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Haiku in the Workplace: Workplace Accidents

The emotional range of the submissions to this week’s haiku challenge was incredibly broad, from the cheeky to the traumatic, but with not much in between. The idea of “accident” is already loaded (and, to some ways of thinking, arguable), but when conflated with “workplace” entirely new ley lines of culpability come into play. Most of us feel that the professional environment in which we spend our most public hours is, and ought to be, generally safe, but of course we have been made to feel that this is far less true than it once was, due to various school rampages, terrorist activities and co-workers “going postal.” In response to these circumstances, our poets chose either to inculcate the mock heroic, or else the darkly tragic.

Most of the former would hardly qualify as “accidents”: “night shift: empty bins / dust desks, hoover, drop hole punch – / paper moon blizzard” is a good example. This enlargement of the mundane through fake seriousness has a longstanding literary tradition, though it is not often seen in haiku. Another example of this ilk is “My coffee / Like crime scene blood / Flows around me” which is effectively terse.

Of the latter, “the glass ceiling / crashed upon / her up-turned head” surely is intended to be read as allegory, yet in haiku we cannot dismiss the possibility of it representing actuality, making this a gruesome little morality tale. And “yellow black bars / commemorate the union of / forklift and inspector” takes a darkly comic look at what must have been a grisly and horrific day at the warehouse.

My third choice this week is from the first camp:

draft email, hit send
cc whole floor with love
for new girlfriend x
	[Sarah Leavesley]

explicates the easy humiliation to be had with misdirected communications. It is a workplace accident of the most benign sort. The poem, though a bit stiff with its language, manages to retain a droll self-effacement, and may actually endear the bungler to the rest of the office.

My other two selections are firmly from the darker end of the spectrum, capturing as they do specific human responses to trauma. My second choice is

silence on site
after the ambulance
goes
	[Andrew Shimield]

It might seem an obvious observation, but that’s really the point: the poet notices the manifestation of an absence, the negative space created by this unexpected event. This is a telling moment, told economically, and with a nice formal touch in reserving the final line for the simple verb. It would rate higher except that, considered within the context of the history of the genre, poems on this topic have been written before and as well or better, lowering its impact just a bit below our winner.

Slightly subtler, and I believe more chilling, is my top selection, which might have served as the opening haiku in a sequence that ended with the previous one.

a scream
instinctively strangers
move as one
	[Andy Coleman]

That we are a herd animal is not in doubt, but we insist on our individuality, in dress, in manner, in personality. But given a signal that circumvents our thought processes, we access a deeper and more primitive set of responses. A scream cuts directly to the limbic system, and we move our hooves and form a circle from a directive hardwired into us long before we left the savannah. The poet, without overplaying his hand, notes this species drama, and helps us recognize it, and ourselves, in a mere seven words.

New Poems

Coffee spilt on my skirt —
all day long smelling
of cappuccino
     — Anna Maria Domburg -Sancristoforo

          *

painfully lifting 
more than his weight
old ant
     — Ernesto P. Santiago

          *

from just warming my chair
to the hot seat
he discovers my tweets
     — Charlotte Digregorio

          *

car crash 
extracted a dead
from hearse
     — Antonio Mangiameli

          *

cursing the boss
your silence replies
‘He’s behind you’
     — Rachel Sutcliffe

          *

after the last typhoon
all the windmills and more ranches
put to good use again
     — Vasile Moldovan

          *

fourth and one
the injured player
is whisked away
     — Michael Henry Lee

          *

one box lower
than a teacher’s back
new textbooks
     — Sandi Pray

          *

No work, no pay
my monthly budget
barks at me.
     — Purush Ravela

          *

landslide —
on a father’s coffin
sand of Sahara
     — Marina Bellini

          *

office fires —
tossed cigarette ignites 
the wastebasket 
     — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams

          *

lost in thought . . .
I give an inspiring lecture 
to the wrong class
     — Maria Laura Valente

          *

28 days
without a meltdown
silver star
     — Mark Gilbert

          *

the sparrow
in the cat’s mouth
fraying nest
     — Jennifer Hambrick

          *

paper cut
a smear underlines
the bottom line
     — Lamart Cooper

          *

the shatter 
of spinning rotors 
dim day sirens
     — Jan Benson

          *

blister domes
on a sand dune
java splatter
     — Christina Sng

          *

big trouble —
birthday cake 
carbonized
     — Maria Teresa Sisti

          *

Frozen fingers 
in an unsold bouquet 
of the mobile roses seller
     — Nazarena Rampini

          *

falling down
my son's face
the last image
     — Eufemia Griffo

          *

multiple deadlines —
wiping up the coffee
on the keyboard
     — Amy Losak

          *

tennis elbow
no longer
on the ball
     — Olivier Schopfer

          *

on the boots
cement powder —
emergency room
     — Margherita Petriccione

          *

lost man days for them for me lost limbs
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi

          *

stormy day
the office boy checks
the glass windows
     — Pravat Kumar Padhy

          *

late from work
a hovering honeybee 
between the couple
     — Aparna Pathak

          *

top of the ladder
she bumps into
a glass ceiling
     — Debbie Antebi

          *

no workman’s comp
nor forms to fill —
paper cut
     — Michael Stinson

          *

blackout
the patient talks
as by daylight
     — Lucia Fontana

          *

free coffee runs into my shoe
     — MR QUIPTY

          *

head in the clouds —
the helmet rolled down 
the stairs
     — Elisa Allo

          *

all these years
my father going to work
in slip-resistant shoes
     — Goran Gatalica

          *

a b c d e —
a kindergarten darling
wets her pants
     — Marilyn Appl Walker

          *

shoulder sprain —
perfect circle
on the blackboard
     — Angiola Inglese

          *

coffee spill
on the office table 
news from home
     — Brendon Kent

          *

night raid . . .
I stumble over
a flower pot
     — Samantha Sirimanne Hyde

          *

spilt coffee
on client’s document
boss' expletive under his breath
     — Madhuri Pillai

          *

spilt coffee on
my computer . . .
not completed task
     — Diana Teneva

          *

those days when they dangled
from girders over the city
New York snapshot
     — Marietta McGregor

          *

reach in the
desk drawer for bandaids
another paper cut
     — Paul Geiger

          *

cantiere aperto —
un corpo sull'asfalto
tra i passanti

yard open —
a body on the asphalt
among passers-by
     — Angela Giordano

          *

First presentation
she speaks firmly they giggle
blue green mismatched shoes
     — Trilla Pando

          *

22 years since 
your workplace accident
caring for you
     — Karen Harvey

          *

her cubicle
filled with roses
new safety rules
     — Deborah P Kolodji

          *

coffee spill . . .
eavesdropping on
some office gossip
     — Christine L. Villa

          *

Next Week’s Theme: Work Travel

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 6 November 2014.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Thank you for publishing my haiku Jim. It was an emotional prompt this week. My lovely hard working husband was disabled in a dreadful industrial accident 22 years ago. He was as fit as a fiddle when he left for work in the morning, life changed in a moment. On the third line I hoped the juxtaposition would be discernable. I don’t just ‘take care’ of him. I really ‘Care’ for him, my hero.

    Lovely to see so many great poems here. Congratulations everyone.

    1. Dear Karen,
      .
      I know only too much about care. I cared for my mom for six months straight one year, with no sleep to speak of, and running a family business, on a university course, looking after my wife who just developed M.E. and cooking and washing up etc…
      .
      A deep bow to you.
      .
      Your sincerity and kindness and respect shines through your poem.
      .
      respectfully and in admiration,
      Alan

      1. Thank you Alan. I really appreciate you comment. Same to you. I was deeply touched by your poem about you mum.

        Sorry I only just saw your reply.

        Karen

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