Haibun Today

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

Mark Ritchie
Hollingbourne, Kent, United Kingdom


Beyond the Woodshed

First sunny afternoon of February. Leaving the village behind I head out along narrow winding roads, between sheep-grazed fells, following his half-remembered instructions. "You'll know if you take the wrong road—it ends in a cliff." I look anxiously for the weathered finger-post marking the junction that will signal the final six miles of track winding up along the glen that he'd warned would feel more like fifteen. Finally spotting the white house with its four dormers, I park alongside the seldom-used front door and amble around the back, absorbing the silence of the deserted valley.

My host is in the outhouse, intent on fixing the primitive plumbing. "While I sort this out, there's something you must see—beyond the woodshed. Go quietly through that gate and along the side of the barn: you need to creep up on them." Obediently, I follow his instructions. As I reach the far end of the grey iron barn, the length of the shallow reed-fringed dam comes slowly into view and through eyelids watering with the cold blow, I am just able to make them out, first one, then another—and then dozens upon dozens.

so many eyes
drowning my image
in peaty water

Now their dark thrashing bodies crater the water's surface, as a wave of fear passes through the crowd. Further on, where reedy shallows give way to clearer, deeper water, jellied clumps lie suspended. Here there are yet more of them, maybe hundreds, mating, swimming or just floating in apparent exhaustion. On the bank a heron has left one, neatly snipped in half, only the torso taken and the paunch left, guts spilling from its powerful waders. At the far end of the pond, below the seep, the wind has swept the whole surface clean, depositing a whitish strand line.

old tarn
the wind-curded spume
of frog sperm







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