Haibun by Mary Jo Balistreri

Day of Remembrance

 

This Memorial Day is different. My father places a small carton of artefacts before me on the kitchen table—things I never knew he had. In seventy years, he never once talked about it, deflecting all questions with “There’s nothing to talk about.” 

 

He’s in his nineties, and I wonder, why now? But do not voice my question, elated that he has decided to share these things with me. He leaves the room to give me space.

 

secrets

out of the closet

articles of war

 

Dumbfounded, I dig out his aluminum dog tags, the size of a half dollar; register the cold, impersonal touch on my palm, wonder what it was like around his neck. Letters from my mother are enclosed within a heavy envelope on top—her picture, a lock of her hair. Unsettled, I put them back, leaving the letters for last. Remaining are two pocket sized black books—Dad’s diaries.

 

I open to the slanted script, ink smeared in places, fragments rather than sentences—a decimated Japanese village, little kids lost, crying; bodies in the rice paddies, bodies huddled together in fear—killing them out of fear. His handwriting is trembly, and as I continue on to the second book, I hear the uncertain, quivering voice that haunts these pages. Pausing to catch my breath, I stop for a while. I never heard my father cry. These books are full of tears.

 

brittle leaves 

falling from the trees…

my tea’s bitter taste

 

I stare out the window, watch flags hanging limp in the afternoon desert sun. The Sousa marches that stirred the early morning air are now replaced by images, death-stilled and sun-hollowed. How does one reconcile the spirited and robust music of patriotism with killing for one’s flag?

 

Continuing with the second book, father’s handwriting becomes almost illegible—names of the dead, of the wounded—men he would never see again. I hear loneliness and loss, in spite of the entries about the band he sang with on board his ship. A picture unmoored from its scotch tape shows the young men in his group. All dead except my father.

 

eviscerated—

the mouse no match

for the hawk

 

Together in the living room, we finally talk about his war, his years of silence, my unknowing. How he’d been lost inside that war. He said coming home alive to a loving wife and two small children had saved him. He’d been afraid, ashamed, beaten. Now in his last years, he’d wanted me to understand. 

 

flowering Katsura

in their midst

my father’s shy smile

 

by Mary Jo Balistreri (USA)

The Haibun Anthology, Issue 1:2, 2019

Tipperary, Ireland

 

About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 46 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. I recently received an Official Commendation from Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner for my thirty-eight years of accomplishments in the literary arts, and my work to promote and advance the field by educating adults and students alike. I am the author of five non-fiction books: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; and Your Original Personal Ad. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 43 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended, and praised by hundreds of critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. I am also the author of a poetry collection: "Shadows of Seasons: Selected Haiku and Senryu." Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I regularly sign books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores, and do poetry readings at art centers, cafes, tea houses, and galleries. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. I have won forty-seven poetry awards, writing twelve poetic forms. My poetry has been translated into eight languages. I do illustrated solo poetry exhibits 365 days a year in libraries, galleries, corporate buildings, hospitals, convention centers, and other venues. My individual poems have been displayed at supermarkets, apparel and wine shops, banks, botanic gardens, restaurants, and on public transit. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." I hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on several library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I am self-employed as a public relations/marketing consultant, having served a total of 118 clients in 23 states for the past several decades . In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give lectures and workshops on publishing, journalism, publicity, poetry, and creativity to business and professional groups, and at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I served for five years as Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America, and for two years as its Second Vice President.
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26 Responses to Haibun by Mary Jo Balistreri

  1. Paul Beech says:

    ‘Day of Remembrance’ by Mary Jo Balistreri is a powerfully affecting haibun on the “kill or be killed” brutality of war.

    Those war diaries of her father’s and the horrors revealed in his trembly slanting hand… Ultimately we must surely feel compassion for this old soldier who has borne his “survivor guilt” in silence all these long years, only now seeking the understanding he so deserves.

    Your haibun has truly moved me, Mary Jo.

    Take care,

    Paul

  2. haikutec says:

    Mary Jo Balistreri always writes powerful haibun. I can’t wait for a future haibun collection too.

    warm regards,
    Alan

  3. MaryJo says:

    Thank you Alan,
    Trying to balance those feelings that many fighting men have of trying to do the right thing but knowing in their heart that killing is never the right thing.

  4. Maureen Weldon says:

    What a great person your father was, how hard to live with such horrors on his mind. My father fought in the British Army throughout the Second World War, like your father he would not speak of the horrors suffered, until near his own death. Like your father he too was a great dad.
    Thank you for your Haibun, Mary Jo Balistreri.
    From,
    Maureen Weldon

  5. Janice D says:

    The line I keep coming back to in this powerful haibun is “ How does one reconcile the spirited and robust music of patriotism with killing for one’s flag?”

  6. Barb Germiat says:

    Outstanding piece Mary Jo! Speaks truth about the surviors of WW II.

  7. MaryJo says:

    thank you for commenting Barb. I really appreciate it.

  8. Deeply moving. Thank you.

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