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.
a part of me
— 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.
deep in the sachet’s scent
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.
all the way home
the circular path
— Roberta Beary, The Haibun Journal 4.1
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.
among the acorns
a bullet casing
— J. Hahn Doleman, 2022 HSA Haibun Contest
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.
in the woodland
he won’t talk about it
— Marilyn Fleming, Presence 72
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
every breath full
— 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.
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.
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
Notes from Bahrain, March 2022
scribble (verb): write or draw (something) carelessly or hurriedly
circling the airport
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.
the way the sun hits the dome
of the Grand Mosque
the AC’s hum
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.
slipping the dog falafel
under the table
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.” 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….” 
the grittiness of fresh-squeezed
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
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—
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.
the taste of homesickness
in the cheese bread
— Bob Lucky, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 13
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.
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
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
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
— 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.
our tracks turn
— 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
— 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.
the way clouds drift
and split apart
— Rich Youmans, Frogpond 45.2