Haibun are a form of writing which take their inspiration from the travel journals of haiku poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-94). In these, such as the classic Oku no Hosomichi (‘The Narrow Road to the North’), he combined passages of prose with haiku and this became an established way of writing.
Modern day haibun are often autobiography, essays, short story or prose poems. There are specific haibun journals in which they can be published, and many haiku journals will also accept submissions of haibun.
These are my current published haibun (and the journal they are published in):
(Drifting Sands Haibun 3, September 2020)
For Jan Benson 1952-2019
She was sick but that is true for so many of my friends. Admittedly, the diagnoses sounded more final than chronic, but her energy for life continued to be so strong.
One day she told me she had no more pictures of crows to send.
I didn’t know that was her way of saying she was dying.
(Bleached Butterfly #1, June 2019)
Slowly, I come to.
First fingers. Then arms, legs and toes.
From somewhere a torso appears, topped by a head.
The pain takes a little longer to arrive. But when it does
the body is gathered in a cocoon of ringing muscles and
Eyelids flicker. Hands reach for water to wet a dry mouth.
The sun continues to rise.
I beat my wings
into the void
(Human/Kind 1.6, June 2019)
Global warming. Terrorist attacks. The rise of right-wing populism.
You could be forgiven for thinking it is the end of days.
In The Bible the book of Revelations describes how the world will end, as the devil sends the beast to do his work and bring an end to God’s kingdom.
Nordic people instead foresaw a great battle of the gods, Ragnarok, as the curtain closing act.
Physicists prefer to predict the heat death of the universe.
When I was young, there was a man who walked the streets of London wearing a billboard with the slogan ‘The End of the World is Nigh’.
I wonder where he is now.
a teenage girl
clutches her banner
(Human/Kind 1.4, April 2019)
Left to its own devices, almost any patch of ground will not remain bare for long, before being colonised by some kind of plant. Even rocky shorelines are home to thrift and sea kale, and retreating glaciers are swiftly replaced by alpine grasses and willowherbs.
This planet may be small and blue by virtue of being seventy percent ocean, but the land is most definitely green.
Wild flowers are one thing, happy to be left to their own devices to grow, fruit and senesce. Gardening is quite another. Growing flowers and vegetables from seed is an art and domesticated plants are like pets – they need far more care and protection than their feral counterparts.
No one would call me green-fingered and plants in my care are rather taking their chances. Best intentions are soon forgotten and, before too long, a once well-tended patch is abandoned to the wild, as much as I am myself.
daisy print dress
she loves me
loves me not
(Blithe Spirit 28(4), winter 2018)
First light. With fumbling hands, I reach for matches. Striking one, I wait for the initial burst of flame to die down, then gently place it tip to tip with a stick of Japanese incense for a few seconds. The stick is thin and around six inches long, fragile enough to need careful handling so as not to break. As it catches light, the tip begins to glow, and I note the familiar aroma of sandalwood and jasmine enter my nose, slowly raising it to touch my forehead in a sign of respect. Again, with slow deliberate movements, I place it fully upright in a bowl of earth and take my seat on the cushion.
the mist clears
breath by breath
(Scryptic 2.3, November 2018)
I have never liked the cold although, given the choice of dying from fire or ice, I would choose ice every time. Fire has no heart and just destroys. The cold of ice is deeply intimate, penetrating the deepest parts of your being, knowing you totally and utterly before freezing you completely.
Winter is ruthless. The old, infirm and weak all live in fear of her touch, just as the stragglers at the edge of the herd are picked off by lions. Wrapping the earth in ice we are, to all intents and purposes, her prisoners in the dark and cold months that gather at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.
The Algonquin speaking tribes of north America speak of the wendigo, walkers on the wind who are known from their ashen skin wrapped around emaciated bodies. Sunken eyes watch for human prey. Winter is the time of the wendigo and they too must suffer the lean months when food is thin on the ground and even the humans they do take to the grave are themselves often half starving.
Snow falls and piles up on top of ice. The low sun discovers new shapes and makes eerie shadows from them during the few hours of daylight that remain. Under the ice there may be life yet, but it is almost impossible to tell. At times it feels like the land will always be white and under the dominion of cold and ice. All that was supple and alive is now solid and brittle. Movement makes life, stillness takes it away.
Humans find ways to block out the darkness with fire and warmth but even that can only extend as far as their own door. In each of our minds we know that when the last candle goes out, the dark will return. Our hearth fire is just a short respite.
Longer days of warmth and sun will return to us. Or, at least, they always have. Maybe one day the fire of the world will go out and there will be nothing to hope for but more ice. On nights like this, the sound of the wind brings the wendigo rather too close, and I hope that the sun gods hear our prayers that the coming winter will be short and kind.
a world beyond
(published in Italian translation in the Violenza Contro le Donne anthology)
Even for young girls, the seeds of sexual violence are already there: unwanted comments on appearance, hands where they should not be, intimations of power and weakness. Continuing to grow as they do, thorns snag into hair, skin and flesh with most carrying scars before leaving their teens. As young women they already get the message – you are not the one with power.
A wiser society would ask why half its population move as if surrounded by a forest of briars, and only speak of their experience among themselves. A wiser society would wonder why its women have so many stories of men overstepping their boundaries, and why so few cases of sexual violence are brought to trial. A wiser society would stop asking its daughters to dress differently and behave differently and instead focus on planting new seeds in its sons. A wiser society would ask why there is so much focus on Islamic terror when the biggest danger women face comes from their own men.
a thousand grandmothers
sharpen their axes