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The Great Haiku

Bonsai tree

Wakings I

  1. Suddenly awake
    A moment of consciousness
    Burble burble burb…
  2. Suddenly awake
    Screams.  Mother’s love—and instinct
    Soothe, soothe, soothe, soothe, soothe
  3. Suddenly awake
    Another gastric attack
    Shit Shit Shit Shit SHIT
  4. Suddenly awake
    The hare flees the harvesters
    Scythe, scythe, scythe, scythe, scythe
  5. Suddenly awake
    ICU staff stare at me
    How much of me left?

    17 leaves
  6. Suddenly awake
    Flash!  The lightning rips the curtain
    Then thunder, then rain
  7. Suddenly awake
    The Moon bores holes in doorways
    River fills with glass
  8. Suddenly awake
    Wearily flap to a branch
    Start the dawn chorus
  9. Suddenly awake
    —Reality rattles me
    Dreaming was better
  10. Suddenly awake
    The morphine pump’s functioning
    Not long to go now
  11. Suddenly awake
    Clap eyes on new certainties
    Born Again Christian
  12. Suddenly awake
    It is the Day of Judgement
    Uuuuuh—I’m all earthy

    17 leaves
  13. Suddenly awake
    Much too dark for eye contact
    Enfold each other
  14. Suddenly awake
    The alarm pummels memory
    —You are not with me
  15. Suddenly awake
    Had an awful lot to drink
    —Who is this woman?
  16. Suddenly awake
    Pick at fragments of a dream
  17. Suddenly awake
    Big black comforting silence
    Nightmares slowly fade

The last four haiku are, in fact, a working-through of a form of DIY haiku; the fourteen words of the ‘conventional’ treatment of Basho’s original in the first haiku of the final sequence of five are rearranged in a more or less indeterminate fashion, after the manner of composers such as Boulez; the reader is invited to continue the experiment.

Bonsai tree

Wakings II

  1. Suddenly awake
    Who has textured the daylight?
    Frost on the window
  2. Suddenly awake
    Apparitions in the sky
    —For a pauper birth
  3. Suddenly awake
    I thrill to the seasons’ rounds
    The cuckoo’s returned
  4. Suddenly awake
    Strange feeling known from childhood
    Head like a big top
  5. Suddenly awake
    Fevered, I see wall patterns
    Vibrant with being

    17 leaves
  6. Suddenly awake
    My cat raises one eyelid
    Suddenly asleep
  7. Suddenly awake
    During E7 night rate
    Start washing machine
  8. Suddenly awake
    Where in heaven’s name am I?
    —Oh yes—Basingstoke
  9. Suddenly awake
    Approaching the next station
    —Ours was the last one
  10. Suddenly awake
    I recognise sunlight—Shit!
    —Too much blood last night
  11. Suddenly awake
    Alongside his horse’s head
    —Offer not refused

    See footnotes.
  12. Suddenly awake
    Troubles, aches—now winter
    Never been this old

    17 leaves
  13. Suddenly awake
    —Dreamt a familiar landscape
    I have never seen
  14. Suddenly awake
    Why has another day come?
    Life offers nothing
  15. Suddenly awake
    I find that life’s not all bad
    This is your doing
  16. Suddenly awake
    To new possibilities
    —An enlightenment
  17. Suddenly awake
    Heartbeats throb through my pillow
    —The rest is silence

The last bridges the Master to his third sequence.  This time a final thematic line leads to varied contemplations of more or less resolved finality.

Bonsai tree
Bonsai tree

Silences I

  1. Living on my own
    I spend the day with music
    The rest is silence
  2. The note shows a sound
    In musical notation
    The rest is silence
  3. Mahler’s Ninth concludes—
    Sounds are just half its beauty
    The rest is silence
  4. Music of the spheres
    Expands across the cosmos—
    The rest is silence
  5. Gardening, brewing,
    Faith and prayer for Trappists—
    The rest is silence

    17 leaves
  6. Some of life’s funny
    Some makes us cry or rejoice
    The rest is silence
  7. Their words tear apart
    Each other, his her, hers him—
    The rest is silence
  8. Frenetic pleasure
    Desire noisily fulfilled
    The rest is silence
  9. Cinematic greats
    The majority talkies
    —The rest is silents
  10. Last message from space
    ‘Houston, we have a problem’—
    The rest is silence
  11. Above the waters
    News resounds of the sub’s doom
    —The rest is silence
  12. The crowd’s reaction
    As Hendry puts his cue on
    The rest is silence

    17 leaves
  13. In all of language
    The greatest five syllables—
    The rest is silence
  14. Hamlet’s final words
    [not the last line of Hamlet]
    —The rest is silence
  15. Hero full of doubt
    Soliloquies and corpses—
    The rest is silence
  16. Sleep—perchance to dream,
    But that is surely false hope—
    The rest is silence
  17. All sound and fury,
    What is it we signify?
    The rest is silence
Bonsai tree

Silences II

  1. …Fortinbras bursts in
    Making a great deal of din
    The rest is chaos
  2. His choice for a wife—
    Happy?, Chirpy?, Chatty?, Nag?
    The best is silence
  3. Florida’s mostly
    Just a big peninsula
    The rest is islands
  4. Cue knocks and balls bang
    Spider scrapes along the baize
    The rest is silent
  5. Dictatorship falls
    CIA Conspiracy?
    The West is silent

    17 leaves
  6. Old, beached cargo ship
    Years ago, not much left now
    —The rusty silence
  7. Ears pound and head aches
    Insanity beckons me
    Bereft of silence
  8. A guilty secret
    The world must never find out
    Incest in silence
  9. The ‘Jewish Problem’
    The strong work in labour camps
    The rest are silenced
  10. Calmly they approach
    No fuss, no words, no escape
    Arrest is silent
  11. Nuclear missiles,
    Two fired.  Prepare for launch of
    The rest in silos
  12. Bereaved.  Friends, smile, talk
    Cry, hug.  Some words stoke the pain
    The rest is solace
  13. Wife scolds and berates
    Husband’s tether ends and breaks
    The rest is silence

    17 leaves
  14. Condemned person sits
    Electricity crackles
    The rest is silence
  15. A minute’s tribute
    For all our dead.  Big Ben strikes
    The rest is silence
  16. Visit my doctor
    He explains my condition
    The rest is silence
  17. The world ends this way
    Not a bang—but a whimper
    —The rest is silence
Bonsai tree

Step by Step

  1. Step by step by step
    Climb up the steep cliff coast path
    The sea waves fare well
  2. Step by step by step
    She climbs the steep cliff coast path
    Worn out, her short pants
  3. Step by step by step
    The pilot climbs the staircase
    A flight, a landing
  4. Step by step by step
    But does it go up or down?
    Escher’s ‘House of stairs’
  5. Step by step by step
    To Whispering Gallery
    —No lifts in St Paul’s

    17 leaves
  6. Step by step by step
    The washing machine programme
    Wash, spin, wash, rinse, zzzzzzzzz
  7. Step by step by step
    Side by side by side by side
    By—who’s this Sondheim?
  8. Step by step by step
    And each time I get it wrong
    —Loathe ballroom dancing
  9. Step by step by step
    Inspect the guard of honour
    —What a load of prats!
  10. Step by step by step
    Russian armies march eastward
    Steppe by steppe by steppe
  11. Step by step by step
    The earth eclipses the moon
    —Stars in the high night
  12. Step by step by step
    The mouse approaches its goal
    At the treadmill’s end

    17 leaves
  13. Step by step by step
    Last hopes of living dying
    —Path to the scaffold
  14. Step by step by step
    Their progress is eternal
    In Pompeii’s ash
  15. Step by step by step
    Trudging to their icy doom
    They may be some time
  16. Step by step by step
    The path to enlightenment
    —None of them easy
  17. Step by step by step
    Uncertain we move onward
    From old lives to new
Bonzai tree


  1. Passage migrants flown
    Life surrounded by sparrows
    —Need a kingfisher
  2. Great full-blooded gale
    Shoulder-charges the oak trees
    Seven crows blown loose
  3. High buzzard watching
    Each seem specks to the other
    —Under the same sky
  4. Mist treads on the fields
    Late brambles hang fruit heavy
    Young boughs bend with birds
  5. Boy on swing looks up
    Sees his first magpie in flight—
    A bird on a stick

    17 leaves
  6. Two hours since you died
    Bleak dawn breaks—one lone starling
    Singing his heart out
  7. We share unhappy stars
    Horseshoes rare in our suburb
    At last—two magpies
  8. A single magpie
    Lies dead on the hard shoulder
    For one its sorrow
  9. Time cuffs, money shouts
    And I have no time for the
    Breath of a sparrow
  10. Woken, a strange bed
    Brown lake, trees green, evergreen
    Twelve white ducks quacking
  11. She looks for rabbits:
    Pigeon takes flight—she’s content
    —A flying rabbit
  12. Jumbo passes over
    Heron looks up from the lake
    ‘One hell of a bird’

    17 leaves
  13. No luck with the birds?
    Go visit Antarctica
    —Pick up a penguin
  14. The sad bird watcher
    And the joyous nightingale
    —Busy making notes
  15. The haiku cuckoo
    (Fifteen syllables missing)
    Calls across the wind
  16. The clock works poorly
    We’ll have to send it to the
    Cuckoos’ hospital

    See footnotes
  17. Haiku and you coo
    No need speak Pigeon English
    —All you need is Dove
Bonsai tree

Dividing Water

Seventeen ‘Haikruise’ to recall a Circumnavigation of Britain.  July/August 2012

  1. Arrive at Dover
    Congregation of strangers
    —The sea waves hello
  2. The crew’s ship’s cargo
    An old folks’ home in motion
    —Circling Saganauts
  3. Olds and very olds
    Couples long coupled still love
    —And weeping widows
  4. The Jurassic Coast
    Is now on our starboard beam
    —We have more fossils
  5. Frisian the barmaid
    ‘Like the cow’ she says, laughing
    —Far from Manila
  6. Alone on the deck
    Watching Britannia’s small waves
    —Drinking and thinking
  7. Cast off, fare forward!
    Between the past and future
    —Dividing water
  8. Archbishop on deck
    Wears a baseball cap.  Mitre
    Looked better without
  9. Bishop comes on board
    Makes no diagonal moves
    Soon taken ashore
  10. Not just room service
    But ‘deck service’—prayers, hymns
    —Holy unforeseen
  11. Clamber in tenders
    At the shallow ports of call
    Big boat, small boat—whoosh!
  12. Just right for ‘old folk’
    Is George Hamilton IV
    —A tall, kindly man
  13. Classical trio
    All the way from Belarus
    —Floating night music
  14. North through the Minches
    Round Cape Wrath (unfurious)
    —Scotland’s wild angle
  15. Gulls gather, terns turn
    Pretty wake—and kittiwakes
    —No sign of a whale
  16. Behold the gannet
    Best looks, best flight, best diver
    —Mad about the gull
  17. Disembarkation
    n cases (one stretcher case)
    Crew works Dovertime


Wakings II/11: the horse’s head is a reference to the film ‘The Godfather’.

Birds 16: the ‘cuckoo’s hospital’ was composed in German, the German version will be found in Pun & Games.

Silence: ‘The rest is silence’ are the last words of Hamlet, the prince not Hamlet, the play.  As Hamlet dies, Fortinbras and armed men enter and mayhem and speeches follow.  The last words of the play are ‘Go—bid the soldiers shoot’.

Dividing Water:, an original title, suggests not only the ship’s cleaving of port from starboard but this, my longest sea voyage, cleaving the past when it was a possibility from the future when it becomes a memory.  There is a serious ‘pivot’—see haiku 7—while the others are happy, lesser things, capturing moments and impressions and embellishing them with word play.
4   The Jurassic Coast runs west from Portland, our first port of call.
5 & 13   The crew were 95% male Filipino, the resident musicians and many of the ship’s officers were sons of the Soviet empire.
6   Small waves: not only calm seas but our one-time empire now less glorious.  Not HMY which we moored next to at Leith.  Students of my haiku of which there are many (haiku not students) will recognise drinking and thinking as a repeat.  The only one.
7   The pivot.  The first two lines are inspired by Eliot’s The Dry Salvages:

Fare forward travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future…
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you..
You are not those that who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark..
When time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.

8-10   The cruise had a ‘Christian add on’.  The archbishop was George Carey, erstwhile of Canterbury, the visiting bishop was of Sodor and Man.
14   The North and South Minch are the channels that divide Skye and the Sutherland coast from the Outer Hebrides.  Thence round Cape Wrath and through the Pentland Firth.
16   If gulls are saloon cars and terns gadabout sports cars, the gannet is a Bentley Continental—big, powerful, stylish.  Seen in numbers near Grasholm off Milford Haven, off Scotland and in the Channel.  They also breed on Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth which we passed in the dark.
17   At Dover we were asked to be clear of the gangway for a ‘medical disembark’.