Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 3, September 2010

Jeffrey Harpeng
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The Ghost in the Haibun

A recursive echo in my thinking about haibun is what I call the ghost.

The ghost is evoked by a kind of triangulation, by two viewpoints or images which direct the reader to a third that is not stated. The most successful haiku, tanka, renga and haibun are all haunted.

I hear cries of ‘subtext, subtext.’ Subtext, for me, implies a knowing intent on the part of the writer. The ghost, on the other hand, is what experience has prepared the writer's and reader's heart and mind for, not what they already possess. It is a glimpse rather than an engulfing gaze.

The points from which triangulations are carried out share with subatomic particles a fluctuating disposition. Sometimes they are particle and sometimes they are wave. At times, transitions between states are so rapid they can be taken for both. They begin to also sound ghostly. But the thing is, most often they present themselves as particle. They shift states more in the intense gaze of haiku and its kindred ways of looking.

In the past tense, the ghost could be the remembered side-glance, that country road that was not taken. Even if you were to revisit that spot you would be out of place by the measure of the nostalgia you have overlain that time with. The ghost is the possible, maybe even the probable, and yet in its mordant ecstasy, it often can have a sense of the unattainable. Unattainable except, that is, with a fairly awkward and somewhat fairy tale proviso, unattainable without either a magical gift of love or a sacrificial transformation of self.

My haibun Ghost takes its dance steps from the music of these notions. It journeys from one ghost story to another. It opens with wakeful questions within a dream and concludes with a dream’s intrusion into the wakeful world. A series of one line haiku are weighted ropes to take depth soundings along the way.

In the first haiku, a humanized landscape only adds another layer of silence on the mystery of death.

The second haiku has hospital and chimney as uncomfortable twining strands for a meditation. I feel cloudy mordant apprehensions of childhood rise through a dark history to challenge even the sunniest day.

The third represents a slight rise for hope, the unfurling of new life. That New Zealand emblem of rejuvenation, the black koru fern, uncurls among the gravestones in the shadow of Grafton Bridge.

After some carnal playfulness, with the drift of content and continents in the prose, haiku four questions the weight of our considerations. It rattles the coins and gets an I Ching glyph with changing aspects. Clouds floating high above the trees could tomorrow be the river down which a fallen tree floats. The position of the haiku here is akin to the placement of the turn or volta in a sonnet; it moves the narrative from one kind of ghost story to another, leading to an undercutting of both.

The final haiku is a riposte to the ghost who walks in the waking world. Ghosts now face a concrete world, where the ectoplasmic footfalls of the dear departed leave no prints.

The last sentence focuses on the continuing difficulty of throwing any real light on the situation, 'There is never direct sunlight in the kitchen.'

I fear I have given the impression of this haibun being a charted construction. It was really a journey without chart or compass, like a sea voyage in the ancient world hugging the coastline,  like a journey upriver looking for Mr. Kurtz or a trip downstream on a raft with Huck and Jim, like an expedition with Darwin to the Galapagos.

Like most journeys, a fortunate few end up with a dollar or two more in the pocket, but most end up losing another skin while getting better acquainted with the ghost.


The Ghost in the Haibun

In the dream Uncle Fred is dead, is a skeleton floating against the ceiling. My dream understanding tells me he is not floating, rather it is the ceiling or some thought beyond that holds him.

This dream recurs every few years. I still haven’t caught what Uncle Fred says as he bonily expounds. The unease of that dream, a dream I first had in my early teens, is again with me.

shade of English Oak in the Jewish cemetery a heavier silence

After breakfast I walk to work with that dream in me. Walk past old St Mary’s (I keep a nail-holed shard of roof-slate for all the prayers risen through) round through the Domain (some mornings are fog, and fog becoming seagulls), out the gates and past Auckland General

(hospital                         chimney                         meditation)

across Grafton Gully bridge (the far pylon among grave stones).

graves down the slope black koru uncurling

I nod to the faces I have nodded to, and am nodded to in passing the past. I glance back to see them gone. I arrive, and the work day is a desert island, and nothing as simple/as complex as that.

Sometimes after work, I catch the bus, chat with the midget at the stop. She has such a sexy mind, and in her sideways glances there a seraphim’s glint, a succubus hallows her wink, yet there’s no god in her phrase-book. Conjoint we spark a jest about how Africa and South America could fit snugly together. Amazon and Congo flow muddily to the ocean between them. Mid-ocean the Sargasso turns slowly.

Other days it’s a walk home through the campus,

which is heavier                        these clouds                         this avenue of trees 

down Constitution Hill, up Parnell Rise, and Parnell Road, round Birdwood Crescent, and down the stairs. Walking home, the hangover of that dream lifts.

Down the stairs, in the kitchen, over a cup of tea with grilled cheese on Vogel’s bread, over the distraction of her ‘Girls are not Chicks’ T-shirt, Gwenda tells me her grandfather visited today. “Just a brief call,” he said.

She pauses then adds, “Later I got a phone call from the rest-home. They said that early this morning he quietly passed away.”

left                         no footprints on the cement path                         grandfather

There is never direct sunlight in the kitchen.


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