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The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2023

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems recognize excellence and innovation in English-language haiku published in juried public venues during each calendar year. In 2023, we received 1671 distinct entries submitted from 51 journals, 14 contest organizers, and 298 individuals.

Panelists:

Roberta Beary, Gregory Longenecker, Marianne Paul, Agnes Eva Savich, Dan Schwerin, and Shloka Shankar

Winners

Laurie Greer

cathedral vaulting
the centuries
of whale fall

(Kingfisher 7)

This is a beautiful poem that begins in a strong voice in line one, then shifts to a softer tone in lines two and three. Whale fall occurs when a whale dies and its body drifts to the sea floor. There it becomes sustenance for organisms large and small; an underwater oasis that lasts decades or longer. Line 1 sets the tone of a soaring medieval church. The lighter accents of 2 and 3 follow up to provide a deeper feeling in this haiku, like a prayer. The overall effect is of profound respect for this last, sacred, act of the whale, giving itself back to the world from which it came.


This nourishing whale carcass is striking when juxtaposed against the centuries of prayers drifting up to a vaulted cathedral ceiling, so reminiscent of a whale rib cage itself. The poem speaks to how religion can sustain humans spiritually just as this whale’s death can sustain so much life from its passing. This haiku has a beautiful holy quality that marries nature and human nature in a refreshing way.

Matthew Markworth

until it’s a noun garden

(Modern Haiku 54.2)

The poem plays with the idea of the garden as an imperative in order to become a garden. Long-time dirt wranglers will find this to be lightly clever and relatable. One can appreciate its clarity and immediacy. This is a grammar lesson said with a wink, a smile, and a punctual wave in the air with a spade.


This winning monoku boldly begins with a lesser-used preposition in haiku. In a handful of carefully chosen words, it paints the entire gamut of what it means to be the proud owner of a manicured garden. This includes taking care of every nuanced detail from enough sunlight and water to de-weeding, pruning, and enriching the soil with the right fertilizers. The act of gardening—the verb—isn’t done until it becomes its own thing of beauty, a noun. The image of the plentiful and vibrant garden can also be taken as a metaphor for life, where we’re constantly growing and being renewed by our experiences. When do we stop coming into our own?


This five-word aesthetically satisfying haiku initially appears to make use of wordplay. But that interpretation is a deceptively simple one. Further readings awaken the need for a deeper examination of the concept of ‘until it’s a noun’. In doing so, the reader is drawn to and entwined with the strength of this haiku’s spirituality. Not unlike what occurs during peak visits to a garden in bloom. After closer reads over several weeks, the universality of the garden image remains. Additionally, the ‘garden’ image, when juxtaposed against current conflicts of political unrest, war, and famine, adds to this one-liner’s myriad layers. Finally, this innovative winning haiku evokes and expands upon this beloved classic by Ruth Yarrow: after the garden party   the garden and in doing so carries the haiku tradition forward.

John Pappas

laughing daughters somewhere sunflowers

(FreshOut Magazine, July 2, 2023)

‘Somewhere’ is the ache at the center of this poem. Somewhere suggests the ache of not knowing quite where our progeny is, after years of looking in on them each night. Somewhere is a location and a release, acceptance that wherever the daughters are, they are well, and in full flower. Four words tell the emotional story, the loss, and the acceptance in ways that make the peace greater than the distance. Maybe the daughters are in the next room or the next state, but they are having their day in the sun. This haiku is life-affirming, gentle, and with its light touch, it communicates enoughness.


Sometimes daughters aren’t carefree and happy and can be going through a really difficult time in life. (During the pandemic I know of at least two young daughters who went through severe mental health crises.) I read this as a parent contemplating a field of sunflowers and being struck by their bright round “happy” faces, then wistfully reflecting in a “grass is greener” kind of way about their own daughter’s troubles vs. the apparent ease with which other daughters seem to navigate the world. There are laughing daughters somewhere, but not in their house. The sunflowers juxtaposed against this wistful, wishful thinking become all the more imbued with a quiet hope, a fervent desire for their troubled daughter to rejoin the world of carefree sunflower girls. I love how the “gh” in the first two words finds equilibrium with the “s” and “w” consonance of the second two words. A beautifully balanced poem rich with meaning.


A winner which extends the haiku tradition, this delicate-sounding monoku challenges the reader to spend time savoring its words and images. The bond of sisters can be strong or tenuous, even appearing at times to be non-existent. And like most familial relationships, one which evolves over time. Still, a parent may be forgiven for focusing on ‘sunflowers’. When viewed through the prism of their own experiences, readers may have differing interpretations of these four linked words. This variety of impressions adds to the layered meanings which surround this poem. Ultimately, this multiple-image haiku presents a fresh and distinct aha moment, one which reveals a museum-worthy one-breath painting.

Chad Lee Robinson

advice for my son —
the tissue paper
protecting each pear

(The Heron’s Nest 25.1)

At once universal and personal, this poem brilliantly juxtaposes the act of giving our children advice with the image of a delicate tissue paper protecting pears. As much as we would like to ‘be there’ for our children and safeguard them against all harm, it is wise to keep in mind that they are their own individuals who should be given the agency to figure things out by failing and trying again. We cannot win their battles for them. What we can proffer is guidance, encouragement, and sound advice when needed. This haiku shows a certain distance between parents and their children—a restraint in knowing how to deal with each other without overstepping boundaries. The first line could also be read as a statement on the upbringing of sons in our society and everything it entails. Is the tissue paper tensile enough for the pear?


Tissue paper is at the heart of this poem. More deeply, an image is the gift around which everything is wrapped. What makes haiku reveal a quality of lifefulness, is its reliance on images that do the work of suggesting. This poem features a son and protected pears that will show their bruises eventually. The pear begins as fruit does, harder for protection against a fall, but then there is a softening with age, and this image knows well that the bravado of youth with its frail ego will give way to ripeness, a softer way of relating in maturity, and the wonder of the rotten ice we walk on when we give advice.


“Advice” is a haiku that seems to focus on a child going off to school, but is, I think, more about the parent recognizing their own emotions surrounding this event. Line 1 suggests an old-fashioned booklet for a young man going out into the world. “Tissue paper” carries both the senses of touch and sound that go into protecting a gift, the pear, often sent in autumn. Is the gift the son? In a way, yes, and one that needs protecting in the parent’s view. They know the child has grown, still they want to wrap them up in advice as they leave. A well-earned Touchstone recipient.

Susan Antolin

the mother my summer died

(Mariposa 49)

A direct object and an unexpected ending irrupt the reader’s expectations, just as loss unplanets the living. Losses are grounded in seasons. Many of our death anniversaries carry the remembrance of the length of light at that time of year, the weather, and the emotional weather of the day when everything changed. This poem masterfully captures not only loss, but a universal loss in a fresh and crystalline way. The poem seems to want to go on and say something more, but its abrupt ending mimics the moment when nothing more could be said.


On first reading, we immediately notice that the word order of the poem is unnatural. When inverted or reversed, the ‘aha’ moment arrives and it instantly charges this minimalist monoku with emotional resonance. Without using the word ‘grief,’ the poet skilfully captures how language and syntax as we know it no longer serve any function in the face of such an eventuality. Our attempts at facile consolations remain just as ineffective. Every summer, the poet is now forced to relive the incident or make peace with the bereavement all over again. A season that was perhaps once a custodian of happy times transforms into a black hole of loss and longing. In re-reading, it is also curious to note how matter-of-factly the correct word order reads: ‘the summer my mother died,’ as if stripped of all emotion. A numbness, as it were, until the grieving process runs its natural course.


Grief has a way of unmooring you. There is no ‘normal’, no coherency, no logic. The chosen word order for this haiku reflects this. The poet’s world is off-kilter, and so is the syntax of the poem. With grief, the linear constructs we build to give our existence order and structure no longer apply. Even the season becomes unhinged—“my summer died.” It is this very disjointedness that is the haiku’s effectiveness, and its brilliance. I found myself rearranging the words (as surely the poet knew I would and had intended) to create a logical meaning, but the real meaning of the poem lies in its brokenness. This monoku is unusual and unsettling, in the very best of ways.

Mark Gilbert

cocooned
feeling my wings
become

(Stardust Haiku 73)

This concise five-word haiku stands out for its originality along with the musicality of its language. It draws the reader into a haiku journey, one on which a caterpillar-like introvert transforms into something capable of soaring. The way each line is placed is not only pleasing to the eye. It also adds depth as the reader sees the metamorphosis unfold not only in the mind’s eye but also on the page. Adding to this quality is a certain mellifluousness that imbues the wording of this haiku. Connective strands of invisible silk link ‘cocooned’ with ‘become’ and result in a further connection between poet and reader. In this time of global dissonance, this winning haiku bears witness to a willingness to engage with the world, rather than shun it.


The word “cocooned” caught my attention the first time I read this poem. It begins with two k sounds, followed by double o’s giving the impression of a shout or howl. Yet, the word is benign, one of safety, of protection. The second line, feeling my wings, moves to a sense of touch, of noticing the poet’s wings. Finally, become, brings out the self-awareness that change is taking place. This is the heart of this haiku, the writer knowing they are transforming, that they will soon be someone different.


When my grandchildren were young, we raised Monarch butterflies. We watched them move through the various stages of transformation, from tiny caterpillars nibbling pinholes in milkweed leaves, to very large caterpillars eating their way through the plant. Then came the chrysalis—we waited in anticipation of the changes we couldn’t see, but were happening nonetheless. Eventually, the chrysalis became transparent, and we saw the black wings folded up inside, on the verge of stretching, unfolding. It is in this becoming stage, in reference to their own life, that the poet captures so beautifully in this haiku, their personal metamorphosis. The poet focuses on the present moment, the act of becoming, not the past or the future. Being “cocooned” is the protective layer that allows the metamorphosis to take place, to give transformation the time it needs, the poet on the cusp of a new way of being. In death of the old, comes renewed life. An elegant haiku that holds so much “in its wings”.

Norma Bradley

while(the clouds turn into rain)the lily blooms

(whiptail: journal of the single-line poem 7)

Most haiku unfold in a linear manner, first this (the fragment) and then that (the phrase). Here, the images and action occur simultaneously. The purposeful structure and word choices of the poet, opening with the word “while” and bracketing the clouds turning into rain, skilfully sets the stage so we visualize the poem in its wholeness, rather than its singular parts. The monoku form supports and suits this effort, and we slide easily across the single line of poem. The rain brings a tactile element to the poem and with the lily blooming, the interplay of sky and earth, the interdependency of the cycle of nature. A delicate and beautifully-drawn poem, and an innovative reimagining of the nature haiku.


This winning monoku stands out for its freshness, unusual use of parenthesis, and imagistic subtleties. The poet’s choice of words links the reader to a place of solace, contemplation, or compassion, depending on their point of view. It is up to the reader to complete the haiku by intuiting what other internal/external forces occur or change while(the clouds turn into rain). This aesthetically appealing, layered one-liner presents a challenging yet welcome addition to the haiku genre.


The unusual way this monoku begins captures the attention of the reader. Almost like a simultaneous equation, we are invited to witness both the cycle of life as ‘the clouds turn into rain’ and enjoy the lily blooming. By melding the strict distinction between fragment and phrase, the clever and novel use of parentheses shows the poet’s attention to craft and technique. The punctuation is not only visually pleasing but also recalls poems by e e cummings as well as meditations on ma in haiku. There is ample room for the reader to insert themselves into this evocative scene and engage with their senses. This winning haiku is exemplary for its direct, unornamented use of concrete imagery in a unique and explorative way.

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2023 Shortlist

hunger moon
a mother swaddles
her silent infant

– Farah Ali (Suspect Device #11)

 

the mother my summer died

– Susan Antolin (Mariposa 49)

 

spring cleaning
we sweep a war
under the rug

– Marilyn Ashbaugh (haikuKATHA, Issue 16, Feb 2023)

 

while(the clouds turn into rain)the lily blooms

– Norma Bradley (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 7; while the lily blooms, Yavanika Press (2023))

 

forest walk
the phoenix stirring
within me

– Antoinette Cheung (Wales Haiku Journal, Summer 2023)

 

early phone call
I watch grief claim
my mother’s face

– Marion Clarke (Under the Basho, November 5, 2023)

 

coastal walk
the tumult of the sea
in my son’s eyes

– Adele Evershed (Wales Haiku Journal, Spring 2023)

 

proxy war chills at Netflix

– Tazeen Fatma (Prune Juice Journal, Issue 39)

 

breaking waves
we talk with our children
about our ashes

– Bruce Feingold (tinywords, Issue 23.1, May 17, 2023)

 

bone white winter moon breath of a snow hare

– Joan C. Fingon (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 6)

 

cocooned
feeling my wings
become

– Mark Gilbert (Stardust Haiku, Issue #73 January 2023)

 

cathedral vaulting
the centuries
of whale fall

– Laurie Greer (Kingfisher #7)

 

infant funeral
the hush of snow falling
into an ocean

– John Hawkhead (Asahi Haikuist Network, November 3, 2023)

 

should you clip my rorschach’s wings

– Jonathan Humphrey (Prune Juice, Issue 41)

 

six spruces where astral rhymes are scent

– Jonathan Humphrey (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 8)

 

THiRD PLaNET FROm THE SUN an antHILL

– Julie Bloss Kelsey (tsuri-dōrō, Issue 17, Sept/Oct 2023)

 

hospice invoice:
date of arrival
date of departure

– Ellen Kom (Prune Juice Journal, Issue 39)

 

father’s war journal…
an ocean without
a shore

– Kathryn Liebowitz (Kingfisher #8)

 

until it’s a noun garden

– Matthew Markworth (Modern Haiku, 54.2)

 

inexperienced moonlight in the bed of lilies

– Mary McCormack (Kingfisher, Issue 8, October 2023)

 

robin songs
an immigrant’s child
translates for grandpa

– Joe McKeon (Robert Spiess Haiku Contest 2023)

 

                                                 and i

the fine slackline

                               and i

                                                                           and i

– Kati Mohr (Marlene Mountain Memorial Contest 2023)

 

beam by beam
the old barn taken down
to sky

– Peter Newton (The Heron’s Nest, Volume 25, June 2023)

 

laughing daughters somewhere sunflowers

– John Pappas (FreshOut Magazine, July 2, 2023)

 

advice for my son —
the tissue paper
protecting each pear

– Chad Lee Robinson (The Heron’s Nest, Volume 25, March 2023)

 

folding towels
my mother’s way
with the past

– Michele Root-Bernstein (The Heron’s Nest, Volume 25, March 2023)

 

broken rice bowl
I never stopped
to be a daughter

– Maria Teresa Sisti (Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Friday, June 16, 2023; KM100NZ International Haiku Competition 2023)

 

all the notes I’ll never reach birdsong

– Jennifer Sutherland (Modern Haiku, 54.3, Autumn 2023)

 

summer
sliding into autumn
slow trombone jazz

– Tony Williams (Haiku in Action, Week 72)

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2023 Longlist

hunger moon
a mother swaddles
her silent infant

– Farah Ali (Suspect Device #11)

 

the mother my summer died

– Susan Antolin (Mariposa #49)

 

spring cleaning
we sweep a war
under the rug

– Marilyn Ashbaugh (haikuKATHA, Issue 16, Feb 2023)

 

while(the clouds turn into rain)the lily blooms

– Norma Bradley (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 7; while the lily blooms, Yavanika Press (2023))

 

the secret song of the creek my mother asks for her mother

– Anette Chaney (Trailblazer Contest 2023)

 

forest walk
the phoenix stirring
within me

– Antoinette Cheung (Wales Haiku Journal, Summer 2023)

 

early phone call
I watch grief claim
my mother’s face

– Marion Clarke (Under the Basho, November 5, 2023)

 

grief an ancient dialect of snow

– Cherie Hunter Day (hedgerow, #144)

 

eggshell
at some point
they all leave

– Johnette Downing (Modern Haiku, Volume 54.3, Autumn 2023)

 

coastal walk
the tumult of the sea
in my son’s eyes

– Adele Evershed (Wales Haiku Journal, Spring 2023)

 

autumn morning
a few atoms of Issa
in each dewdrop

– Keith Evetts (Leaf, Issue 2, December 2023)

 

proxy war chills at Netflix

– Tazeen Fatma (Prune Juice Journal, Issue 39)

 

breaking waves
we talk with our children
about our ashes

– Bruce Feingold (tinywords, Issue 23.1, May 17, 2023)

 

desert cliffs
the shadow of a raven
carries dad home

– Bruce H. Feingold (To Live Here: A Haiku Anthology, 2023)

 

bone white winter moon breath of a snow hare

– Joan C. Fingon (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 6)

 

cocooned
feeling my wings
become

– Mark Gilbert (Stardust Haiku, Issue #73 January 2023)

 

cathedral vaulting
the centuries
of whale fall

– Laurie Greer (Kingfisher #7)

 

infant funeral
the hush of snow falling
into an ocean

– John Hawkhead (Asahi Haikuist Network, November 3, 2023)

 

                           moon

       slipping

                                          through   

                the

                                        old

                  oak’s

                            hold

                              of

                            dark

– Cynthia Hendel (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 8)

Please note: We did our best, but the formatting of the above poem differs slightly from the published version, in which the shape varies due to differences in font and line spacing.

 

should you clip my rorschach’s wings

– Jonathan Humphrey (Prune Juice, Issue 41)

 

making
its own weather
hearsay

– Jonathan Humphrey (Prune Juice, Issue 41)

 

six spruces where astral rhymes are scent

– Jonathan Humphrey (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 8)

 

reconciled –
mother stops balancing
her checkbook

– Barbara Kaufmann (Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, May 19, 2023)

 

THiRD PLaNET FROm THE SUN an antHILL

– Julie Bloss Kelsey (tsuri-dōrō – a small journal of haiku and senryū, Issue 17, Sept/Oct 2023)

 

idleschoolgirl
a drizzle plucking
p u dd l e s

– Anju Kishore (haikuKATHA, Issue 21, July 2023)

 

hospice invoice:
date of arrival
date of departure

– Ellen Kom (Prune Juice Journal, Issue 39)

 

father’s war journal…
an ocean without
a shore

– Kathryn Liebowitz (Kingfisher #8)

 

her long gaze
at The Birth of Venus
a teenaged niqābi

– Chen-ou Liu (tsuri-dōrō – a small journal of haiku and senryū, Issue #16 – July/August 2023)

 

until it’s a noun garden

– Matthew Markworth (Modern Haiku, 54.2)

 

inexperienced moonlight in the bed of lilies

– Mary McCormack (Kingfisher #8, October 2023)

 

15 items or lest we forget

– David McKee (Frogpond, 46:1, Winter 2023)

 

robin songs
an immigrant’s child
translates for grandpa

– Joe McKeon (Robert Spiess Haiku Contest 2023)

 

                                                 and i

the fine slackline

                               and i

                                                                           and i

– Kati Mohr (Marlene Mountain Memorial Contest 2023)

 

opening dad’s pocket knife the cold between us

– Ron C. Moss (Modern Haiku, 54:3, Autumn 2023)

 

betel leaf vine —
a farmer chews the tip
of her folksong

– Daipayan Nair (haikuKATHA, Issue 22, August 2023)

 

beam by beam
the old barn taken down
to sky

– Peter Newton (The Heron’s Nest, Volume 25, June 2023)

 

laughing daughters somewhere sunflowers

– John Pappas (FreshOut Magazine, July 2, 2023)

 

border checkpoint
she tells her dolls
to be brave

– John Pappas (Haiku in Action, Week 73)

 

no letup
in the culture wars
Memorial Day

– Christopher Patchel (tsuri-dōrō – a small journal of haiku and senryū, Issue #18, Nov/Dec 2023)

 

the machete
used to cut the cane
used to cut the neighbors

– Bryan Rickert ( Haiku in Action, Week 77)

 

advice for my son —
the tissue paper
protecting each pear

– Chad Lee Robinson (The Heron’s Nest, Volume 25, March 2023)

 

folding towels
my mother’s way
with the past

– Michele Root-Bernstein ( The Heron’s Nest, Volume 25, March 2023)

 

still born inside the after-black an ounce of moon

– Rowan Beckett (Trailblazer Contest 2023)

 

the last song
I sing her the lullaby
she taught me

– Patricia McKernon Runkle (tinywords, 23.1, May 15, 2023)

 

fading into frame this deer quiet dawn

– Rich Schilling (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 8)

 

pallanguzhi
the filling and emptying
of life’s coffers

– Vidya Shankar (Under the Basho, May 8, 2023)

 

a million twilit reasons but one white stork

– Richa Sharma (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 6)

 

broken rice bowl-
I never stopped
to be a daughter

– Maria Teresa Sisti (Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Friday, June 16, 2023; KM100NZ International Haiku Competition 2023)

 

snow grains
the field dad had no time
to plant

– Debbie Strange (folk ku, Issue 1: May 2023)

 

all the notes I’ll never reach birdsong

– Jennifer Sutherland (Modern Haiku, 54.3, Autumn 2023)

 

so far from the nest
will anyone who knows you
know your tree

– Herb Tate (folk ku, Issue 1: May 2023)

 

river mouth
her mother tongue
flows freely

– C.X. Turner (haikuNetra 1.3)

 

))) hUM ^^^ miNg bird ! >

– Joseph P. Wechselberger (whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 7)

 

summer
sliding into autumn
slow trombone jazz

– Tony Williams (Haiku in Action, Week 72)

The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2023

100 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, Lorraine A Padden and Christopher Patchel

Winners

Tom Clausen

One Day (Ithaca NY: Stark Mountain Press, 2023)

Of the many ways to organize poems in a manuscript (by season, theme, narrative arc, to name a few) Tom Clausen’s One Day tries something new. As Clausen writes in his foreword, the collection “begins in pre-dawn dark and moves through daybreak and morning and continues on through the afternoon and into the evening and night.” Initially this seemed like an overly tight structure. Where would be the surprise if we knew at the outset we would move through only one day start to finish? But as we read, we realized this was not a literal day-in-the-life, but an entire life in a day, and moving through it with one of the most genuine and tender of haiku poets was a poignant experience.

 

The fleetingness of life is never far from mind in this collection. As time passes from morning to night, all the seasons of the year appear as they might in memory as one reflects on a full life spent close to nature and family. Children are born and grown, a marriage needs tending, pets come and go, and throughout the poet is attuned to nature, drawing our attention to small details as in the following:

 

late day sun

deep on the forest floor

a seedling

 

between windows

the space the spider

lived and died

 

Clausen’s wry humor is evident in the opening poem:

 

waking me
to let me know
she can’t sleep

 

And that humor resurfaces throughout the book, particularly in the family-focused poems, such as:

 

home from work
the little one brings me
an empty wine bottle

 

Yet the overall tone of the book is quiet and meditative. All the seasons of a life pass in this metaphorical day, including the last stage of a loved one’s life.

 

hospice window
in and out of view
a cardinal

 

Clausen has been writing haiku for more decades than most of us, which gave him a wealth of material from which to cull this journey through a day. He is a poet who shuns artifice in favor of writing that feels as though it arose organically from sustained attention. In this way Clausen fits Raymond Carver’s definition of a writer as “someone who is willing to stare at something longer than anyone else.” Clausen also has a knack for gently hinting at the larger questions of existence and his place in the world with the simplest of poems.

 

in the dark
through the window light
my wife and child

 

And again, with a touch of humor:

 

drifting off
NPR on
the size of the universe

 

Clausen ends his foreword with this apt articulation of his purpose and belief: “I have always believed that each day we are here is a great gift and chance to make peace with ourselves and our world and it is a full-fledged opportunity to fall in love over and over with what we encounter.” This book offers us all an opportunity to fall in love over and over with what we encounter in it.

Lew Watts

Eira (Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press, 2023)

Lew Watt’s Eira, his memoir in haibun form, is a fully developed and compelling story that reads like a novel. In addition, the haiku function in a fresh way within the haibun. Or, should we say, between the haibun. The haiku heighten the emotional tenor of the prose while introducing the next “chapter” or episode in the author’s life. This structure allows the reader to flow through the various experiences and feel as if we have a front row seat to one man’s interior life. Not an easy life, at first. But one that evolves into a tale of redemption and forgiveness. Watts writes with a fluid clarity that is exhilarating for all the bombshells he sidesteps and survives.

 

The organization of Eira is remarkable because it is not chronologically sequenced but flits around like memories. Each haibun is flanked by two individual haiku that transition in and out of that haibun. One exception to the book structure is two haibun in a row (pages 38 and 39, this also happens on pages 55-57), which document the search for his mother, her death, and funeral. It’s a well-thought out stumble for the reader. The break in rhythm feels metaphorical with the break in rhythm of life when a parent dies. None of this needs to be stated; it’s within the way the book is ordered and presented.

 

Here, the reader can engage with the author’s emotional distance in his process of coming to terms with a painful past.


They say I have my mother’s eyes

 

The Severn Estuary has an extreme tidal range — up to fifty feet — though the speed of its flows is less impressive. It can take several days for an object to drift the ten miles from the Rhymney River Bridge in Cardiff to the rocks at Sully Island.

 

a slight catch
in the vicar’s voice
closed casket

 

Watts also employs a welcome variety of writing styles and points of view in Eira. This choice demonstrates the author’s confidence as a writer, his facility with language and a willingness to take risks. A trifecta of accomplishments.

 

In the haibun, “David,” Watts addresses Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of “the perfect man” if only to confess and seek forgiveness for his own personal failings. The final paragraph:

 

Forgive me, but I’m not like you. For, though your sculptured lips have never been kissed nor smiled beyond that puckered pout, you’ve always kept your dignity, your stature. Let me come closer. Don’t turn away. Look down on me through the hearts in your eyes as I touch your feet.

 

clay maquette
unable to attach
a tear

Watts has raised the bar on what constitutes excellence in a book of haibun. Just as Roberta Beary had done with her ground-breaking and award-winning haiku collection, The Unworn Necklace in 2007 (a Finalist in The Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award) in which she created a compelling narrative arc that propelled the reader through her life’s journey. Watts continues this tradition of excellence with Eira and has given the community of poets, and all admirers of solid literature, a book that is sure to endure the test of time. Right to the closing haibun, Watts continues to surprise his readers with one last heart-breaking revelation. You’ll want to read it for yourself. But we suggest you read Eira from the beginning. You won’t want to miss a moment of this fine contribution to the genre.

Honorable Mentions

Shelley Baker-Gard, Michael Freiling, and Satsuki Takikawa (editors)

They Never Asked (Corvallis OR: Oregon State University Press, 2023)

even autumn
comes on command here—
assembly center

~Jōnan

 

It seems fitting to open with a moment of reflection by one of the poets featured in this collection of senryu written by incarcerated Japanese-Americans during World War II. These poems date from 1942, when Executive Order No. 9066 enabled the US Army Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) to incarcerate over one hundred thousand US citizens.

 

For Jōnan and the other poets showcased in They Never Asked, the locus for this collection—of both human beings and creative output—was a complex of converted animal stalls in a livestock exposition hall that Jōnan mentions in his poem. It was officially known as the WCCA North Portland Assembly Center, established by the Wartime Civil Control Administration, and located in Oregon.

 

They Never Asked excels on many levels. As a treatise, it’s an impressive addition to the scholarly canon of primary source research into haiku and related genres. While these poems were written in Japanese, they were filtered through an American/Western sensibility to varying degrees. We are offered a captivating view into discreet moments that help express the lineage and evolution of senryu outside of Japan.

 

Poems appear in kanji and rōmaji with English translation and are accompanied by detailed translation notes and both literal and contextual commentary. These gestures serve to enhance the accessibility of these poems for a broad readership.

 

Also included are biographies of the poets whose work is represented, along with descriptions of their communal senryu writing practice that endured despite periods of incarceration. From journals hidden out of fear of persecution, a richness of experience was excavated decades later—poems resonant with themes of connection, confusion, resolution, doubt, as well as longing for loved ones.

 

across the wall
we exchange greetings
in our own dialect

~Jōnan

 

no matter what
father has already written
his final will

~Mokugyo

 

my daughter—
I watch more closely now
since it happened

~Jōnan

 

We can imagine a sense of striving to form community, to prepare for the unknown, to bear witness to traumatic events—ways of being, ways of survival. These poems are a small sampling of some 450 senryu written during two weeks in August, 1942. By the end of the month the journal in which these poems were recorded tragically ends as residents began to be shipped off to other incarceration camps located in Wyoming, Idaho and Northern California.

 

The editors of They Never Asked chose non-euphemistic language to describe what gave rise to these poems. The unadorned framing of incarceration defines the context here, not evacuation, or relocation. The choice allows compelling juxtapositions and contrasts to emerge.

 

trusting events
to take their destined course
I will let it be so

~Goichi

 

forgiven
for my insistence—
so grateful

~Kahō

 

Another facet of this outstanding compilation deserves mention, and that is an essay contributed by Fay Aoyagi. In her “Reflections on First Person Experience in War Haiku,” she opens an inquiry about if/how one should write haiku/senryu in response to war. Is war a universal experience even if we have not personally participated in an armed service? Do we inherit our forebears’ experiences of mass conflict and violence so that something of these harrowing events becomes part of our own DNA? Opinions will surely vary but Fay’s discussion of authentic response is an important invitation for us all to consider.

 

At least one thing is clear. They Never Asked is an exceptional offering that affirms an essential and timeless truth about the power of creative expression to lend resilience, strength and hope during circumstances of extraordinary human suffering and adversity. That senryu can serve as a conduit for such dire experiential moments is a testament of expansion and nuance to the haiku genre as a whole.

Elmedin Kadric

rust (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023)

Rust by Elmedin Kadric is remarkable for its use of disjunctive language and layered haiku structures to engage the reader in processing their own interpretations of the crafted works. The poems are arranged as a story in which we follow the protagonist from a young relationship, through marriage and parenting, divorce, death, grief, contemplations of an afterlife, to end with a “rewriting” and rediscovery of self and place.

 

The symbols that divide the sections are introduced on the title page. These non-verbal patterns mark the pauses and transitions but do not announce what is to come next, which we found to be a welcome variation to the more typical thematic labels.

 

Many of the poems, which include haiku and minimalist poetry, can be read in more than one way to communicate a layered expression. The poetic structures seem to arise from the intention of each poem, which yields a collection of varied forms. The techniques used to achieve this include the creative use of enjambment, multiple breaks within single-line poems, transposed letters, vertical or concrete presentation, the cutting of words, and the verbing of nouns. In fact, the three-line poems in the book take on another layer of resonance due to their contrast with the other choices of format. No one formal presentation of haiku dominated the book, and many of the poems interacted with the white space of the page in captivating ways.

 

The book closes with a series of poems that include “as long as the road goes dandelions,” which not only paints an image of an endless landscape with roadside yellow flowers but also speaks to an ongoing resilience when the poem is read with the break “as long as the road goes / dandelions.” The title poem “with the rust of one still together” from the opening section speaks to both the impact of troubled times and the inertia that continues forward regardless of those challenges.

 

Some of the individual poems add to their depth by using one-line haiku that allow multiple readings and coalesce into a deeper poem. For example, “what could have been false dawn” can be understood with either a melancholic or a hopeful read depending on where the reader places the cut. Neither interpretation is more correct than the other; they are both true and express the complexity of moving between the feelings of loss and healing. This technique is used elsewhere in the book to communicate expansive meanings.

 

Other haiku use lineation in creative ways.

 

no
starting over
harvest moon

 

The poem could be read as “no starting over” but the line break brings an additional read that “no” itself is starting over. The harvest moon suggests a gathering from the previous cycle and “starting over” with clear fields. From “no,” we start over. Again, the two interpretations stand in contrast such that the hesitancy and resolve to start over is what generates the poem.

 

May I do it anyway

 

At first, we may notice the question “may I do it anyway?”. The capital M provides a clue that the poem regards the month of May, which can function as a season word and also suggests youth. The question asks for permission, whereas the statement indicates a defiant resoluteness.

 

Using another technique, the following haiku prompts a cartoon-like visual of a gentle shifting breeze consisting of spirals that point in different directions. The breeze is fiddleheading. The fiddleheads indicate that this is a spring breeze.

 

the breeze
in many ways
fiddleheads

 

Historical trauma is impactfully presented from a personal perspective. The following poem is not graphic or obvious, yet we have no doubt what it is about. We receive the added perspective of a parent explaining the atrocity to one’s child. The subtle expression and presentation as a normative tercet structure quietly adds to the depth and power of the poem.

 

train cabin
our child asks
about the ovens

 

In the penultimate chapter on a new love, two concrete poems on facing pages consider the delicate navigation of relationship. The space between “doing without” and “proving a point” suggests conflict while “doing without proving a point” indicates compromise. The resonance between these two interpretations builds a juxtaposition within the poem. The story continues with the facing concrete poem in which the ego “i” is removed. We, the readers, are what inserts the “i” back into “think.”

 

doing
without

 

proving
a point

 

 

i th nk

 

A poem in the section on grief likewise has two seemingly opposite meanings that come together to more deeply describe an experience. We can read it as a melancholic “the lifeless bluebells” or “the life less / bluebells,” but through the poem’s structure we also get “the life / less blue / bells.” We feel the desolation and also hear the ringing of hope and renewal. Both sides of the dichotomy of emotion are held within the form, which gives the poem a remarkable richness in 3-5 words (depending on how it is read).

 

the
life

 

less
blue

 

bells

Rust is a noteworthy addition to ELH for its cohesion as a layered story that unfolds from a small number of well-placed words carefully arranged into specific structures. The reader is engaged in the process to co-create meaning and weigh the possible interpretations. The poems reward thoughtful contemplation as they expand with each re-reading and broaden our experience with ELH.

John Stevenson

This Once (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023)

Two years ago John Stevenson’s lifetime collection, My Red, won a Touchstone Award. Five of his half dozen other books are award winners as well, not to mention his many other haiku awards and accomplishments over the past three decades. Yet he is clearly not resting on his laurels!

 

This Once is such a great title and theme. So apropos for a genre of poetry so attuned to the ephemeral. Many of the poems in this collection are indeed the epitome of that attunement:

 

ashes              just
            begin           to
                                             scatter

 

brevity
almost
the point

 

Other similar “almost” occurrences are also keenly sensed:

 

cloudy day
a moment of almost
shadows

 

Stevenson’s signature voice (unassuming, perceptive, nuanced, witty) is well known and highly regarded. His subject matter spans the gamut of everyday life experiences. With the sparest of language, which is consistently pitch perfect, his poems engage the mind and the heart.

 

death as wide as long

 

equinox—
my son and I dress
for different seasons

 

Besides his mastery of haiku, Stevenson is a master of the haiku book (and these are book awards after all). Crafting an immersive haiku book, rather than a collection of greatest hits (though there’s nothing wrong with that) is an art in its own right. Where the whole is greater than the sum of its poems. Where effective use of themes, sequencing, pacing, etc., work together to enhance the significance of individual poems, and to shape a cumulative emotional arc, not unlike that of a memoir or novel.

 

This Once puts on a clinic when it comes to the art of the haiku book. Obviously only a full, firsthand reading can show that. But take for a small example the opening and closing bookend poems. Note the contrasts, comparisons, and forward anticipation:

 

waterfall
full sounding
spring

 

surface tension
the next
drip from the tap

 

Such interconnections abound throughout, thus enhancing continuity and engagement, as with these adjacent poems:

 

wildfire
the roof burnt off
a secret

 

briefly
mine to hold
a firefly

 

The title poem aptly exemplifies the book as a whole. One scenario you might imagine is that of a flitting butterfly momentarily alighting on you (or perhaps you’re hoping for that to happen). It’s a rare experience that can feel quite magical, even mystical:

 

butterflyjustthisonce

 

Fortunately, one can return to This Once and experience these poems a good many times.

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2023 Shortlist

Baker-Gard, Shelley,  Freiling, Michael and Takikawa, Satsuki. They Never Asked (Covallis OR: Oregon State University Press, 2023).

Boyer, David M. overpacked for the afterlife (Middleton DE: Mo & Min Publishing, 2023).

Clausen, Tom. One Day (Ithaca NY: Stark Mountain Press Book 2023).

Day, Cherie Hunter. A House meant only for Summer (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023).

Hall, Carolyn. butterflies under glass (Durham NC: Backbone Press, 2023).

Harter, Penny. Keeping Time (American Fork UT: Kelsay Books, 2023).

Kacian, Jim and Schwerin, Julie (Editors). A New Resonance 13 (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023).

Kardic, Elmedin. rust (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023).

Lindquist, Kristen. island (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023).

Momoi, Beverley Acuff. how the wind sighs (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023).

Moore, Lenard D. A Million Shadows at Noon (Cleveland OH: Cuttlefish Books, 2023).

Robinson, Chad Lee. The White Buffalo (Durham NC: Backbone Press, 2023).

Schwerin, Julie. Walking Away from the Sunset (Taylorville Ill: Brooks Books , 2023).

Stevenson, John. This Once (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023).

Sill, Geoffrey (Editor). Nick Virgilio Collected Haiku, 1963-2012 (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2023).

Watts, Lew. Eira (Ormskirk UK: Snapshot Press, 2023).

Witmer, Robert. Serendipity (Allahabad India: cyberwit.net, 2023).

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Haibun 2023

In 2023, we received 229 distinct entries submitted from 36 journals (and even more issues!), books, or contests by 78 individuals and 10 journal editors.

Panelists:

Keith Polette, Marietta McGregor, and Renée Owen

Winners

Matthew Caretti

Deep Water Port (The Haibun Journal 15.1)

Deep Water Port

barbed-wire fence
winter stars hung out
for the night

A ripple of harbor lights becomes some recurring dream. Moving aft and fore on this floating world, I seek to unfind my sea legs. Enter the pub. Longshoremen long off duty unloading still. With another dark n’ stormy, the barkeep serves up an attitude. Especially for the one who keeps on about the waterspout and how all the fish just landed in his boat. She turns to seamen mansplaining the supermoon. Shrugs. Asks if I’d like one for the road.

night fog
the joss sticks
refuse my fire

The morning comes too soon. I look again. No ship on the horizon. A frigatebird edges instead a slow scissoring of the sky. I wade into the shallows. Allow salt and sea to scrub me clean. Sun dry on the shore. Washed up beside me like a drowned rat, a drowned rat. Blown out of the palms during last night’s storm or a stowaway escaped from one of the ships at anchor. I bury it in the sand. Climb the hill above the port. A stevedore sets down in the sprawling dockside maze the last container from a freighter already smoking at its stacks.

off-island news
a crease of sailors
along the fence

Back down the path to the spot where sea poison trees drop intricate blossoms into brackish waters. The fire coral below hasn’t bleached itself. I worry the change. Above these coral skeletons, I will a rainbow to bend back to the rising sea. To offer up some sort of treasure. Ever more the link and shift of dolosse counter the erosion along the coastal road. In the distance, a boy skips atop the seawall. Higher and higher. Sea monsters edging ever closer. Licking at his heels.

morning moon
among the whitecaps
a shark’s fin


Commentary

With each reading, this poem slyly unfolds darker nuances in prose and haiku, taking it places well removed from more traditional travel-oriented haibun. The first-person narration is matter-of-fact, objective, almost journalistic in its use of concrete imagery. Terse clipped sentence fragments are interposed between full sentences, moving the story along and reinforcing its underlying tension. Each haiku extends the prose without repeating it, using strong visual images as in “winter stars hung out” on a wire fence.
The action appears to take place in and around a shipping harbor on an island, perhaps somewhere in the Caribbean. Not a big city, its shore lights reflect in water and stars shine through the ubiquitous barbed-wire surrounding a container port. Mise-en-scène establishes a tropical setting through specifics of the environment—seabird, sea poison trees, fire coral. But these named elements of the natural world belie any thought of a paradise. Frigate or man-o-war birds are kleptoparasites, stealing other birds’ food and occasionally, young. Beach apple or sea poison trees bear sweet fruit and scented flowers, but every part contains potent toxins. Stinging fire coral survives poor water conditions after hurricane damage, only to blanket the reef in solid plates, potentially choking out other life. The symbolism is redolent of impending dangers.
The story arc covers one night through morning of the next day. We infer the new arrival seeking “to unfind my sea legs” is an experienced sailor—not a stevedore, but a visitor familiar with this port or places like it from earlier association and acute observation. Perhaps a solo boat or yacht skipper who’s been at sea for a while or a regular casual traveller attuned to the surroundings. The tone of the opening stanza is drily laconic, with a twist of humor. Longshoremen “unload” onto mates. The bartender serves up “attitude” to loquacious customers. The seamen gab about weather oddities and a supermoon with attendant king tides. The cocktail mentioned, a “dark n’ stormy,” is ironically foreboding. Later, the narrator tries to light incense traditionally burned at temples for good fortune or to appease vexed gods. We feel building uneasiness through the choice of language in this second haiku. Damp, the sticks “refuse” to catch—another storm is imminent.
In the second stanza the setting is a sunny morning beach, an almost ritualistic cleansing after the previous night’s pub session and storm. But the fresh scene is again unsettled, this time by a dead rat, most likely an escapee from a moored ship (rats leaving a sinking ship?). The second haiku returns us to the close-knit world of old salts perpetually on alert to the moods of the sea, hungry for outside news, concerned about the growing frequency of storms and their effect on livelihoods. The haiku effectively conjures the visual: its “crease of sailors / along the fence” an effective refrain to the first haiku.
The closing stanza’s tone is somber and reflective. The narrator has come back down the town’s hill to a reality of inadequate concrete erosion barriers along a vital road link—a strong visual here with the “link and shift of dolosse.” A young boy, carefree and unknowing, skips along the seawall. There’s a brief wishful moment of hope for something wondrous to happen, some miracle to stem the rising sea. But the haibun does not end on an optimistic note. The reference to ‘sea monsters edging ever closer’ and the closing haiku’s cruising shark foreshadow what may lie in wait for the skipping boy’s world. Climate change heralds more damaging tropical storms and rising sea levels which threaten in the boy’s lifetime to devour his home and future. Prose, haiku, and title combine in this fine haibun to subtly convey a topical and sobering environmental message about our changing planet and what’s to come.

Claire Everett

A Thousand Thens (MacQueen’s Quinterly 19)

A Thousand Thens

wind-shimmered wheat
the kestrel’s belly
uplit

A solitary walk through the fragrance of all that’s green and golden, and suddenly, I am not alone.

Breathing in, I am my dead-too-young father whom I thought invincible, secretly afraid of thunder, and the sea that took a cousin. Breathing out, I am the song of the blackbird he loved the best.

Breathing in, I am my mother, wound by worry, in her rocking chair to nowhere. Breathing out, I am the light of a wagtail across the river stones, and a memory of being taught how to skip with a rope.

Breathing in, I am my grandfather, bitterly disappointed by the lie my father told. Breathing out, I am the drowsy lap, the delight of pencil on paper.

Breathing in, I am my grandmother, straight and stern as the poker on the hearth. Breathing out, I am the crispness of freshly baked pastries made by cool hands and a warm heart.

Breathing in, I am not just born of love, but of pain and joy, triumph and loss. Breathing out, I am so many hopes, dashed and dared, so many dreams, burnished and broken. All are here, on this rung of the twisted ladder, this one moment on the double helix that unravelled me between a thousand thens and now.

endless sky . . .
two kestrels hunt
as one


Commentary

Like Scheherazade from The Thousand and One Nights’ Arabian Tales, who enchanted her king with beguiling stories, this captivating haibun has one eager to read on. The poem’s title transports us into the poet’s lyrical world, referencing a time outside of time and an unfolding of moments so fluid and liminal they seem eternal.

The opening haiku immerses the reader into a state of grace rooted in the natural world. In the first line, the fresh adjective embodies movement. Without the need for a weighty verb, we too feel wind shimmering through the vast fields. This vision expands with the sudden appearance of a kestrel, a beautiful rufous bird of prey with blue grey wings, its pale belly uplit by sun bouncing off the golden wheat.

The opening stanza of prose effectively links and then shifts away from the haiku, where we join the poet on a solitary walk into a new landscape. We leave behind row upon row of wheat for somewhere fragrant and green, perhaps a forest or meadow, where gold light streams in and around us. Senses engaged with vivid sights, colors and sounds, we open to the possibility of a sixth sense, in the sudden perception we are not alone.

Breathing into this synesthetic state, we too become the dead-too-young father, his invincibility softened by his vulnerabilities and fears. Breathing out, we hear a sound the poet’s father loved, the uplifting song of the blackbird.

The remaining four stanzas, each resonant in structure, serve as a refrain and, like the blackbird’s call, pull us in. The “w” sounds from the first haiku echo in the third stanza in the description of the poet’s mother and again in the appearance of the wagtail who lifts the scene with its light. The poet inhabits the grandfather with a repetition of consonants, especially the “d” sounds and the delight of a tactile memory, a pencil scratching its way across paper, perhaps for the first time in the poet’s young life. Next, the grandmother is described, and despite her sternness, the “s” sounds collide into a sibilant vision of plenty.

The final stanza, with its references to hopes dared and dashed, skillfully captures not just the joys of family, but also the pain and loss that comes with loving, with opening our heart to the humanness of those in our familial lineage. The twisted ladder of a double helix, like strands of DNA with its language for life, becomes a time portal that unravels us, as we spiral between the now and all those who have passed through our lives, and into our own one thousand thens.

The final capping haiku shifts back to the topography where we began, as the endless sky unfolds above and we become the kestrel, also suddenly not alone, hunting with another.

This poem evokes qualities of all great haibun. Its originality of form contributes to and expands the canon, with song-like anaphora and an almost mystical embodiment reminiscent of the lyrics of a chant by the revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The compelling title, well-written poetic prose, evocative haiku, and satisfactory ending coalesce into a whole that is significantly greater than its parts. The universality and emotional tenor of the poem resonate again and again, deepening on each re-reading. A well-deserved winner in this year’s contest.

Kati Mohr

All These Things (The Haibun Journal 5.1)

All These Things

In front of a store in Manila, mask on. A queue. People stand six feet apart. Men with guns check everyone who wants to go inside. They send some in. They send some away. She crumples a piece of gum wrapper in her pocket, while she enters. A quick walk along the shelves, in her hand a list of several people’s requests. What does this mean? She picks, unsure. Checking her list again and again, she calls, she texts. When she leaves, her eyes are smaller. She carries everything to others’ homes. Her friends’. Her family’s, where they complain about the things she has brought, about their lives, their homes. About Corona. She texts me, and we type “hugs” and “hugging you”. She asks me to tell the universe to answer her prayers. And I do.

her foot hovers
between metro and platform
warm up-draughts

On the table: a set of magnetic tiles. Each one has a word on it. Her hands move across the surface, pushing the magnets here and there, here and there. After a while, the words shape lines. The lines build verses. Houses made of verses. A poetic map. She reads them aloud and pauses. This is how she creates sense.

Before the lockdowns, she goes to the park to smoke. To write to her friends. To smoke some more. To breathe. That’s not a contradiction. She sends a picture of her hand holding a cup of coffee. The coffee is sweet and black. She sips. Her friends send random pictures of pets and selfies. I send a picture of my garden from a thousand miles away.  A home in the rain in the park.

drips and drips
in the locked bathroom
a clouded moon

In front of her: a box of rectangular stickers with short quotes. They all begin with, “Hello, I am … .” Some people come to her little counter at the art market, read, smile and buy. Hello, I am a customer. What is not on the counter is: Hello, I am someone who listens. Hello, I am a human being. Hello, I am asking for help. I am stronger than I think. I am right by your side. I am weaker than I want to be. I am tired. I am …

Between, during lockdowns, she finds a marble. It rolls on the ground. There is a wild, white spiral inside which seems to be circling as she slowly rolls the marble between her fingers. This small, big thing. People rush by. People stop and stare. People’s voices mingle and mesh. She covers her ears to keep them from getting to her. Her fingers slowly clasp the marble. This is hers. The marble in her hand she begins to walk. Of course, this is not about a real glass marble. She knows it. I know it too. More importantly, it really is a small big thing, hope.

still water
maybe a carp deep down
taking a turn

In the middle of the pandemic, she says yes. In love. Very much so. And I wish I could have been there.

Love is: the way she insists on using her own kind of ellipsis .  . just two dots and two spaces in between. The power of two.  The impossibility of yes and no. The first thing that captivated me in her art.  Another way of surviving: she writes prose that sounds like poetry because it is. Love is the way she says yes anyway and no without doing it, the way she writes the longest and shortest sentences. They run all over the place. It is a serious creative business: a rope she feels along and away from rooftops.

rock salt mango
another sleepless night
moongazing

She writes to me that she will move out tomorrow. That she will still do the grocery shopping, put on the mask. She will still help her father feel safe in a world that threatens to be swallowed by a tasteless fog. Tomorrow, all the weight of the illness will still be there, and there will be a home. She wants a home. She wants her home. She has an idea of what her home might look like. When she looks up at the stars, she sees hope like pinpricks in the blackness of everything. The blackout poetry that she has to create herself. That there will be someone to hold her hand. That she will take more small steps, and that she will pay attention to them. She writes, “Mother, I have kwento.” And I read. This is what we do. We are making space for each other. She writes that there will be a tomorrow. That tomorrow is closer now.

It stinks. She rips a page of a book out, paints it almost entirely black. Over phrases, fragments, words.  Then she moves on to the next page. But after a while the ink becomes transparent. There is less and less of black. The page would need another round of ink to become truly dark. In the end, it is what it is. The paper can only hold so much ink before it tears. There are only a few words left that can be read well. They combine in new ways. That too is a language: Where nothing seems to be, something is.

ulan sa hardin
more than a starlit sheet
fills the cradle

kwento (Tagalog) = story
ulan sa hardin (Tagalog) = rain in the garden


Commentary

The first thing that strikes the reader about “All These Things” is the way it unconsciously (and, perhaps, unintentionally) seems to echo T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” Among other things, “The Wasteland” is an assemblage of voices, shifting from one speaker to another, shifting from one language to another, not in an organized choral rendering, but in urgent polyphonic cries and retorts rising from the battered ground in the terrible aftermath of World War One. In this way, “All These Things” offers an energetic collection of interwoven voices, perspectives, language, and syntax.

Set in Manila, “All These Things” presents a speaker attempting to negotiate the “wasteland” of the global Covid pandemic. The prose sections of the haibun present alternating scenarios between the speaker’s actions of caring for others with personal reflections, which are italicized, on her attempts to make sense of the pandemic. Appropriately, the skillfully constructed sentences in the alternating sections shift from ones that are short and staccato-like to others that are longer and more expansive.

The haiku that are situated in the spaces between the prose sections are particularly effective; they are robust and they contain sharp images, ones that reinforce the variety of sometimes disturbing emotions that are presented in the prose. Just as Eliot’s poem ends in futility (but finds recovered and reclamation in “The Four Quartets”), so too does “All These Things” offer a bleak picture of the Covid landscape — and the dislocation and angst that is the result. The haibun does, however, end on a positive note, “where nothing seems to be, something is.”

Rich Youmans

What’s Underneath (MacQueen’s Quinterly 19)

What’s Underneath

Bianca lays out the cake just as her father is wheeled into the dining room. The orderly pats his shoulder — “Happy Birthday, Mr. Gorman” — before slipping back into the busy corridor. Bianca cuts a slice of cake, taking care to capture a creme rosette.1

1. After Mom died, I read through her diaries and found the entry about how, in her fifth month, she hung wallpaper with pink roses in my soon-to-be nursery. She had seen the ultrasound, something you refused to look at or believe. It’s going to be a boy, you insisted. She underlined that, noting how important that was for you, to have a son. That night, after too many shots of whiskey, you ripped everything down; I pictured strips of paper cowering along the baseboards. The next day Mom painted the room white. A fresh start.

in utero
her prayer mingles
with votive shadows

Bianca slides the cake onto a plate and places it before her father. Next to it she lays a thin package wrapped in blue2 foil.

2. That was your color. I still see you strutting around the house in your jeans and faded work-shirts, smelling of sawdust and nicotine. Even your eyes were blue — a cold blue whenever you looked at me. Sundays you’d watch football with the other men on our block. Sometimes they’d bring their sons and I could see it on your face, the way it darkened. Or at dinner, when Mom asked me about school, how you just ate in silence as I talked about my girlfriends — Jenny’s new sweater, the charms on Cindy’s bracelet. When you started to stab at your meat I knew to stop.

late sun
every shadow straining
to break free

His eyes narrow.3

3. I remember that look, your eyebrows lowering like storm clouds. I saw it that afternoon I tried to have a catch with Jimmy. He had been next door in his backyard, throwing himself popups. I was taking down Mom’s dresses from the clothesline. He called out to me — “Bianca, throw me a few flies” — and tossed over the ball. I tried, but my throw barely made it over the fence. That’s when you appeared, your eyes two slits. You grabbed the ball and began throwing Jimmy pitches that disappeared into his glove. Smack. Smack. His eyes lit up. So did yours.

twilight blue . . .
in the first star
a second chance

He pokes the package as if it were a wounded animal.4

4. Of course, Jimmy had to bring you that stray mutt he’d found. By then, you and he had become inseparable. He’d come over while you were tuning the Chevy, and you’d teach him how to change a spark plug. When his mother bought him a new baseball mitt, you both oiled it and wrapped it with twine, the ball a small fist in its pocket. Then he found that mutt, its matted fur the color of tar. You both washed him, gave him water. Jimmy’s mother, Mrs. Foley — Roselyn, you called her — came over later and couldn’t thank you enough. She had long red hair and a too-big laugh. One evening, after you left again for the pub, I asked Mom if Jimmy had a dad. She just shook her head real quick.

diary entry
between each line
the sound of rain

With a quick tug, Bianca tears off5 the wrapping.

5. I learned how easily things can be stripped away, that day you drove off in the moving van with Jimmy and Roselyn. After that, you were only a cramped signature on a monthly check. That’s when I started to keep a diary, just like Mom. I wrote page after page — first wondering, then pleading, then spitting hate. Every photo I could find of you I tore up. Except for that one of us on the Atlantic City boardwalk, sitting on a bench. I was three, sitting on Mom’s lap, my face looking up in wonder. You sat stiffly beside her, your hair close cropped. I wondered who took the shot — no doubt someone Mom hailed over. I kept it because of how young she looked. How she kept one hand around my waist, my palm wrapped around her raised thumb. How with her free hand she cradled your cheek. In that moment you looked like a lost boy.

waking from a dream
and yet . . .
morning moon

The light from the chandelier shimmers on a white6 box.

6. That was always Mom’s favorite color. After high school, when I worked in Mitchell’s Floral Shop, I brought home snowdrops, daisies, white roses. Anything to make her brighten. When she started to lose weight I’d buy her creme donuts from Mrs. Fillari’s bakery, where her son Matthew always slipped me an extra cruller. By then you were living upstate, although we weren’t sure where — the return addresses on the checks changed every few months. Summer evenings she and I would sit on the porch in those frayed lawn chairs that you and she had as furniture in your first apartment. Mom bundled a blanket around herself even in the height of August humidity. Sometimes we’d just stare at the sky and she’d tell me stories. Of you. How you loved to go camping with your father and grandfather when you were a boy. How they had taught you to be hard, a man, but still you sang to her at your wedding, your voice as tender as a silk ribbon. How things had been fine until she became pregnant. I’d feel my face tighten, but Mom would touch my hand. Bianca, don’t hate your father, she’d tell me, over and over. Until she couldn’t.

moonrise
adding one more
stone to her cairn

Bianca touches his cheek.7 “Happy birthday, Daddy,” she says.

7. Funny, when the hospital called, the first thing I thought of was the Atlantic City photo. Matthew and I had moved to the coast, and I was working at a motel that overlooked the bay. It was winter, and I spent most nights checking in one-hour lovers and listening to the Spanish songs of off-season families. Somehow I wasn’t surprised that I was your emergency contact. You had written a few times after Roselyn left you, a handful of crammed words about your latest job and how you hoped to see me soon. The paper always carrying the scent of nicotine. I tore up the letters just like I did all those old photos. Well, almost all. Will you come to take your father? Outside in the courtyard, someone was singing a song with my name in the chorus, and something inside me fell away. It took me a moment to realize the nurse couldn’t hear my head nodding.

storm clouds
break — every wave
spreading moonlight

Bianca lifts the lid. His eyes widen.8

8. Matthew got the same look when I told him I wanted you to live with us. After all that he did? he kept saying, over and over. I had told him everything, of course, including how the police found you in the doorway of your walkup, the left side of your face drooping like a Dali painting. And how lost you looked when I saw you in the hospital after all those years — your good blue eye tearing up, your crumpled face so weak in the last of the sun’s light. All I could think of in that moment was Mom. Her words. Her touch. Her painting those walls.

new diary
the first word’s
weight

—Rich Youmans, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19

Please note: We did our best, but the formatting of the above haibun differs slightly from the published version, in which the text of the indented footnote sections, including the subsequent haiku, is grey, with a visible border on the left margin; the haiku is also centered under the indented text.


Commentary

The intriguingly plotted prose of this haibun takes the shape of an autobiography consisting of two parallel narratives which link and shift relative to each other and the accompanying haiku, interweaving past and present life events. The title is apt—physical layout reinforces on the printed page “what’s underneath.” Bolded and superscripted story elements accompanying each section are related in a detached tone from a third person point of view, a coda relating to Bianca, who is visiting her infirm father, presumably in a nursing home. The inset numbered subsections or footnotes (in greyed font in the original) are Bianca’s intimate thoughts directed as if speaking aloud to her absent father, a dialogical soliloquy relating to her childhood. These memories are poignant and regretful, hurt but not angry, except when she describes destroying all but one of her father’s letters and photos. The haibun may be entered in different ways: tracing the third person narrative coda; following Bianca’s first person soliloquy for insights into her youth; and reading the whole serially with its key internal interlinks and haiku to tease out nuances of “what’s underneath.”

The haibun’s language is coolly objective, which lends weight to a tragic play of events. The father’s harsh nature emerges from graphically descriptive passages, revealing the psychological abuse and rejection Bianca experiences as a child—”ripped everything down”; “strips of paper”; “cowering along the baseboard”; “your face, the way it darkened”; “when you started to stab at your meat I knew to stop”; “eyebrows lowering like storm clouds”; “your eyes two slits.” By contrast, portrayed sympathetically in haiku and prose, Bianca’s mother emerges gently from her daughter’s story. Telling Bianca stories of the man she married, she expresses the fervent wish her daughter will not hate the father, who sang at their wedding in a “voice as tender as a silk ribbon”—a beautiful image imbued with forgiveness. From the haiku which closes this section (6) we learn of the death of Bianca’s cherished mother.

Between sections, links relating to objects, colors and actions connect past with present. A cake decoration recalls nursery wallpaper roses, blue foil the father’s eye color, and the white gift box a mother’s love for white flowers and a repainted nursery. Each contemporary action is revealed in the light of memories, many less than happy—her father’s drunken rage, his narrowed glances at what he regards as his daughter’s shortcomings, his macho favoritism of the kid next door, even the pervasive smell of tobacco in his miserly letters. He pokes Bianca’s gift “as if it were a wounded animal.” Given his weakness after a stroke, it’s Bianca who tears off the gift wrap to reveal—what? We’re not told, and the revelation remains mysterious. Whatever it is, this gift is something the father doesn’t expect, seems suspicious of, and may not welcome. Is it that old photograph in which a small girl has a tight grip on her mother’s finger? Bianca’s childhood diary?

Haiku after each soliloquy section link and shift from the prose, deepening the haibun’s mood and direction. The earlier haiku convey hope that circumstances may change for the better. But by the fourth haiku with its “sound of rain,” the tone darkens into an inevitability of loss. The moon features in three subsequent haiku, as a symbol of change and the beginnings of acceptance—”something in me fell away.” The final haiku heralds beginnings of a new attitude. “What’s Underneath” stands out for its unique form and adds significantly to the genre. The two entwined narratives are deftly handled, allowing the story to flow easily, with the triumvirate of title, prose and haiku creating a unified whole. There’s sufficient mystery to richly repay re-reading of this winning work.

The Touchstone Individual Haibun 2023 Shortlist

A Thousand Thens

wind-shimmered wheat
the kestrel’s belly
uplit

A solitary walk through the fragrance of all that’s green and golden, and suddenly, I am not alone.

Breathing in, I am my dead-too-young father whom I thought invincible, secretly afraid of thunder, and the sea that took a cousin. Breathing out, I am the song of the blackbird he loved the best.

Breathing in, I am my mother, wound by worry, in her rocking chair to nowhere. Breathing out, I am the light of a wagtail across the river stones, and a memory of being taught how to skip with a rope.

Breathing in, I am my grandfather, bitterly disappointed by the lie my father told. Breathing out, I am the drowsy lap, the delight of pencil on paper.

Breathing in, I am my grandmother, straight and stern as the poker on the hearth. Breathing out, I am the crispness of freshly baked pastries made by cool hands and a warm heart.

Breathing in, I am not just born of love, but of pain and joy, triumph and loss. Breathing out, I am so many hopes, dashed and dared, so many dreams, burnished and broken. All are here, on this rung of the twisted ladder, this one moment on the double helix that unravelled me between a thousand thens and now.

endless sky . . .
two kestrels hunt
as one

– Claire Everett, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19


All These Things

In front of a store in Manila, mask on. A queue. People stand six feet apart. Men with guns check everyone who wants to go inside. They send some in. They send some away. She crumples a piece of gum wrapper in her pocket, while she enters. A quick walk along the shelves, in her hand a list of several people’s requests. What does this mean? She picks, unsure. Checking her list again and again, she calls, she texts. When she leaves, her eyes are smaller. She carries everything to others’ homes. Her friends’. Her family’s, where they complain about the things she has brought, about their lives, their homes. About Corona. She texts me, and we type “hugs” and “hugging you”. She asks me to tell the universe to answer her prayers. And I do.

her foot hovers
between metro and platform
warm up-draughts

On the table: a set of magnetic tiles. Each one has a word on it. Her hands move across the surface, pushing the magnets here and there, here and there. After a while, the words shape lines. The lines build verses. Houses made of verses. A poetic map. She reads them aloud and pauses. This is how she creates sense.

Before the lockdowns, she goes to the park to smoke. To write to her friends. To smoke some more. To breathe. That’s not a contradiction. She sends a picture of her hand holding a cup of coffee. The coffee is sweet and black. She sips. Her friends send random pictures of pets and selfies. I send a picture of my garden from a thousand miles away.  A home in the rain in the park.

drips and drips
in the locked bathroom
a clouded moon

In front of her: a box of rectangular stickers with short quotes. They all begin with, “Hello, I am …” Some people come to her little counter at the art market, read, smile and buy. Hello, I am a customer. What is not on the counter is: Hello, I am someone who listens. Hello, I am a human being. Hello, I am asking for help. I am stronger than I think. I am right by your side. I am weaker than I want to be. I am tired. I am …

Between, during lockdowns, she finds a marble. It rolls on the ground. There is a wild, white spiral inside which seems to be circling as she slowly rolls the marble between her fingers. This small, big thing. People rush by. People stop and stare. People’s voices mingle and mesh. She covers her ears to keep them from getting to her. Her fingers slowly clasp the marble. This is hers. The marble in her hand she begins to walk. Of course, this is not about a real glass marble. She knows it. I know it too. More importantly, it really is a small big thing, hope.

still water
maybe a carp deep down
taking a turn

In the middle of the pandemic, she says yes. In love. Very much so. And I wish I could have been there.

Love is: the way she insists on using her own kind of ellipsis .  . just two dots and two spaces in between. The power of two.  The impossibility of yes and no. The first thing that captivated me in her art.  Another way of surviving: she writes prose that sounds like poetry because it is. Love is the way she says yes anyway and no without doing it, the way she writes the longest and shortest sentences. They run all over the place. It is a serious creative business: a rope she feels along and away from rooftops.

rock salt mango
another sleepless night
moongazing

She writes to me that she will move out tomorrow. That she will still do the grocery shopping, put on the mask. She will still help her father feel safe in a world that threatens to be swallowed by a tasteless fog. Tomorrow, all the weight of the illness will still be there, and there will be a home. She wants a home. She wants her home. She has an idea of what her home might look like. When she looks up at the stars, she sees hope like pinpricks in the blackness of everything. The blackout poetry that she has to create herself. That there will be someone to hold her hand. That she will take more small steps, and that she will pay attention to them. She writes, “Mother, I have kwento.” And I read. This is what we do. We are making space for each other. She writes that there will be a tomorrow. That tomorrow is closer now.

It stinks. She rips a page of a book out, paints it almost entirely black. Over phrases, fragments, words.  Then she moves on to the next page. But after a while the ink becomes transparent. There is less and less of black. The page would need another round of ink to become truly dark. In the end, it is what it is. The paper can only hold so much ink before it tears. There are only a few words left that can be read well. They combine in new ways. That too is a language: Where nothing seems to be, something is.

ulan sa hardin
more than a starlit sheet
fills the cradle

kwento (Tagalog) = story
ulan sa hardin (Tagalog) = rain in the garden

– Kati Mohr, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.1


Deep Water Port

barbed-wire fence
winter stars hung out
for the night

A ripple of harbor lights becomes some recurring dream. Moving aft and fore on this floating world, I seek to unfind my sea legs. Enter the pub. Longshoremen long off duty unloading still. With another dark n’ stormy, the barkeep serves up an attitude. Especially for the one who keeps on about the waterspout and how all the fish just landed in his boat. She turns to seamen mansplaining the supermoon. Shrugs. Asks if I’d like one for the road.

night fog
the joss sticks
refuse my fire

The morning comes too soon. I look again. No ship on the horizon. A frigatebird edges instead a slow scissoring of the sky. I wade into the shallows. Allow salt and sea to scrub me clean. Sun dry on the shore. Washed up beside me like a drowned rat, a drowned rat. Blown out of the palms during last night’s storm or a stowaway escaped from one of the ships at anchor. I bury it in the sand. Climb the hill above the port. A stevedore sets down in the sprawling dockside maze the last container from a freighter already smoking at its stacks.

off-island news
a crease of sailors
along the fence

Back down the path to the spot where sea poison trees drop intricate blossoms into brackish waters. The fire coral below hasn’t bleached itself. I worry the change. Above these coral skeletons, I will a rainbow to bend back to the rising sea. To offer up some sort of treasure. Ever more the link and shift of dolosse counter the erosion along the coastal road. In the distance, a boy skips atop the seawall. Higher and higher. Sea monsters edging ever closer. Licking at his heels.

morning moon
among the whitecaps
a shark’s fin

– Matthew Caretti, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.1


I’ve Never Heard of a Wind Stone

the know-how
of nowhere
tundra wind

I’ve been dreaming of wind stones again.

Thus far, only three dry creek beds in the world are known to produce these naturally occurring cubes of agate that control the weather. They are located in Bamboi, Ghana, Bauru, Brazil and Beattyville, Kentucky. The stones are activated by placing one of their sides on a flat surface and rotating clockwise like a volume knob to increase airflow, or counter-clockwise to decrease airflow.

Each side has a different magnitude and threshold, and the power generated can range from blown kiss to brickfielder. It’s taken years of recurring imagery to piecemeal a basic understanding of what these peculiar stones are and how they behave. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

boulders lean
into the foehn
a lexicon

Of the 38 extant stones, 30 are classified as 1dW, meaning only one of their sides is functional. All of these 1dW stones are low grade, aka  “breeze-force”, fixtures that would struggle to lift a dense bough of honeysuckle blossoms. I’ve seen a few up for sale on eBay.

Three stones are classified as 2dW, with two functional sides. Their highest rated faces are said to conjure “gust-force” winds and are useful in toppling lawn furniture and skewing the flight of birds. All three are in private collections.

Two stones are 3dW and can pull “gale-force” winds from the heavens when properly calibrated. These twin stones from the Bamboi creek bed in Ghana are now owned and operated by the Russian military.

One 4dW stone exists and is locked into position on an African port facing West. Its grading is “trade-force” and ensures the swift passage of ships and planes across the Atlantic.

One 5dW stone is “hurricane-force” and is named “Asa Do Anjo” or “Angel’s Wing”. The only stone of Brazilian origin, it has been tested twice in the Arizona desert and is held at an undisclosed location by the United States government.

The final wind stone is of 6dW classification and graded “solar-force”. I found it at a landscaping store in Beattyville, KY. I use it to wake solar flares, the blinding arms of energy that shake me from the dream.

spring breeze
just like before
never before

– Jonathan Humphrey, Contemporary Haibun Online Issue 19.2


Kintsugi

Wide open at thirteen. It was a year of blood, of trying to fit into a bewildering body. On the doorstep of summer break, I was itching for freedom. As I pulled on my wool uniform, thoughts of sleeping late, running wild ’til the streetlights came on . . . until the news of Bobby’s death rang from the transistor on my dresser. I fell back onto the bed as our house plunged off its foundation. I refused to go to school. Diagrams and fractions suddenly meaningless. Catechism, more than ever, flat rote.

I had had my schoolgirl crushes, my disappointments. This was a different kind of heartbreak. A rip in the seam of the world I was just getting to know.

bird bone flute
the hollow sound
wind makes

What I remembered about his brother’s assassination five years earlier was that it made my impassive mother cry for days. Then the never-ending funeral procession on television. Otherwise, my childhood world remained intact. That was the same year my uncle fell from a ladder and lay for the rest of his days staring at the ceiling in the Veterans Hospital.

But mom still put dinner on the table every day, dad kept going to his job at the mill, and I would learn how to find a common denominator that bound together fractured things.

lightning-split redbud
and yet
blossoms

—Barbara Sabol, 2023 Haiku Society of America Haibun Award, Third Place


What’s Underneath

Bianca lays out the cake just as her father is wheeled into the dining room. The orderly pats his shoulder — “Happy Birthday, Mr. Gorman” — before slipping back into the busy corridor. Bianca cuts a slice of cake, taking care to capture a creme rosette.1

  1. After Mom died, I read through her diaries and found the entry about how, in her fifth month, she hung wallpaper with pink roses in my soon-to-be nursery. She had seen the ultrasound, something you refused to look at or believe. It’s going to be a boy,you insisted. She underlined that, noting how important that was for you, to have a son. That night, after too many shots of whiskey, you ripped everything down; I pictured strips of paper cowering along the baseboards. The next day Mom painted the room white. A fresh start.

in utero
her prayer mingles
with votive shadows

Bianca slides the cake onto a plate and places it before her father. Next to it she lays a thin package wrapped in blue2 foil.

  1. That was your color. I still see you strutting around the house in your jeans and faded work-shirts, smelling of sawdust and nicotine. Even your eyes were blue — a cold blue whenever you looked at me. Sundays you’d watch football with the other men on our block. Sometimes they’d bring their sons and I could see it on your face, the way it darkened. Or at dinner, when Mom asked me about school, how you just ate in silence as I talked about my girlfriends — Jenny’s new sweater, the charms on Cindy’s bracelet. When you started to stab at your meat I knew to stop.

late sun
every shadow straining
to break free

His eyes narrow.3

  1. I remember that look, your eyebrows lowering like storm clouds. I saw it that afternoon I tried to have a catch with Jimmy. He had been next door in his backyard, throwing himself popups. I was taking down Mom’s dresses from the clothesline. He called out to me — “Bianca, throw me a few flies” — and tossed over the ball. I tried, but my throw barely made it over the fence. That’s when you appeared, your eyes two slits. You grabbed the ball and began throwing Jimmy pitches that disappeared into his glove. Smack. Smack.His eyes lit up. So did yours.

twilight blue . . .
in the first star
a second chance

He pokes the package as if it were a wounded animal.4

  1. Of course, Jimmy had to bring you that stray mutt he’d found. By then, you and he had become inseparable. He’d come over while you were tuning the Chevy, and you’d teach him how to change a spark plug. When his mother bought him a new baseball mitt, you both oiled it and wrapped it with twine, the ball a small fist in its pocket. Then he found that mutt, its matted fur the color of tar. You both washed him, gave him water. Jimmy’s mother, Mrs. Foley — Roselyn, you called her — came over later and couldn’t thank you enough. She had long red hair and a too-big laugh. One evening, after you left again for the pub, I asked Mom if Jimmy had a dad. She just shook her head real quick.

diary entry
between each line
the sound of rain

With a quick tug, Bianca tears off5 the wrapping.

  1. I learned how easily things can be stripped away, that day you drove off in the moving van with Jimmy and Roselyn. After that, you were only a cramped signature on a monthly check. That’s when I started to keep a diary, just like Mom. I wrote page after page — first wondering, then pleading, then spitting hate. Every photo I could find of you I tore up. Except for that one of us on the Atlantic City boardwalk, sitting on a bench. I was three, sitting on Mom’s lap, my face looking up in wonder. You sat stiffly beside her, your hair close cropped. I wondered who took the shot — no doubt someone Mom hailed over. I kept it because of how young she looked. How she kept one hand around my waist, my palm wrapped around her raised thumb. How with her free hand she cradled your cheek. In that moment you looked like a lost boy.

waking from a dream
and yet . . .
morning moon

The light from the chandelier shimmers on a white6 box.

  1. That was always Mom’s favorite color. After high school, when I worked in Mitchell’s Floral Shop, I brought home snowdrops, daisies, white roses. Anything to make her brighten. When she started to lose weight I’d buy her creme donuts from Mrs. Fillari’s bakery, where her son Matthew always slipped me an extra cruller. By then you were living upstate, although we weren’t sure where — the return addresses on the checks changed every few months. Summer evenings she and I would sit on the porch in those frayed lawn chairs that you and she had as furniture in your first apartment. Mom bundled a blanket around herself even in the height of August humidity. Sometimes we’d just stare at the sky and she’d tell me stories. Of you. How you loved to go camping with your father and grandfather when you were a boy. How they had taught you to be hard, a man, but still you sang to her at your wedding, your voice as tender as a silk ribbon. How things had been fine until she became pregnant. I’d feel my face tighten, but Mom would touch my hand. Bianca, don’t hate your father,she’d tell me, over and over. Until she couldn’t.

moonrise
adding one more
stone to her cairn

Bianca touches his cheek.7 “Happy birthday, Daddy,” she says.

  1. Funny, when the hospital called, the first thing I thought of was the Atlantic City photo. Matthew and I had moved to the coast, and I was working at a motel that overlooked the bay. It was winter, and I spent most nights checking in one-hour lovers and listening to the Spanish songs of off-season families. Somehow I wasn’t surprised that I was your emergency contact. You had written a few times after Roselyn left you, a handful of crammed words about your latest job and how you hoped to see me soon. The paper always carrying the scent of nicotine. I tore up the letters just like I did all those old photos. Well, almost all. Will you come to take your father?Outside in the courtyard, someone was singing a song with my name in the chorus, and something inside me fell away. It took me a moment to realize the nurse couldn’t hear my head nodding.

storm clouds
break — every wave
spreading moonlight

Bianca lifts the lid. His eyes widen.8

  1. Matthew got the same look when I told him I wanted you to live with us. After all that he did?he kept saying, over and over. I had told him everything, of course, including how the police found you in the doorway of your walkup, the left side of your face drooping like a Dali painting. And how lost you looked when I saw you in the hospital after all those years — your good blue eye tearing up, your crumpled face so weak in the last of the sun’s light. All I could think of in that moment was Mom. Her words. Her touch. Her painting those walls.

new diary
the first word’s
weight

– Rich Youmans, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19

Please note: We did our best, but the formatting of the above haibun differs slightly from the published version, in which the text of the indented footnote sections, including the subsequent haiku, is grey, with a visible border on the left margin; the haiku is also centered under the indented text.


Winter Augury

The hour aches with unnamed sadness. Beyond the windshield, prairie fields brushed with snowy ice crystals, the sky washed in pewter — a timeless monochrome postcard. Birds long gone on their southward migration. Now, it is my turn.

In a quiet mood, driving a winter highway to the airport, I tune the radio to a classical piano recital. Chords stream my body in a strange metaphysical familiarity. The music is a clarion call signaling an invisible shift. I grip the steering wheel, transfixed, listening for hidden messages.

I am bound for warmth: wood fires, pots of coffee, the weekend newspaper, some sections still folded and waiting for me. But I sense home slipping inside an alternate trajectory. Some small tender things will come with me — most will be left behind. I can only go forward, brave-hearted, into all that grief and beauty.

Bach’s chorale prelude Alle Menschen müssen sterben translates to “all men must die.” In my faraway trance with the linen sun muted by clouds, those grave words from the radio host invoke my transmuting world.

wingtips shear the wind
over buried fields —
snowy owl

– Karin Hedetniemi, Haiku Canada Review Issue 17.2


You

That spring the wild like lightning in my limbs. Only knowing living to be a loud voice, trails of tangled briars, borders meant to be left broken until that whoosh of feathers brushed my head.

The sparrow confused by translucence flew into the window. The thud like a plum in windfall and I turned, watched it stunned among stems.

What could I do?

Its chirping flail, eyes blurred milky-pale, chest caved in as if poked by a god that called You.

That echo of You now and the bird long turned in dirt. I long into mid-life.

Such a thing to remember.

The things that linger when we try to forget, try to cast off the grave, break the rooted chains of earth.

end of winter–
roof on the birdhouse
worn smooth

– Mark Smith, Modern Haiku Issue 54.3

The Touchstone Individual Haibun 2023 Longlist

A Thousand Thens

wind-shimmered wheat
the kestrel’s belly
uplit

A solitary walk through the fragrance of all that’s green and golden, and suddenly, I am not alone.

Breathing in, I am my dead-too-young father whom I thought invincible, secretly afraid of thunder, and the sea that took a cousin. Breathing out, I am the song of the blackbird he loved the best.

Breathing in, I am my mother, wound by worry, in her rocking chair to nowhere. Breathing out, I am the light of a wagtail across the river stones, and a memory of being taught how to skip with a rope.

Breathing in, I am my grandfather, bitterly disappointed by the lie my father told. Breathing out, I am the drowsy lap, the delight of pencil on paper.

Breathing in, I am my grandmother, straight and stern as the poker on the hearth. Breathing out, I am the crispness of freshly baked pastries made by cool hands and a warm heart.

Breathing in, I am not just born of love, but of pain and joy, triumph and loss. Breathing out, I am so many hopes, dashed and dared, so many dreams, burnished and broken. All are here, on this rung of the twisted ladder, this one moment on the double helix that unravelled me between a thousand thens and now.

endless sky . . .
two kestrels hunt
as one

– Claire Everett, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19


All These Things

In front of a store in Manila, mask on. A queue. People stand six feet apart. Men with guns check everyone who wants to go inside. They send some in. They send some away. She crumples a piece of gum wrapper in her pocket, while she enters. A quick walk along the shelves, in her hand a list of several people’s requests. What does this mean? She picks, unsure. Checking her list again and again, she calls, she texts. When she leaves, her eyes are smaller. She carries everything to others’ homes. Her friends’. Her family’s, where they complain about the things she has brought, about their lives, their homes. About Corona. She texts me, and we type “hugs” and “hugging you”. She asks me to tell the universe to answer her prayers. And I do.

her foot hovers
between metro and platform
warm up-draughts

On the table: a set of magnetic tiles. Each one has a word on it. Her hands move across the surface, pushing the magnets here and there, here and there. After a while, the words shape lines. The lines build verses. Houses made of verses. A poetic map. She reads them aloud and pauses. This is how she creates sense.

Before the lockdowns, she goes to the park to smoke. To write to her friends. To smoke some more. To breathe. That’s not a contradiction. She sends a picture of her hand holding a cup of coffee. The coffee is sweet and black. She sips. Her friends send random pictures of pets and selfies. I send a picture of my garden from a thousand miles away.  A home in the rain in the park.

drips and drips
in the locked bathroom
a clouded moon

In front of her: a box of rectangular stickers with short quotes. They all begin with, “Hello, I am …” Some people come to her little counter at the art market, read, smile and buy. Hello, I am a customer. What is not on the counter is: Hello, I am someone who listens. Hello, I am a human being. Hello, I am asking for help. I am stronger than I think. I am right by your side. I am weaker than I want to be. I am tired. I am …

Between, during lockdowns, she finds a marble. It rolls on the ground. There is a wild, white spiral inside which seems to be circling as she slowly rolls the marble between her fingers. This small, big thing. People rush by. People stop and stare. People’s voices mingle and mesh. She covers her ears to keep them from getting to her. Her fingers slowly clasp the marble. This is hers. The marble in her hand she begins to walk. Of course, this is not about a real glass marble. She knows it. I know it too. More importantly, it really is a small big thing, hope.

still water
maybe a carp deep down
taking a turn

In the middle of the pandemic, she says yes. In love. Very much so. And I wish I could have been there.

Love is: the way she insists on using her own kind of ellipsis .  . just two dots and two spaces in between. The power of two.  The impossibility of yes and no. The first thing that captivated me in her art.  Another way of surviving: she writes prose that sounds like poetry because it is. Love is the way she says yes anyway and no without doing it, the way she writes the longest and shortest sentences. They run all over the place. It is a serious creative business: a rope she feels along and away from rooftops.

rock salt mango
another sleepless night
moongazing

She writes to me that she will move out tomorrow. That she will still do the grocery shopping, put on the mask. She will still help her father feel safe in a world that threatens to be swallowed by a tasteless fog. Tomorrow, all the weight of the illness will still be there, and there will be a home. She wants a home. She wants her home. She has an idea of what her home might look like. When she looks up at the stars, she sees hope like pinpricks in the blackness of everything. The blackout poetry that she has to create herself. That there will be someone to hold her hand. That she will take more small steps, and that she will pay attention to them. She writes, “Mother, I have kwento.” And I read. This is what we do. We are making space for each other. She writes that there will be a tomorrow. That tomorrow is closer now.

It stinks. She rips a page of a book out, paints it almost entirely black. Over phrases, fragments, words.  Then she moves on to the next page. But after a while the ink becomes transparent. There is less and less of black. The page would need another round of ink to become truly dark. In the end, it is what it is. The paper can only hold so much ink before it tears. There are only a few words left that can be read well. They combine in new ways. That too is a language: Where nothing seems to be, something is.

ulan sa hardin
more than a starlit sheet
fills the cradle

kwento (Tagalog) = story
ulan sa hardin (Tagalog) = rain in the garden

– Kati Mohr, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.1


Back and Forth

The cat can’t settle. It isn’t clear why. Every movement exudes anxiety. Both of us know there are foxes in the neighbourhood. That must be the reason. He’s clearly picking up on something. I thought I had good hearing, but I’ve not noticed anything out of the ordinary. Maybe it’s feline ESP.

blackbird alarm call
in the gathering dusk
we scan an empty road

The paranoia is infectious. I find myself replaying every innocent sound or vibration. Straining to hear non-existent noises. I know they’re out there. They’ve not started their night-time manoeuvres yet. It won’t be long, though. When it’s properly dark there’ll be no stopping them.

something out of place
the cat’s ears turn towards it
a small dog, barking

Now the night terrors begin. The cat has reached sensory overload. There are yelps and squeals from the front garden, while scavenging animals are triggering security lights at the back. I wonder if the cat would be grateful of an extra head. Not that such an oddity would do anything to calm either of us.

murder mystery
the soundtrack hints at danger
a fox’s shrill cry

– David J. Kelly, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.2


Borderline

My backpack is in place, next to the door. It is not big, but holds enough to get me through five days. I bought it in California, and filled it with supplies to survive after an earthquake. It collected dust.

Twenty years later, over five thousand miles from there, it is full again, with food and drink; a first aid kit, transistor radio, notebook and documents. There it stands for me to grab and run. Quakes are very seldom here; but there is fear in the air because of the war which is close by, only minutes away.

canoe by the tent
only the wail of the loon
the smell of charred wood

– Sharon D. Cohagan, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.2


Bridges

Afternoon draws slowly to a close, the schoolhouse falling quiet on the hill. All day long I’ve tried to teach students who don’t want to understand ancient books they think are obsolete. Failing to connect feels like flailing to meditate, opening sliding glass doors only to step into the whoosh of traffic in my mind. I counsel patience, solitude, reflection. How do you help a person ache to recognize a sacred space, to sense the heft of antiquated thoughts and grasp their hot pulse?

June gloom
half the Golden Gate
swallowed by fog

Out rain-streaked windows, I watch for the stray cats who sheltered in a small plastic crate where a bulldozer has just plowed down hill and covering scrub to make a new parking lot. The old woman who loves cats more than people and feeds them every day wanders the graveled clearing looking confused, as if she’s trying to find something to care for.

friendships lost
how many things I didn’t get
in the divorce

– Thomas Festa, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.2


Cadence

Darkness settles quickly on the river, erasing the horizon. Life vests creating a rainbow, our team of 22 rushes to the dock carrying our dragon boat paddles.

Breast cancer, the one subject we rarely discuss, unites us. Tonight, we focus on balancing the boat.

The river holds us as we push off. Up front, the drummer sets the pace. Perched in the back, the steerer quietly directs us as we launch.

We paddle in silence. Feeling the power of our synchronized strokes we follow the river along the city’s edge. We glide. The boat is all strength and grace.

Settling in, my partner and I share a smile. The river bank becomes a blur of spring flowers, children playing, barbecues and a riff of music—rap, salsa, rock. Geese, ducks, and a turtle accompany us.

As a last exercise, we close our eyes, paddling by the feel of the boat. We bury our paddles, pull through the river’s current and approach our dock, the sun low in the sky. In the distance, the city skyline is slowly lighting up.

wind gust
shadow becomes
a blue heron

– Jill Muhrer, Modern Haiku Issue 54.1


Contained

My father’s big hands are as ugly as the Sunday roast. Tentatively, I push my fork into the peas but avoid the meat. He watches, his eyes as cold as the blade of the knife he used to butcher the lamb. The rejected twin I’d helped to raise. “Eat!” he barks.

School holidays begin, and we are warned not to build a treehouse in the old gum behind the hayshed. My older brother knows better. I am seven and follow without question.

A dry branch cracks and gives way. I plummet to the summer-baked earth, breaking an arm.

Thundering from the house, my father strikes my cheek with the back of his hand, grabs the neck of my shirt and bundles me onto the back seat of the car. “Boys don’t cry,” he hisses, driving to the hospital. Stubbled jaw clenched, his eyes never leaving the road.

old bucket
rusted
from the inside

– Gavin Austin, Contemporary Haibun Online Issue 19.1


Deep Water Port

barbed-wire fence
winter stars hung out
for the night

A ripple of harbor lights becomes some recurring dream. Moving aft and fore on this floating world, I seek to unfind my sea legs. Enter the pub. Longshoremen long off duty unloading still. With another dark n’ stormy, the barkeep serves up an attitude. Especially for the one who keeps on about the waterspout and how all the fish just landed in his boat. She turns to seamen mansplaining the supermoon. Shrugs. Asks if I’d like one for the road.

night fog
the joss sticks
refuse my fire

The morning comes too soon. I look again. No ship on the horizon. A frigatebird edges instead a slow scissoring of the sky. I wade into the shallows. Allow salt and sea to scrub me clean. Sun dry on the shore. Washed up beside me like a drowned rat, a drowned rat. Blown out of the palms during last night’s storm or a stowaway escaped from one of the ships at anchor. I bury it in the sand. Climb the hill above the port. A stevedore sets down in the sprawling dockside maze the last container from a freighter already smoking at its stacks.

off-island news
a crease of sailors
along the fence

Back down the path to the spot where sea poison trees drop intricate blossoms into brackish waters. The fire coral below hasn’t bleached itself. I worry the change. Above these coral skeletons, I will a rainbow to bend back to the rising sea. To offer up some sort of treasure. Ever more the link and shift of dolosse counter the erosion along the coastal road. In the distance, a boy skips atop the seawall. Higher and higher. Sea monsters edging ever closer. Licking at his heels.

morning moon
among the whitecaps
a shark’s fin

– Matthew Caretti, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.1


I’ve Never Heard of a Wind Stone

the know-how
of nowhere
tundra wind

I’ve been dreaming of wind stones again.

Thus far, only three dry creek beds in the world are known to produce these naturally occurring cubes of agate that control the weather. They are located in Bamboi, Ghana, Bauru, Brazil and Beattyville, Kentucky. The stones are activated by placing one of their sides on a flat surface and rotating clockwise like a volume knob to increase airflow, or counter-clockwise to decrease airflow.

Each side has a different magnitude and threshold, and the power generated can range from blown kiss to brickfielder. It’s taken years of recurring imagery to piecemeal a basic understanding of what these peculiar stones are and how they behave. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

boulders lean
into the foehn
a lexicon

Of the 38 extant stones, 30 are classified as 1dW, meaning only one of their sides is functional. All of these 1dW stones are low grade, aka  “breeze-force”, fixtures that would struggle to lift a dense bough of honeysuckle blossoms. I’ve seen a few up for sale on eBay.

Three stones are classified as 2dW, with two functional sides. Their highest rated faces are said to conjure “gust-force” winds and are useful in toppling lawn furniture and skewing the flight of birds. All three are in private collections.

Two stones are 3dW and can pull “gale-force” winds from the heavens when properly calibrated. These twin stones from the Bamboi creek bed in Ghana are now owned and operated by the Russian military.

One 4dW stone exists and is locked into position on an African port facing West. Its grading is “trade-force” and ensures the swift passage of ships and planes across the Atlantic.

One 5dW stone is “hurricane-force” and is named “Asa Do Anjo” or “Angel’s Wing”. The only stone of Brazilian origin, it has been tested twice in the Arizona desert and is held at an undisclosed location by the United States government.

The final wind stone is of 6dW classification and graded “solar-force”. I found it at a landscaping store in Beattyville, KY. I use it to wake solar flares, the blinding arms of energy that shake me from the dream.

spring breeze
just like before
never before

– Jonathan Humphrey, Contemporary Haibun Online Issue 19.2


Kintsugi

Wide open at thirteen. It was a year of blood, of trying to fit into a bewildering body. On the doorstep of summer break, I was itching for freedom. As I pulled on my wool uniform, thoughts of sleeping late, running wild ’til the streetlights came on . . . until the news of Bobby’s death rang from the transistor on my dresser. I fell back onto the bed as our house plunged off its foundation. I refused to go to school. Diagrams and fractions suddenly meaningless. Catechism, more than ever, flat rote.

I had had my schoolgirl crushes, my disappointments. This was a different kind of heartbreak. A rip in the seam of the world I was just getting to know.

bird bone flute
the hollow sound
wind makes

What I remembered about his brother’s assassination five years earlier was that it made my impassive mother cry for days. Then the never-ending funeral procession on television. Otherwise, my childhood world remained intact. That was the same year my uncle fell from a ladder and lay for the rest of his days staring at the ceiling in the Veterans Hospital.

But mom still put dinner on the table every day, dad kept going to his job at the mill, and I would learn how to find a common denominator that bound together fractured things.

lightning-split redbud
and yet
blossoms

– Barbara Sabol, 2023 Haiku Society of America Haibun Award, Third Place


Loaves and Fishes

I find him squatting beside an open fire. It is mid-afternoon, and he shades his face when he looks up. Suddenly, his eyes widen to whiteness.

melting lake
I show the grandkids
how to walk on water

One hour earlier, I had pointed to a sprat and then to myself. The fish had slipped through his net and was lying on the beach. He nodded, picked it up, and handed it to me with a toothless smile. And then he was gone.

I walked north awhile and waded into the surf. The cast was no more than forty feet, but the tarpon took immediately, rushing away in a broad arc … that brought it closer and closer to shore. Pretty soon I’d dragged it onto the sand.

gasping for air
my mother’s death
resurrected

The old man stands. He holds a stick wrapped with fire bread. He breaks off a piece, hands it to me. The hand is shaking. Then, without a word, he grabs the giant fish by its gill and backs away, crossing himself.

– Lew Watts, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 18


Star Light, Star Bright

The hardest thing, his mother says, is that they will forget. He will no longer exist as the Sam of practical jokes and wild laughter. He will lose his status as playmate and fellow first grader. The kids will not remember how he worried about them getting sick. ‘Mama, they don’t have backpacks with medicine like me. We have to help them.’

The six-year-olds he went to school with have gone on to eight. They’ve moved beyond him in many ways, and what his mother fears, comes true. The children do not ask about Sam when she sees them. They are timid with her. She loses him again and again. Stops bringing treats on his birthday, does not come to teach the reading group on Wednesday.

Walking by the school, she brushes snow off the ginkgo tree planted in his honor, knows how he is just another child who died young. Returning home, she prepares dinner. His brother and sisters are about to walk in the door from school, dropping books on the table, chattering about their day. She will sit with them as they have an afternoon snack…

I grieve for Sam’s mother, my adult child, knowing there are as many ways of being dead as there are of dying. Her second boy, the older of ‘best brothers’ is terminal with the same disease. I watch her toil endlessly for more time, another drug, something that might keep Zachary alive.

My daughter is an old star, shining too brightly, burning up light from within. As night closes in, I try to reach across the distance that holds her, before she implodes into the dark hole of lost children.

a shiver
at the edge of shadow
white crescent moon

– Jo Balistreri, The Haibun Journal Issue 5.1


What’s Underneath

Bianca lays out the cake just as her father is wheeled into the dining room. The orderly pats his shoulder — “Happy Birthday, Mr. Gorman” — before slipping back into the busy corridor. Bianca cuts a slice of cake, taking care to capture a creme rosette.1

  1. After Mom died, I read through her diaries and found the entry about how, in her fifth month, she hung wallpaper with pink roses in my soon-to-be nursery. She had seen the ultrasound, something you refused to look at or believe. It’s going to be a boy,you insisted. She underlined that, noting how important that was for you, to have a son. That night, after too many shots of whiskey, you ripped everything down; I pictured strips of paper cowering along the baseboards. The next day Mom painted the room white. A fresh start.

in utero
her prayer mingles
with votive shadows

Bianca slides the cake onto a plate and places it before her father. Next to it she lays a thin package wrapped in blue2 foil.

  1. That was your color. I still see you strutting around the house in your jeans and faded work-shirts, smelling of sawdust and nicotine. Even your eyes were blue — a cold blue whenever you looked at me. Sundays you’d watch football with the other men on our block. Sometimes they’d bring their sons and I could see it on your face, the way it darkened. Or at dinner, when Mom asked me about school, how you just ate in silence as I talked about my girlfriends — Jenny’s new sweater, the charms on Cindy’s bracelet. When you started to stab at your meat I knew to stop.

late sun
every shadow straining
to break free

His eyes narrow.3

  1. I remember that look, your eyebrows lowering like storm clouds. I saw it that afternoon I tried to have a catch with Jimmy. He had been next door in his backyard, throwing himself popups. I was taking down Mom’s dresses from the clothesline. He called out to me — “Bianca, throw me a few flies” — and tossed over the ball. I tried, but my throw barely made it over the fence. That’s when you appeared, your eyes two slits. You grabbed the ball and began throwing Jimmy pitches that disappeared into his glove. Smack. Smack.His eyes lit up. So did yours.

twilight blue . . .
in the first star
a second chance

He pokes the package as if it were a wounded animal.4

  1. Of course, Jimmy had to bring you that stray mutt he’d found. By then, you and he had become inseparable. He’d come over while you were tuning the Chevy, and you’d teach him how to change a spark plug. When his mother bought him a new baseball mitt, you both oiled it and wrapped it with twine, the ball a small fist in its pocket. Then he found that mutt, its matted fur the color of tar. You both washed him, gave him water. Jimmy’s mother, Mrs. Foley — Roselyn, you called her — came over later and couldn’t thank you enough. She had long red hair and a too-big laugh. One evening, after you left again for the pub, I asked Mom if Jimmy had a dad. She just shook her head real quick.

diary entry
between each line
the sound of rain

With a quick tug, Bianca tears off5 the wrapping.

  1. I learned how easily things can be stripped away, that day you drove off in the moving van with Jimmy and Roselyn. After that, you were only a cramped signature on a monthly check. That’s when I started to keep a diary, just like Mom. I wrote page after page — first wondering, then pleading, then spitting hate. Every photo I could find of you I tore up. Except for that one of us on the Atlantic City boardwalk, sitting on a bench. I was three, sitting on Mom’s lap, my face looking up in wonder. You sat stiffly beside her, your hair close cropped. I wondered who took the shot — no doubt someone Mom hailed over. I kept it because of how young she looked. How she kept one hand around my waist, my palm wrapped around her raised thumb. How with her free hand she cradled your cheek. In that moment you looked like a lost boy.

waking from a dream
and yet . . .
morning moon

The light from the chandelier shimmers on a white6 box.

  1. That was always Mom’s favorite color. After high school, when I worked in Mitchell’s Floral Shop, I brought home snowdrops, daisies, white roses. Anything to make her brighten. When she started to lose weight I’d buy her creme donuts from Mrs. Fillari’s bakery, where her son Matthew always slipped me an extra cruller. By then you were living upstate, although we weren’t sure where — the return addresses on the checks changed every few months. Summer evenings she and I would sit on the porch in those frayed lawn chairs that you and she had as furniture in your first apartment. Mom bundled a blanket around herself even in the height of August humidity. Sometimes we’d just stare at the sky and she’d tell me stories. Of you. How you loved to go camping with your father and grandfather when you were a boy. How they had taught you to be hard, a man, but still you sang to her at your wedding, your voice as tender as a silk ribbon. How things had been fine until she became pregnant. I’d feel my face tighten, but Mom would touch my hand. Bianca, don’t hate your father,she’d tell me, over and over. Until she couldn’t.

moonrise
adding one more
stone to her cairn

Bianca touches his cheek.7 “Happy birthday, Daddy,” she says.

  1. Funny, when the hospital called, the first thing I thought of was the Atlantic City photo. Matthew and I had moved to the coast, and I was working at a motel that overlooked the bay. It was winter, and I spent most nights checking in one-hour lovers and listening to the Spanish songs of off-season families. Somehow I wasn’t surprised that I was your emergency contact. You had written a few times after Roselyn left you, a handful of crammed words about your latest job and how you hoped to see me soon. The paper always carrying the scent of nicotine. I tore up the letters just like I did all those old photos. Well, almost all. Will you come to take your father?Outside in the courtyard, someone was singing a song with my name in the chorus, and something inside me fell away. It took me a moment to realize the nurse couldn’t hear my head nodding.

storm clouds
break — every wave
spreading moonlight

Bianca lifts the lid. His eyes widen.8

  1. Matthew got the same look when I told him I wanted you to live with us. After all that he did?he kept saying, over and over. I had told him everything, of course, including how the police found you in the doorway of your walkup, the left side of your face drooping like a Dali painting. And how lost you looked when I saw you in the hospital after all those years — your good blue eye tearing up, your crumpled face so weak in the last of the sun’s light. All I could think of in that moment was Mom. Her words. Her touch. Her painting those walls.

new diary
the first word’s
weight

– Rich Youmans, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19

Please note: We did our best, but the formatting of the above haibun differs slightly from the published version, in which the text of the indented footnote sections, including the subsequent haiku, is grey, with a visible border on the left margin; the haiku is also centered under the indented text.


Winter Augury

The hour aches with unnamed sadness. Beyond the windshield, prairie fields brushed with snowy ice crystals, the sky washed in pewter — a timeless monochrome postcard. Birds long gone on their southward migration. Now, it is my turn.

In a quiet mood, driving a winter highway to the airport, I tune the radio to a classical piano recital. Chords stream my body in a strange metaphysical familiarity. The music is a clarion call signaling an invisible shift. I grip the steering wheel, transfixed, listening for hidden messages.

I am bound for warmth: wood fires, pots of coffee, the weekend newspaper, some sections still folded and waiting for me. But I sense home slipping inside an alternate trajectory. Some small tender things will come with me — most will be left behind. I can only go forward, brave-hearted, into all that grief and beauty.

Bach’s chorale prelude Alle Menschen müssen sterben translates to “all men must die.” In my faraway trance with the linen sun muted by clouds, those grave words from the radio host invoke my transmuting world.

wingtips shear the wind
over buried fields —
snowy owl

– Karin Hedetniemi, Haiku Canada Review Issue 17.2


You

That spring the wild like lightning in my limbs. Only knowing living to be a loud voice, trails of tangled briars, borders meant to be left broken until that whoosh of feathers brushed my head.

The sparrow confused by translucence flew into the window. The thud like a plum in windfall and I turned, watched it stunned among stems.

What could I do?

Its chirping flail, eyes blurred milky-pale, chest caved in as if poked by a god that called You.

That echo of You now and the bird long turned in dirt. I long into mid-life.

Such a thing to remember.

The things that linger when we try to forget, try to cast off the grave, break the rooted chains of earth.

end of winter–
roof on the birdhouse
worn smooth

– Mark Smith, Modern Haiku Issue 54.3

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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