Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tai Chi (a haibun)

What I worry about is not remembering the intricate moves of the forms--when the right hand glides slowly above the left, when the palms open up to the sky, when to put my elbow on my hip bone so as to improve liver function. What I worry about is remembering to bow when I enter the dojo, and to call my instructor "Sir." I know I will be corrected if I turn one way when I should turn the other or if my shoulders do not stay parallel to the floor, but what I want is to avoid the awkwardness of having to be corrected--or having others know that I should be corrected, even if I am not--for not embodying the respect and civility that is such an important part of this most peaceful of martial arts.

movements so slow
not even the fish notice--
stalking blue heron

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I originally resisted--"abhorred" might be a more accurate way to put it--the term scifaiku.

When was first becoming a die-hard science fiction fan in the late '70s and early '80s, I read almost as much about science fiction as actual science fiction. I learned pretty early on that in the serious SF community--that is, those concerned primarily with novels and short stories, rather than movies and TV shows--the term "sci-fi" was considered by most (except for Forrest J. Ackerman, God love him) to be a degrading term; in fact, I have heard (but have no primary knowledge of this, so perhaps it is apocryphal) that Harlan Ellison once likened the term "sci-fi" to the N-word. The preferred term was, and in some circles still is, SF.

So, scifaiku first struck my ears as vulgar.

The little science fiction poems the term describes, however, did not. I loved them from the start, and for basically the same reasons I love haiku: if haiku is very compact nature writing, then scifaiku is very compact science fiction. Both, when well done, can say a great deal in those seventeen or fewer syllables. Both invite the reader to participate in a way that longer forms do not, and if the story I weave around a haiku or a scifaiku is different than the story that same haiku or scifaiku evokes in you, all the better.

I have realized over time that "science fiction haiku" isn't an accurate way to describe scifaiku, for they aren't really haiku. If a haiku is, as the Haiku Society of America describes it, "a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition," then a scifaiku is "a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of something science-fictionish intuitively linked to the human condition." A haiku might be about a frog leaping into a pond, or a heron building a nest, or a full moon appearing from behind the clouds, while a scifaiku might be about a robot saving a child, or a spaceship missing its destination, or time travel being used to avert cataclysm.

So I have come to accept the term, even warmed to it. I still refuse to say "sci-fi" and have trouble taking seriously those who do (even though no less a venerated figure than Orson Scott Card uses it), but I can now say "scifaiku" without blanching.

So, I present here three of my scifaiku:

My alien host
offers the traditional feast:
broiled slice of himself.

Two-headed mutant--
one head flinging insults
at the other.

Spaceship crash imminent:
the robot pilot
is the first to bail.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Professor (a haibun)

After two semesters of graduate school I haven't gotten a single date with any of the smart, pretty young women who I correctly assumed would be in my classes, but I have learned a great deal about modern literature. In both respects this is the opposite of how I had expected things to turn out.

under the feeder
the squirrel with half an ear
gathers the other's crumbs

Five years later, M.A. tucked into the inside pocket of my tweed sport coat, I start my college teaching career. I expect to have intelligent, motivated, engaged, hard-working young men and women as students. I am correct in one respect: I do have young men and women as students.

scolded by the finch
on the empty feeder--
paralyzed with ennui

Shortly after I leave the small university where I first taught to take a job at a community college--where, I am happy to report, the students may not all be so young, but most often they are motivated and hard working--I learn that one of the students from my very first semester has changed her major from Business to English, and I feel a note of triumph.

outside my window
fledgling titmouse on a twig--

--This haibun was published at Haibun Today on March 27, 2008