The emotional range of the submissions to this week’s haiku challenge was incredibly broad, from the cheeky to the traumatic, but with not much in between. The idea of “accident” is already loaded (and, to some ways of thinking, arguable), but when conflated with “workplace” entirely new ley lines of culpability come into play. Most of us feel that the professional environment in which we spend our most public hours is, and ought to be, generally safe, but of course we have been made to feel that this is far less true than it once was, due to various school rampages, terrorist activities and co-workers “going postal.” In response to these circumstances, our poets chose either to inculcate the mock heroic, or else the darkly tragic.
Most of the former would hardly qualify as “accidents”: “night shift: empty bins / dust desks, hoover, drop hole punch – / paper moon blizzard” is a good example. This enlargement of the mundane through fake seriousness has a longstanding literary tradition, though it is not often seen in haiku. Another example of this ilk is “My coffee / Like crime scene blood / Flows around me” which is effectively terse.
Of the latter, “the glass ceiling / crashed upon / her up-turned head” surely is intended to be read as allegory, yet in haiku we cannot dismiss the possibility of it representing actuality, making this a gruesome little morality tale. And “yellow black bars / commemorate the union of / forklift and inspector” takes a darkly comic look at what must have been a grisly and horrific day at the warehouse.
My third choice this week is from the first camp:
draft email, hit send cc whole floor with love for new girlfriend x [Sarah Leavesley]
explicates the easy humiliation to be had with misdirected communications. It is a workplace accident of the most benign sort. The poem, though a bit stiff with its language, manages to retain a droll self-effacement, and may actually endear the bungler to the rest of the office.
My other two selections are firmly from the darker end of the spectrum, capturing as they do specific human responses to trauma. My second choice is
silence on site after the ambulance goes [Andrew Shimield]
It might seem an obvious observation, but that’s really the point: the poet notices the manifestation of an absence, the negative space created by this unexpected event. This is a telling moment, told economically, and with a nice formal touch in reserving the final line for the simple verb. It would rate higher except that, considered within the context of the history of the genre, poems on this topic have been written before and as well or better, lowering its impact just a bit below our winner.
Slightly subtler, and I believe more chilling, is my top selection, which might have served as the opening haiku in a sequence that ended with the previous one.
a scream instinctively strangers move as one [Andy Coleman]
That we are a herd animal is not in doubt, but we insist on our individuality, in dress, in manner, in personality. But given a signal that circumvents our thought processes, we access a deeper and more primitive set of responses. A scream cuts directly to the limbic system, and we move our hooves and form a circle from a directive hardwired into us long before we left the savannah. The poet, without overplaying his hand, notes this species drama, and helps us recognize it, and ourselves, in a mere seven words.
Coffee spilt on my skirt — all day long smelling of cappuccino — Anna Maria Domburg -Sancristoforo * painfully lifting more than his weight old ant — Ernesto P. Santiago * from just warming my chair to the hot seat he discovers my tweets — Charlotte Digregorio * car crash extracted a dead from hearse — Antonio Mangiameli * cursing the boss your silence replies ‘He’s behind you’ — Rachel Sutcliffe * after the last typhoon all the windmills and more ranches put to good use again — Vasile Moldovan * fourth and one the injured player is whisked away — Michael Henry Lee * one box lower than a teacher’s back new textbooks — Sandi Pray * No work, no pay my monthly budget barks at me. — Purush Ravela * landslide — on a father’s coffin sand of Sahara — Marina Bellini * office fires — tossed cigarette ignites the wastebasket — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams * lost in thought . . . I give an inspiring lecture to the wrong class — Maria Laura Valente * 28 days without a meltdown silver star — Mark Gilbert * the sparrow in the cat’s mouth fraying nest — Jennifer Hambrick * paper cut a smear underlines the bottom line — Lamart Cooper * the shatter of spinning rotors dim day sirens — Jan Benson * blister domes on a sand dune java splatter — Christina Sng * big trouble — birthday cake carbonized — Maria Teresa Sisti * Frozen fingers in an unsold bouquet of the mobile roses seller — Nazarena Rampini * falling down my son's face the last image — Eufemia Griffo * multiple deadlines — wiping up the coffee on the keyboard — Amy Losak * tennis elbow no longer on the ball — Olivier Schopfer * on the boots cement powder — emergency room — Margherita Petriccione * lost man days for them for me lost limbs — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi * stormy day the office boy checks the glass windows — Pravat Kumar Padhy * late from work a hovering honeybee between the couple — Aparna Pathak * top of the ladder she bumps into a glass ceiling — Debbie Antebi * no workman’s comp nor forms to fill — paper cut — Michael Stinson * blackout the patient talks as by daylight — Lucia Fontana * free coffee runs into my shoe — MR QUIPTY * head in the clouds — the helmet rolled down the stairs — Elisa Allo * all these years my father going to work in slip-resistant shoes — Goran Gatalica * a b c d e — a kindergarten darling wets her pants — Marilyn Appl Walker * shoulder sprain — perfect circle on the blackboard — Angiola Inglese * coffee spill on the office table news from home — Brendon Kent * night raid . . . I stumble over a flower pot — Samantha Sirimanne Hyde * spilt coffee on client’s document boss' expletive under his breath — Madhuri Pillai * spilt coffee on my computer . . . not completed task — Diana Teneva * those days when they dangled from girders over the city New York snapshot — Marietta McGregor * reach in the desk drawer for bandaids another paper cut — Paul Geiger * cantiere aperto — un corpo sull'asfalto tra i passanti yard open — a body on the asphalt among passers-by — Angela Giordano * First presentation she speaks firmly they giggle blue green mismatched shoes — Trilla Pando * 22 years since your workplace accident caring for you — Karen Harvey * her cubicle filled with roses new safety rules — Deborah P Kolodji * coffee spill . . . eavesdropping on some office gossip — Christine L. Villa *
Next Week’s Theme: Work Travel
Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!
From October 2014 through April 2016 Haiku Foundation president Jim Kacian offered a column on haiku for the London Financial Times centered on the theme of work. Each week we share these columns with the haiku community at large, along with an invitation to join in the fun. Submit a poem by Sunday midnight on the theme of the week, from the classical Japanese tradition, or contemporary practice, or perhaps one of your own, which you might even write for the occasion. The best of these will be appended to the column. First published 6 November 2014.