from the Icebox inbox – 18 (haibun)


i’ve been waiting for this – winter – a little obsessed, maybe, writing about it, thinking about it – worried about it some.

i wonder how the Hmong folks felt, their first winter in Minnesota? no snow in the Laotian Highlands, i’m almost sure. the kids at the bus stop, fresh from Thai refugee camps, shivering. we went out, giving them old winter coats, bundling them up. they wore embarrassed looks (if complacent), listening to our strange language, fussing and cooing as we tucked them into ski jackets and childrens’ parkas. all they knew was that the ‘elders’ of this new village wanted them to conform to new ways, new weather. “Asians respect their elders”; or so we always say.

a ubiquitous icon –
hand-me-down clothes

an occasional sound of cars hissing past on wet streets. the clock’s ticking, and always… the sound of distant trains. what is it, 3 a.m.? still drunk, i open the blinds, look out, motionless… wanting to be far away.

gusts of snow
and the smell of coffee –
street light in pools

William Sorlein

(first posted on Haiku Bandit Society’s site; here, slightly edited)


5 Responses to “from the Icebox inbox – 18 (haibun)”

  1. Nice piece, Bandit! Thank you very much. As to the improbable snow in the Laotian Highlands… I had a cup of coffee with an American colleague at Kyoto University a few days ago – she’s from Minnesota – who told me that there might actually be snow in Northern Laos from time to time. She had lived there quite a while ago and helped tribespeople fleeing from Vietnam (prob. the Hmong?). We can rest assured, though, that any flakes of snow that might have blown down from the mountain tops nearby would pale into insignificance compared to the great dumpings of snow you get around the Twin Cities! The point in the haibun is entirely valid.

    • Thank you, Tito. Some spot on editing, by the way.
      I first wrote this having awakened from a passed out drunk, I’m ashamed to say. If it’s any compensation, some recent medical complications (improved!) and medicine made it inevitable I would become the fool for sharing a good time and celebration.

      Still, it didn’t deter the feeling from memory the onset of winter and stream of consciousness it instilled in me for our newcomers and friends alike.

      Many years later, the Hmong folks have come a long way, distinguishing themselves far beyond many of our own residents with honors in education and business. I may may make a fool of myself again, trying to differentiate between our divergent cultures.

      i should ask my new friend and neighbor up the alley. An elder gentleman from the old country, we share cigarettes, photos and gesturing comments on the weather and flora and fauna to be observed in our urban surround; we don’t know a lick of one another’s language!

  2. Love the form–thank you for posting.

  3. John Dougill Says:

    There’s a very evocative – and unusual – feel to the haibun… a strong sense of apprehension and unease which sits well I think with the winter setting. The opening is very enigmatic, though I see from the above comment that it probably relates to a medical problem – nonetheless I found it quite chilling. In both senses. I also found the ending haiku most effective. ‘street light in pools’ is such a compelling image, and also chilling in its artificialness… One question I would pose is why the past tense in the third line. It would seem to me more natural if it were in the present…it would make the first encounter more immediate. As it stands, I feel it loses impact because of being in an undefined past where memory fades and takes the edge off the reality of life… Just my feeling. but all in all, that haibun sure has something. Very different from the run of the mill musings on nature. Made me think of the Clint Eastwood movie too!

  4. Nearly fifty years ago, when I first went to the United States as a Fulbright student, I shared a room with a student from Laos in Hawaii to attend the orientation. He was a very quiet and philosophical man, and I learned many things from him. One thing that became my habit since then is taking a shower. This was peculiarly suited for the hot weather. I cannot imagine how he would have fared in Minnessota in winter, but I know Minnesota has very hot summer. When I visited the University there, it was sweltering hot with lots of mosquitoes. I saw some boys fishing carp in the Misssiippi, very big compared with carp in our rivers. I lost contact with my Laotian friend, but I have often woandered how he fared in difficult years. I cannot help saying a word of prayer for him. Your haibun reminded me of all this, and I am very grateful. Your concluding poem is impressive.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: