Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 2, June 2010

David Cobb
Shalford, Essex, England


Cold and Cool

The noses of Neanderthal man were bulbous and warmed the air before it went down into their lungs. As we assemble for the haiku hunt, we may look like Neanderthalers, but are of a later species. The November air nips us hard with its mixture of fog and dead leaf smell, raw winter bites us in the rib cage.

One by one, from different directions, six of us, all novices to be inducted into rensaku.

Tito has summoned us to the Japanese garden in Holland Park, London. Informs us he is to be our soshi, which apparently gives him licence to order us about. Sends us off in search of three-line prey. We widen our eye-balls to the frozen scene.

Ducks stand on the pond ice, well out in the middle, on one leg, too stiff to change to the other one. Nothing moves. Dawn is delayed to nearly noon.

blinked off the ice
into the stone lantern
a glimmer of light

Between eleven-thirty and one o'clock there is actually a compressed day. A tinge of sulphur added to the monochrome of mist is enough. At last a duck lowers its suspended leg, turns its head, skates. Tits and sparrows flutter about a bit, there is suddenly a pigeon. Out of the bushes a rabbit lopes forward three timid hops, nibbles a few crushed blades, then retreats again. A squirrel jumps across the grass by the 'Keep off' sign. The shape of a fox russets the gap between two hedges.

coins in the pond
more glow in the copper
than the silver ones

'Time up!' shouts the soshi. Having rounded us up, he makes us sit down on a groundsheet he has spread under a bare willow tree on the frosted grass. We will now share our verses, with his guidance vote for the best of them, and commit them to a large piece of card that he unfolds. Numbered awesomely, one to twelve. The person he appoints takes off his gloves.

in frozen fingers
the persistent flow of ink
but little blood

Over the arched Japanese bridge strides a woman police officer using her walkie-talkie. It is difficult to explain to a policewoman that, to write their poems, seven people need to crowd onto the edges of a single rubber sheet, spread on grass in the grip of frost. She appears mollified a little when we explain they are really quite small poems. Tito drinks a mouthful from the suspect thermos flask. The walkie-talkie reports to base, we may be breaking park rules by invading the grass, but we aren't busy setting up a 'device.'

At two, the day — if it ever was a day — comes rapidly to an end. The ducks go back onto one stiff leg again. The ice on the pond and the chilly air freeze back into each other's embrace.

the bamboo clapper —
it has no boars to scare
but haunts us all




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