Genjuan ’21 Winning Haibun

Grand Prix

A Mead-Hall of the Mind

J Hahn Doleman (U.S.A.)

Wild-eyed with open maw comes this mass of tangled fur loping full tilt through the frothy surf. My fists spring from their pockets, ready to fight a creature from whom there will be no retreat. In seconds the growling beast is upon me, and only then do I spot the yellow tennis ball, gritty with sand, clenched between its gleaming teeth.

This amiable Old English Sheepdog sans collar and leash halts at my feet, drops his quarry, backs off, then looks up, all slobber and smile, reminding me of my first best friend, another playful mutt and tireless stick-fetcher I lost so long ago.

Sirius rising

the bark of a sea lion

buried between waves

As I reach down for his prize, the pooch explodes into a tumbleweed of heads and tails and legs, putting twenty yards between us in no time. I wind up, cock my arm, and huck the drool-drenched orb as hard as I can. For a moment it hangs in the sky as if it will never come down, but then gravity kicks in and the dog snatches it on the first bounce.

This scenario recurs again and again as I scan the beach for an owner. No one is in sight. Perhaps the dog is a stray, I muse, already defending my notion to take him with me when I leave. Then a high-pitched voice calls from the bluffs above us. “Grendel! Come, boy! Time to go home!” Running my fingers through the dog’s coat one last time, I drink in the sea spray of memories dampening my face.

red-rimmed horizon

the carapace of a crab

broken underfoot

……

An (Cottage) Prize

Wintering Grounds

Marietta McGregor (Australia)

Somewhere on Earth before sunrise there is a sussuration soft as thistledown. As day warms, the subliminal sound builds into a softly-strummed minor chord. Slender forms undulate. There is a rattle of innumerable stiff shafts of keratin rubbing like rosined bows on taut strings. Smooth horn riffles through a trillion multi-coloured filaments — white, black, buff, grey, pink, chestnut, iridescent green and blue, and colours which are outliers beyond the visible spectrum.

…. down feathers

…. floating to earth

…. silken morning

Myriad vanes lift and fluff. With tender preening by a thousand horny combs, microscopic barbules settle, hooklet barbicels zippering into satiny firmness, strong enough to resist pulsing winds. Downy barbs lend warmth. Strong remiges then receive attention, being titivated with stretched necks and legs akimbo in pliè forms. Metacarpals and phalanges flap, their hollow strutted bones honeycombed with air spaces like intricate box kites. Retrices, vital rudders and brakes, are primed.

…. marshes ripe

…. with frogsong

…. a flock re-gathers

In sand and mud small creatures plop and slither unheeded. Feeding is done. Bellies are full. Crops and gizzards have shrunk. A layer of rich fat swells plumaceous keels which shine like waterproof silk. Sounds build in pitch: calls, then response after response bouncing across estuary, sandplain, lake and field. At a signal, first one, then a few, dozens, hundreds, thousands. Cool air thrums in a great whoosh of take-off. The flock veers and wheels, finds its rhythm, turns as one and heads out of sight. On their great flight there may be one stopover, a few, or none. They are ready.

…. mountain ground

…. winter storms brewing

…. ahead of the geese

This story ends at the far end of the globe. Sometimes it ends well, in a warm, teeming antipodean wetland. Sometimes it ends badly. Safe stopovers are lost under dams, condominiums and marinas, reclaimed land where once nippers, molluscs, and worms thrived. A weakness overtakes each wanderer. Try as they might they cannot take off, so slowly subside into muck, their carcasses bone and skin. Scavengers leave them alone, except for the crunchy heads. Brains which brought them tens of thousands of miles year after year are lost to progress.

…. estuarine mudflats

…. two protestors picket

…. a canal estate

…….

An (Cottage) Prize

The Departing

Manoj Nair (India)

My neighbors told me they were shifting house. They had lived next door for less than a year and I barely knew them. I didn’t know their family name since they hadn’t put a name plate on their door. It was the occasional “hello, hi” in the corridor. But when they told me that they were shifting, I felt a sadness. And when I saw the moving truck and pieces of their furniture being loaded, I felt a wave of loneliness. It’s how I feel when I see a train moving past a railway crossing, carrying the person sitting at the window to a faraway place. I feel the same when I see strangers departing at airports, to distant cities, to their families; leaving behind their footprints, a part of themselves. A few moments of their lives left behind.

I don’t know these people. I have never met them and will probably never see them again. Yet, in the brief moment when we cross paths, I believe we exchange a bit of our loneliness.

…. all quiet

…. the bare maple’s branches

…. casting shadows

……

An (Cottage) Prize

Call to Prayer

Matthew Caretti (U.S.A.)

Each taxi driver hails from a different homeland. Yet all of them with the same story. A family now far away. Very few visits. Just sending money. Pilots of the wooden-hulled abra boats, too, proffer accented versions of this tale as we sweep past dhows fully laden.

…. dubai creek

…. unsteady in the wake

…. of new wealth

Later the Afghani shopkeeper tells of his flight from Kandahar. Of his now infrequent returns. Mid-sentence, he extends a handful of dried dates. Invites me to sit. Sells me on the taste of “home.”

…. saffron tea

…. above the heat

…. windtowers

These turrets, al barajeel, are remnants of an original design meant to catch and convey cool sea breezes to the interior of the whitewashed homes. But back at the hotel a different sort of respite from the heat. The hordes of Chinese, Malays and Russians have left the place quiet. Clambered onto their waiting buses. Headed for some great adventure in consumerism. Now along with the zephyr, the bartender becomes my constant companion.

…. poolside bar

…. the splash of

…. afternoon prayers

Early the next day into the souk. Everywhere gold and spices. Whispered offers of Rolex. Tissot. Hashish. I seek instead a quiet spot away from the crowds. From the consumption. So again to the creek.

…. cormorant morning

…. the Lamborghini doors

…. swivel closed

My maps indicate a bird sanctuary not far off. Ras Al Khor. Many know the name, yet have no idea of the place. Or the way there. So I improvise. The Metro red line till its end. Yet another abra crossing and a taxi. The driver—from Pakistan—delights in our shared quest. He’s also eager to see the fledglings. To find a bit of repose. A way back to something almost forgotten. Inshallah!, he says.

…. heaven sent

…. pink dance

…. of the flamingos