Open Door Haibun

When one door closes, another opens;
but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door
that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

Alexander Graham Bell


I’m attending a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in a few days. I’ve written three children’s books, and SCBWI is an invaluable resource for improving craft and making connections.

molding words like clay
making characters breathe,

When I say I’m writing books, the first question anyone asks me is have I been published. Yes, I’ve been published in the past and recently in on-line zines and on my blog, but their questions really mean has any publishing company paid money to publish my work. Not yet. I’m looking for an agent. Most editors want agented submissions. Agents have become the first gatekeepers. To get through that gate is my immediate goal.

hands on the gate
splintery wood is rough
words can smooth

I wrote “Author” for the first time as my occupation recently. I learned the poet Emily Dickinson was rejected for publication during her lifetime. She was never published until after her death. Was she an author? I would say yes. If she was an author during her life, then I am, too.

To quote Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” I am already successful because I love writing novels.

This is a new career for me, and publication will take time. I’m on the path, I have passed through the first door — I believe in myself. Next, I hope to pass through the gate.

words soar like birds
song echoes over lake water
feathers fall, they float

Path in woods

I know many bloggers are on the path with me, and I want to thank all of you for your feedback and your support. My shoulder surgery is a few days after the conference. This may be my last post for a while, as I won’t be able to lift my laptop until my arm is useful again. I will miss all of you in the meantime. Keep writing! XOXO, Brenda

Copyright 2015 Brenda Davis Harsham


Speak for Compassion

Granite Bench

On this bench, many times I have contemplated skinned knees, heard stories of woe or watched battles royal fought by three- and four-foot folk. Now the snow and cold drives us indoors, where children’s pains seem more internal as well.

Speak softly
Without haste,
For a word,
May strike a blow
To one hurt
On the inside.
This we can avert.

Reflect on any
Plans or actions.
Evil arises from
Creation of factions.
Harsh words divide,
Conquer and defeat.
Imagine being the other.
Use compassion. Repeat.

Whether we are talking about children, adults, religions, towns or countries, we all need to pause and reflect. To imagine life as the other.

I don’t like to moralize,
Or antagonize,
But in the face of evil
Speak I will.
Choose an action
From compassion.

1000 Voices Speak for Compassion

Copyright 2015 Brenda Davis Harsham

Note: The combination of poetry, interspersed in prose, is called a haibun. This recent rash of school shootings, terrorism and racial and religious violence moved me to speak together with many others, in a movement started by Yvonne Spence. Let’s create a better world for our children, a magical, safe world where differences are celebrated rather than used to divide and ridicule.

Snow Queen Haibun

Wetlands in Snow

I walk through my own personal cloud of crystalline breath. The nighttime is silent but for the thuds of snow falling from branches. The modern world disappears, and even the family van is a slumbering dragon. I pace the silent woods, twilight falling to full dark quickly.

ice chokes the pond
water reflects the dark sky
even my breath stills

Frosted Window

I return to a long-ago winter. Lacy snowflakes fall all night. School is cancelled. Frost stars seal the window glass. I don three layers of clothes before pushing through drifts over my head. I forge new pathways. I enter an icy, secret world with caves, trolls, mountains and a snow queen.

hiding from monsters
across alien frozen worlds
in the quiet, is me

Copyright 2015 Brenda Davis Harsham

Note: This is a haibun, a Japanese form of writing, alternating prose and poetry, in this case, haiku. It has many rules. It should be present tense. The haiku should be without punctuation, except where a stop is indicated by a comma. Basho made this form famous.

Garden Bright Haibun

Zinnias and Dahlias

As my children go back to school, the last blooms of the season burst like fireworks. The heat rises, homework swells, plans churn and change. Each day brings new wonders and new opportunities.

Wandering far,
On the borders of beauty,
Seeing zinnias and dahlias,
Sprawling in full bloom,
I am in the garden bright.
Snow might be coming,
But not until another day.

The seasons change gently, day by day, beginning with red leaves interspersed with the green. Berries replace flowers, and the sun’s rays dwindle. The squirrels chatter, chase and hide acorns frantically. All around me is late summer, but the preparation for winter is nigh.

harvest tomatoes
canning sauce made with basil
winter is coming

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Note: A haibun is a Japanese form of prose interspersed with poetry, often culminating in a haiku.

Iris Blooms Haibun

Pink Iris in Bloom


The sun is blinding hot today, a taste of summer to come in four weeks. In a previous post, Visitor in the Temple Haibun, I wrote about irises that came in the soil of my house. For years they sent up green leaves, but never did they bloom except once.

Two years ago, I moved them from their spot beside the wild forsythia. An iris grows from a fat root that sits shallowly in the soil. Planted too deep, it will never bloom. Once transported, irises can take years to acclimate and rebloom. But taken care of, the root will outlive us all.

patient, enduring
hibernating deeply
blooming when ready

This morning, those iris roots, probably older than me but certainly older than all my children, have bloomed again. Last winter’s severe cold must have given them a taste for summer’s heat.  Across the street, my neighbor’s irises also greet the sunshine, proudly and without shyness.

elegant beards drape
velvet walkways invites bees
tomorrow’s blooms wait

Note: This post is dedicated to those who persevere, who ride out the hard times, make homes wherever they are transplanted, and then bloom when the moment is right. You know who you are. 🙂

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Note on photographs: The above picture is of the irises that have finally bloomed for me. These below are those from across the street, neighboring monarchs.

Orange Iris blooming Pink Iris blooming

Plum Island Haibun

Pavilion Beach, Ipswich, looking out at Plum Island

Seabirds scream overhead before diving into Pavilion Beach’s gentle waves. Tide pools reflect the sky. Surrounding sand is cold and muddy, squashing between my toes. A salty wind scrubs my skin raw.

The Ipswich beach is not crowded, but on one side, a sausage dog sniffs my feet and looks askance. On the other side, college students discuss over-drinking and under-studying, their laughter louder than the waves. Across the Sound, Plum Island’s sands gleam whiter than wishes. I daydream about solitude over there: just my family, the seabirds and the sunshine, sea winds blowing my cares away.

tide ripples and footsteps on the sand

I look down at the ripples left by the tides. Overlaid are footprints of people who arrived, gazed at the same sights as me, and then departed. They left these traces of life behind: bare feet, shod feet, children’s feet, bird feet. I add my footprints to the chaos left by other beach lovers. I am part of a greater whole, separate, yet no different.

white boat bobs
sails furled, engine quiet
bird feet leave no trace

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Fairy Fiddlehead Haibun

[Sh]e was a poet; and they are never exactly grown-up.
J.M. Barrie

Furled Ferns

Walking in the woods today, I listened for the music of the wind. I heard the crescendo of growing things, and a soft decrescendo of falling magnolia petals. Trees in leaf harmonized with delicious sap running, after a long frozen winter. Squirrel feet danced so fast, they seemed to be touching only clouds. Bees, drunk with plentiful nectar, wobbled in flight. Landing on pear blossoms, the bees turned round as though tumbling down hillsides, spinning, dizzy, buzzy.

stretching straight sunshine-ward
furled fairy fiddlehead,
music makes me merry

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Note: A haibun is prose followed by poetry, often a haiku. If any of my other haibun-writing friends are parched from a reduction in prompts, feel free to take my picture or the quote as a prompt, and write your own haibun, just please give my name as the photographer. Ping me or leave a comment here, and I will be happy to read it! I don’t know how to do the linky, so I can’t offer that. The quote was originally “He” not “[Sh]e” so it can be either way.

Candy Dish Haibun

Some people can’t believe in themselves until someone else believes in them first.
— Good Will Hunting

Bluebells and snowdrops at foot of tree

My grandmother had a small two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a building in Youngstown, Ohio. My parents would drop me off for a visit, and Grandma Myers and I would spend several days, just the two of us. We would visit Mill Creek Park and walk through the extensive flower gardens.

Each visit, I would perch on one of her two couches, and look through old loose photographs, older generations of Shumakers and Myers intermingling with newer ones in the disorganized drawer of her breakfront. She would sit beside me, naming people, so that I learned my family’s faces without ever meeting most of them. After several years, I knew who they all were myself. I loved looking through those photographs, most of them black and white, seeing my mother as she grew up.

On Grandma’s coffee table was a candy dish, full of colorful, hard candies. Some were in clear wrappers and some were wrapped to resemble strawberries. I would eye her candy dish, but she never invited me to have one. One day, when we were talking about going to visit her sister, she noticed me eying her leaf-shaped candy dish.

“I always keep candy here,” she said, smelling sweetly of perfume and talcum powder, wearing a belted dress. “I told your mother that the candy was for guests, and she never touched a single piece. I was very proud of her for resisting the candy.” My grandmother fixed her hazel eyes on me, behind their cat shaped glasses. She looked at me a while in silence, to see if I understood what she was saying.

I thought over her words. She was not inviting me to eat the candy. Rather, she was suggesting I should not eat any of it at all. I thought this was a bit cruel, and I was sad at first. I realized that my not eating the candy was very important to her, and so I did not eat one piece. We dropped the subject, and I never asked her for any.

When my grandmother’s niece came for a visit, she offered her and her daughter Becky a piece of candy. Becky was near my age, and she happily unwrapped one and popped it in her mouth. I was jealous for few seconds. But then I was proud. I realized that I was not a guest in Grandma’s house. I was family; I belonged.

After a while, I hardly noticed the candy dish, and I did not feel tempted by it. Her eyes gleamed with approval in the evenings, when she would look at it, and notice it was still full.

Looking back, over the long years, I realize she taught me willpower. I would not have believed I could be in the room with candy and not eat a single bit. My stepmother used to hide snickers bars, not trusting any of us, but I knew from the clink of the good flatware that she had hidden them in the dining room buffet. My grandmother left candy out in plain sight, and there it stayed. She believed in me, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. I still look at that hard candy in stores, knowing it’s not for me. I can live without it.

old apple tree
wide branches slow the wind
bulbs bloom above roots

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Inspired by the Haibun Thinking, Quote Week.

Butterfly Moment Haibun

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.
— Franz Kafka


One of the hardest realizations after college was how ordinary my days had become. The same routine, seeing the same places, meeting the same people, day after day. Occasionally, would come a butterfly moment, when ordinary transformed into extraordinary, and my inner spark could shine.

root-bound foliage
spider plant babies waterfall
glow with health

write joyfully
creating thought collage
redolent with youth

Years later, I am locked into a similar repeating pattern, day after day, mostly domestic: cooking, cleaning, overseeing homework, laundry, ad infinitum. Writing keeps me sane, and permits the daily grind to be grist for a deeper calling. Because I must write, I find 15 minutes here and there to create. Continue reading

A Walk to the Lake Haibun

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
– Thích Nhất Hạnh

I walked today, despite my recent recovery from norovirus and a week of not eating properly. I started off slowly, stretching sluggish muscles. My feet curved into the familiar rhythm, welcoming the soft, spongy aqueduct pathways. I headed for the lake side, wanting sunlight glinting strongly into my eyes after a winter of weak, gray light. I passed many gardens, my eyes yearning for color, a contrast to brown and gray.

Seed pods in Spring

seed pods straining, listening for the song of the wind

The wind did not disappoint, but sang of ocean waves. Seabirds called distantly, crows nearer. Robins quarreled over grasses. A cardinal flashed by, a scarlet blur. The air warmed to the sixties and finally snow seems truly gone. Was it icy only a few weeks ago? The sunlight made me feel alive, inside and out, and I turned upward, smile opening wide. Neither did the gardens disappoint, providing color in miniature.

Yellow Spring Crocuses

saffron crocus
sunlight reincarnated
honey sweet scent

The yellow crocuses stopped me cold, so startled to see gold strewn on the ground, riches to my starved eyes. Most plants were still dormant, buds still tightly furled. Only the crocuses had thrown open the treasure box, spilling nature’s jewels. Words seem pitiful in comparison.

Purple, yellow and white crocuses

tiny crocus trio
blossoms dancing on breezes
music to my soul

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Dovetailed deliciously with the Ligo Haibun Challenge, Quote Week.
Also includes a new form of poem, a monoku, that I cannot tell apart from the American Sentence Haiku.

Let Your Voice Ring Out

To have the sense of one’s intrinsic worth …
is potentially to have everything.
~ Joan Didion

Insight is nurtured within quiet souls. When released, it has the power to change lives. Many of my writing students have been quiet, hardworking people all their lives, devoting themselves to their families and their jobs. Many of them tell me they loved writing in high school or college, but they stopped afterwards. I encourage them to tell their stories in their own words. Today, I asked them to let their voices ring out.

Let My Voice Ring Out and Over the Earth

Let my voice ring out and over the earth,
Through all the grief and strife,
With a golden joy in a silver mirth:
Thank God for Life! 

Let my voice swell out through the great abyss
To the azure dome above,
With a chord of faith in the harp of bliss:
Thank God for Love!

Let my voice thrill out beneath and above,
The whole world through:
O my Love and Life, 0 my Life and Love,
Thank God for you!

 – James Tomson (1834-1882, only 48 years old…)

They do not voice complaints, and instead share their stories with trepidation, some afraid to be considered complaining or unfortunate. I don’t perceive telling the truth as complaining. I don’t greet their words with pity, but with joy. Joy to hear how strong and thoughtful they are. And joy that I have contributed in some small way to helping them find their voices.

From your well-spring of self-worth, from the source of your voice, comes all the things that make life worth living, despite the hardships, the mishaps and the worries.

let your voice ring out
let the birds startle and fly,
into the trees

Blue sky and a tree in the shape of a heart.

Do you see the heart?

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Inspired by the Haibun Thinking Week 10, Quote Week. Thanks to the people volunteering their time to help motivate others to write.

Birthday Parties

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
– Mae West


We’ve had big parties, and we’ve had small. We’ve had tea parties, tumbling, laser tag, jungle gyms, hikes, fairies, butterflies, sleepovers and even a party bus that pulled up out front. One thing I’ve learned from having parties for my kids: they all make me smile, and are moments to remember.

Candles on cupcakes,
Lungs filled with air,
Wishes outnumber
Cares, on kids’ birthdays.

As the number of kids we have increases, and the number of kids’ birthdays celebrated has passed twenty, I look back with most appreciation on the smaller parties. The greater intimacy allows for capturing more of that reflected joy, bottled forever in my memory. (And fewer numbers of presents to find places for.)

For me, March is the month of spring and birthdays (two of my kids and my dad).

packages wrapped
explosions of colorful paper
expressions of love

Copyright 2014 Brenda Davis Harsham

Inspired by the Ligo Haibun Challenge (Quote week) and Paint the World with Words (Naani poetry prompt). Thanks to the talented people volunteering their time to help motivate complete strangers to write.