Issue 33 – Haibun & Gembun


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


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


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


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


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

in the ground fog
I become the answer

Kala Ramesh, India

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Kala Ramesh – India (PJ32)

The Palmist

My father never believed in the godhead, preferring simply to talk to his Lord Muruga, but he had an abiding belief in astrology. He was a doctor and one of his regular patients was Mr. Gurumurti, who knew astrology well. They would talk for hours about how the planets affect us. I often heard these animated conversations and would scoff at the idea that distant planets could even influence my digestion and health!

One day, father came home all excited because the roadside palmist had predicted that our family would soon acquire a piece of land. He whistled raga bilahari jubilantly. A piece of land in Chennai means money!

A week later, we had a visit from our neighbour, a robust man who always gestured grandly with his hands when he spoke. He had learned that the gate of his family’s compound was wrongly cemented; their family astrologer advised them not to shift the gate but to redo the compound wall according to vastu shastra. He said that since we had been their neighbours for more than four generations, a piece of land just over one foot wide was going to be gifted to us. He declared this with the expansive gesture of a king giving away bounties to his people.

This generous decision brought two coconut trees and one-fourth of a mango tree into our compound.

the criss-crossing
of tree branches —
knots in the air

stories in the trickle of an hourglass rain

David Graham – USA (PJ32)

Pain Believer

For a moment this morning, before I put on my glasses, I thought the aspirin bottle on the counter read “Pain Believer.” Which is exactly what I am, I suppose, especially as I age. Creaky knees and aching feet; stiff back, cataract-dimming eyes. It’s true I find my eyes as well as my joints steadily less reliable. And in fact I don’t much remember life before eyeglasses. But I do recall with prophetic sharpness the moment when the eye doctor slipped that first pair over my ears, then lifted the window shade. “Look out as far as you can,” he instructed. “What do you notice?”

I could barely answer. The world’s beautiful blur suddenly lovely in a whole new way. Distant trees, clothes lines, road signs all snapped into focus. Objects assumed individual identities. I could see single leaves trembling in the light breeze. But it was a strong wind blowing over me from then on, and delicious. I leaned hard into it.

tree limbs creak
against each other
in april wind