Haibun story published in Scryptic 2.1
That spring in Kyoto, few people had heard of the word retrovirus or knew what it meant. As the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) reached the old capital, hanami (blossom picnics) took place as usual. Couples and families gathered beneath the trees, spreading out their blankets to share food and sake as they have done for centuries. Stories and laughter fell from open mouths as the blossom drifted around them.
The first cases seemed little more than an allergic reaction. Patients were admitted to the university hospital with mild breathing difficulties after being in close proximity to flowering trees, but these resolved quickly in the emergency room with the administration of a little oxygen and some reassuring words.
In the days following, a small trickle of patients became a flood, and consultants from the Ear, Nose and Throat department found themselves being called to the ER with increasing regularity. More and more patients were admitted for overnight stays to stabilise their breathing, and a general warning was released to the population of the city that cherry blossom viewing was now considered something you should do at your own risk, with breathing masks advised as a caution.
Overnight, Maruyama Park, and other traditional places for hanami became deserted. The rest of Kyoto settled into a sombre silence quite unlike any other spring in recorded memory.
One week after the first signs, 23-year-old Yuko Konomi became patient zero, the first fatality from what was now being called Sakura yamai (Cherry blossom disease). Her parents stood by her bedside as doctors desperately tried to revive her, unwilling to give up while any hope remained. Eventually, even they resigned themselves to the inevitability of such a young death.
As Yuko’s face turned white, a single pale pink blossom appeared from between her lips.
No one said a word.
a seashell to my ear
the sound of gunfire
pressing a seashell to my ear’…this opening phrase across lines 1 & 2 should conjure up images of a wonderful day with this shell as a momento from a beach holiday where the sound of the sea reminds us of a great vacation. Line 3 however brings everything into perspective…’the sound of gunfire’. Personally I would have left out ‘the’ on line 3 and perhaps added an ellipsis to the end of line 2 creating a pause for the reader to digest the initial phrase but it is of no consequence in getting the message across. The poet has lost that childhood wonder of the seashell, a sad yet all too common effect from PTSD and related illnesses where everything reminds the veteran of past tragic events…indeed stripping the poet of the joy that pressing a seashell to your ear should bring. There of course are other instances now that this could relate to where ‘beach and gunfire’ have other tragic connotations. The more one dwells on these poignant words, the more images can be produced. Another very clever aesthetic used in this senryu is sound. The ‘s’ sounds almost replicate the sounds of the seashell that can be remembered from childhood until the final word ‘gunfire’ shatters what should be a great memory. Perhaps the poet is yearning for those innocent days…
—Brendon Kent (Judge’s Comment)
A wonderful senryu, which imagery conveys much more than is shown directly. The seashell might be a subtle metaphor for the fallen soldiers themselves. Seashells being the remainders of shellfish, of course. I did feel that this poem could have been written a little more compact: By omitting ‘the’ from line 3, or even using only ‘gunfire’ as line 3. (With or without an exclamation mark). Nevertheless, this poem was without a doubt my choice for third place. It also has a strong disjunctive juxtaposition, vivid imagery and a solid structure.
—Michael Smeer (Judge’s Comment)
Very happy to be awarded first prize in the My Haiku Pond Academy quicky contest for World Haiku Day 2018. Even more lovely were the generous comments by both judges Eric Lohmann and Michael Smeer:
each flower in turn
(to give credit where it is due, an improvement of robin song to robinsong was suggested by Jan Benson after previous work by Brendon Kent and Alan Summers)
Eric: From the outset, this haiku reminds me of the best that I’ve read in haiku journals – an intense focus on what is beautiful in the natural world and on the gracefulness and complementarity of natural processes. Personally, it calls to mind the oft-quoted lines from Longfellow, “Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars – the forget-me-nots of angels.” Maybe I’m getting a little rhapsodic but this ku has a subtle and yet powerful emotional effect. The addition of “robinsong” instead of the original “robin song”, as suggested by Jan Benson and borrowed from Brendon Kent, on line 3 only adds to this power. Do flowers really open sequentially in response to the singing of a robin? Doubtful – but we are given a strong series of images, some stated and some implied, that allow the reader to stand in the author’s place and experience the scene not only as the author may have done but also with their own imagined details. This is the best of what haiku can do in just a few words. Thank you, Andy.
Michael: I can be very brief about this submission. Absolutely superb! I agree with Eric that this title warrants publication in a leading haiku publication.
we each take turns
to be the moon
(Blithe Spirit 28(1))
In Stardust Haiku, February 2018:
weaving my life
In Stardust Haiku, Issue 12 (December 2017):
the rain falls
on another moon
Published in the wonderful winter print edition of hedgerow:
the last berries
hanging from a thorn tree