haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2009, vol 5 no 4

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Joshua Gage

 

Tragedy

Remember you are alone in your own kitchen. The sounds of your wife's snores can barely be heard over Peter Jennings. The radio translates the BBC World News, and Michael Feldman teaches you "Things You Should Have Learned In School (Had You Been Paying Attention)." The curve of your knife makes a soft sound as it rocks through the pepper. After your dinner, you turn off the radio, creep through the living room to turn off the television, and linger to cover your wife with a blanket and watch her sleep. Later that night, she will wake you as she falls into bed. Her feet are cold against your back. Beneath your pillow, the wedding ring is loose on your finger.

worn rosary
in the closet, a suitcase
remains untouched




Editor Ken Jones' Comments on "Tragedy"

As with Bruce Ross' choice of Christopher Patchel's "First Love" for comment in the previous issue, it was being emotionally moved that drew me to "Tragedy. I believe that it is only when we are moved in some way that a quality haibun can come forth. That is an essential start to the shaping and crafting that must follow.

Like haiku, haibun present experience as imagery. They don't TELL; they SHOW. Here, note how the first four sentences set the scene, emphasizing its ordinariness. However, the minutely experienced pepper cutting communicates, for me, some subtle kind of tension, for which the title has prepared us.

Again, as in haiku so in haibun: it is the half-said thing that can open the reader's imagination and give a strong lift to the piece. We can infer here that something has been seriously amiss with the wife for some time now (the loose wedding ring, the worn rosary). The untouched suitcase suggests that neither of them has walked out, though the possibility has been in the air. Notice the carefully crafted touches like "her feet cold against your back. In short, plenty of precious open metaphors.

More than that, the full story of the tragedy is left to the reader's imagination. We may ponder why the wife is sleeping on her own and then comes to bed, and perhaps speculate about dementia or something similar. But such speculation carries us away from the experience itself, and I suggest it is more rewarding to remain within a "don't know" intensity.

The haiku provides a climax . But it is at the cost of being rather too much a continuation of the prose, instead of taking a climactic swerve of some kind, providing a metaphor both distant from the prose yet near enough to jump a spark across and throw a new light.

Nonetheless this haibun remains a heartfelt testimony to the sad and interminable care of loved ones who are no longer what they once were to their partners. It reminds me of Goethe's belief in the sacred task of the poet: "When man in his agony is dumb, we have God's gift to utter what is suffered.

 

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