KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Haibun: 458 words


by J. Zimmerman

An honored Japanese haiku poet wearing a formal kimono is conducting our haiku assembly in a traditional Japanese kukai. Five weeks ago a coordinator collected two new haiku from each of us, gave each poem a unique identity number, typed up the poems, and printed copies of them for this meeting. The participants are to vote on these anonymous poems and to receive comments from this Japanese expert.

dawn walk
the reddening
of pomegranates

The kukai begins with our expert, our sensei, explaining the Japanese protocol that we’ll follow. Most of the American poets interrupt. They can’t help themselves for their gaijin bad manners. In parallel one poet next to me winces, grumbling operatically that each interruption slows us down from getting to the votes he thinks he should win.

squawk of a jay
his need to be
a celebrity

The participants ask how to mark the pages of poems we have received, to be told again to write the poems on a separate sheet of paper they will turn in. They ask if they should vote for two haiku or for ten, and they are re-told to vote for three. Someone asks if she can vote for her own haiku, to be told calmly “no.”

the owl willing
to repeat herself

One more poet asks how many poems we are to identify: it is still three. A final poet asks whether we copy the whole poems or identify each poem by number only: we are still to do both. I am dismayed that no poem looks convincingly like what I might write. I’m careful not to vote for a couple that might almost plausibly mine. But where is my sense of pride, my attachment to my own work that other poets have to theirs, that I cannot be sure what I have made?

the kukai’s
shifting entropy
swirl of falling leaves

Finally the sensei gets each of us to write our name on a personal sheet of paper and then record there our three votes. These vote sheets are collected and an assistant reads them aloud. Every time a haiku is given a vote and the whole poem is read to the group, the poem’s author is to call out her or his name to be recognized. Suddenly a haiku that might be mine is voted for. No one claims it, but I keep quiet, so unsure.

Halloween dusk
grandfather puts out snacks
for a black feral cat

After three votes have arrived for that haiku no one else claims, the coordinator treks back to her room to get the list that decodes who wrote what. Her bird-of-prey glance tells me I’m in trouble.

my worry about
my legacy of mistakes
blush of maple leaves

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