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The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2022

In 2022 we received 1294 distinct entries submitted from 42 journals and 395 individuals, the latter of who nominated poems from numerous journals, anthologies, books, and contests. Award recipients are listed below in alphabetical order by author, not by merit. Comments from the panelists give some flavor of the deliberations.

Panelists:

Roberta Beary, Greg Longenecker, Pravat Kumar Padhy, Marianne Paul, Agnes Eva Savich

Winners

Peg Cherrin-Myers

coming out . . .
my father’s love
with an *

(Kingfisher 6, October 2022)

In this timely haiku, the perspective is that of a teenage or adult child. Line 1 provides the context, ‘coming out . . .’. We know we are in a newly established frame of reference. In line 2, ‘my father’s love’ it appears all is well. But not so fast, says line 3’s ‘with an *’ all is not completely well. Or, is it a half-mumbled, paternal profanity, as in *”%”*# in old-style prose?

As readers, we are not given any specifics, only an asterisk, without the expected explanatory footnote. The ultimate mystery of line 3 made this haiku one I could not step away from. The absence of clever wordplay also kept me coming back. After multiple reads of this haiku, I delved deeper into thoughts such as: Parents I know who tell their LGBTQIA (teen or adult) child, Yes, we accept you as you are, with the following qualification (fill in the blank). Ultimately, I was struck by how deftly the poet handles the qualified acceptance: with an *.

Perhaps this remarkable haiku will shine brightly enough to change future outcomes, and qualified acceptance will become unqualified acceptance. Perhaps not. But I know its vibrant authenticity renders it a haiku I now carry close to my heart. And soon will share again and again. The double use of punctuation in this poem really underlines the struggle of a coming out conversation in a family. The ellipsis immediately connotes the complex personal decision of finally deciding to come out verbally and formally. It takes time and contemplation and the weighing of many factors, especially if there’s a question of acceptance hanging in the air. Each of those dots contains multitudes. The asterisk, when said out loud, almost sounds like a term for putting it all on the line, going out on a limb: “an ass to risk.” Maybe when the father heard this, he still had reservations; maybe when the protagonist came out it became clear that the father’s love only existed, heartbreakingly, with a clause of only heterosexuality being acceptable. The asterisk contains multitudes of emotion and judgement, layered on top of the already complicated history contained in the ellipsis.

The double use of punctuation in this poem really underlines the struggle of a coming out conversation in a family. The ellipsis immediately connotes the complex personal decision of finally deciding to come out verbally and formally. It takes time and contemplation and the weighing of many factors, especially if there’s a question of acceptance hanging in the air. Each of those dots contains multitudes. The asterisk, when said out loud, almost sounds like a term for putting it all on the line, going out on a limb: “an ass to risk.” Maybe when the father heard this, he still had reservations; maybe when the protagonist came out it became clear that the father’s love only existed, heartbreakingly, with a clause of only heterosexuality being acceptable. The asterisk contains multitudes of emotion and judgement, layered on top of the already complicated history contained in the ellipsis.

“Coming out,” revealing one’s gender orientation, is a difficult and emotional act. There is much soul-searching and self-doubting that can be a part of the act and one must find the courage to announce the decision one has reached. This haiku faces that final step and its outcome.

The first two lines suggest that the poet is met with a parent’s love. The third line, with its superb use of *, undermines what seemed to be a positive outcome for the poet. The * is a sign, a mere symbol, that shows a reservation on the part of the father. The use of an asterisk is the height of disappointment for the child; the wholehearted love they felt they might receive is lost. Even trying to pronounce * is disappointing since the sound simply trails off into x sound.

I’m left with the impression that the child, now hurt, must move forward past this troubling outcome and, in effect, become a parent to the father. The poet has made their choice and must live with it whatever the father does. A fine poem with much emotion to explore.

Lorraine A Padden

once more around the dance floor IV pole

(Blōō Outlier Journal, Senryu Special, New Year’s Eve/Winter 2022)

The form a poet chooses to present their haiku is central to its effectiveness. The one-line (or monoku/monostich) structure works beautifully for this poem — the haiku flows and twirls effortlessly in its own kind of poetic ballroom dance. There are no disruptions of line breaks, and the poem sweeps the reader along with it.

There is also a lovely and unexpected joie de vivre (we are, after all, reading about a person who is ill and attached to an IV pole, probably hospitalized). And just as unexpected, the haiku exudes a sense of humour. The full effect of the juxtaposition is left until the very end of the poem, and elicits the “aha!” moment. The dance partner is an IV pole, and the haiku takes on a whole new meaning. The poet has made strong poetic choices. Put the “IV pole” at the start of the poem, and we lose that surprise. Write the haiku as a three-line poem, and we lose the momentum and dance rhythm. A wonderful and original poem!

This monostich stands out for its vivid imagery. Digging deeper, the haiku evokes its own kind of dance, which invites the reader to participate. The first six words offer an original take on the reader’s invitation. Other aspects of the haiku speak to its originality: the echo of a dance movement, either a glide or a stumble, and the use of humor, along with a touch of irony. Is the reader partnering with the poet across an antiseptic, shiny hospital floor or the confines of at-home care?

Digging still deeper, I see the ‘dance partner’, an inanimate but essential piece of medical equipment, taking the place of a human companion. Perhaps a family member or close friend, acquaintance, or even dance instructor. Who doesn’t matter, it is the how and why that connect the haiku and reader. This eight-word haiku casts a wide net that captures the universal theme of how to adjust when one’s reality shifts.

I kept returning to this haiku, and each reading drew me in deeper and deeper. Until I too was dancing.

The monoku expresses symbolic gratitude to the inanimate object. The IV pole, an intravenous pole, is a medical device for drips administered to a patient. It appears that the patient got cured after an extended stay in the hospital and all the relatives and friends celebrate the moment of joy. The haiku extends aesthetic intimacy, emotional attachment, and reverence toward the things around us. Through creative endeavor, the poet tries to enliven the sense of appreciation, not only for friends and near and dear ones but also for material objects. A man reminisces even non-living things as a symbol of emotional consciousness and faithfulness. The poem unveils the sublimity of indebtedness through blissful dance holding the intravenous pole.

The monoku is characterized by the consonant sound ‘r’. This enhances the poet’s skillful articulation of phonetic structure. Interestingly, the poet objectifies ‘IV pole’ as one of the close friends and everyone strikes a chord of intimacy with it. The words ‘once more’ probably infer an offering of one’s gratefulness before leaving the hospital after recovery from the prolonged ailment. The monoku symbolizes the aesthetic attachment towards the non-living object with ecstasy and reverence.

Bryan Rickert

shifting clouds my child’s pronouns

(Prune Juice Journal 38)

At first glance, this haiku appears deceptively simple with its image of shifting clouds. However, much is contained in the phrase that follows: my child’s pronouns. There is the implied change from the child’s original pronouns (he/him or she/her) to the child’s preferred pronouns (perhaps they/them) or a switch of the more standard pronouns (he is now she or vice versa). The poignant, almost musical phrasing of this five-word, one-line haiku makes it a standout for me. Its beautiful imagery links to a more personal, yet universal issue, and gently nudges the reader toward contemplation of a topic many people avoid. This superbly crafted haiku does not rely on artifice: there is no hidden political message shrouded in wordplay. It only asks to be heard.

This so sweetly captures a child’s openness to redefining gender norms and a parental figure’s processing of it as a gentle natural force of nature taking its course. This poem doesn’t try too hard; it is tender and simple, appealing to the heart, and links a hot current societal topic to the nature that haiku holds dear.

Should a haiku speak to its time? I think so, yes. This poem speaks to a reality that has existed throughout human history, but that people have been (perhaps) more willing to talk about and acknowledge openly in recent years. Children, young adults, and adults are claiming their authentic selves, an act of bravery, especially in the face of backlash, including family backlash.

This is a beautifully simple haiku — only five words — and it is this simplicity that is its strength. The poem holds much, without the excess baggage of commentary, judgement, extra words, or images. How are the clouds shifting? We don’t know for certain, and there is much to ponder, a good thing when it comes to haiku, leaving the reader with room to feel, think and interpret. It is a personal haiku, the poet speaks of “my” child’s pronoun, and strikes me as a poem of love and acceptance.

While I’m fairly certain this haiku was written in response to the gender issues dominating the news today, I read an alternative meaning into it of the early days of pregnancy when the parent(s) don’t yet know the sex of their unborn child and are wondering who he, she, they will be. That time of eager anticipation when anything is still possible and dreams float like clouds shifting through a summer sky.

Children, over the age of one to four years, learn different pronouns in a natural way as a part of speech and language development processes, initially through parental interaction and gesture.

The monoku in its simplicity and lightness (karumi) unfolds curiosity and profundity of child psychology. Here the word ‘pronouns’ bears the poetic beauty to reveal a lot associated with the journey of clouds and the child’s inherent inquisitiveness. Perhaps the poet wishes to express the nuances of clouds with the use of gerund, ‘shifting’, thus enumerating the well-crafted fragment section of the monoku.

The exquisite feeling of mother and child is manifested through the layers of imagination with the use of pronouns. Kids express their observations and feelings emanating from the tender mind and the poem embodies the novelty of child psychology. Might be the child is just at the intersection stage to playfully address correctly his sibling. Interacting with the mother, the child might query: how do these cloud float, and could he/she board together and roam around the sky? Which place can they travel to with the clouds? Can I invite those clouds to our home? Linguistically, it appears as if the monoku amalgamates the personal pronoun, the demonstrative pronoun, the interrogative pronoun, the relative pronoun, etc. Indeed, the joyful interactions between the mother and child extend beyond the horizon, to the skyward! The word phrase ‘shifting clouds’ collectively juxtaposes the child’s dreams of magical stories. The monoku in its brevity and succinctness resonates with the rhythmic sounds of ‘s’.

I like the allusions that the reference to ‘shifting clouds’ has many layers of interpretations. Is it that the child has faced difficulty due to receptive language disorder? Slowly the kid overcomes the difficulty through speech therapy and the mother exults as the clouds of difficulty disappear.

Interestingly the visual image ‘shifting clouds’ is subtly used as a metaphor in this monoku to reflect sensibility. The poem is characterized by linguistic inventiveness. There is intense creative synergy between the image and the human aspects.

Chad Lee Robinson

a bookmark
where my son
grew too old

(Prune Juice Journal 37)

A poignant haiku that draws me in with the first line, a bookmark. This marks the occasion, for the parent, where the child changed, became different, grew up in some way. It’s telling that the three stressed syllables in this haiku are, book, son, and grew; a suggestion that the child could see beyond their reading to something else in their life.

Questions beyond the words of the haiku come to me. Does the parent recall some way the child changed when reading the book? Did the parent happen upon the book while cleaning up the mess left when the child went off to college or elsewhere in life? Is the bookmark found by the mother or the father? The simple act of finding the bookmark sets the parent on a path of love and remembrance in this haiku.

A relatable poem about things left behind at the subtle point between childhood and adolescence. The hard k sound ending that first line creates a natural kireji, much like the point at which a parent marks a point of no return – literally in the book and figuratively in the child’s journey from having books read by a parent to reading on their own, or perhaps losing interest in a narrative they’ve outgrown.

Here we are presented with the universal themes of love and loss, beautifully evoked in this simply worded haiku. Because the haiku shows rather than tells, the reader has work to do. The poet rightly eliminates extraneous description, such as the appearance of the bookmark or the title of the book. There is an additional omission found in the ending of line 3. This lack of specificity adds a layer of mystery to a very fine haiku, one that perhaps is best viewed through the prism of the individual reader’s experience. In doing so, this poignant haiku, like the bookmark, is complete, the same, yet different.

A poignant note on how quickly time passes as a child grows up. One day you’re happily cuddled on a couch reading a book together and the next day he’s out playing ball or riding his bike with friends. He is moving on, leaving you behind. That bookmark in a sense is his declaration of independence, something very final.

The poem (senryu) is written in a formal style without a distinct line break. Generally, the word ‘bookmark’ refers to a marking tool such as a card or a colored fabric to keep track of the progress of reading a book. Here it embodies a sense of emotive attributes. Parents reminisce about their kids’ birthdays with profound happiness. As the kids grow, they experience the divine beauty of the journey of life.

There is a sense of insightful observation (ugachi) in the poem. Now the kid is grown up and will enter a different world. The poem is transcendental and the mother recalls the joy of the journey from the birth of her child to the present.

The words ‘grew’ (written in past tense), and ‘too old’ depict emotional resonance. Could it be that she lost her son at an early age and she is still in shock? The poem is characterized by the sense of wabi-sabi. Might be she holds the ‘bookmark’ that her son/daughter made long back, especially for some memorable occasion and now she recounts the past in solitude. The poem elucidates a metaphorical insight.

Joshua Eric Williams

silent after
the shooting
stars

(Rattle, Poets Respond, July 2022)

Every time I read this poem, I feel as if I’ve been punched in the gut. It is unsettling, as it should be. When I try to analyze how the poet achieved this effect, I am left with how the poem reveals itself. It tumbles out. The rhythm, and the placement of the line breaks, sets the reader off balance. Imagine if the poet had chosen to put the first line break after the word “silent”, with the word “after” dropped to the beginning of the second line. That’s how our brains would probably organize the lines, and we’d lose out on the toppling effect which is part of the brilliance of this poem. The middle line, “the shooting” serves as a hinge, fitting with either the first line or the last line, inviting us (or perhaps forcing us) to read the poem in different and uncomfortable ways.

In the immediate aftermath of a tragic event, there is often an eerie silence. We could interpret the silence here as a non-response to shootings — the lack of gun control, mental health strategies, and ways to prevent domestic violence. And then, the shooting stars themselves: they streak bright for a moment, and burn out, a sad metaphor for lives lost senselessly.

This haiku lends itself to several interpretations. It’s both a comment on the issue of rampant crime and mass murders that have become far too commonplace in our society today and on the cosmos after shooting stars have lit up the sky. Whether you are hearing the gunshots or watching the sky, that silence after is profound.

This simple, powerful, timely poem offers in five words so many different ways of reading, depending on where one pauses on re-reading. On the surface level, we are silent after witnessing shooting stars. We are also silent after a shooting, and all we have are stars to contemplate. In the silence, the shooting stars continue to light up the sky. We could read all of this were this a one-liner, however the line cuts give us time to really contemplate all the different meanings and the weight and metaphorical meanings of silence, of shooting, and of stars.

The disjunctive appearance of this haiku hints at its different meanings. A first reading, for me, seemed to show a quiet time after watching the shooting stars and that it could be written as a monostich:

silent after the shooting stars.

However, the poem is written in three parts:

silent after / the shooting / stars.

This phrasing suggests a shooting has occurred and it might or might not be the stars. The word silent, however, bothered me, wouldn’t silence be better? Silence, a noun, fits perfectly, while silent, an adjective does not. The only noun for silent to describe or modify is stars. Or does it describe shooting stars? It can be read as either, but if the poet’s phrasing is followed, it isn’t that shooting stars are silent, but that stars are silent.

Read in this possible way, the haiku suggests that after a shooting, the stars are silent. As if the stars have witnessed a crime and are quiet about it, won’t comment on it. The stars are a kind of stand-in for those of us who don’t talk up about a wrongdoing. Adding to the overall drama is the almost staccato sound of stressed and unstressed vowels of i, a, o, and a in lines 1, 2, and 3. An excellent haiku that opens out to multiple meanings.

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2022 Shortlist

letting go
of what’s not mine
prairie wind

— Hifsa Ashraf (tinywords 22.2)

 

sunrise
all the colours
of a second chance

— Gavin Austin (Wales Haiku Journal, Spring 2022)

 

long summer night
the coffin maker sleeps
inside his coffin

— R. Suresh Babu (The Heron’s Nest 24.2)

 

leaving him
a love note
six persimmons

— Stephanie Baker (Geppo 47:2)

 

coming out . . .
my father’s love
with an *

— Peg Cherrin-Myers (Kingfisher 6)

 

schrodinger’s womxn knowing and unknowing our place

— Tracy Davidson (2022 Marlene Mountain Contest)

 

i am i am not the darkness between subway stations

— Frank Dietrich (Frogpond 45:2; re:Virals 368, October 14, 2022)

 

{{{{{woodpecker}}}}}

— Keith Evetts (Cold Moon Journal, July 3, 2022)

 

whale song —
the distances
that call us

— Lorin Ford (Echidna Tracks 9)

 

the space between stars —
a missing child
remains missing

— John Gonzalez (Time Haiku 55)

 

a vanessa flutters light’s thesaurus

— Marshall Hryciuk (whiptail: journal of the single line poem 3)

 

kite-flying lessons
holding on
while letting go

— Kim Klugh (Wales Haiku Journal, Spring 2022)

 

morning sea
I shake the night
from my wings

— Kat Lehmann (Kingfisher 5)

 

sun tea . . .
a slow pour
of afternoon

— Barrie Levine (The Heron’s Nest 24.3)

 

refugee center —
an empty room
labeled family

— Ashish Narain (Modern Haiku 53.2)

 

bus stop
a room inside
the rain

— Peter Newton (The Heron’s Nest 24.2)

 

once more around the dance floor IV pole

— Lorraine A Padden (Blōō Outlier Journal, Senryu Special, New Year’s Eve/Winter 2022)

 

roadcut —
a mountain spring seeps
from the Eocene

— Linda Papanicolaou (Mariposa 47)

 

shifting clouds my child’s pronouns

— Bryan Rickert (Prune Juice Journal 38)

 

a bookmark
where my son
grew too old

— Chad Lee Robinson (Prune Juice Journal 37)

 

egg laying a little blood on the dew

— Rowan Beckett (horror senryu journal, September 24, 2022 (as Lithica Ann))

 

storm clouds
what a father says
with silence

— Rich Schilling (The Heron’s Nest 24.1)

 

simmering heat
the pots and pans deliver
a timpani of spices

— Alan Summers (Haiku Seed Journal, September 20, 2022)

 

chimney swifts
a headlong dive
into darkness

— Lesley Anne Swanson (Akitsu Quarterly, Fall 2022)

 

red lipstick smears
the little face
child bride

— Elisa Theriana (Prune Juice Journal 38)

 

silver lining —
what the storm takes
from the magpie’s fable

— R.C. Thomas (Sharpening the Green Pencil Haiku Contest 2022 (as Richard Thomas); Haiku Commentary, September 6, 2022)

 

empty bird’s nest the span of a pianist’s hand

— Richard Tindall (The Heron’s Nest 24.4)

 

heartwood something like forgiveness growing in the cut

— Marcie Wessels (haikuKATHA 11)

 

silent after
the shooting
stars

— Joshua Eric Williams (Rattle, Poets Respond, July 2022)

 

taken up by a hawk
every letter of
a snake’s alphabet

— Peter Yovu (The Heron’s Nest 24.4)

 

windless dawn
a marigold wreath
sways in the kelp

— J. Zimmerman (Acorn 48)

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2022 Longlist

bird’s eye speedwell
all the march clouds
blown to blue

— Meredith Ackroyd, Blōō Outlier Journal, Natural History Haiku Issue, Summer 2022

 

letting go
of what’s not mine
prairie wind

— Hifsa Ashraf (tinywords 22.2)

 

sunrise
all the colours
of a second chance

— Gavin Austin (Wales Haiku Journal, Spring 2022)

 

long summer night
the coffin maker sleeps
inside his coffin

— R. Suresh Babu (The Heron’s Nest 24.2)

 

leaving him
a love note
six persimmons

— Stephanie Baker (Geppo 47:2)

 

as if damp
were a colour . . .
deep woods

— Sidney Bending (Worth More Standing: Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees (Caitlin Press, 2022))

 

in the field
among the bush clover
shell casings

— Deborah A. Bennett (Haiku in Action 27)

 

rabbit + owl = owl

— Tom Blessing (ubu 3)

 

autumn afternoon
up a ladder, down a ladder
move a ladder

— Alan S. Bridges (The Heron’s Nest 24.1)

 

date rape a pocket full of posies

— Susan Burch (2022 Marlene Mountain Contest)

 

skipping stones
answering questions
with questions

— Christopher Calvin (Stardust Haiku 64)

 

coming out . . .
my father’s love
with an *

— Peg Cherrin-Myers (Kingfisher 6)

 

schrodinger’s womxn knowing and unknowing our place

— Tracy Davidson (2022 Marlene Mountain Contest)

 

i am i am not the darkness between subway stations

— Frank Dietrich (Frogpond 45:2; re:Virals 368, October 14, 2022)

 

{{{{{woodpecker}}}}}

— Keith Evetts (Cold Moon Journal, July 3, 2022)

 

whale song—
the distances
that call us

— Lorin Ford (Echidna Tracks 9)

 

Penrose process . . .
how much energy
can my heart muster?

— Joshua Gage (The Starlight SciFaiku Review 2)

 

the space between stars —
a missing child
remains missing

— John Gonzalez (Time Haiku 55)

 

brand new day insert fresh violence

— Gary Hittmeyer (Frogpond 45:3)

 

a vanessa flutters light’s thesaurus

— Marshall Hryciuk (whiptail: journal of the single line poem 3)

 

pressed freesia —
the fragrance
of absence

— Dan Iulian (The Haiku Foundation’s Haiku Dialogue, June 22, 2022)

 

kite-flying lessons
holding on
while letting go

— Kim Klugh (Wales Haiku Journal, Spring 2022)

 

spring green you discover my bare breasts again

— Isabella Kramer (Poetry Pea Journal 1:22)

 

morning sea
I shake the night
from my wings

— Kat Lehmann (Kingfisher 5)

 

autumn unfolding a plaid shirt in the country store

— Barrie Levine (The Heron’s Nest 24.1)

 

sun tea . . .
a slow pour
of afternoon

— Barrie Levine (The Heron’s Nest 24.3)

 

(r)aging

— Barrie Levine (2022 Marlene Mountain Contest)

 

the magnolia
wasn’t ours, yet its absence
is

— Patricia J. Machmiller (Kingfisher 6)

 

refugee center —
an empty room
labeled family

— Ashish Narain (Modern Haiku 53.2)

 

bus stop
a room inside
the rain

— Peter Newton (The Heron’s Nest 24.2)

 

once more around the dance floor IV pole

— Lorraine A Padden (Blōō Outlier Journal, Senryu Special, New Year’s Eve/Winter 2022)

 

stained glass the half-empty church

— Lorraine A Padden (Kingfisher 5)

 

roadcut —
a mountain spring seeps
from the Eocene

— Linda Papanicolaou (Mariposa 47)

 

my size
the shoes he said
would see him out

— Alan Peat (Mayfly 73)

 

open range
the unbridled
horsetail clouds

— Bryan Rickert (Blithe Spirit 32.4)

 

shifting clouds my child’s pronouns

— Bryan Rickert (Prune Juice Journal 38)

 

a bookmark
where my son
grew too old

— Chad Lee Robinson (Prune Juice Journal 37)

 

in a while the firefly once

— Michele Root-Bernstein (whiptail: journal of the single line poem 3)

 

egg laying a little blood on the dew

— Rowan Beckett (horror senryu journal, September 24, 2022 (as Lithica Ann))

 

circling around
and around and around . . .
black dog

— Joshua St. Claire (Kokako 37)

 

storm clouds
what a father says
with silence

— Rich Schilling (The Heron’s Nest 24.1)

 

overcast sky . . .
a leaf floats back
to the burning pile

— Kavitha Sreeraj (haikuKATHA 4)

 

simmering heat
the pots and pans deliver
a timpani of spices

— Alan Summers (Haiku Seed Journal, September 20, 2022)

 

chimney swifts
a headlong dive
into darkness

— Lesley Anne Swanson (Akitsu Quarterly, Fall 2022)

 

red lipstick smears
the little face
child bride

— Elisa Theriana (Prune Juice Journal 38)

 

silver lining —
what the storm takes
from the magpie’s fable

— R.C. Thomas (Sharpening the Green Pencil Haiku Contest 2022 (as Richard Thomas); Haiku Commentary, September 6, 2022)

 

empty bird’s nest the span of a pianist’s hand

— Richard Tindall (The Heron’s Nest 24.4)

 

64 crayons white the least used

— Margaret Walker (Babylon Sidedoor Journal, January 2022; re:Virals 330, January 21, 2022)

 

heartwood something like forgiveness growing in the cut

— Marcie Wessels (haikuKATHA 11)

 

silent after
the shooting
stars

— Joshua Eric Williams (Rattle, Poets Respond, July 2022)

 

tornado
the name stitched into
a kid’s cap

— Peter Yovu (hedgerow 140)

 

taken up by a hawk
every letter of
a snake’s alphabet

— Peter Yovu (The Heron’s Nest 24.4)

 

windless dawn
a marigold wreath
sways in the kelp

— J. Zimmerman (Acorn 48)

The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2022

95 books were nominated. Award recipients are listed in alphabetical order by author, not by merit. Selected comments from the panelists give some flavor of the deliberations.

Panelists:

Susan Antolin, Kat Lehmann, Peter Newton, Victor Ortiz and Tom Sacramona

Winners

Cherie Hunter Day

Miles Deep in a Drum Solo (North Durham, N.C.: Backbone Press, 2022)

“Cherie Hunter Day’s fifth book of haiku, Miles Deep in a Drum Solo, demonstrates her dexterity with the form in an offering that balances an attentive nature-based experience with the inventiveness of language. The collection comprises four sections of fifteen poems each with three poems presented per page. Each sequence exhibits a resonance between the haiku. There is a physical and emotional groundedness that provides a breadcrumb path for the reader to intuitively make their own connections through these deeply-felt poems. On one such page, Day explores mortality, longing, and grief.

migrating red knots
the return
of my heart murmur

ocean a summer’s worth of asking

last time I heard you become dusk

The poems include three-line haiku, one-line haiku, vertical haiku, and haiku of only three words in length. The haiku do not strain to fit their structures but emerge organically from them.

Throughout the book, Day’s close attention to language is evident. Her creative juxtapositions suggest new interpretations to the words and the worlds she is describing. The urban brushes against the natural, and the abstract is placed adjacent to traditional season words in unexpected ways that offer a disjunctive English-language haiku style that will hold up over time.

inland sea a resume without references

blossom rain
part of the bank deposit
available today

In Section 1: a new normal, themes include sadness, technology, writing, communing with nature, and the pandemic. Like snapshots, the poems stipple a story. In Section 2: a shortfall of small doors, the tone shifts to regard the dismissal of nature and nature’s response to that dismissal. These are poems of incompleteness, absence, refusal, and small wins.

they have
a list of demands
redwoods

then a few pages later:

redwood seeds the instrument of your hands

We can listen to the demands of these ancient trees and answer their call. The word “seeds” in the second poem can work as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, we are planting the seeds and rejuvenating their kind. As a verb, they are rejuvenating us.

Throughout Section 3: the rollover of unused data, we feel a movement toward emotional resolution set up by the previous sections. When we reach Section 4: leftover persimmons, there is a level of acceptance as we acknowledge the injuries.

meteor shower
the scar
part of my fingerprint

is followed by:

that one kid
with a plastic whistle –
evening heat

Both poems consider an irregularity that stands out from its background even as it is assimilated by it. The visual streak across the sky. The tactile scar on a finger. The sound of a whistle.

Miles Deep in a Drum Solo is a rich and carefully orchestrated collection that rewards careful reading and re-reading.

Crystal Simone Smith

Ebbing Shore (North Durham, N.C: Horse & Buggy Press, 2022)

Ebbing Shore, by Crystal Simone Smith, accomplishes far more than most haiku collections dare to attempt. While adhering to the aesthetic principles of traditional haiku, Smith aims for a larger purpose in her work than an exploration of nature and/or personal inner enlightenment. While much of the innovation in haiku today consists of pushing the boundaries of language and form, Smith expands boundaries in another direction, focusing on and engaging with history in a way seldom seen in haiku collections. Composed in the fields of plantations that once held generations of enslaved people, the haiku in this spare and unassuming chapbook present a powerful and authentic response to this ugly piece of American history. Coming at a time when significant efforts to erase or ignore this history are taking place around the country, this collection honors the lives of people formerly enslaved in these places, helps keep the memory of their suffering alive, and raises questions about whether the past is truly behind us. Interspersed with the haiku are photographs taken at the various plantations Smith visited over the two-year period, adding another layer of tangibility to the book. When Smith writes:

slave quarters
in one brick
a thumbprint

she draws us into the moment of realization that that thumbprint likely belonged to an enslaved person forced to work in the place where she now stands. Later in the collection, she writes:

tangled around
my son’s neck
low hanging moss

and makes clear that the legacy of slavery is very much alive. How can one read the above haiku and not think of the long history of lynching and the continuing violence against African American men today? That the haiku is from the point of view of a mother adds to its power as we are reminded that every person lynched in this country was someone’s child. And while these poems hold political and historical significance, they are written in an understated way, as authentic haiku with vivid, concrete images. Smith doesn’t need to use the word “lynching” to get the message across, and her haiku are more powerful by remaining suggestive rather than telling.

plantation parlor
tick of the home’s
original clock

With all the talk of a “post-racial society” and claims that slavery is a thing of the distant past, here is evidence of how very recent it was that human beings were forced to live their entire lives without freedom. The clock is still ticking. The country has still not reckoned with the legacy of slavery.

In an essay on the topic of including the political in poetry, Tracy K. Smith, the U.S. Poet Laureate at the time, wrote, “Poems willing to enter into this fraught space don’t merely stand on the bank calling out instructions on how or what to believe; they take us by the arm and walk us into the lake, wetting us with the muddied and the muddled, and sometimes even the holy.” The haiku in Ebbing Shore do not tell us what to think, but instead they lead us by the arm and walk us to the fields, letting us feel the pull of history in the present moment.

humid breezeway
I permit myself
a sip of water

Reading this collection reminds us that there are many reasons why we write and many functions poetry may have beyond personal edification. A poem can be a record, a reaction, a question, a reaching out for connection, a gift, or serve a combination of purposes. That we are nudged to ask ourselves why we write is one of the gifts of this collection.

after day-long
museum tours
the starry sky

Honorable Mentions

John Barlow & Ferris Gilli (editors)

Where Rain Would Stay: The Haiku Poetry of Peggy Willis Lyles (Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press, 2022)

More than a decade after her passing, a broad collection of Peggy Willis Lyles masterful haiku have been assembled by longtime editors John Barlow and Ferris Gilli. Where Rain Would Stay, a title Lyles chose herself, is a fine tribute to her legacy as one of the most highly regarded English-language haiku poets to date.

Lyles first began publishing haiku in the mid 1970’s in pursuit of what she called “that shock of recognition.” Over more than three and a half decades Lyles would go on to publish some 1,800 poems in her lifetime. Each one, as Lyles said, “merges images from the exterior world with the landscape of the poet’s heart so effectively that a receptive and fully participatory reader can become part of the poem.”

morning glories
we talk about
the way things change

deep autumn
an oak tree’s absence
shapes the sky

Each image holds an indelible scene that asks the reader to join her in seeing.

kingfisher
plucking silver
from the dark lagoon

the scarred back
of the manatee
heat lightning

The jagged pattern left by a boat strike might resemble a zigzag of lightning. Also, with her gift of subtlety, Lyles invites a visceral response to witnessing both manatee and heat lightning with a kind of stunned silence.

Always grounded in season and time, Lyles’ haiku allows her readers an opportunity to slow down and recall their own individual touchstone moments.

As editors, Barlow and Gilli faced the Herculean task of reading some 1,600 published but uncollected haiku Lyles had left behind. From those they culled their final selection pool to some 800 haiku. The editors weighed the individual and collective merits of the poems in deciding how best to strengthen the beloved legacy that Lyles had already established.

In addition, the editors relied on their long friendships with Lyles. The central question they returned to time and again was whether Lyles herself would have approved of this poem being preserved for posterity. In the end, 236 haiku are included in Where Rain Would Stay. The decisions of the editors were also driven by the simple fact that each poem had to reflect Lyles’ innate ability to represent the human condition.

The structural arrangement of Where Rain Would Stay is according to the seasonal progression to which the editors have sequenced the poems linking one to the next. Furthermore, links can be identified throughout the collection as a whole. Whether the links are obvious or opaque the reader may appreciate the quality of writing simply by blindly opening to any page because as the editors remind us, Where Rain Would Stay is also “a continuum that may be entered into at any point.”

And with so many poems to appreciate, Where Rain Would Stay is also a chronicle of life’s ordinary joys:

sun shower
the car ahead
full of balloons

winter sun
the curve of laughter
down the tree-house slide

Robert Spiess, the longtime editor of Modern Haiku and one of the earliest to publish Lyles’ haiku, wrote about the need for the “intelligence of the heart” when writing haiku, and reading it, for that matter. Lyles certainly demonstrates a mastery of just this kind of emotional intelligence in her haiku.

in spite of everything forsythia

into the afterlife red leaves

Where Rain Would Stay is a timeless classic in the pantheon of haiku collections. It deserves to be held up as an example of one poet’s profound success with this deceptively simple form. Poem after poem, Lyles takes life as it is, showing it to us in all its myriad permutations. Each experience washes over us and we are the ones who are changed.

Brad Bennett

a box of feathers
(Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022)

Brad Bennett, a long-time teacher and poet, in his latest collection, a box of feathers, brings his readers on a field trip of a lifetime. Outside we go to discover the marvels of the great outdoors in all its refined detail. And like those early adventures from grammar school days, Bennett’s poems conjure a similar appreciation for the wilderness within each of us.

His newest book begins with a poem that alerts readers of a contrast from his two prior collections, A Drop of Pond (2016) and A Turn in the River (2019), signaling that the poems within this collection are COVID-era poems:

summer sky
how could nothing
be so blue

Of course, “summer sky” is not limited to this single interpretation. Running over a total of about 80 haiku, the pandemic is largely in the backdrop, but shows up again here and there:

your dry cough
the only sound
rock lichen

remote learning
he holds up a jar
of tadpoles

We noticed the poet’s inclusion of one same purposeful fragment construction of season-plus-sky in each season’s section. Explicitly naming the season or month in a haiku is referred to as jikō in Japanese. Bennett’s work consistently exemplifies seasonality. He is able to notice small details and find something profound in them that says something about the broader scene he is in either philosophically or emotionally. Often, his poems are invitations (or reminders) to be mindful in a world that is spinning by quite fast:

meadow buttercups
we pause to apply
more sunblock

summer days
the green croquet ball
ticks against the blue

Any haiku that push beyond the traditional elements remain rooted in direct, lived experiences that exude authenticity:

all at once millipede

which already sounds like an instant classic. Or this one-liner that shows Bennett’s inventive nature:

wind uprivering ripples

In the section following summer, Bennett accomplishes the season-plus-sky poem in conjunction with another dominant theme—the creative writing process. Poems about the creative process show up a great deal:

autumn sky
should I go
with bold or italics

We picture the poet inviting us to finish this haiku. What is a bold autumn sky? We thought it might be filled with dark storm clouds. What is an italics autumn sky? Perhaps very blustery.

Bennett jovially touches on writing throughout the book:

the pause
of an ellipses
pond lilies

where to place
a line break . . .
moss between stones

There are arguably no senryu included in a box of feathers. Bennett includes only what George Swede defines as Type 1 haikb (nature only) and Type 2 haiku (nature + humans). If there are humans in Bennett’s haiku poetry, they are often auxiliary to the natural element in the poem or working to make their environment better:

shortening days —
I stomp in the leaf barrel
to make more room

lunch break —
freeing milkweed
from its pod

The winter section’s season-plus-sky haiku encourages readers to take on the winter with a sense of humor:

it’s always something winter sky

This collection also celebrates the writing life and those who pursue moments of perception keenly perceived. Even phenomena in day-to-day life that are outside of our control, is filtered through this poet’s hopeful lens who meets each with enthusiasm, if with some occasional hesitancy:

my old fear of new

Over the last half of this collection, the reader observes winter transition to spring:

winter sleet
a sheet pan buckles
in the oven

each day follows the next duckling

Bennett has written essays and taught workshops on achieving a unique musicality in his haiku through sound devices and repetition. See how the word “song” is used twice before it “grows stronger”:

briar buds
a song sparrow’s song
grows stronger

my first
first warbler poem —
a break in the rain

In the end, the reader is left with a collection of poems that encourages our humanity. Bennett seems to suggest in his title poem that we savor the time we are given, especially the time we take to be out in the natural world. Perhaps we are best off sharing the moments that have meant the most to us. No matter what one’s age. In this pandemic-prone world, Bennett’s is a much-needed voice of optimism:

summer’s end
a box of feathers
for show and tell

Scott Metz

ea’se ((Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022)

 – the
       so. Und
          of
             the ear. Th
              , leaving
        the l
          eaf

 

eat ng h les as th y cro s the sky ast r sks

“Is it a long poem if you look at it long enough?” This question by language and minimalist poet Robert Grenier appears as an epigraph to Scott Metz’s new collection ea’s e and presents one way to enter this exciting new work. As readers of English-language haiku understand, we are the ones who must provide our own interpretations of the haiku we encounter no matter how long we look at it, including whether we think it might extend the possible range of ELH. Metz provides us with an opportunity for widening our appreciation of ELH as we experience the language of his innovative collection of nearly 300 haiku. What does it mean to perceive something as a haiku? And how is our own creativity involved in the process? These are some questions posed by ea’s e, which not only represents a high standard of excellence in ELH but its playfully serious consideration of what ELH can be ensures it’s a noteworthy contribution to the genre.

easier to write
about birds and flowers than
hands and knees on necks

          words
          from
                    no
          one
                    the
          clown
          s
          s
          p
          ends
          time
                    on
                    the
          with
          away
                    screen
                    s

If the title of the book ea’s e playfully calls our attention to the visual nature of the letters of the word ease with the insertion of an apostrophe and extra space, thereby suggesting also the word easy, and so questions whether Metz’ haiku and the perception of its language should be approached easily and with ease, the book’s cover and back photographs seem to suggest the complementary role that the concept “outgrowth” plays in the creation of Metz’ own transformation of a branch of ELH. The cover is a photograph titled “Growth,” created by Masako Metz, as are all the photographs that introduce each of the nine sections plus the one at the end of the collection. The image “Growth” shows several branching patterns extending outward from some source that we cannot see, with two of the arms ending in a period, a momentary sense of completion. The image found on the back of the book is both a visual and verbal poem by Scott Metz called “sustenance.”  We see “over 200 translations of Basho’s famous “old pond” poem condensed into a piece of language-food being slowly devoured by a colony of language-ants.” These bookended images suggest that similarly Metz and we are the language-ants feeding on the language-food of Basho’s poem as the “source” of ELH, ingesting and growing the ELH genre into various branches as the “Growth” image we find on the book’s cover. Indeed, ELH is an outgrowth of what has gone before and contains the seeds of what is to come as it branches outward, including, as Metz is demonstrating, the process of perceiving words as letters and marks of punctuation, indeed, focusing on language as material.

passes toward an established branch eating into

     . Ga
         .La
        xy.
            . After g
      . A
        lax. Yo
          f.A
                 ut. U
         mn.Li
               ght. Tr
          icks.
                     ter. S

BEHEADING

green light

One of Metz’s consistent innovations in this collection is to highlight the materiality of language and to appreciate the various ways language can be suggestive. Rather than using clay, light, or pigment, poets employ words to shape experiences and meaning. Language may appear at times transparent like a clean window, but windows are also dirty, have pits and cracks, so that we sometimes notice the window itself. When we notice that words are not so clear as they seem, we see that they have deep histories, within political, literary, existential, and cultural contexts, and that they are suggestive, equivocal, and precarious. Words are also made of letters and sounds, arranged into certain patterns, which are also subject to appreciation. Metz reminds us again and again that language can be taken apart and put back together in many ways and by doing so he slows us down as readers and permits language to suggest new perspectives. By using words, parts of words, punctuation, and use of space on a page in novel ways, Metz implies that we do not just see through haiku to a “real” world. Indeed, the poem itself is an object, a haiku to be perceived, assembled, and experienced in a number of possible ways. There is much in ea’s e to engage the creativity of readers for years to come, if you look at it long enough.”

sometimes the sea laughs in its sleeping child

      awkward. Laughter in
the green. Room
        of the Anthropocene

Sean O’Connor

The Gods of Bones (Uxbridge, UK, Alba Publishing, 2022)

We live in a war-torn world. Some might even fear that we are on the brink of a third world war with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sean O’Connor’s remarkable book of haibun, The God of Bones, serves as both a painful reminder of this fact as well as a witness standing vigil for the survival of humanity. O’Connor strives to offer hope and reconciliation in the face of traumas, whether they are international or domestic.

What separates this book from other books of haibun is its broad scope. There is a reporter’s tone to many of the haibun that read almost like persona pieces in which O’Connor is writing from the point of view of a citizen, a soldier, or a survivor of some horrific act.

O’Connor is extremely knowledgeable about the literary origins of haiku and haibun. A Japanese speaker, he has noted in an interview that the early development of the haibun form by Matsuo Basho in the writing of his classic novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North: “The haiku drive the haibun from the beginning. They are primary and the prose is secondary.”

Just as the world acts as the context for O’Connor’s prose, his prose is the context for the poems contained in each haibun. With this in mind, one can appreciate the added emotional resonance that his prose gives to each of his haiku.

O’Connor’s attention to each word choice contributes to the flow of each sentence revealing an experienced hand. The God of Bones is a departure from the often seen autobiographical haibun. O’Connor’s approach highlights the fact that haibun is no different in its goal as any literary form — which is to deliver an emotional connection to the reader. It is exactly this expanded scope that makes The God of Bones stand out.

In O’Connor’s retelling of various trials and tribulations in five sections, he offers us something good in return for our attention to stories of death, violence, power, and war. In the haibun “On Target,” we follow a group of journalists staying the night in a cramped hotel, listening to artillery shelling targets in the night. A concept that is central to the work is artfully revealed in this piece—how do we deal with darkness persisting in our society—how do we deal with it time and time again? Should we expect any less darkness as our 21st century ages? An unnamed narrator muses that “we are so used to deciding when to turn off electric lights and to choosing when we are in darkness, that we seem to imagine that darkness is something we control, that it is as artificial as the electric light itself. And how much else in our lives do we falsely believe we can control?” This thought occurs to the narrator against the backdrop of him learning the shelling of targets is being committed and timed in a highly concentrated, calculated way so that the targets all explode at once, causing a bigger bang, causing more damage, causing more darkness. Many of the haibun work in allegorical ways in order to comment on our modern society. O’Connor would like to see us catch ourselves in each minute, suggesting that we must recalibrate each minute, that the world starts over each minute, as the big bang happens again in the story, the narrator sees anew, if only for an instant. O’Connor wants us to see we are made up of instances and will have to rely on our own inner light when there is none.

For example, in the haibun entitled “Something Good,” one woman attempts to come to terms with sexual assault at the hands of her father. Her task is to empty the family’s home after a lifetime of his hoarding. Again, the reader is given the painful back story but there is always the salvation of perception.

a hundred shiny spoons
in every one of them
this winter moon

O’Connor gives us the haunting ‘God of Bones’ as a character in this collection to help us understand ourselves at this international time of peril. In a series of five pieces titled sequentially, O’Connor gives voice to this entity that advises the reader along his challenging journey through these haibun. The God of Bones conducts purification rituals by grinding bones, displaying them or painting them. Interestingly, each of these five pieces reveals that the ‘God of Bones’ is an old character who appears to have been beside humanity throughout the ages, perhaps the ‘God of Bones’ even learned some of its rituals from our ancient ancestors. All of this is to say that there is a higher order at work, an all-knowing presence that is beyond all recognizable religions. But it is the poet who gets the last word.

The last haibun in the collection is titled “Perfection,” which is a reminder of The Noble Eightfold Path, a Buddhist teaching aimed at reaching the end of suffering. Through “right understanding, right thought, right speech” . . . O’Connor offers his readers no easy solutions to his subject matter. Instead, he offers acceptance. The impermanence of all things is indeed a belief in the spirit of haiku. O’Connor reminds us that suffering is also impermanent, as illustrated in the haibun “Soft”:

“By the banks of the Miljacka . . .” is a refrain befitting an ode that begins each of the three paragraphs of the haibun. The battle scene is horrific. The details reflect the urgency and danger. And yet, the capping haiku offers respite as fleeting as the most simple of sounds and movement as a sign that there is a way out of all this suffering:

midday heat . . .
with death in all directions
soft the sound of water

O’Connor repeatedly speaks in the first person in many of his haibun from the point of view of a refugee, a citizen soldier or a survivor. Because we are all survivors, for the most part, witnessing the bomb raids in Bakhmut or the recent mass poisonings in Iran. The God of Bones is a reporter’s journal and a poet’s prescription for survival. And how exactly does one survive these atrocities? Through the rituals of living which O’Connor so poignantly reimagines.

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2022 Shortlist

Barlow, John & Gilli, Ferris, (Editors). Where Rain Would Stay: The Haiku Poetry of Peggy Willis Lyles (Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press, 2022).

Bennett, Brad. a box of feathers (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022).

Clausen, Tom & Dudley, Michael. Interchange (Self-Published, 2022).

Coates, Glenn G. Another Lost Boat (Carolina Shores, NC: Pineola Publishing, 2022).

Cotter, Amelia, apparitions (Highland Park, Il: Highland Park Poetry Press, 2022).

Day, Cherie Hunter, Miles Deep in a Drum Solo (North Durham, N.C.Backbone Press, 2022).

Grant, Benedict. spirit level (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022).

Hawkhead, John. Bone Moon (Uxbridge, UK: Alba Publishing, 2022).

Mahoney, Hannah. Shifting Light (North Durham, N.C, Backbone Press, 2022).

Metz, Scott, eas e (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022).

Morrissey, Laurie D. all the stars i can swallow (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022).

O’Conner, Sean. The God of Bones (Uxbridge, UK, Alba Publishing, 2022).

Padden, Lorraine A. Upwelling: Haiku, Senryu, Tanka and Haibun (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022).

Rosenow, Ce, (Editor). JUXTAEIGHT: Research and Scholarship in Haiku (Winchester, VA: The Haiku Foundation, 2022).

Riutta, Andrew. blessed (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022).

Shankar, Shloka. the field of why (Bangalore, India: Yavanika Press, 2022).

Smith, Simone Crystal. Ebbing Shore (North Durham, N.C: Horse & Buggy Press, 2022).

tripi, vincent. Chrysalis (Editors Jeannie Martin & John Martone Northfiled, MA Swamp Press, MMXXII).

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Haibun 2022

In 2022, 212 poems were nominated. Award recipients are listed below in alphabetical order by author, not by merit. Comments from the panelists give some flavor of the deliberations.

Panelists:

Marietta McGregor, Renee Owen, Keith Polette

Winners

Roberta Beary

After Long Absence (Contemporary Haibun Online 18.3)

After Long Absence

the wrinkles on your face have as many different patterns as a snowflake. a snowflake falls between us signaling a change in the temperature like an avalanche brewing in the teapot. in the teapot you gave me so many Christmases ago I save the letters you wrote when you loved me. when you loved me the weather didn’t matter because every day was a rainbow made of angel wings. angel wings on the snow-covered ground form a pattern made by children. children we always meant to have.

dna chart
a part of me
still missing

 


Commentary

Written in the first person and addressed to an intimate, shadowy other, “After Long Absence” is an autobiographical prose poem where each ending becomes a new beginning. Transporting the reader in a series of temporal jumps along a vertical axis which represents the intersection of memories, the form makes effective use of gradation, where the poet repeats at the beginning of each new sentence the last phrase of the previous one. Its trajectory segues from thought to thought like a commonly used associative neuropsychological test. The linking phrases serve to shift the narrative in novel directions through space and time, and seasonality is invoked as in renga, with wintry images beginning and closing the haibun. As the haibun advances line by line, its poetic rhythm and tone emphasize the movement from one state of being to the next. Omission of initial uppercase letters adds to this smooth flow and contributes to an incantatory mood, sustained through the rueful closing diminuendo.

In keeping with the basics of haibun as set out by Makoto Ueda in the biography Matsuo Bashō (Kodansha International Ltd, 1982), structure and language are spare and detached, allowing the haibun to expand in the reader’s imagination and leaving space for different associations. Childlike wonder is set against objective visual observation. As the narrative arc progresses from a matter-of-fact impression of an intimately known and once-beloved face viewed in a photo album, in memory or in person, abstract images based on recollections begin to surface. The tenor of the musings quickly cools between the first and second sentences, from a benign comparison of wrinkle patterns to “a snowflake” to the jarring “avalanche brewing.” Metaphor is used to convey innocence and a yearning for days as “a rainbow made of angel wings.”

The enigmatic title “After Long Absence” could refer to physical absence, the slow death of a relationship, or the fading of hope. A regretful train of thought is triggered by a photograph, or a chance meeting with someone not seen for years, or light falling at a certain angle on a too-familiar face. We discover the narrator was once passionately adored, as well as adoring, and treasures keepsakes of blissful days “when you loved me.” Old letters are squirreled away in the teapot, a gift now kept unused on a kitchen shelf. With love worn threadbare, what emerges is the poignancy of loss — a lament for children who were dearly wanted but were never born, for reasons we can only guess at.

Teapot and letters may be from a lover or partner, but this is not made explicit. Reading the haibun we assume the person addressed directly as ‛you’ throughout is, or was, the narrator’s lover or partner. The final sentence “children we always meant to have” appears to confirm this interpretation. However, other meanings may be teased out. Could the letters and teapot — the latter an odd gift coming from a sweetheart — instead be from a mother who has been parted from her child, perhaps not by choice? Perhaps ‛you’ is not the narrator’s partner or lover but refers to an estranged parent. In this reading, the haibun’s final line “children we always meant to have” becomes an accusation directed at an absent parent, mourning how life for the narrator, overshadowed by a discordant past, has veered off track to become not at all what they imagined.

All human heredity is determined by the double-stranded architecture of DNA molecules. Some seek out ancestral pedigrees and genetic matches when they desire to learn who they really are, or where they may have sprung from, especially as they get older. On the other hand, DNA maps can be disappointing when segmental gaps in lineages don’t tell the whole story. The haiku’s reference to “chart” juxtaposed with “a part of me still missing” may symbolize an unreconciled element of the narrator’s own history, or be an expression of regret about what will not appear in the future.

Whether the story is of severed familial connections or the emotional aridity of a once-ardent relationship, what emerges vividly is a sense of deep grief and unfulfilled longing. This is a complex haibun stratified with meaning which resonates well beyond its deceptively gentle, low-key telling.

Alan Peat

gaudy spring (2022 Samurai Haibun Contest)

gaudy spring

The man who keeps each season in a box is spring cleaning. He polishes the silver box that winter is kept in. It is cold to the touch. Autumn’s box is fashioned of driftwood. If you shake it you can hear dryness rustle. He gives it a little dust. You have to be careful with summer; it’s hot to the touch now. Hold it too long and you’ll burn your fingers. He leaves it alone on the high shelf. Ah, but Spring is his favourite box. Open its cloisonné lid and the buttercups will make your chin glow yellow. There are too many shades of green to count. Ask him politely and he’ll point out Crested Dog’s tail and cowslips and Yorkshire fog. Look closely: there, inside the box. Can you see the young boy with the basin cut? The one who is holding his dad’s hand? They are walking through the wildflower meadow in Muker. Soon they will reach the river with its banks of celandines and oxeye daisies.

faded as a haircut
in a barbershop window
pressed bluebells


Commentary

In his great work, Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that poetry’s power chiefly resides in its ability to dissolve the division between thoughts and things.  One of the primary strengths of “gaudy spring” is the manner in which it moves in such an Emersonian direction. In what may be a dynamic reversal of the story of Pandora’s Box, the haibun presents an unnamed man “who keeps each season in a box” and who attends to each according to its needs:  the silver box of winter is polished; the driftwood box of autumn is dusted; the box of summer, too hot to hold, is left on a shelf; and the box of spring, the man’s favorite, holds a world inside. The man opens it to reveal a “young boy” who is “holding his father’s hand” as the two of them walk through field of wildflowers towards their destination of the river, whose banks are resplendent with “celandines and oxeye daisies.” Unlike Pandora’s Box which, when opened, released chaos into the world, the box of Spring, when opened, invites the reader to step into a rich and verdant world, one that brims with natural beauty. In this way, the haibun dissolves the division between reader and word, subject and object; by presenting a world of beauty to enter into, the haibun reveals depths of meaning beyond literalisms:  an experiential metaphor that discloses multiple layers of meaning simultaneously. Moreover, the haiku that concludes the prose section of the haibun seems to operate as a kind of time-shift, one where the world has begun to fade, and where flowers are pressed as a kind of certificate of lived experience.

Lew Watts

Spatial Concept: Waiting (Frogpond 45.1)

Spatial Concept: Waiting

The first time I saw it was at the Tate and I was
with you for the first time you wer     so young and
beautiful and your skin was perfec     then when you
asked me to go with you I bough     ome books from
the salvation army the kind wit         ots of photos so I
didn’t come across as a some         nd of dick or stupid
even recognised a few p         tings before reading the
label each time I said           tist’s name you’d turn and
smile even if I got               wrong made me sometimes
wish I’d stitched             mouth shut And then suddenly
there it was ha             g alone on a white wall the beige
canvass slash             I could almost hear the right arm
stabbing th         dragging the blade down and across
though lat         things moved on to multiple wounds
and differ       t tools—bare hands, nails, chisels, even
screwdriv     s by then I’d lost track of you after the
first scars appeared your way of cutting off an older
deeper   p in you said I’m here lost lost you lost

old prison cell
the final tally-mark
the deepest

— Lew Watts, Frogpond 45.1

*Spatial Concept: Waiting (1960), one of a set of paintings by Lucio Fontana (1899 – 1968) in which the canvas is sliced.

 


Commentary

Upon first glance, this haibun presents a puzzle. What is intended by the interesting format, with the missing letters that create a space running diagonally across the poem? The piece describes a first date, and from the language, we surmise a heterosexual couple — she, “so young and beautiful” and he, fearing he might come across as “some kind of dick or stupid.” To impress her, he buys secondhand art books (the “kind with lots of pictures”) and prepares for their visit to the Tate. His painful thoughts about getting the artists’ names wrong make him wish he had “stitched his mouth shut.” And when viewing the slashed painting, he almost hears the blade moving across the canvas, reverberating his own internal feelings of wrongness and impulse to self-harm.

The poem pivots in the last five lines, becoming more incoherent and shifting reality, turning on the phrase “though later things moved on to multiple wounds.” Is he speaking of additional works of slashed art or is he describing violence one of them suffered, past or present? He states, “I’d lost track of you after the first scars appeared.” Whose scars? And are they real scars from wounds inflicted by another or from self-mutilation, or is he referring to the pain of a broken heart? He questions if it is her way of cutting off from him or from an older, deeper rip in herself. In the last line, her repeating words “. . . lost lost you lost” haunts us.

The capping haiku further shifts and blurs our sense of time. Read literally, perhaps she or he ends up in prison. Or might the cell represent the imprisonment of their own minds or bodies? This haiku embodies a sense of yugen, a depth of mysteriousness that leaves us wanting to know more. It effectively links to the prose by referencing the deep marks in the cell wall or floor, perhaps crudely dug by “different tools” or “bare hands.” Maybe the final tally-mark refers to the prisoner’s release from the suffering of incarceration or the imprisonment of an unbalanced mind, mental illness, or an obsessive unrequited love, a familiar topic from traditional renga. This mystery resounds and resonates within us, as we reflect on the ways we too might feel imprisoned by circumstances in our lives.

The closing note of attribution tells us the title refers to the name of a slashed painting by Lucio Fontana (1899 – 1968). An Argentine-Italian minimalist artist and theorist who founded Spatialism, he espoused the creation of a new medium that blends architecture, painting and sculpture. He used his signature gesture, holes he creates in his art, to suggest a mysterious space behind and beyond the canvas, blurring the distinction between two and three dimensionality.

The work presents interlocking pieces of another puzzle, a synthesis of literary forms — ekphrastic, fictional and concrete poetry — offering creative twists for experimentation by writers of contemporary haibun. Ekphrastic poetry, written about or inspired by visual works of art, either real or imagined, might also include how the poet is impacted by the art. And as in flash fiction, we assume a fictionalized narrative in “Spatial Concept: Waiting,” though of course it could be autobiographical. Concrete poetry includes utilizing the placement of words, letters or symbols to achieve visually graphic effects. The justified block of prose in this poem, with its left leaning white spaces shaped like a slash, replicates Fontana’s rectangular painting. The missing letters flow down the left side, just to the right of the words “stitched . . . slash . . . stabbing” and “first scars.” Our sense of unease continues to build as we steep in the disorientation that feels ever present. The intriguing form keeps us returning again and again to the poem as we attempt to decipher its disturbing undercurrents of pain and danger.

Emblematic of Fontana’s innovative aesthetic, the poem creatively blurs the boundaries between multiple forms of literary and visual expression. It makes an important contribution to the field of traditional haibun writing, expanding the form with its intertextuality, imaginative writing, distinctive narrative voice, and sabi-filled, time shifting haiku. It invites us to become participants in the work to ascertain meaning, a key component of the interactive partnership between both viewers of modern art and readers of well-crafted haiku and haibun.

At its heart, the poem is a love story, juxtaposing the Japanese aesthetic of mushin — with the slashing of the painting and the stitching and cutting of the young lovers’ bodies — contrasted with ushin — this man’s abiding love for the beautiful young woman he longs to impress. The story touches us deeply with its pathos and sadness, and bittersweet elements of mono no aware. We yearn, along with the narrator, to know if he has found her in the end, or at least found redemption in release from the bondage of his memories. That final tally-mark on his heart, and on our own, is indeed often the deepest.

The Touchstone Individual Haibun 2022 Shortlist

After Long Absence

the wrinkles on your face have as many different patterns as a snowflake. a snowflake falls between us signaling a change in the temperature like an avalanche brewing in the teapot. in the teapot you gave me so many Christmases ago I save the letters you wrote when you loved me. when you loved me the weather didn’t matter because every day was a rainbow made of angel wings. angel wings on the snow-covered ground form a pattern made by children. children we always meant to have.

dna chart
a part of me
still missing

— Roberta Beary, Contemporary Haibun Online 18.3


When Candy Bars Were a Nickel

The way a sneeze comes on, my younger sister can’t stop herself. It is all about the candy bar. She slides over the front seat and leans on the door handle to thrust her hand in the grocery bag.

I am six years old, in the back seat looking at dad’s head. I say nothing. It’s a frozen silence I drift in. At first he doesn’t hear the wind gush or the scream of knowing, until some awareness grabs him.

The car comes to a screeching halt. He is wearing a cap and baggy overalls. He is running frantic right and left back along the country road. He is a scarecrow flapping. He is a stalk of corn walking. He is a spray of wheat undulating. He is an oat seed. He is invisible.

sidestepping roots
in the woodland
he won’t talk about it

— Marilyn Fleming, Presence 72


Scribble Away:
Notes from Bahrain, March 2022

scribble (verb): write or draw (something) carelessly or hurriedly

circling the airport
a constellation
of streetlights

The taxi driver expounds his theory of everyone loves money. If I understand it correctly, it’s wives who love money and husbands who show their love by letting their wives spend the money. A four-car collision kills the monologue. At the hotel, I note the amount on the meter and add the airport fee, but, curious, I have to ask, “How much?” He rounds the total up considerably and extends an open hand. “Everybody loves money.”

:::

There is an unwritten traffic rule in Bahrain that everyone obeys: Never stop for a pedestrian. Road construction makes crossing the Al Fateh Highway a suicide mission today. We think a dash at prayer time might be best. Sipping iced coffee, safe on the other side, I notice my napkin has an empty square on it, with the words “Scribble Away” at the top. So I do. Maybe I should write Joe Wenderoth a letter.

wasting time
the way the sun hits the dome
of the Grand Mosque

:::

the AC’s hum
a conversation
that never ends

Friends arrive from Saudi Arabia. To make their short weekend in Bahrain seem longer, the drinking starts early, at breakfast. Bacon and eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy—anything with pork—and beer. Breakfast becomes brunch, brunch becomes dinner at a friend’s house. I bring Portuguese cheeses and wines. There’s more wine on the table, a cooler full of beer, a veggie tray. Stories. Jokes that won’t be as funny in the morning. Shawarma. Shamal—sand taps at the windows. Soon sand is all we see.

late coffee
slipping the dog falafel
under the table

:::

rush hour
a drive-by blast
of ’70s disco

We go to our son’s apartment when he gets home from work. He shows us his wine cellar, a cupboard with a dozen Italian wines. No one’s in the mood for a drink. We listen to Ethio jazz and talk about upcoming submission deadlines. Mary Ruefle: “When your pencil is dull, sharpen it. And when your pencil is sharp, use it until it is dull again.”[1] There’s a view of the local mosque outside his living room window. The air is full of sand, the sliver of moon a blur. Fernando Pessoa: “I am slowly filling with lackadaisical scrawls of a dull pencil, which I have no sentimentality about sharpening….” [2]

lingering shamal
the grittiness of fresh-squeezed
pomegranate juice

:::

I’ve had no luck finding underwear with a y-front in Portugal. No problem here; briefs with “key holes” and “functional openings” are still in vogue. Late lunch. Across the room a Bahraini man with three young women, two East Asian looking and another with an Eastern European accent. I’ve been watching too many crime shows. I’m trying to wipe all thoughts of sex trafficking from my mind when the European woman stands up and grabs several paper napkins. When she bends over to cover her chair with them, her dress slides up to her lower back. The evidence is not circumstantial: she has not been shopping for underwear.

the wail of sirens
Formula 1 flags ripple
in the breeze

:::

afternoon heat
bits of mint
in my teeth

If I were to be executed, I’d order fugu sashimi for my last meal in hopes of cheating the state out of the pleasure of murdering me. We’ve been eating South Indian food almost every day. What if this Mysore masala dosa were my last meal? At my age, I should treat every meal as the last. Eating deep-fried shrimp a couple nights ago, I thought of my mother, comfort food, craving, memory, and heart attacks. I could die happily without ever eating falafel again, but my dying words might be “Hashem, Hashem…stuffed falafel….” At that point any wine would work.

:::

A Portuguese wine, a Lebanese wine, a Californian wine, and a bottle of single malt scotch. “My friend, this will be a night you won’t forget or a night you won’t remember.” A feast of roast chicken and potatoes, grilled asparagus salad, and moussaka. One guest is dressed in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Discussion of the war is fragmented by school gossip, Middle Eastern politics, philosophy, updates on grown-up children. Everyone agrees that Eric Clapton is an asshole, but they’re going to the concert anyway.

singing the blues
the slow burn
of a single malt

:::

in the souk
an unanswered prayer—
Alphonso mangoes

We visit the synagogue, which was shuttered for decades, and meet some interesting people, Bahraini sisters from the Canary Islands who still have connections with the Jewish community here. Note the Torah gifted to the king by Jared Kushner—my wife’s snide comment about the donor doesn’t go unnoticed—and the shofar by Israeli PM Naftali Bennett; admire the prints of Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in Jerusalem; and ignore the plainclothes policemen in the parked car outside. Our son is invited to return for Purim—there’s a promise of donuts.

:::

Some days the sun rises with an empty calendar. A coffee here, a coffee there, a chapter of Samantha Irby, a chapter of Max Porter. Too windy and sandy to sit by the pool and sip a $10 can of Singha. To celebrate our son’s 30th birthday, we go to Wolfgang Puck’s CUT. “Don’t look at the prices,” my wife says. Wonderful Zinfandel, but not the wine served with the prato do dia in Portugal. No talk of our son’s job search, no mention of the war. I think of the taxi driver turning my fare over to his wife and the many ways we spell love. We split two desserts three ways.

waxing gibbous
the taste of homesickness
in the cheese bread

— Bob Lucky, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 13

Publisher’s Notes:

1. “When your pencil is dull, sharpen it . . .” is from “Lectures I Will Never Give” by Mary Ruefle (14 March 2013), an excerpt from her book Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave Books, 2012), which is published online at The Rumpus.net; link retrieved on 3 May 2022: https://therumpus.net/2013/03/14/lectures-i-will-never-give/

2. “I am slowly filling with lackadaisical scrawls of a dull pencil…” is from page 112 of Always Astonished: Selected Prose by Fernando Pessoa; edited, translated, and introduced by Edwin Honig (City Lights Books, 1988); text available at Google Books.


Hands

dream in a long night
my dead friends and I
dancing in tree-tops

In the black of night, woken by the calls of my father; he has borrowed the voice of The Wind God, yet I recognise him, his reaching cries. He calls me by my forever name; the one I had before mother and father were born.

Naked, I move through the window, then the hedge outside, feeling it brush me, soft as lanugo. Over dew-forming grass I walk, following his appeal, until I feel him and know he gestures for me to bow down low, crawl into a tangle of briars whose thorns do not cut, but somehow salve and ease me through a tunnel of dense growth above rough earth.

I straighten up, my father’s Wind God voice always before me, the ground dropping downwards increasing my speed, till I am running and faster propelled by a gravity beyond the pull of earth. I feel no more the pound of ground, and nothing around me, but darkness, air.

black winter moon
unseen waves crashing
the taste of sea spray

Flung out, falling, a sense of heaving water way below. Eyes stream in the salty air and, thumbling forward, the coming into focus of hands reaching up to me, out of the ocean, the hands of everyone I ever met, who died.

Young Kevin’s hands, Mikey’s too, Old Man Grace and the fiddler Donaghue. The hands of grandparents, uncles and aunts already gone; cousins, school friends, buddies and lovers, the longed for, the lost.

Watanabe-sama, felled by cancer; the girl who dropped from the Seto bridge, broke the inland sea, and her stillborn child, never named. The hands of dead patients whom I washed in mortuaries. All of them and each of them, reaching up to cushion and comfort, so I may be free from fear to answer the call my father makes, on his and their behalf.

into the non-moon
warm on the horizon
our ship of ghosts

— Sean O’Connor, Contemporary Haibun Online 18.3


gaudy spring

The man who keeps each season in a box is spring cleaning. He polishes the silver box that winter is kept in. It is cold to the touch. Autumn’s box is fashioned of driftwood. If you shake it you can hear dryness rustle. He gives it a little dust. You have to be careful with summer; it’s hot to the touch now. Hold it too long and you’ll burn your fingers. He leaves it alone on the high shelf. Ah, but Spring is his favourite box. Open its cloisonné lid and the buttercups will make your chin glow yellow. There are too many shades of green to count. Ask him politely and he’ll point out Crested Dog’s tail and cowslips and Yorkshire fog. Look closely: there, inside the box. Can you see the young boy with the basin cut? The one who is holding his dad’s hand? They are walking through the wildflower meadow in Muker. Soon they will reach the river with its banks of celandines and oxeye daisies.

faded as a haircut
in a barbershop window
pressed bluebells

— Alan Peat, 2022 Samurai Haibun Contest


Spatial Concept: Waiting

The first time I saw it was at the Tate and I was
with you for the first time you wer     so young and
beautiful and your skin was perfec     then when you
asked me to go with you I bough     ome books from
the salvation army the kind wit         ots of photos so I
didn’t come across as a some         nd of dick or stupid
even recognised a few p         tings before reading the
label each time I said           tist’s name you’d turn and
smile even if I got               wrong made me sometimes
wish I’d stitched             mouth shut And then suddenly
there it was ha             g alone on a white wall the beige
canvass slash             I could almost hear the right arm
stabbing th         dragging the blade down and across
though lat         things moved on to multiple wounds
and differ       t tools—bare hands, nails, chisels, even
screwdriv     s by then I’d lost track of you after the
first scars appeared your way of cutting off an older
deeper   p in you said I’m here lost lost you lost

old prison cell
the final tally-mark
the deepest

— Lew Watts, Frogpond 45.1

*Spatial Concept: Waiting (1960), one of a set of paintings by Lucio
Fontana (1899 – 1968) in which the canvas is sliced.


In the Time of Refuge

These are days when home becomes a dream whispered from ear to ear, when each hand carries what it can. A family Bible, pages of favorite psalms folded at the corner like wings. A green-eyed cat peering from a parka’s fleece lining. A silver ring that once meant forever. In the distance, heavy thuds—another weight to carry—and then explosions that turn the air to a single high-pitched note, the streets to acrid smoke, to fire. The cafés, the schools, the churches all tilt and collapse into their own histories. Footsteps fall and fall. Along an alley’s cobblestones, a mother wheels a denim suitcase with one hand, keeps her daughter close with the other. Now both palms lie face up among rubble, an offering to the sky.

border crossing
the way clouds drift
and split apart

— Rich Youmans, Frogpond 45.2

The Touchstone Individual Haibun 2022 Longlist

After Long Absence

the wrinkles on your face have as many different patterns as a snowflake. a snowflake falls between us signaling a change in the temperature like an avalanche brewing in the teapot. in the teapot you gave me so many Christmases ago I save the letters you wrote when you loved me. when you loved me the weather didn’t matter because every day was a rainbow made of angel wings. angel wings on the snow-covered ground form a pattern made by children. children we always meant to have.

dna chart
a part of me
still missing

— Roberta Beary, Contemporary Haibun Online 18.3


Rosemary for Remembrance

He doesn’t know. We don’t tell him his body is failing. Instead, we bring him what he requests, it’s little enough. His spectacles, favourite tweed cap, a faded portrait of his mother. We never knew her. She died before we were born. A daughter named after his mother was never considered. Too old fashioned he was told. The one time he mentioned it. And now that it is too late, he says it would have meant so much. To hear his mother’s name live on in one of us.

open drawer
deep in the sachet’s scent
forgotten song

We keep watch. Wait for him to beckon us one by one. He opens his arms. Calls us by her name. Takes his last breath. Which is where the story ends. And then begins. This year, 15 years after his death, there is a new baby. She shares a name with her great-grandmother. See. It’s written right here. In the baby journal her mother keeps.

curlew song
all the way home
the circular path

— Roberta Beary, The Haibun Journal 4.1


Musical Chairs

in the flash of pages bluebirds

Three o’clock. The students rifle through desks, gather spelling tests, math quizzes, workbook pages for homework, and notes to parents. They zip and unzip book bags, slip into jackets, flip their chairs upside down on their desks, then form a line in front of the chalkboard.

Three ten. My father takes his guitar from the closet, hangs the strap over his shoulder, and strums a chord. He begins to sing “A Tisket A Tasket” and all the boys and girls join in—sway to the tune.

Three fifteen. At the first crackle of the loudspeaker, the song instantly stops. Everyone freezes as Mrs. Panko calls the first set of buses. Children on buses 9, 12, 15, and 22 are dismissed. They fall out of line and slip quietly out the door just as the music begins again.

Three twenty. My father borrows a student’s name and sings “Paw Paw Patch” with Sandy instead of Susie. All the kids want their name in the song then the speaker sputters and everyone is silent again. The secretary names the second set of buses.

Three twenty-five. Two buses are running late and only a handful of children remain. They form a circle with their arms for the sun, then pull invisible ropes to raise a sail as they act out a song; and just as the last verse ends, the final buses are called.

Three thirty. My father soaks a dry sponge and washes the blackboard clean. It glistens for a while like a rainy night.

for the moment they are here purple martins

— Glenn G Coats, Contemporary Haibun Online 18.2


Tree of Fortunes

The same one all the children in the village played under before the war. The same one they hung the partisans, the gypsies, and the Jews from when the war was nearly over. Up into this same one I climb higher, ignoring the voices in my head telling me to come down, telling me I won’t make it, that I’ll fall to my death, or worse, be punished. But, I’ve done it before. I know just where to reach, where to grab hold of the cool, hard skin, and just when to let slip a branch to reach another. Hand over hand, legs and feet lending support, I’m almost there now, across the smooth sections burnished by hundreds of ropes now gone, and I’ve arrived. In the wide crook of two branches I settle in for takeoff, waving to all the others below — the envious ones, the admirers, the resentful. Doesn’t matter. A breeze is already lifting me inside my cockpit, and I feel my back pressed into the trunk, my fuselage, as we float up into the blue-green firmament from where I survey frontiers, do battle with the enemies of hope, and discourse with birds and clouds.

afternoon shade
among the acorns
a bullet casing

— J. Hahn Doleman, 2022 HSA Haibun Contest


Skyline

self-winding watch
accurately telling
the wrong time

A field of vibrating green carpets the clearing. Shadow sentinels, birches, oaks, and alders sway, their forms crisp as line drawings on the meadow-grass. Shush, shush, say the leaves tracing the wind’s slow choreography. The thrum of so many dragonfly wings and sudden incongruity of a jagged stump protruding like a mini-alp or tiny purgatory from the otherwise even green gradually give away the illusion—algal blooms having overgrown the whole surface of the pond. Then a jumble of discarded tins, tyres, plastic plant pots, PVC pipes comes into focus near the shore; but also baby box turtles sunning themselves on mossy outcrops. Softening my gaze, I just about regain the vision of natural sanctuary when a smog of burger smoke and fry grease and the amplified voice of the drive-through break in and pollute even the illusion that I might return to the vanished mirage.

Hard not to feel out of joint on this hike. Earlier today, I learned that my ex-brother-in-law has been diagnosed with inoperable metastatic lung cancer. As a child actor in the late ’70s, he played a famous role in a popular movie, as the star’s character in flashbacks to childhood. Now he is undergoing daily chemotherapy as the middle-aged version of himself. When I first heard the news, without thinking, I started walking. In all my years of living in the city, he’s the only person I ever ran into by chance on the sidewalk with whom I then had an impromptu lunch at a random café, as if in a scene from a film. We were close for twenty-five years, but lost touch since my divorce from his wife’s sister.

Although he stubbornly gave up trying to publish long ago, he too writes poems, and helped nurture my love of the great Chinese and Japanese poets, Du Fu and Bashō. Whenever we got together, we’d stay up late drinking wine and talking, always returning sooner or later to the standing argument we had for over two decades about metre in traditional English verse (me for, him against. He had me read Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Patience, hard thing!’ at his wedding: ‘Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks / Our ruins of wrecked past purpose.’). That conversation began the first time we met and stepped away from the others to share a cigarette –student days on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

it’s so quiet
you can hear the last time we talked
stones under snowmelt

— Thomas Festa, The Haibun Journal 4.2


When Candy Bars Were a Nickel

The way a sneeze comes on, my younger sister can’t stop herself. It is all about the candy bar. She slides over the front seat and leans on the door handle to thrust her hand in the grocery bag.

I am six years old, in the back seat looking at dad’s head. I say nothing. It’s a frozen silence I drift in. At first he doesn’t hear the wind gush or the scream of knowing, until some awareness grabs him.

The car comes to a screeching halt. He is wearing a cap and baggy overalls. He is running frantic right and left back along the country road. He is a scarecrow flapping. He is a stalk of corn walking. He is a spray of wheat undulating. He is an oat seed. He is invisible.

sidestepping roots
in the woodland
he won’t talk about it

— Marilyn Fleming, Presence 72


Kintsugi

in the space between the spiral staircase and the fireplace soot                 between the open gate and the dusty photo album                                   between night’s crisp coverlet and the haze of dawn        between the bell’s bronze flare and the wide hips of its hum                           in the space between love’s orchard blooms and luscious lingering curves                          between the whisper of his fingers and the crackle in my flesh                     the touch and the kiss and the giving and the taking        the shadows of our secret ocean and the briny taste of day                    in the space between our steps faltering in lantern light and our scars           beneath           the           field           stones between the soaring song of meadowlarks and the chalky bones of last year’s wishes              between the long days lived   and   the   short   ones   left   to   live between the vanity of having and the wisdom of losing in the space between the veil’s loose threads and the patina of this world

broken vessel
every breath full
of sunlight

— Jennifer Hambrick, Frogpond 45.1


A Postcard from Ocean City

I slosh through the rolls of salt water at my childhood beach. Turn to ride a breaker. Lift the front edge of my boogie board to get a longer ride to shore.

slippery fish

Air pockets pop in the sand as the water recedes. As a child, I imagined an animal, perhaps a miniscule sand crab, lived inside these tiny holes that reappear after each wave clears. I wondered what it is like to live like that, with home repeatedly overtaken and cleared until the cycle of upheaval itself becomes the norm.

another memory

When Mother packed our home into boxes, she probably thought a momentary wave had overtaken her world. She packed everything as if she were moving across town. She never saw most of her belongings again. Neither of us did.

pulled to the surface

As I visit the beach today with my family, everything is changed except for the feeling of the surf and the angle of the late afternoon sun as it sparkles a path to shore. I know those summers happened. I can wade in the salt of them.

— Kat Lehmann, Contemporary Haibun Online 18.3


Scribble Away:
Notes from Bahrain, March 2022

scribble (verb): write or draw (something) carelessly or hurriedly

circling the airport
a constellation
of streetlights

The taxi driver expounds his theory of everyone loves money. If I understand it correctly, it’s wives who love money and husbands who show their love by letting their wives spend the money. A four-car collision kills the monologue. At the hotel, I note the amount on the meter and add the airport fee, but, curious, I have to ask, “How much?” He rounds the total up considerably and extends an open hand. “Everybody loves money.”

:::

There is an unwritten traffic rule in Bahrain that everyone obeys: Never stop for a pedestrian. Road construction makes crossing the Al Fateh Highway a suicide mission today. We think a dash at prayer time might be best. Sipping iced coffee, safe on the other side, I notice my napkin has an empty square on it, with the words “Scribble Away” at the top. So I do. Maybe I should write Joe Wenderoth a letter.

wasting time
the way the sun hits the dome
of the Grand Mosque

:::

the AC’s hum
a conversation
that never ends

Friends arrive from Saudi Arabia. To make their short weekend in Bahrain seem longer, the drinking starts early, at breakfast. Bacon and eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy—anything with pork—and beer. Breakfast becomes brunch, brunch becomes dinner at a friend’s house. I bring Portuguese cheeses and wines. There’s more wine on the table, a cooler full of beer, a veggie tray. Stories. Jokes that won’t be as funny in the morning. Shawarma. Shamal—sand taps at the windows. Soon sand is all we see.

late coffee
slipping the dog falafel
under the table

:::

rush hour
a drive-by blast
of ’70s disco

We go to our son’s apartment when he gets home from work. He shows us his wine cellar, a cupboard with a dozen Italian wines. No one’s in the mood for a drink. We listen to Ethio jazz and talk about upcoming submission deadlines. Mary Ruefle: “When your pencil is dull, sharpen it. And when your pencil is sharp, use it until it is dull again.”[1] There’s a view of the local mosque outside his living room window. The air is full of sand, the sliver of moon a blur. Fernando Pessoa: “I am slowly filling with lackadaisical scrawls of a dull pencil, which I have no sentimentality about sharpening….” [2]

lingering shamal
the grittiness of fresh-squeezed
pomegranate juice

:::

I’ve had no luck finding underwear with a y-front in Portugal. No problem here; briefs with “key holes” and “functional openings” are still in vogue. Late lunch. Across the room a Bahraini man with three young women, two East Asian looking and another with an Eastern European accent. I’ve been watching too many crime shows. I’m trying to wipe all thoughts of sex trafficking from my mind when the European woman stands up and grabs several paper napkins. When she bends over to cover her chair with them, her dress slides up to her lower back. The evidence is not circumstantial: she has not been shopping for underwear.

the wail of sirens
Formula 1 flags ripple
in the breeze

:::

afternoon heat
bits of mint
in my teeth

If I were to be executed, I’d order fugu sashimi for my last meal in hopes of cheating the state out of the pleasure of murdering me. We’ve been eating South Indian food almost every day. What if this Mysore masala dosa were my last meal? At my age, I should treat every meal as the last. Eating deep-fried shrimp a couple nights ago, I thought of my mother, comfort food, craving, memory, and heart attacks. I could die happily without ever eating falafel again, but my dying words might be “Hashem, Hashem…stuffed falafel….” At that point any wine would work.

:::

A Portuguese wine, a Lebanese wine, a Californian wine, and a bottle of single malt scotch. “My friend, this will be a night you won’t forget or a night you won’t remember.” A feast of roast chicken and potatoes, grilled asparagus salad, and moussaka. One guest is dressed in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Discussion of the war is fragmented by school gossip, Middle Eastern politics, philosophy, updates on grown-up children. Everyone agrees that Eric Clapton is an asshole, but they’re going to the concert anyway.

singing the blues
the slow burn
of a single malt

:::

in the souk
an unanswered prayer—
Alphonso mangoes

We visit the synagogue, which was shuttered for decades, and meet some interesting people, Bahraini sisters from the Canary Islands who still have connections with the Jewish community here. Note the Torah gifted to the king by Jared Kushner—my wife’s snide comment about the donor doesn’t go unnoticed—and the shofar by Israeli PM Naftali Bennett; admire the prints of Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in Jerusalem; and ignore the plainclothes policemen in the parked car outside. Our son is invited to return for Purim—there’s a promise of donuts.

:::

Some days the sun rises with an empty calendar. A coffee here, a coffee there, a chapter of Samantha Irby, a chapter of Max Porter. Too windy and sandy to sit by the pool and sip a $10 can of Singha. To celebrate our son’s 30th birthday, we go to Wolfgang Puck’s CUT. “Don’t look at the prices,” my wife says. Wonderful Zinfandel, but not the wine served with the prato do dia in Portugal. No talk of our son’s job search, no mention of the war. I think of the taxi driver turning my fare over to his wife and the many ways we spell love. We split two desserts three ways.

waxing gibbous
the taste of homesickness
in the cheese bread

— Bob Lucky, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 13

Publisher’s Notes:

1. “When your pencil is dull, sharpen it . . .” is from “Lectures I Will Never Give” by Mary Ruefle (14 March 2013), an excerpt from her book Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave Books, 2012), which is published online at The Rumpus.net; link retrieved on 3 May 2022: https://therumpus.net/2013/03/14/lectures-i-will-never-give/

2. “I am slowly filling with lackadaisical scrawls of a dull pencil…” is from page 112 of Always Astonished: Selected Prose by Fernando Pessoa; edited, translated, and introduced by Edwin Honig (City Lights Books, 1988); text available at Google Books.


Hands

dream in a long night
my dead friends and I
dancing in tree-tops

In the black of night, woken by the calls of my father; he has borrowed the voice of The Wind God, yet I recognise him, his reaching cries. He calls me by my forever name; the one I had before mother and father were born.

Naked, I move through the window, then the hedge outside, feeling it brush me, soft as lanugo. Over dew-forming grass I walk, following his appeal, until I feel him and know he gestures for me to bow down low, crawl into a tangle of briars whose thorns do not cut, but somehow salve and ease me through a tunnel of dense growth above rough earth.

I straighten up, my father’s Wind God voice always before me, the ground dropping downwards increasing my speed, till I am running and faster propelled by a gravity beyond the pull of earth. I feel no more the pound of ground, and nothing around me, but darkness, air.

black winter moon
unseen waves crashing
the taste of sea spray

Flung out, falling, a sense of heaving water way below. Eyes stream in the salty air and, thumbling forward, the coming into focus of hands reaching up to me, out of the ocean, the hands of everyone I ever met, who died.

Young Kevin’s hands, Mikey’s too, Old Man Grace and the fiddler Donaghue. The hands of grandparents, uncles and aunts already gone; cousins, school friends, buddies and lovers, the longed for, the lost.

Watanabe-sama, felled by cancer; the girl who dropped from the Seto bridge, broke the inland sea, and her stillborn child, never named. The hands of dead patients whom I washed in mortuaries. All of them and each of them, reaching up to cushion and comfort, so I may be free from fear to answer the call my father makes, on his and their behalf.

into the non-moon
warm on the horizon
our ship of ghosts

— Sean O’Connor, Contemporary Haibun Online 18.3


The Dentist

this year’s first
a blue butterfly
on a taut rope

Everyone liked the dentist, he was pleasant, and no one thought about his ethnicity; he’d grown up in the town.

But civil wars unfold insidiously, one incident after another, until there comes an undeclared point when war has clearly broken out.

For us, for our town, that was the day the dentist was dragged from his clinic by people who knew him well, his neighbours, his patients. They broke his spine and hung him from a lamp post by his wrists.

The dentist, our dentist, hung there at the corner of his street, in view of his dental practice, and close to the school whose children passed him twice a day in their uniforms.

It was four days before he died. His body left hanging there, until one morning, it was gone.

— Sean O’Connor, Presence 73


gaudy spring

The man who keeps each season in a box is spring cleaning. He polishes the silver box that winter is kept in. It is cold to the touch. Autumn’s box is fashioned of driftwood. If you shake it you can hear dryness rustle. He gives it a little dust. You have to be careful with summer; it’s hot to the touch now. Hold it too long and you’ll burn your fingers. He leaves it alone on the high shelf. Ah, but Spring is his favourite box. Open its cloisonné lid and the buttercups will make your chin glow yellow. There are too many shades of green to count. Ask him politely and he’ll point out Crested Dog’s tail and cowslips and Yorkshire fog. Look closely: there, inside the box. Can you see the young boy with the basin cut? The one who is holding his dad’s hand? They are walking through the wildflower meadow in Muker. Soon they will reach the river with its banks of celandines and oxeye daisies.

faded as a haircut
in a barbershop window
pressed bluebells

— Alan Peat, 2022 Samurai Haibun Contest


No map for this

My favourite dog walk is in the country park close to our home; it’s good not to have to use the car. If the first field doesn’t have cows in, that’s where our walk begins. It’s a long , narrow field, full of dandelions in the summer, more yellow than green at that time of year . The field slopes gently eastward towards a stream edged with wild garlic and bladder campions. Sometimes we play in the stream. Labradors love water, so I throw the ball in the deeper pools and he splashes about.

After the field and stream comes the forest. It’s mainly planted with beech , but there is the odd, gnarled oak to play hide and seek behind. He likes the spring in the forest floor in autumn. He bounces across it.

You get to know most of the other dog walkers and so, inevitably, when they see me by myself they ask me. Then, one by one I have to tell them all the same thing.

Sometimes I see a stick and think it’s just the right length and shape for him. And I know he’d have carried it along for the whole walk…and I’m lost on this familiar path.

winter thaw
our tracks turn
to water

— Alan Peat, Blithe Spirit 32.2, Ken and Noragh Jones Award Runner-up


Spatial Concept: Waiting

The first time I saw it was at the Tate and I was
with you for the first time you wer     so young and
beautiful and your skin was perfec     then when you
asked me to go with you I bough     ome books from
the salvation army the kind wit         ots of photos so I
didn’t come across as a some         nd of dick or stupid
even recognised a few p         tings before reading the
label each time I said           tist’s name you’d turn and
smile even if I got               wrong made me sometimes
wish I’d stitched             mouth shut And then suddenly
there it was ha             g alone on a white wall the beige
canvass slash             I could almost hear the right arm
stabbing th         dragging the blade down and across
though lat         things moved on to multiple wounds
and differ       t tools—bare hands, nails, chisels, even
screwdriv     s by then I’d lost track of you after the
first scars appeared your way of cutting off an older
deeper   p in you said I’m here lost lost you lost

old prison cell
the final tally-mark
the deepest

— Lew Watts, Frogpond 45.1

*Spatial Concept: Waiting (1960), one of a set of paintings by Lucio
Fontana (1899 – 1968) in which the canvas is sliced.


In the Time of Refuge

These are days when home becomes a dream whispered from ear to ear, when each hand carries what it can. A family Bible, pages of favorite psalms folded at the corner like wings. A green-eyed cat peering from a parka’s fleece lining. A silver ring that once meant forever. In the distance, heavy thuds—another weight to carry—and then explosions that turn the air to a single high-pitched note, the streets to acrid smoke, to fire. The cafés, the schools, the churches all tilt and collapse into their own histories. Footsteps fall and fall. Along an alley’s cobblestones, a mother wheels a denim suitcase with one hand, keeps her daughter close with the other. Now both palms lie face up among rubble, an offering to the sky.

border crossing
the way clouds drift
and split apart

— Rich Youmans, Frogpond 45.2

For more information about the Touchstone Awards Series, please see Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems, Touchstone Awards for Individual Haibun, and Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards. For other archives, see Touchstone Archive.

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