Death Haiku -First Published Work

There is a bi-monthly, nonprofit newspaper published Boston aimed at eradicating homelessness. Roughly two years ago, while waiting for something or other, I came upon an edition and couldn’t help but to peruse its contents.  A regular feature, there is a page dedicated to poetry where they print 4-5 poems. In that particular edition I was not impressed with the verse, as I remember it the poems really didn’t go anywhere, devoid of any conflict.  I thought I could do better despite not having a poetry background or appreciation beyond what I had been taught in high school.  It was a minor challenge born out of idleness—what could go wrong?  I found myself bragging to a friend that I could write something better and get a poem published myself.

I whipped up a poem in about 10 minutes.  It was a surreal listing of random images taking place on the moon. It had no flow or function, an abject failure; seeds of doubt took root.  The person to whom I had boasted was also determined to have something published, although even more halfheartedly as me.  He suggested writing haiku, a trick he used in school to complete poetry assignments with a minimal of work. A syllabic 5-7-5 and you’re done.  He proceeded to show me a haiku he had dashed off in about five minutes, which romanticized alcoholism in a ‘creative but tortured’ beat-poet context.  It actually sounded good form and flow-wise.  I tried to explain to him why his subject matter may be inappropriate considering the newspaper’s masthead, but I’m not sure he really understood; he seemed pretty dejected at my criticism.  Thankfully, I was convincing enough though that he never sent it in.

I quickly came up with my own haiku based on the leanings of the publication. I was able to make one that I felt accomplished that and too satisfied my penchant for provocation and friction.  It also challenged the audience for its own role in the problems of man and civil society. I titled it “Unquenchable” (yes, I know its bad form for a haiku to be titled):

Poor men decompose

In a gated estate’s well

We drink anyway

 

They didn’t have any “Submission” information in the paper, so I found an email address online and forwarded in my artful cannibal poem blind.  After a week I received an email back from the head editor redirecting it to another editor who among other things handled all poetic content. After another week I got a email back thanking me for my submission and that they would print it in a near future edition.  I told my friend.  He affirmatively nodded at my news in celebration.

The paper is sold on the street at various, ever changing locations. Since my friend walks by one of the more regular sellers on his way to work each morning, I tasked him with buying the paper when any new edition came out. Finally, he approached me one day with a paper in hand and a “Good News/Bad News” smirk on his face.  The good news was that my poem was indeed printed exactly as I had written. The bad news was that being only one very short poem, it wasn’t the only one on the page. I shared the section with another poet, and unfortunately her name was credited under each poem on the page—including mine.

Oh well, so much for seeing my name in print.  Her poems were very different than the one I wrote, and if I am allowed to profile, I assume she was an undergrad in one of Boston’s many liberal arts colleges.  Her introspective poems had titles like, “hope” and “not good enough” (everything lowercase).  They weren’t bad or unpoetic by any means, just very different in spirit and tone to what I had written.  I can imagine her in the very nurturing current college atmosphere, sheltered by its trigger warnings, safe rooms, and free speech zones.

Our paths should never have crossed, she should have been well insulated from anything to do with the likes of me.  Long since graduated, I do my best to slip around the city unseen, avoiding everyone as best I can.   The one rare time I surface and there are problems, although I can’t be blamed for this one.  No one can be blamed, in fact, it was a honest mistake—this a non-profit publication, its editors probably unpaid, donating their precious time for a good cause nobly doing the right thing.  It does serve a good lesson and, if I am right about my fellow poet’s background, one not part of the usual university curriculum: even in the absence of malice or ill intent—Hell is other people.

The damage to myself was insignificant in this instance, again a perfectly understandable mistake.  However, from her perspective the harm was a little greater.  No doubt she was proud of her compositions, and like me wanted to get the credit for her having her poems published and read around Boston under her name.  So whenever she showed them off to her friends and family—every single time—she would have to immediately explain the cynical, morbid haiku (with its insistent capital letter presuming on the reader) in the middle of the page was not hers despite her name under title.

Learning my lesson, a few months later I sent in four longer-form poems to the paper (even mixed one in from my friend that I helped write, the subject matter this time concerning a sinking ship and drowning crew).  These did get published under my name which was my first credited work.  It wasn’t my first bout with entropy, however, and certainly won’t be my last.  I wonder if it was that other poet’s first real world experience with human chaos. But I have no idea who she is, or if my stereotype is even right, and aren’t particularly curious to find out either; we are so many satellites bouncing off one another it doesn’t really matter.  Despite how long we may live or how many good things we try to do, they will always be there.  There will always be other people.

S.E. Casey

post script: Recently, my poem “Love Drunk” has been published in the poetry anthology “Ardency for Animosity” by Disquieting Dreams Press 2/11/16.

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S.E. Casey

S.E. Casey grew up near a lighthouse. He always dreamed of smashing the lighthouse and building something grotesque with the rubble. This is his writing method for his weird, existential tales. Published in many magazines and anthologies, links to his stories can be found at secaseyauthor.wordpress.com.