This post started life as an attempt at a longer haibun. If you read modern haibun they are very often just a few lines of prose followed by a haiku. It’s not how they used to be, when they were often used for travelogues. Indeed, only about fifteen years ago, haibun, as a form, was originally explained to me as an essay with two or three haiku.
I wrote one. Fourteen years later I wrote another one. It doesn’t do to rush these things.
Recently I felt like having a go at something a bit longer, and thought I might try an autobiography. It earned two rejections, one in its original form and one in a cut down version. To be honest I wasn’t keen on cutting it down, but if an editor suggests trimming the prose I’m going to trim.
The altered version didn’t meet with approval, so I added “loss of integrity” to the sting of double rejection.
I decided that I would use it as a blog post. I have removed the haiku as I can use them later if they are unpublished (and because I struggle to write acceptable haiku). Apart from that, I have just about left it alone – I say “just about” because who can resist the temptation to tinker?
When I posted it, I added the news about my father, which was new since I “finished” the original. Later, I realised I had put in nothing about my mother, so I’m back again (on 6th July) to add more. A poem is never actually finished, you just get to a point where you give up and let it go. I don’t often go back to them, but this one, being an autobiography, just keeps on going. I’m hoping there will be a lot more to add before I consider it finished.
Sisters Don’t Chase Sticks
I am sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, contemplating the neglected door of our coal shed, which now serves as a utility room. A thought enters my freewheeling mind. Could I write my autobiography in haibun form?
Year One – I remember nothing.
Year Two – same again.
This is not, I feel, a promising start.
Year Three – I acquire a dog and a baby sister. I prefer the dog as it is better at fetching sticks. In this golden age there are butterflies the size of my hand and only two sorts of weather – sunshine or snowball time. It is only with hindsight that I recognise it as a golden age.
Year Four – we move into town, the dog is hit by a car and my parents tell me they have arranged for him to live somewhere safe in the country. I start school – they teach me to read and insist I have a nap every afternoon.
Show me the boy, as they say, and I will show you the man – the reading habit is still with me and I still like a nap in the afternoon, despite complaints from my employer.
Year Five – I go fishing for sticklebacks in the canal. Nobody would let a five-year-old fish in a canal on his own these days. We have destroyed childhood as it used to be. It is, however, possible that we have prevented a few drownings and relieved the pressure on the stickleback population.
Some dogs, according to Disney, make their way back home from hundreds of miles away. Mine doesn’t. In fact, when we visit my uncle, where the dog is now living, he pretends not to know me. I like to think this was because of the head injury, but it might just be that he doesn’t like me.
Eventually I give up trying to teach my sister to fetch sticks and lose my interest in sticklebacks.
At the age of 11 I hit my academic peak, coming top of the class, and am given a book as a prize. I opt for a book on birds, an interest which is still with me.
The dog successfully avoids cars for another eighteen years and dies of old age.
Nothing much of note happens for the rest of my life. I find that sisters do have some redeeming features and are, in the end, better than dogs. I accumulate a wife, a family, and arthritis, which I have inherited from my mother. From my father I have inherited a tendency to offer unwanted advice to other road users.
My parents, after sixty years of marriage, get a telegram from the Queen and we have a party. Gradually, my mother fades away.
And so, fifty years after hitting my academic peak I am sitting in the garden thinking of writing an autobiography in haibun form.
I leave this haibun to mature. Six months later the world changes and I spend a my life in lockdown.
My father dies, and we are not allowed to sing at his funeral.