At the Enduro

Most people think they know what makes a haiku, and most of them are wrong.

A haibun is a short piece of prose accompanied by a haiku, sometimes more than one. The haiku is not meant to be a literal extension or addition to the story. Rather it is to present a different point of view that may, or may not, be related.

At the enduro, bundled up against the cold, my father hands me my first cup of hot sweet milky coffee and half a sticky cinnamon bun. Steam rises from the coffee, joining with my visible breath. The whining motors grow loud as the riders repeat their loop in front of us. An unfortunate rider goes down on the muddy track and curls in a fetal position as the other motorcycles fly over or veer around him. I hold my breath until he rises and wheels his bike off the track.

my dead father
every time I cough
every time*

Most people think they know what makes a haiku, and most of them are wrong, or at least incomplete. They do not require a fixed amount of syllables, although many haiku writers do like to use syllables as constraints. Traditional haiku were written in a single column, because that’s how Japanese writing works. There were indeed some commonalities in form and technique in the earliest haiku but poets are not generally known for following rules too strictly.

Here’s one that adheres to the common English language form:

a young boy’s tears
waiting for the school bus
— sound of a crow

and here’s one that more closely resembles an early, traditional haiku:

prayer beads counting birds on a wire

and one that goes its own way:

chasing the dragon**
one last time

Tanka are related to haiku but they contain five lines instead of three (or one). There is usually a haiku within a tanka, but not always explicitly so.

my naked father
slipping back into his room
rumpled comics
in an old cardboard box
pulled from the closet

In all my years of writing, nothing has been harder to compose than haiku.

*this haiku is based on a famous one by Kobayashi Issa:

Mother I never knew,
every time I see the ocean
every time…

**chasing the dragon is a phrase that describes a particular method of smoking heroin