Relying on the kindness of strangers is a hard way to go. That’s what we have family for. But what of the middle ground, those people who are peripheral to but regularly present in our lives, our colleagues and fellow-travelers? What is it we can expect from them?
humankind — how else do we want to be defined [David Dayson]
Given the rather reduced number of submissions on this topic, apparently not much. Perhaps the workplace, which can be a breeding ground for competition between employees, makes us wary of being too familiar.
A tissue to dry my eyes I cowardly pretend not to know That she is taking my job [Samuel Sibony]
Either that, or the everyday kindnesses found in the office are usually too small, too subtle, too private to lend themselves to good evocation. But not always:
Puff-eyed, desked, I dozed. Passing, you slipped your sweater beneath my mute head. [Leaf Arbuthnot]
Still, we are reluctant to grant all our trust in such circumstances, knowing that several elements are in play.
Flowers for my birthday Even my wife had forgotten Then she asks for a raise [Samuel Sibony]
And so we find ourselves second-guessing such gestures, not wishing to be misled, or guilty of misreading the signs.
Crying after my review How sweet of her to bring a cuppa Buy why no milk? [Samuel Sibony]
At least there is a hint of humor here. The bulk of this week’s submissions were homiletic quintessences, applied at large, and as such, not very much in the spirit of haiku, which work best as particular instances keenly perceived. My three selections illustrate this: the sharper the evocation, the higher the prize.
through the help of a workmate — warm smile [Ernesto Santiago]
My third choice conjures a general scene — it merely suggests the assistance of someone only slightly known, not a named person, but a “workmate”. Though slight, the poem does have something extra to recommend it. The first line, simply “through”, can be read at least two ways: most obviously as the preposition to the phrase that comprises the first two lines. But by having it stand alone, the poet also intimates “completion” which also suggests that the help was essential to that completion. In other words, not just accessory to the work, but essential. The “warm smile” could be from the persona of the poem, but also from the workmate, and most likely, both, and so becomes a shared success and gesture, boding, perhaps, a closer connection in future. Most of this is hinted, admittedly, but even if unintentional, the words make it possible, and we should trust the words.
pressure sores — a weight lightened by kindness [David Dayson]
My second selection relies less on ambiguity, but is not altogether bereft of it. Though not stated, it is not difficult to visualize this setting: a nursing home, perhaps, or at least a bedroom of someone who is not greatly mobile. The kindness of an attending nurse or worker is most likely palpable, the turning of someone who cannot turn him or herself, and though such an act may be done for remuneration, that fact does not lessen its kindly aspect. And the language suggests that the act is appreciated on both the physical and symbolic planes. One could argue that a specific mention of the act would make for a better poem than the generic “kindness” (the same could be said of the previous poem’s “help”). This is why the following, so simple in its unfolding, is my top selection.
in the night rain someone’s umbrella over someone [Ernesto Santiago]
This quiet poem, seen at a distance and conveyed objectively, nevertheless perfectly captures the concept of kindness without ever having to say the word. It is the embodiment of the virtue, rather than its explanation. Its cinematic presentation is easily visualized, and the fact that the people involved are “someone” and “someone” universalizes the moment without resorting to abstraction. And the fact that the poet notices it in such a context suggests that he knows a kindness when he sees one, even in its subtlest evocation. Nicely done.
share price sinking — we hand out life jackets — Mark Gilbert * comforting a dying co-worker a good dog — Ernest P. Santiago * flat tire . . . the boss's secretary punches me in — Michael H. Lester * model plane — my coworker tells me we are reaching far — Ana Drobot * Marketing woes soon flip out over media swarming with thumbs up — Catherine Gates * rumbling stomach my co worker offers his half eaten biscuit — Rachel Sutcliffe * integrity sowed beyond life’s stepping stones gratitude welcomed — Katherine Stella * demoted a condolence card from my replacement — Michael Henry Lee * smiling he loans me his science book . . . grumpy senior colleague — Marina Bellini * price offers — among emails writing a haiku oferte de preț — printre emailuri scriind un haiku — Florin Golban * On my birthday — found a plant on my desk and a chocolate cake — Monica Federico * a bouquet of roses from my boss I’d rather have the thorns — Celestine Nudanu * heated discussion his nodding smile slows the pace — Pat Davis * a card with a poem . . . a colleague remembers mother’s death anniversary — Madhuri Pillai * translation work our dog tries to grasp the sense of my growling — Eleonore Nickolay * first bell my para-pro brings me fresh apple cake — Marilyn Appl Walker * So gallant — a new colleague takes me home Così galante questo nuovo collega Mi riaccompagna a casa — Angela Giordano * getting a clue for bugging mystery on time unasked — S. Radhamani * presentation day she passes me her smile — Andy McLellan * break in the hearing — the barrister brings coffee to the jury-box — Marta Chocilowska * my desk neighbor . . . one of Issa’s poems his unexpected gift — Eufemia Griffo * kindness in showing me the ropes one more time — Erin Castaldi * sprained wrist my workmate lends a hand — Mike Gallagher * revving the engine . . . from an online colleague a thumbs-up — Angelo Ancheta * understanding she needs the cash office amway — Marietta McGregor * forgotten lunch the colleague offers half of her bento — Elisa Allo * working day . . . a smile from the cubicle next door — Paul Millar * chilly night our cigarettes glow at the bus stop — Anthony Rabang * our boss stopped the spreading rumor with a kind smile — Tomislav Maretic * dead of winter your flowers breathe new life into the office — Olivier Schopfer * covering her back while she goes out for a smoke data-entry clerk — Devin Harrison * near retirement my colleague can fix our Royal Typewriter — Paul Geiger * colleague at a loss every day filling her candy jar — Cezar Ciobika * tending my bruises a chat with the lawyer our boss — Karen Harvey * young co-worker the gentleness of a good listener — Carmen Sterba * back at work hugs from a colleague i don’t know — Roberta Beary * sendoff . . . shaking off a Judas kiss — Adjei Agyei-Baah * back in the office a colleague has made my cactus bloom — Eleonore Nickolay *
Next Week’s Theme: The Conference Call
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 15 September 2015.