Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 3, September 2011

Jeffrey Harpeng
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


Almanac and Son

I have a photograph of 1918.

The history of the world is closed upon the small table in the photographer's studio. It is a story of closed doors and open windows, thatched and slate roofs, of stew with potatoes and cabbages, of things said while others slept or were day-dreaming. A few words which someone remembered or pretended to remember. They dipped a pen in the ink pot and began to scratch at the page.

how to look out
of a photo?—as if you were
not dead
only far away     right
in front of your eyes

A young man in lumpy uniform stands with one hand resting on the back of a chair on which his mother sits. He wears his Feldmutze tugged lower over his brow to the left. The fly of his tunic covers ersatz buttons of wood or bakelite. The thumb of his left hand hooks his belt near the buckle; a trench dagger hangs from his belt; he wears boots for walking among the dead.

unlit cigarette
between two fingers
rolled just before
the camera flash
now lit and never lit

With one of her children standing beside her, even her profound tiredness has a few childishly simple things to say. In tired and sturdy clothes the old lady is an almanac of things out of date—birthdays of the dead, phases of the moon, a record of past eclipses. The kicks and turns of her children before they were born, they still eddy in her.

her hand is closed
like she is holding on to
something small as hope
with an arthritic grip
she holds her children by name


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