502 Bad Gateway”;
ghost in the machine?
	[Sarah Leavesley]

When we resort to low-tech methods, the results are still the same:

office Ouija
darts between “yes” and “no”, but
always spells bad news
	[Sarah Leavesley]

And how do these gremlins manifest themselves in real terms?

The boss calls us in.
We all leave pale-faced, 
spooked by emptied chairs.
	[Sarah Leavesley]

We keep on in the face of it nevertheless, stiff upper lip and all that:

the grim reaper
stands in the wings smiling —
at our gallows humour
	[David Dayson]

And some of us remain simply oblivious to the odium in the air:

night shape —
its breath low and deep. Shhh!
the intern asleep
	[Kevin Millicheap]

It’s just that time of year, we tell ourselves, but of course we know better:

All morning felt like
a labyrinth without a
possible way out
	[Karine Bernier-Lapointe]

My three top winners all conjure the uncanny, albeit in very different ways. In third place I offer this volte-face:

all of a sudden
the analytical boss
a laughing hyena
	[Ernesto Santiago]

Has a malign spirit invaded his body? Or is it simply the sugar talking? Or merely some mask, and for what purpose?

Second prize goes to this aperçu:

long dead —
tobacco smoke haunts
her office
	[David Dayson]

The dead are long with us. This neatly wrought moment of awareness captures an essence through our most primitive and exact sense, that of smell. Our eyes and ears may be fooled, but not our noses, and we know this ghost all too well.

My top prize goes to this truly sinister musing:

chilling the air —
the anniversary passes
of your future death
	[David Dayson]

Whether a prophecy or something the poet will actually attend to himself, there is a frisson to be had by considering such a moment. The malign spirit it deeply alive in this conjuring, a kind of forbidden knowledge that resists easy analysis. A perfect mull for the season. Be careful out there!

New Poems

end of the shift —
an apparently peaceful dusk
checking behind my shoulders
     — Doris Pascolo
In the eyes 
of the night guard
his day job
     — Roberta Beary
minute to midnight
I burn incense to ward off 
office evil
     — Celestine Nudanu
graveyard shift
working with
the office ghost
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
office ghoul —
it can be harmless,
this gossip?
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
the office ghoul —
the envy of gossipers
wears down like acid 
     — Alessandra Delle Fratte
tough negotiation . . .
eating up my mind 
the cigar’s smoke
     — Hifsa Ashraf
day of the dead
business as usual
in the mail room
     — Michael Henry Lee
behind his hunched back
they call him Lurch
old photocopier
     — Jennnifer Hambrick
office ghoul
the curious crumbs
on his tie
     — Pat Davis
unwanted attention
from the office ghoul —
I take the long way home
     — Martha Magenta
vinegar cocktail —
now she's privy
to the salary schedule
     — Marilyn Appl Walker
in the office
ghouls and werewolves
occupy high positions
     — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore
a jackal
is about the offices —
the hunt begins
     — Angela Giordano
the chimes of the keys
on his belt a reminder
of the good times
     — Mark Gilbert
at the end of the aisle
her broomstick
chasing shredded files
     — Tricia Knoll
white as a sheet
the IT guy goes
beyond the pale
     — Michael H. Lester
vampire maid
his latest paperback love
night watcher
     — Ashoka Weerakkody
people disappear
in the bin
     — Christine Eales
after sick leave
pile after pile pending files
     — S. Radhamani
dark night
my colleague’s eyes
my recurring nightmare
     — Eufemia Griffo
cold sweat
the boss’s secretary
with stiletto nails
     — Olivier Schopfer
the night shift
a gentle rustling
at the keyhole
     — Marta Chocilowska
office ghoul . . .
from time to time
its droppings
     — Madhuri Pillai
empty cubicle —
the blurred face in the
company photo
     — Enrique Garrovillo
nobody knows
pallid lavender Visigoths
cover tele-sales
     — Ron Scully
sniggers follow 
till the boss’s cabin —
the office ghoul
     — Arvinder Kaur
“Stranger Things” . . .
my ghosts follow me 
in the office
     — Elisa Allo
priority turnaround —
she licks the seal of 
a “get well” card
     — Gail Oare
night silence —
only one office window
is lit
     — Tomislav Maretic
boardroom portrait
mean-spirited in death
just as in life
     — Karen Conrads Wibell
Since blood-sucker Dan 
was hired Personnel sick days increased tenfold
     — Stephan Massi
cold shiver
our office ghost
nothing like the dark web
     — Lee Nash
the office ghoul
hanging in the cupboard
a skeleton
     — Mike Gallagher
The office ghoul —
The wrong address
on the right side of the envelope
     — Julia Guzmán
crescent moon
a crow’s caw
splitting the dark
     — Brendon Kent
office ghoul —
my every mistake 
stored in memory
     — Ana Drobot
trolling for office sounds
I catch the ghoul’s
foul breath
     — Alegria Imperial
still with a watchful eye —
the founder’s picture 
on office wall
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah

Next Week’s Theme: The Praise of Peers

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 26 October 2015.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Dear esteemed poet,
    Greetings! How many variegated responses so thoughtfully carved for the chosen theme, so delighted to go through, crown all the following is so wonderfully applied.
    with regards

    still with a watchful eye —
    the founder’s picture
    on office wall
    — Adjei Agyei-Baah

  2. along the Thames —
    autumn’s shadows pass by
    wreathed in mist
    [David Dayson]

    wonderful poem ! Enjoyed reading the responses.This was an off beat theme.

Comments are closed.

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