Meltdown: Haibun by David Cobb24 Mar 2017, Posted by Poetry in
Art Credit: Rizwan Ali
nights drawing in
drops of melted wax
The anticipated power cut. Office closed at four, as every day the past six weeks. Trams not running, she walks to the crèche to pick up her baby boy. To get home needs to take a taxi. District 14, street 7, block 1c, she tells the driver.
Lift out of action, has to climb three flights of stairs to her apartment, infant under one arm, brief case under the other. Right hand gripping the handrail. Opening the case to find her key, it . bursts open, scattering official documents into the darkened stairwell. Seats the baby on the landing, shuts her ears to the wailing, gathers up the papers. Well used to running her hands over the front door to find the keyhole, and so into her rented flat. Two barely furnished rooms and all day no heating.
Gropes her way to the candlestick. By its dim light measures out the powdered milk – her breasts dry – uses the candle flame to warm the mixture to blood temperature. Baby fed, opens a tin of goulash and spoons it into her mouth stone cold.
Lays their stripped-off outdoor clothes on the bed for extra warmth. Climbs into bed, taking the baby with her. Stuffs the bolster between them not to overlay him. Sings to him softly till they both fall asleep.
Sometime in the small hours the power comes back on, the radio wakes her. Draws the quilt around her shoulders and listens to the news. The Party proudly announces completion of the third floor of the Great Leader’s palace. Not much beyond schedule either.
a tram car screeches
round the hairpin bend
There is welcome friction between the title and the opening haiku. ‘Meltdown’ has associations with modern hi-tech, ‘melted wax’ from candles is distinctly low-tech and primitive, whilst ‘stalagmites’ take the reader down the vertical axis all the way to pre-history.
The opening haiku does two things: it provides context, life in an office that suffers from daily power-outs.
It may also drop a hint to the reader that the piece is going to be satirical.
Throughout, except noticeably in the final paragraph, the prose is made up of incomplete sentences, lacking grammar and syntax. It is also in the third person, though even third person pronouns are rare. One might compare the style of writing to jottings of a journalist observing what is going on – even, perhaps, to a secret service spy! In the final paragraph however, the Party’s boast is cause for a couple of ‘celebrative’ fleshed-out sentences.
Yet, because of its very terseness, the prose sometimes records observations that might be turned into haiku. In the dark, running hands over a door to find the keyhole, is an example.
As in haiku, emotion is expressed through images (‘no feeling but in things’). There is no use of adverbs which would steer the reader into sharing the writer’s point of view. There is an exception at the end: the Party, using the adverb ‘proudly,’ makes bombastic claims for its achievements. This seems to isolate the Party from sympathy. The final haiku might seem like a desperate cry for help. When a person is ’round the bend’ he/she is close to insanity.
Note: Meltdown was published in Presence #56 under the title Grind (October 2016).
David Cobb began writing haiku in 1977, but it was 1988 before he was successful in publishing any. His adventures with haibun began even later, around 1994, but there was a breakthrough in 1996, when part of his circa 10,000-word travelogue, Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore, was awarded in the International Haibun Contest organised by Woodnotes Magazine, San Francisco. The entire haibun is still obtainable if you visit his website, www.davidcobb.co.uk . Personal collections of shorter haibun are available at the same site. These include Business in Eden, which in 2007 received an Honorable Mention for Best Haibun Collection in the Haiku Society of America’s Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Wards.
Cobb was founder of the British Haiku Society in 1990 and served in the following 12 years variously as either their secretary or their president.
Rizwan Ali is an American photographer currently based in Belgium. He primarily shoots black and white urban and street scenes. He posts regularly on Instagram (@rizwan.on.mars), Facebook and his own website under the ‘nom du photographe’ of Rizwan On Mars (www.RizwanOnMars). His most recent photo exhibition was hosted by a gallery in Mons, Belgium. Contact him at Rizwan@RizwanOnMars.