Haibun Today

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

Charles Tarlton
Oakland, California, USA


In the Desert

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

           –Stephen Crane, The Black Riders and Other Lines (1905)


Moving away from the alley where the fight had been, he could taste blood; it tasted good, a little blood. At first, he was angry. They had caught him by surprise and there had been three of them. He'd teach them a lesson, though, work out a little scheme for revenge; catch them all—one at a time. So, why did he have to fight off this sense of guilt? What did he have to be guilty about?

under my breath
singing hymns
in front of the little god
faded flowers
and a handful of coins

after the last bus
the streets are very quiet
only stray drunks
howling curses, kicking
over garbage cans

A nasty little road somewhere; you're expecting Beckett's "A tree." As we travel farther away from the city, through tiny garden-farms, past the end of the bus route, we see fewer and fewer people. Here, a mailbox on a post has been knocked over; there, a bicycle upended in a ditch. Has there been a war? You wonder. An epidemic? Are you approaching the end of the world? Is it a dream?

my arms in torn
sleeves, leaning
on the ancient wall
a last mechanical cuckoo
calls the hour

last call
on the last night
the bars empty
their refuse
on city streets

The old medical handbook we found on my father's bedside table contained a caricature of the gout. A swollen human foot rests on a pillow, and a purple monster has fastened himself to it—a devil, a rat, or a vampire imp with fangs, fiery nostrils, and huge sharp claws digging into that tender foot. Did my father wake to its snarling?

as it unfolds
a white peony cracks
its bloom
peeling and twisting
to a brown edge

central California
where the irrigation ends
sand one side
of the highway
artichokes the other

Debris was thick right up to their fenced property line. Greasy underfed dogs barked at the end of long chains. At the very center of the lot sat an old trailer. It needed paint and a new window. A television aerial was fastened near the top of a pine tree. An elderly couple lived there. We seldom saw them; I don't think they were well.

smart weed
keeps its rough head
around such
haughty chrysanthemums

where rings and gems
once roused
the jeweler's window
now displays
OxFam bric-a-brac

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