Kikakuza ’11 Winning Haibun


Memories of the Sun by Melissa Spurr (USA)

pounding hammers…
scraps of insulation
line the cactus wren’s nest

The housing boom has advanced inland from the coast, bringing the rumble and bleat of bulldozers to our bucolic desert community. In almost every vacant lot, houses are built with jackrabbit quickness and sold before their dun-colored stucco coats dry. In a few years, scores of these new homes will stand as empty and forlorn as the abandoned gold mines that pock the Mojave—windows cracked, yards strewn with cast-off furniture, kitchens reeking with the putrid-sweet stench of sour milk and despair. But for now, recessed lights reflect like stars on polished granite countertops, real estate signs blossom alongside wildflowers.

No money down!
beer bottle shards
glimmer in the dust

To make way for new homes, contractors clear a collective forest of Joshua trees, the rangy, kink-limbed yuccas that have flourished here since the ice age. Most of the displaced Joshua trees are unceremoniously dumped in the landfill; the few that are transplanted struggle to survive. “These trees remember where the sun comes up,” a tree mover says, “You have to be sure and plant them in the ground just the same way they grew, or they get confused and die.”

“And it’s not just the trees that get mixed up,” he goes on, “One time, I hauled a Joshua tree eighty-five miles out to Barstow, and would you believe a bird followed me the whole time? Saw it in my rearview, flying right along behind me, and when I got to Barstow, that bird set down and panted like a dog, its little chest puffing in and out. Couldn’t figure why it’d followed me ‘til it flew over to a nest that was still in the tree. It followed its nest. All that way.”

empty tortoise shell
wind moans through the mouth
of a mine shaft

ZA PRIZE (Highly Commended):

Ladle by Earl R. Keener (USA)

Everyone is gone. They couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve remembered smooth lepiota in the back-yard along the chain-link fence and think they will be good in the chicken soup simmering on the stove. The yard is a painting by Bosch; the mushrooms white, with an underpinning of green; luminous, as an otherworldly desire – an invasion of miniature saucers. Along the fence, sunflowers feign sleep, their studious nonchalance dissembling and purposeful as a shakedown in Caracas. A donation for Our Lady of the Muse:

cicada din
a goldfinch ripping
at a sunflower

I gather the mushrooms and try not to look at anything else that might need my attention – the cracked walk, the sagging gutter, the car listing with a broken leaf spring. Once inside, I doubt whether the mushrooms are really lepiota; decide they are too full of larvae and shove them into the garbage; coffee grounds, butter, sticking to the back of my hand. I pour another coffee, Juan Valdez’s poison; thinking it could be the stuff that’s making me sluggish, my movements slow as an arthropod in the sway of a mud wasp. This morning, above the bed, I was a toppling totem. “It might help to visualize your pain…”

The drink is a warm flood over a temporal ache. In the onomatopoeia of my skull. I turn Juan into a pale kami; tell him I would send bullets into the heart of heaven, pour all kinds of silver into his ghostly lap, pay for a mass in his honor to get it all back. I carry my cup into the living room and gaze at the familiar emptiness, three oval frames above the fireplace: my wife, my son, myself – as children. Once upon a time there were three orphans in a fatherless house. When I was young I camped in the rainforest. I was alone and afraid, but more afraid of running, of being discovered in fear at home .

a sip from the ladle
burns my tongue

ZA PRIZE (Highly Commended):

Last Journey by Sonam Chhoki (Bhutan)

Morning of my father’s cremation. Early monsoon clouds obscure the mountains, abode of our family gods.

cataract eye sun opens morning glory flowers

Anointed in sandalwood oil and bound foetal in rainbow hues of silks, we bear him along the serpentine road to the banks of the Amo Chu.

pointing to the rising sun a charred pine branch

He is placed in a cage of firewood and white silken banners. The chief monk beats his hand-held drum, sprinkles saffron water and lights the pyre. Wisps of flame rise, then catch the butter-soaked wood. Offerings of money, fruits, ritual cakes and juniper twigs crackle and burn.

lighting butter lamps, butter lamps light up tears

My father’s skull crumbles into the burning pit. The pyre fizzles and pops. Smell of burning flesh, fat and sandalwood rises into the air.

Monks chant from the Book of the Dead urging my father beyond this crucible through the bardo to a new rebirth.

on a piece of torn prayer flag
a stray puppy



ZA PRIZE (Highly Commended):

Remembrance of a Time to Come by Moira Richards (South Africa)

On the eve of her third birthday she treads determinedly after her busy, distracted, unnoticing aunt…

…… …at last she blurts her question to the retreating back,

…… “Why my daddy crying?”

Auntie stops, turns, crouches to eye level and explains: Daddy is very sad because Granny just died, she’ll not be at the party tomorrow, a big hug might make him feel better.

As she squeezes her arms tightly about her daddy’s knees, as she is lifted high, high up to his shoulder to see the smile she has brought to his bearded and tear-streaked face, so she creates a first memory that must sustain her, thirty years later.

………………………….. in the palm of her hand
………………………….. granny’s ring
………………………….. that daddy always wore

5 responses to “Kikakuza ’11 Winning Haibun

  1. Congrats Melissa on a grand win!
    And congrats too to Sonam and Moira.
    Way to go . . .

  2. So many layers of meaning in Sonam Chhoki’s evocative work. Thankyou for your thought provoking and beautiful haibun.

  3. Pingback: CH Interview – lighting butter lamps – Cafe Haiku

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