(set another course again)

twenty-nine compound haiku

by Jeffrey Little

Cover Images by Karoline Wileczek

the creek seen as composite, a group of paintings by Karoline Wileczek

Author’s Note:  I needed to do something different. I’d just finished a large group of mutated autobiographical poems about coming of age in small town full of weirdos called Growing Up Strange and I was in danger of falling into that seductive trap of repetition, and style. It’s simple to take a groove and to make of it a rut. I needed to find a way to pull myself out of the work, so that I could find another way in. I can tell you, I was not thinking of haiku.
      I’d scrawled a line; likely another dead end. It was a five-syllable line. It didn’t seem too promising so I figured, why not, try following with a seven-syllable line. Once that was done, just finish it up and forget about it. That last line implied another, but as far as I knew, haiku don’t lattice. No matter. I come out of jazz, Sun Ra and Lester Young, as well as the early veins of punk rock, Minutemen and Germs; what are rules, really? I just walked where the poem took me. When it was finished, I didn’t know what I had; I just left it there, a curiosity.
      A few days later, still struggling with the direction of my writing, I took a look at that poem again. It offered me up a few outs. What if I used the 5-7-5 as the base stanza for poems that adhered to at least a few basic rules of haiku, but also allowed me to make up a few of my own? No enjambment, or punctuation, allow for the use of a cutting word (or not), ground them in nature but make space for the semblance of narrative. Allow for the spoken “I”. Language poetry. I had to keep myself in the project, but at an angle.
      After a while I didn’t worry so much about these rules. I started to think syllabically. And while a style certainly did (does) develop, the restrictions of line acted as a guardrail of sorts that kept me from the pull of the rut. Of course, other ruts develop, favorite words, modes of countering the line, point, counterpoint, but they seemed more like surface issues, at this point, easy enough to find a way out.
      I didn’t know what to call them. I am not a haiku poet. I took what I could from the architecture of the form, and tried to make it into something that I could use. Still, it would be disingenuous to avoid the word. So, compound haiku. Probably an oxymoron. I consciously avoided researching the history of a form it was never my intention to be “true” to. I can only assume that there are/were others out there doing similar things. But it doesn’t really matter. This is poetry, after all. Lots of doors in this house. I’d be lying to myself, however, if I thought that there wasn’t some aspect of fidelity to the haiku form that inheres in whatever it is I’ve done here. Still, that’s not for me to decide.  JL


(ask fat doctor sun)
(living on the melt)
(more place than no place)
(woods is fucked-up dark) 
carbon dating fails)
(we rise knowing only this)
(scrub down then scrub down again)
(tokens the snowpack accepts)
(one bored owl shits bones)
(we are built in change)
(spools off gone bowling)
(there was a clarinet there) 
(had a dowser made)
(off-world to nohow)
(digits synthesize broken)
(bacon cooking slow)
(lot of shade fell since the sun)
(river duck is pissed) 
(spring month in paris)
(other ways to hail a cab)
(siren shepherd see)
(seven steps alter the tense)
(repository sanctum)
(the walking path at first flap)
(three thumbs make for town)
(bringing quinine blank) 
(winter colder come)
(what home was has turns)
(the annihilated man

(ask fat doctor sun)

crabs in white oak trees
what we do here is secret
ask fat doctor sun

the marsh log’s séance
elixir and chicken king
spells warm down to roots

salt the backroads white 
we reshaped the tin sweat shacks
danced down mosquitos

(living on the melt)

winds cold shear on in
a fjord rolls as if time passed 
seemed no use to lie   

pack ice cracks and calves
currency clearly dictates
living on the melt

near frost the mind clears
three cloven sheets fold open
many blues chanting 

(more place than no place)

feed mill all shadows
this black slag used to be walls
the new math takes time

woolworth’s bargain box
a goat’s head and eight-track tapes 
misremembered time

dulled and doomed in trees
arboretums don’t sell beer
divorced an in-law

trash burns in barrels
a line forms across the sky
rising geese and gone 

more place than no place
lost in these rounded turnings 
reliquary keeps

(woods is fucked-up dark)

deep shade in redwoods
trees know these vines here conjure
woods is fucked-up dark

lost by a clearing
mycelium takes roll call
moss-lined clawfoot tubs

molted snakeskins run
new dens where the old dens were
mammals comb their pants

brush lets green floors breathe
places the eyes can’t see to
wood goblin lounge bar

stirring takes the crowns
this is where we stop walking
old growth and strangely 

(carbon dating fails)

shitfaced a cloud falls
eggs begin to write strange songs
endings are tricky

one cask filled with scars
sewing machines halve the rain
carbon dating fails

nuclear options
swapping a paw for short pants
wait the sun’s return

weather names us fools
dissecting table with trees
all without a net 

renamed the sunset
two footprints settle on cause
what here is given

shallow hills go home
nothing but the staid remains
thrown chairs ecliptic

still the one cloud sits
bag up the lederhosen 
milk the day and sing

(we rise knowing only this)

dusk defines starlings
i drove through these parts before
rolled steel tuned retro

played catch with brick walls
the neighbors sit and drink tea
to die then seems strange

morning simply is
we rise knowing only this
blue flames on the stove

all the torn instants
dog howls and itchy blankets
jackets by the door

(scrub down then scrub down again)

discarded face masks
the wind holds court in the trees
rain here is worldly

pubs locked tight gone dark
bicycles weave through parked cars
wait some still the same

seen first each surface
scrub down then scrub down again
what’s not there is there

fever bends to brood
a branch of pine made heavy
takes on weight and snaps

safer not to think
odd things were busy in the air
mornings brought to chill

we five watched the box
one cloud soon struggling to rise
scanned the horizon

dusk now half empty
the cornfields can’t stay the same
evening starts as song

(tokens the snowpack accepts)

yak grunts at hat box
peaked mountains quickly too cold
time to sing since passed

thoughts people graveyards
the bone man melts into place
voices lost on waves  

busby seeks new head
tokens the snowpack accepts
silence opens doors

(one bored owl shits bones)

thumbprints and primers
heavy the chains stole the shore
lost return’s longing

earth set not simply
watch the plastic bags sail free 
one bored owl shits bones

conjured a sinking
on the sea floor spoke to kin
troublesome to breathe

the middle passage
syllabic these husks of time 
there is no reset

(we are built in change)

today one woman 
dowsing she makes waters shown
tomorrow thousands

we move by degrees
infant maiden mother crone
we are built in change

found time in cold rain
talked a while with Alice Paul
native steel forged fierce

smoke takes to a fire 
circles inside of circles
finding open out

felt once seen bedrock
equinox strangely evolved 
seeds the day’s transit

what's taken returns
bodies words old songs and homes 
we here will sing then 

(spools off gone bowling)

sound made color felt
cut away the morning ice
mortgaged the unseen

caught the passing dawn
the rock salt and thin boot two 
tools for the stone age

this shack hewn juju
old thoughts scissored in the cold
noonday’s fallow bowed

woke twice for certain
found the hidden warp in light
spools off gone bowling

charcoal threads the dusk
risen birds follow the screw
turned the painted face
meals mark an ending
clouds stall and the focus sinks
the same scene reshown

(there was a clarinet there)


no wind to speak of
wet blacktop combs the sizzle
midnight’s round angles

alleys sidestep light
a germ goes incognito
older dog older

silent howls take sand
walls belayed by intention
brick more better built

stumbled then into 
there was a clarinet there
one black stick made dawn


jesus allah jim
worked the morning paper home
steel boy blows the save

delmore with hotplate
how to make the ghosts mean more 
i don’t know the date

pie charts and box scores
branch with leaves in window space 
do the secret math

burn yearbook again
learn how to snake a clogged drain
thought i had a cat


tuesday as guard rail
heard once way in is way out
seemed impossible

cicada change time
read two books about the moon
none of them made sense

threw up just because
just where does everything go
the library called

i counted to ten
counted to twenty-four twice
fifty fucking eight


recall the bus now
windows and the slide through sleep
working paid for things

trees waltzed their way in
an anchor dragging behind
trees know all trees are

wait for shards down home
in its way the light caught snug
one more stop to where 

it was bone deep dark
heard the purple sound of reeds
clarinets i knew

(had a dowser made)

dust bowl sidewalk shoes 
a dry socket thunderclap
sand pile dreams salt lick 

saw grass fly sideways
wind fueled chaff fresh from the hills
dirt can’t hold its dick

that damn sun means hurt
counted out the alphabet
thirty-seven nine

lost my sister’s hair
days after the head’s last change
tin pail with rust spot

never heard no birds
folks gone wrong about those birds
off kid runs his gun

had a dowser made
a patch of haunt corn wandered
rod points straight the moon

(off-world to nohow)

for Darby Crash

off-world to nohow
simpler just to cut and stun
clotheslines walk and growl

spent years in pieces
clouds flanked the turnstile’s vigil
lost scent finds wander

wind grows old in trees
two hound heads meet near the stream
shock freed-up spurns fear

what bamboo said when
red was this wolf spider once
bastard took my thumb

(digits synthesize broken)

hard ticket science
wait for what you wait for when
language sees through cars

first the tourniquet
digits synthesize broken
walk with strings attached

sunrise on the sprawl
gin-smoked theories slide again
finding the other

a blue cleft sincere
untitled the salve that works
spun shells sound sentence

(bacon cooking slow)

bacon cooking slow
pop died a husk mom went pissed
we shrank back in holes

place gladhands stasis
lights curled off into midnight
drove the good road out

red shift continues
memory is time’s daft shill
none of us are here

(lot of shade fell since the sun)

On the Centennial of Negro Leagues Baseball

just show me the scales
crooked as everything else
I’m go watch the Greys

dreamed of Josh Gibson 
past eighty and making bank
woke up still no sun

one whole slice of town
community ownership
all the good things good

seen Cool Papa Bell
James Thomas of the Crawfords
high priest runs the path

bigger here than ball
what opens finds the outside
calls to calls then cause

Satchel’s no-see-um
stutter pitch cold deep midnight
what you did today

been one hundred years
lot of shade fell since the sun
picks up what remains

lost but echoes are
the king Oscar Charleston
clocks soon stop to move

opening ended
obverse glory in the ghost
listen at the birds

(river duck is pissed)

river duck is pissed
styrofoam a stone insult
carves one notch revenge

locate the off ramp
in sausage man walks upright
traffic takes the train

shorter this breezeway
saw river duck’s ascension
air above mountains

beat the big brain back
the culverts take what is theirs
down time opening

the first step means flight
river duck mutates the steam
we can’t know what’s here

molds bent in casting  
without feet the bed fits best
windows recover

nothing stays insane
blunderbuss for a kill shot  
river duck is pissed

(spring month in paris)

hot sauce digs pleather
in a cake dome red looks right 
spring month in paris 

cut peat in bog pants
southpaw as affirmation  
moves with easy grace

most fog likes walking
treason waves valid bus pass
find the one way out

(other ways to hail a cab)

assateague island
haymakers and wind scuffed gulls
scuttling crab finds beer

forks in song bluster
other ways to hail a cab
beach cops sweep unseen

sand blinds and kicks some
colloidal hump through the sound
posed near tent by horse

dune smacked goldenrod
one-eyed pony wields a knife
in too deep to care

(siren shepherd see)

sing him of end songs
the root paths two sisters weave
siren shepherd see

they will help him cross 
scabs of a bold rage flaking
each will take a hand

philly grew them fast
triangulate the funhouse
somehow steered on through

what then were the odds
close the old circle open
ride the low light out

(seven steps alter the tense)

night droning lowly
the way pills game the system
oddly babies cry

chaos takes on sand
seven steps alter the tense
exits spin one way

waiting means waiting
buildings lord their own climate
the hours tied down tight

looked at leads no place
landlocked the load bearing walls
morning empties same  

(repository sanctum)

for Ruth Bader Ginsburg

trees fall every day
nurse logs on the forest floor
leaves seek shared sunlight

beyond the landmarks
some giants seem themselves small
they'd be wrong in that

found the seam inside               
repository sanctum
lace collar baseball

(the walking path at first flap)

a monk moves in fours
the walking path at first flap

sculpt the driveway sand  
the smaller rocks i will eat
someone spoke of bells

this one sun rewound
carrying beer then buckeyes 
standing by a screen

found myself in woods
odd chanting and leaping cows 
remembered nothing

(three thumbs make for town)

walls rise slow with sun
sell price a green fat head george
three thumbs make for town

clouds skirt right to left
single demolition stand
couldn’t halve the split

concrete remedies
rebar the essential sham
ate strange things chewed twice

had some cousins once
small old thoughts brought it back home
theorems sprain dogma 

(bringing quinine blank)

worms and walls to chance
perpetuity blames silk
rugs lost in the corn

this is where it counts
red smoking jacket makes good
cooked the seed guitar

tracks speak to the cause
we chucked dry clouds to bait rain
bringing quinine blank 

late last night they ran
loose watch and the disco shirt
cracked shells go milk crawl

changed to first channel
bowls of some electric howl
silver bones feet first

tales to fog the hardly
damn the seeds man it’s end time
spent pines and shit grass

(winter colder come)

rain keeps its own edge 
the raw fresh cold was calling 
split cheap chairs to burn 
nature is a chant 
offerings Alice Coltrane 
work what words we can 
snow blankets what’s seen 
hospital beds and waiting 
winter colder come 
blues dream wide-awake 
echoes heavy in the coals 
music stomps on home 
wooded trails broaden 
find the moon and ask it nice 
old wild ghosts in trees

(what home was has turns)

tired dogs float in space
horror and noon’s intrusion
dirt cellars listen

what home was has turns
sliding down the hill loosed time
the church bells toll lunch

remember forward
acrid smell of poured metal
farms outside of town

a single stoplight
parades and strange thunderstorms
riddles of approach

south down Gettysburg
someone named it Littlestown
landscapes filled with crows

didn’t stop to breathe
the witch’s house taught focus
kid’s thumbs took missing

cars imply distance
to return means farther from
best to wait back here

(the annihilated man)

buried me right here 
dying proved all sorts of shock 
seventeen last gasps 
then seventeen more 
half-empty left at the bar 
we didn’t go back 
melted things for fun 
no eyes in the extinction  
broke down half cave sloth 
i was skinning time 
catch more rocks and buy weird beer 
meanwhile damn haiku 
it’s about timing 
a good change-up and long squall 
folk din makes dada 
so i shook through done 
walked clean into squared juju 
thick leaves left two marks 
sent the cold masking 
that shit mirror lied bleakly 
i knew who i were 
seen mom killing birds 
gassed up the capstan and gone 
twelve mile west haiku   
off chance the egg chains 
certainty quakes and runs south 
gators seized the crawl 
this is what i mean 
the bank blanched seeing three pens 
more ink for dixie 
seventeen made me 
before the dirt’s change basking 
seventeen made more 
theses of nowhere  
old shack in the woods felt fine 
turnstile greased haiku 
woke up in a sweat 
translated excerpts of place 
saw dreams buy cheap beer 
new clothes shake the man 
manimal raced ten furlongs 
heard strange steps approach 
this one greets that one 
seems i had me by the balls  
cloud me saw new words 
germs make acrid smoke 
the annihilated man 
flew by burned haiku 
ate a flag today 
ate a flag yesterday too 
lexicon sunday 
i taught fools shampoo  
wormwood bookshelves love the crash 
pretend more better 
wall shelf seen quaking  
seventeen sides makes the lung  
stake me to go-go 
i fried what i was 
freed of the egg i made mine 
bone sauce in haiku 
turned some in past tense 
weren’t no fun seeing shiloh 
still it looked less me 
fixed the albatross  
here was something locked and toed 
pivot lattice sun 
watched me set thick ropes 
i never wanted to go 
most of us is shuck 
set another course 
set another course again 
last haiku cheats home 

Jeffrey Little: “As a child, I ate small stones from the open air buffet of our familial driveway while I pondered the being-there of my one Tonka truck. Sadly, those days have passed. Since then, I’ve authored a number of books, including The Hotel Sterno and The Book of Arcana, both from Spout Press, as well as Five and Dime from Rank Stranger Press. Also some chapbooks, a poster, and a flash here at Mudlark. I am supposed to mention here that I am a 2001 recipient of an Established Poetry Grant from the great state of Delaware.”

Other Jeffrey Little Mudlarks: Counting to Zero and Versus, Flash No. 136 (2020); The Secret Life of Nouns, Poster No. 154 (2018); Is Nature is as a Sound is as Zero is as the Hook Dog Blues, Issue No. 47 (2012); Biography As In Syntax: The Babble Poems, Issue No. 22 (2003); and crayola in arcana, Issue No. 15 (2000).

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