Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 2, June 2011

Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales


Laughing Gas

Pastel colours and faint smiles
from face to face
we size each other up

Thankfully all turn out to be "people like us." Gathered here in the Small Function Room we are welcomed to the Graceful Exit workshop. Tea and biscuits thaw us out.

Trainee suicide
her sweet smile
"Just one lump, please"

The Instructor comes breezing in, bearing a reused IKEA packing case, across which some wag has scribbled "Pluto" with a black marker. "I've just got to settle up with the hotel," he says. "See if you can put this together. But don't try it out to see if it works. We're not insured, and I don't want any of you to hear the trumpets sounding on the other side. Not yet, anyway."

The blokes fall upon the box with all their usual competitive banter, to which the women are resigned. All, that is, except Gerald—an earnest and rather anxious young man.

In shaky italic
on ruled faint
how to kill himself

In no time the plastic bags and hoses, the cylinder and all the smaller bits and pieces have been assembled into an elegant helium gas suicide machine. All but fifty brightly coloured party balloons which are supposed to be inflated with the cylinder. For some celebratory occasion.

The women amuse themselves by blowing up the balloons. Diana gets a gulp of the heady helium and breaks into falsetto mirth. Ignoring all this brittle playfulness the Instructor delivers a lucid talk, with a bit of black comedy here and there. Clearly he could take his own life umpteen times without a single false move.

On the cylinder
the feeble flutter
of a winter butterfly

Finally, he draws our attention to a recent news item. In a hotel bedroom a German businessman—vorsprung durch technik—had efficiently done away with himself using only a modest amount of helium. This anecdote is intended to reassure us. But for the first time that day the Small Function Room falls silent.

The person gone
what remains
in a well pressed suit

At the farewells I congratulate the Instructor on his mastery of DiY extinction. There's only one thing missing. Ourselves.

Through a shower of yellow leaves
my veined hands
tight on the wheel


Pluto: Lord of the Underworld.
Vorsprung durch technik: Progress through technology.


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