Issue 37 – Haibun & Gembun


Watching it live

I am five and a half. Everyone is in the living room. The ceiling is Artexed and the carpet is the orange of a nightwatchman’s jacket. I’m sat in my pyjamas with a glass of milk. My grandparents are behind me on dad’s Practical Woodworking project pine sofa. On either side, my parents lean forward on the brought-in kitchen table chairs. Dad puts his hand on my shoulder as the astronaut steps off the ladder…

outside             on t.v.             the moon

Alan Peat, United Kingdom


Tonight I would like to silence the sweetness of the summer wind. Listen to another voice, feel the touch of a hand, feel …

on my pillow
the dream catcher

Instead, I take a book from the bedside table and read, so as not to listen to the wind and call the sleep.

I wander among

Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo, Netherlands/Italy


just suicidal enough to fake my death consummate my pain in some dramatic gesture delete social media and finally get some good fucking sleep to dream for myself alone imagining everyone wondering what happened

heavy summer
when I’m depressed even my cat
doesn’t like me


there is morning today, and it is like any morning, more or less, the sky is gray, there is my phone in my hand and words of war gleaming under the glass, and it’s another blunted senseless day of carrying on with it all

drops of milk
stirred into my morning coffee
news of bombings . . .

Ash Evan Lippert, USA

Shark Week

Monday morning the mechanic calls and tells me to sit down. Wednesday I receive an email from an anonymous woman who tells me I’m missing out on the most romantic experience of my life and that I should wire her $1000 to secure it. Friday evening two Cub Scouts are standing at my door with a box of cookies. It’s out before I can stop myself: ‘What’s your angle?’

the warm-hearted smile
i usually flash––
endangered species

Benedict Grant, Canada

Travel Advice

Sit in a café and read a newspaper in a language you want to know better. Pretend you’re never going home, even if you’ve never left.

red-eye departure
adding my two cents
to the bathroom wall

Bob Lucky, Portugal


Alone in my desert.

Reading Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, unable to climb out of the Inferno into Paradise. A virtual church pummels with platitudes. A purgatory of filling tax forms, swamped with unfiled receipts and too much coffee. COVID cabin fever compounds the gloom. Snow melts to grime. My banjo plays the blues. A colonoscopy is booked.

sorting sepia photos
so many
forgotten names

There’s no GPS in my desert.

Wandering aimlessly in boredom, binge watching movies, all the same construct with not very subtle twists. Hours spent gazing at Facebook, getting kicks from the minutia of other folk’s lives. Every time I resolve to snowshoe, the temperature drops to the minus teens.

Longing for Spring.

For dog-tooth violets blooming in the elm root hollow, trilliums carpeting the forest, marsh-marigolds gilding the mud flats, an insistency of cardinals, and sunbathing with the dandelions in fresh, sweet grass.

spring equinox
druids circle
the sarsen stone

Bryan D. Cook, Canada

she says she loves me but I have my doubts

another anniversary
the flowers
I bought her
don’t even warrant
a kiss

not even science wants him

in the coffin
my first time
smelling him
without the whiskey

Bryan Rickert, USA

Family Ties

Mother insisted that Dad have a funeral mass. I spoke up. That is not what he wanted! He said he wanted a wake, play his old 78’s, wear party clothes, get plastered…Ten eyes glared at me. You are upsetting her, they said. Daddy’s girl, they added.

I pulled my black dress over my red slip and joined the others at the church. I swayed to my IPOD Frank Sinatra tunes before the service started, and sipped vodka from my water bottle during the homily.

nightmare strangled by apron strings

Carol Judkins, USA


In the grocery store, a colander is only a dollar.

slipping through

I keep looking at the tag. One dollar.

the cracks

I assumed colanders were expensive. All those holes.

a quantum

It’s not until now, at 23-years old, that I wonder why we spent years—decades—carefully pouring the water from boiled pasta.


I choose the white one and put it in my cart.

Connecting the Stars

Our old house is listed on realtor sites today, a Tuesday. I think of other Tuesdays that brought a shift in my life. First child’s birth. Second child’s birth.

moving day

My throat feels sore. Nothing terrible, just the brink of something. I immerse myself in the comfort of a warm bath.

grandmother’s lilies

If home is the place where it’s okay to feel sick, where will I feel sick now?

in a stranger’s lawn

Maybe this Tuesday is just another birthing, a former life pushed into gravity.

Kat Lehmann, USA

from Red Riding Hood’s Blog

Recently, I’ve been reading some poets who’ve been trying to revise my story, like I’m an iPhone that needs an update, or like I’m little more than a “social construct” with as much value as a can of soup. Like they know. For whatever reason, they’re not satisfied with me living in “once upon a time,” in illo tempore, so they wrench me out of the primeval forest of myself — one of the few places left where you can still find wolves that talk — and relocate me in suburbia, like I’m in a witness protection program, where they say I’ve become a bored soccer mom, divorced from the Wood Cutter (who has a drinking problem), with two kids, driving a Toyota, and living the kind of life where I do little more than make the cupcakes of ennui, all the while longing for those timeless days when I traversed the woods like a lit match on a path that was dangerous, dark, and deep.

summer strip mall
all-you-can-eat coupons
at the Pork Palace

So let me set the record straight. What people miss is that the wolf didn’t dispatch my grandmother, didn’t devour her like a Thanksgiving ham, because — wait for it — the wolf is my grandmother, and vice-versa: sometimes she’s the grandmother, sometimes she’s the wolf, and there is no difference; it just depends on how you look at it. I thought everyone knew that. So, later in the story, when the wolf eats me, don’t be concerned, don’t call the Wood Cutter, and don’t rewrite me, because if you really think about it, you’d realize that I belong in the belly of the beast, because that’s where I find the time to change, to let my teeth grow long and sharp, to perfect my growl, and where, finally, I become reborn as the “great mother,” the one who is fierce, ferocious, and free. The one coming your way.

ice cave––
the dragon’s heart stirring
in the dark

Keith Polette, USA

“Lady, Be Good”

I park her wheelchair and set the brake before taking the open seat. Josie and Clare are already waiting. They don’t speak, even when I give my standard wink. There’s an unfamiliar tension in the room.

Some of the tables have been moved, encircling one in the corner. The usual smell of overcooked greens is missing, drowned out by the pungent scent of blue-rinsed hair. I notice that Josie’s eyes are watering from eye make-up, and most of her lipstick has missed her mouth. Indeed, stray lipstick seems to be everywhere.

A sudden frisson announces his arrival. Tall, with a straight gait, he walks across the room to join two other men. “His name is George,” Clare whispers to me. “A bachelor,” Mom adds, “and he can drive at night.”

rest home radio . . .
lulling her to sleep
with The Man I Love

Lew Watts, USA

Med School Confidential

One year, 1969 – 1970, Texas, at the very height of the Vietnam War. I passed my every course with high marks. And then one day I walked away.

I had a mustache and Yellow Submarine lunchbox, but had to wear an official white coat and tie each day. The school provided me with a black bag, stethoscope, ophthalmoscope, and lots of other assorted junior A.M.A. goodies; still have ’em. The school also freely prescribed all the pretty pills I needed to get me through round-the-clock schedules. I took a lot. I drank a lot.

ego tripping
with maxwell’s silver hammer*––
knee jerk reflex jerk

Four of us shared our own cadaver, a silver-haired giant of a gentleman who popped-up every day for us from his steel formalin tank. We named him “The Senator.” The smell persists no matter how many times you wash. Can almost still smell it. One day, in the respiratory physiology lab, they provided a dog to experiment upon. I still remember that poor sacrificial dog and will never forget her eyes looking at me – – the last straw. Shortly thereafter, I resigned, walked away from it all, and broke my parents’ hearts. A week later, I received my draft notice.

and ever after . . .
always following
what my dog tells me

*A Beatles song off of the Abbey Road album (1969)

Mark Meyer, USA

Nuptial Rightness

pear liqueur
learning a new

A humid, warm, treacle-still afternoon. Someone props open double garage doors. This does nothing to dispel the cloying heat, only letting in more hot air. Heaped bowls of potato salad, pickles, rice, pasta and roasted peppers load long trestle tables spread with embroidered white linen. Lines of golden spirits bottles stand already open. Guests fan themselves as they pile plates with spit-roasted pig and accompaniments.

Someone places in front of the bride the whole roasted pig’s head, its mouth agape and singed ears tipped at jaunty angles. A delicacy. She recoils slightly, downs her champagne in three gulps, then holds out her glass for more. Several glasses in she’s picking ruminatively at a glossy porcine cheek, popping crispy morsels between red lips slick with grease. The levels of golden spirits drop.

Dusk, and it’s still stiflingly hot. No one cares – we’re singing folk songs in a language we don’t speak and smashing glasses on the driveway. Some people dance. Everyone agrees signs are good for a long and happy second marriage. Captive butterflies, released during the ceremony, flew off after they warmed up briefly in the bride’s cupped hands. We reckon if we make it through tomorrow, our headaches will join the memories.

a horseshoe
of white satin
her new prince

Marietta McGregor, Australia

Never Forgotten

From the back of a drawer falls this letter, written in 2001 from the woman I shared an apartment with in the late sixties. I’m sorry I didn’t write at Christmas, she says. My sister died an hour after Christmas midnight of ovarian cancer. She tells me now that in her dying, she was able to end a nine-year estrangement with her sister, not unlike the long estrangement between the two of us. Despite having her own ovaries removed, my old friend dies less than a decade later of a cancer in the ovarian family. I tuck her letter back into the drawer under the last letter from a good friend who died of esophageal cancer. When I think I can bear no more I uncover a letter from an artist friend I met in the sixties in O’Hare, our commuter plane grounded by snow. Brilliant, he was already exhibiting at the MoMA and we became close. My apartment was soon filled with his photomontages. Three years ago he had a serious stroke, ending his darkroom days and art tours, and died a month ago. I’ve thrown away so many old handwritten letters and am glad to have these with the imprint of the person still seared into them. I’m glad I have my first husband’s letters from Vietnam, dead now also of esophageal cancer. I’m also glad I have letters from my father telling me what a good daughter I was to him and my mother.

float through
my house
the genie’s bottle

Pris Campbell, USA

A New Nose

in the mirror
the high cost
of living

“It’s malignant,” the voice on the phone tells me.

I arrive for surgery the following morning. Numbing injections. The first causes tearing up. Then injections two, three, four and so on. By the time the surgeon is ready to start, I’m sure he could decapitate me.

“I’ll remove the tumor a layer at a time and look at each under the microscope until I’m sure the cancer is gone,” the doctor explains. “I won’t take more than I absolutely have to so that rebuilding your nose won’t be too much of a problem.”

“Fantastic,” I tell myself. “A new nose. Maybe it’ll look better than the one I’ve seen in the mirror for 75 years.”

at windmills
the surgeon’s scalpel

Sharon Rhutasel-Jones, USA

Chicago Café

Everyone looks at him, even if briefly. He sits alone, staring into space, occasionally taking sips from a small espresso cup. The tics seem to mostly involve his head and shoulders, a contraction, a violent shrug, a silent sneeze every minute or so. The verbalizations, hardly more articulate than grunts, are near-constant, just barely audible above the din of conversation. I wonder if his neck and throat hurt as badly as mine at the end of a long day. I want to say something, but would that be more unwelcome attention? Silent thanks for the pharmaceuticals that keep me contained.

symptom check         I stick out my tongue at the doctor

Stephen A Allen, USA

F   O   G

so thick even the low-beams bounce back into my eyes making it difficult to drive faster than a snail’s pace. I squint and clutch the wheel, try to stay right of the dotted center line. Night blindness usually keeps me off the road after dark, especially when it’s raining, but not tonight. This is my first meeting for parent’s of children struggling with substance abuse. Tonight’s discussion will be on boundaries; that is something I desperately need help with. Stopping at a red light, I exhale the breath I’ve been holding. I will get there. . .I will get there.

zero visibility
everything loses
its definition

Terri L. French, USA


If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

I pause to take a breath and to discuss the metaphorical aspects of these lines with my grade eight class. They try to build up convincing discussion points.

“Let’s get back to the text,” I say after a few minutes of interaction.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this,
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

My students pretend to be attentive. But I notice the furtive glances, the blushes, the smiles, a spaced out expression while the hand doodles.

I continue, straight-faced.

Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

hearts and flowers . . .
a folded piece of paper
in a uniform pocket

*text from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Vidya Shankar, India


the mollusk’s new handbag

cheetah print
one more whiskey
before the dancefloor

Kelly Sauvage, USA & Agnes Eva Savich, USA

old photograph––
this is me
this was me

pouring myself into the body-shaped abyss

Vijay Prasad, India & Richa Sharma, India

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Issue 36 – Haibun, Gembun, Rengay & Sequences


Answering Machine

Dad rings to tell us it’s prostate cancer. He’s phlegmatic; says that at his age he’ll most likely die with it than of it. We talk around the subject; he puts mum on. She’s worrying about us worrying so she’s overly upbeat. I tell her that we’ve sorted the passports and we’ll see them soon. We agree it’ll fly by.

The cat is still asleep in its patch of sunlight. Way above, the honey buzzards are still circling. Music still drifts from kitchen to garden. Nothing is different. Everything is different.

winter evening
in the shade of
his second shadow

Alan Peat, United Kingdom

Visiting the Past

Running along the length of Korea are majestic mountains. Covered in lush forests filled with aromatic Hinoki trees, they provide a comforting escape from the rush of city lives. For millennia these mountains have stood as sentinels, calmly watching the flow of time and the journey of humans.

rain forest café
the waiter in a zebra shirt
and leopard pants

Carol Raisfeld, USA


. . . When everyday is like yesterday
in dreary predictability
I seek succour in memories,
drown in nostalgia
savouring every lick, until its
sweetness too evaporates
until I turn to words
for sustenance, each stroke
relished and gourmandised
and hope reigns eternal . . .

stretching the day beyond her means tram stop

Madhuri Pillai, Australia


the dregs of nirvana

Thursday rain
he serves me leftovers
on the chipped plate

Kelly Sauvage, USA & Agnes Eva Savich, USA

minutes on the meter

high anxiety
the abyss
of an unfinished poem

Kelly Sauvage, USA & Robert Moyer, USA


Two Straws

50’s dance party
getting into
the swing of things

a trombone player

directing the band with his slide

her poodle dog skirt
from the thrift shop––
never been worn


a soda

with two straws

he waits for a slow dance
to ask her

In the Still of the Night

taking the long way


Angela Terry, USA & Julie Schwerin, USA

Om Shante Shante

a poker chip
nestled in the stone
Buddha’s palm

free from desire

Tao roulette

disgruntled patron
suing the casino
for bad feng shui

lost among slots

the endless chimes

of ten thousand things

losing streak
bad karma catches up

carpet maze

the way out the door

is within

Terri L. French, USA & Kat Lehmann, USA


Land of the Free

electric gate
Your Kind of Community
in glowing white letters

picket fences
a white man shadows
the black teen

thud of footsteps
one bark answers

ID check
the black teen’s shadow
slips out of the gate

Chen-ou Liu, Canada

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Issue 34 – Haibun & Gembun


listen to yourself, as mute as Orion . . .

the hell we dodge
each day

Source: Remixed from pages 40, 42, 64, & 68 of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Shloka Shankar, India



When you speak to me or I to you, in all the different languages between us from all the worlds we live – in silliness, in seriousness, in public faces, in private fears, in the idioms of our mothers and what of our fathers has left us tongue-tied, we speak in a broken-wholeness of tongues. Seasoned past the half-mark of our lives we find, like schoolgirls, spice where there was only salt to taste before.

a splutter
in heated oil––
chattering friends

Anannya Dasgupta, India

Spring Cleaning

Thoreau’s call for simplicity still strikes a chord. Lately, I’ve been doing my bit to clear the clutter. Nothing major: just getting rid of things that I’ve been carrying around for years and have outgrown. Like you.

useful, sure,
but are they really
essential oils

Benedict Grant, Canada

Our Daily Bread

The old man’s recollection of that summer was clear. Much of the food and resources from the larger Caribbean islands nearby were used in the war effort. The boat that came to collect all the men of age to fight the war in Europe was the last to come for quite some time. Subsistence living suddenly grew even harder.

the walk to school
a mango
split four ways

Run by a handful of nuns, the only school was next to the Catholic church and it only had so many chairs. When a new child came in, one of the older kids simply cycled out. This is how, at age twelve, he became a working man. Barefoot and whip skinny, he would walk a kilometer through rough terrain to help build some of the island’s first real roads. Cutting down trees and splitting boulders. At quitting time, he would walk back home and help tend the small hillside garden plots the family would use to grow food.

island sunset
fish and rice
by lamplight

Telling me the story about the day his little brother was baptized the old man starts to tear up. At the time of the baptism, the islanders hadn’t even seen flour for nearly nine months. He simply recalled waking, working, and going to bed hungry. Baptism was an important time for the people whose life was rooted in faith. The family only had one pair of baby shoes and they had one purpose. For this family devoted to faith, the shoes were worn by every child on their day of baptism. In those days the sacrament was performed in Latin just days after birth, just in case. When the service was over, the priest took him aside. Pulling a small pouch of oats from under his cassock, the priest gave it to him. “For the baby”, the priest said. “It’s all I have to give.”

the only bread
for months

Bryan Rickert, USA


One moment your forehead is weaving a frown, then your lips curl up into a half smile. While putting you to bed, I try to anticipate what the next day will bring: a new expression, a string of gurgling sounds, or a different shade of blue in your eyes?

As you stare intently at my face, your right hand hanging on to my hair, I wonder if you will remember these bonding moments, my one-sided conversations.

my share
of the silence
mother’s day


Looking through our family albums, I notice there isn’t a single photo of just me and my mother. When I ask her why, she says she was always the one behind the camera.

old diary
that little girl’s voice
still inside me

Debbi Antebi, United Kingdom


The first thing I notice is the noren over the door, which is shaped like a pair of trousers. As I know only basic Japanese my English students wrote out the kanji characters for man and woman so I don’t enter the wrong side. A kind lady greets me at the reception and chats away. I don’t catch most of what she is saying. She imitates washing her body and I nod and smile. She then imitates getting into the pool and I give her a thumbs up.

vending machine
the change warms my hand

I undress and lock my clothes away. This is my first time being completely naked in front of strangers and I feel butterflies in my stomach. Scrubbing myself thoroughly at the washing area, I know that absolute cleanliness is important. The hot water is quite invigorating. Moving around, the heat makes me sweat profusely.

bubbles come up
as I break wind
a floating world

Just then a hunky Japanese man strides in with quite a package. He tests the water and jumps straight in. No pre-wash. He sits across from me and I catch a glimpse of his ripped abs dripping with water. I move towards the foaming spray, afraid that my manhood might get stiff for all to see. He turns around and reveals angel wings tattooed on his entire back and buttocks. My students said that the yakuza are the only ones who openly display their tattoos and they don’t like foreigners. I get out and cool down in a different bath.

cycling through puddles
the reflection of street lights
guide me home

Diarmuid Fitzgerald, Ireland

The painter of landscapes

indigo carmine
brilliant blue
fast green
sunset yellow
ponceau 4R

choosing hues
from the spectrum—
dad’s medicines

Geethanjali Rajan, India


Kat Lehmann, USA

Coming Down

On the verge of climax, he pauses to change the radio. “I prefer Rob Zombie when I’m fucked up on pills.”

evening primrose
he gets off
on my trauma

Over Before It Begins

The last time I shaved my legs, I had a panic attack. It was the first date since my engagement ended and when I told the guy I hadn’t shaved in a while, he said “well, you’ve still got a few days.”

cold tamales
the bitter taste
of expectations

Lori A Minor, USA


Too far to the left, to the right, breathe, find your center
and move from there

Rooted, as if you were a tree, let all your weight go down
below your feet, all the way to the center of the earth
At the same time, suspend your head from the heavens
to ride the clouds

Feel your feet spread out like the bottoms of a sand dune
shift your weight without pushing off from the ground
as if a thousand pounds hung off your coccyx bone
Now pop your head on straight, your neck and spine
in perfect alignment as if they were a string of pearls
imagining a one-pound weight hanging from your chin

Keep your wrists seated at all times making beautiful lady’s wrists
If your right leg is substantial your right arm is insubstantial
If the left arm is insubstantial the right leg is the one to look out for

Be like water, your gaze soft
your eyes resting on the horizon
But above all, first and foremost, you must relax

tai chi
shifting my stance
in the checkout line

Michael Henry Lee, USA


An old friend told me that since she’d stopped drinking two years ago she could no longer write. “My muse flew the coup,” she said. That seems to happen a lot with those who’ve chosen to ride the wagon. I wonder where all of these muses go? Playing the slots in Vegas maybe? Sipping a café au lait at a little French Bistro? Tucked away at a Himalayan Buddhist retreat? They may be happy that the artists, writers, musicians they inspired went dry. Can you imagine the sense of responsibility? Seldom do they get credit for any work of art produced, but always receive blame when inspiration is lacking. I’ll bet they’ve all met up to raise a glass to freedom. But there will be a few—those who actually miss their keepers—who will return with a bottle in hand, “Drink up,” they’ll say, “We’ve got some work to do.”

a smeared poem
on the bar tab

Terri L. French, USA

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