Issue 34 – Haibun & Gembun

Gembun

listen to yourself, as mute as Orion . . .

banzai
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

Haibun

Tadka

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.”

communion
the only bread
for months

Bryan Rickert, USA

Soliloquy

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

Remembrance

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

Sento

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

gentian
indigo carmine
brilliant blue
fast green
sunset yellow
carmoisine
erythrosine
ponceau 4R

choosing hues
from the spectrum—
dad’s medicines

Geethanjali Rajan, India

Re-orientation

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

imbalance

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

Jilted

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.”

hungover
a smeared poem
on the bar tab

Terri L. French, USA

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Issue 33 – Haibun & Gembun

Haibun

Sorry, Mom

I can’t remember the taste of the fried Spam sandwiches I ate as a kid nor the headaches they gave me, but I’ve heard the stories. And later as a young adult, when grandpa had just died from a brain tumor and migraine headaches hospitalized me, you would blame yourself and your fried Spam sandwiches, would confess the doctor had told you to stop feeding me Spam, would apologize for being poor, would apologize for everything. It runs in the family. We’re always sorry for something. It might be our fault.

after the wake
second-guessing my taste
in whiskey

Bob Lucky, Portugal

Bitters

Only a few family members bothered showing up to stand vigil by her deathbed. All of them quiet and cold. A reflection of their upbringing. Grandma was already a petite woman and illness had whittled her down to bones. It must have taken every ounce of strength still in her to sit up, point to grandfather and call out, “Clarence, I pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary that someday you will burn in hell!” Not long after that, she finally found, in death, the peace she had always wanted but couldn’t have in life.

the old pub
forgetting which stool
was his

Bryan Rickert, USA

The Speaker Drones On

I drawl to my friend, “It’s been a wonderful year for me. The covid pandemic has opened up multiple avenues on virtual open-mics for my poetry—making new friends, and connected with old—I’ll be sad when the vaccine stops all this Zooming. It’s been so much fun.”

on mute
I open another
bottle of wine

John S Green, USA

Latch

On the third morning, I woke in a puddle, pinned and in pain, unable to move. “Bring me the baby,” I whispered.

skin to skin the lore of engorgement

Kat Lehmann, USA

How She Was

My poet friend Elva is no longer here but her husband, over ninety, like she was, likes to share their stories. For her life celebration she planned a party. I played host, as she would have wanted, but it was her older friends that had the twinkles in their eyes and knew the most. They’d memorized poems from her “Being She” and her recipe for blue martinis. And shared her travel secrets as if she’d given a script.

Statue of David
her mischievous look
as she placed the rose

Kath Abela Wilson, USA

In the Dark

The frequency of a dog whistle usually exceeds 20,000 Hz, beyond the audible range of the human ear. The one in my hand also appears to be silent to my 6-month old pup. Is it faulty? How would I know?

faking it
I say it was good
for me too

Lew Watts, USA

Lukewarm

I’m no longer sure I believe hell exists, or god for that matter, but it was embedded in me that suicide is a sin. . . and that’s one belief I just can’t seem to shake.

southern baptist
the church pew’s
fresh graffiti

Lori A Minor, USA

Against the Grain

September, 1994

Early on this warm autumn day Rome’s Spanish Steps have already gathered crowds. Couples and groups stroll across the Piazza di Spagna from cafés, shops and the American Express office. Some pause to take snapshots beside the Barcaccia and drink from the fountain. Others wander up the steps and flop, arms around their pals’ shoulders, eating gelato and sculling Cokes in a buzz of laughter and talk. Old travertine disappears under sprawling young bodies. Artists set up where they can squeeze an easel between terracotta tubs of pink bougainvillea, dashing off pencil portraits and watercolours of St Peters. Off to one side, an Asian man writes a girl’s name on a rice grain for good luck. I watch as he tucks his work into a small glass vial filled with clear oil. He loops this around her neck on a leather cord. Lire change hands. She beckons her friend who says her name. The calligrapher nods, tips a new long white seed into a palm, gives his technical pen a shake and begins inscribing the tiny characters for Mary.

double lines
of bent backs
spring paddy

Marietta McGregor, Australia

Gembun

a hundred black wings cluster a cawing horizon

a fork in the road
in our lives
these autumn decisions

does our thirst play tricks on us

groping
in the ground fog
I become the answer

Kala Ramesh, India

Return to Issue

Keith Polette – USA (PJ32)

going stag . . .
i follow deer tracks
into the forest


old growth . . .
her mother’s voice
under her own


birthday
reaching twenty-one
at blackjack


The River

The clear stream carried the morning sunlight to the bend where it disappeared.  I waded in and cast my line to the shallows of the opposite bank, hoping to hook Walleye or Bass.  After an hour of casting and reeling, catching nothing but time, I was ready to close my tackle box and call it a day, when a dragonfly landed on the tip of my rod.  Perched in a six-legged grip, it was a blue bloom at the end of a long stem.  The wings, glinting in sun, translucent, thin as a whisper, did not move, like a biplane grounded.  Its eyes looked like dark observatories.  Then, as quick as a blue-tipped match stuck to life, the dragonfly lifted, hovered for a moment, then disappeared into light, leaving me standing there, the first catch of the day, shimmering in water.

fishing lure
the flash of her leg
in fine-mesh net