lew watts

A collection of 16 previously-published haibun appeared in the eBook Tick-Tock in 2019.

Here is some recent work:

You never asked

 It’s the night before I go back to college, and The Quebec pub is full. I’ve been coming here with my dad since I was fourteen, and just about everything I know on jazz guitar I’ve learned from that man, Victor Parker. There’s sometimes a queue of musicians waiting to play with him, but tonight is a special—a trio of pianist, bass, and steel guitar has joined him, and they have just finished the first set.

all eyes on the Gents
the bell says someone
bought a condom

While Dad gets another round in, I walk across to talk to Victor. Patient as always, he tells me the chord at the start of the second number was an inverted minor ninth. When I pull the pen from my pocket, he splits a beer mat and draws the chord shape for me. This will join my chord library, a stack of mats now over two feet high.

split lobe
some of us learned
by ear

I re-join Dad and his friend, Billy. They are doubling-up—two pints each round. People are shuffling back to their tables, and the trio is re-grouping on the stage. Suddenly, the steel guitar guy looks over and waves.

“Hey, Harry!” he shouts to my dad. “You wanna go?” Dad laughs, and flaps his hand as if to say no.

Did I really hear that?

“You never told me you played steel guitar,” I say, when the first number ends.

“You never asked,” he replies, sipping the head off the second pint.

what did he die of
my son asks
of what did he die, I reply

Presence, issue 64, 2019
also, in wind flowers: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2019

They say I have my mother’s eyes

The Severn Estuary has an extreme tidal range—up to fifty feet—though the speed of its flows is less impressive. It can take several days for an object to drift the ten miles from the Rhymney River Bridge in Cardiff to the rocks at Sully Island.

a slight catch
in the vicar’s voice
closed casket

Wales Haiku Journal, 2019


The closer one came to my mother’s side of the family, the more refined the insults. My father’s sisters had no problem with the simple word “ugly,” though they could embellish at times—“looks like she’s been hit by a bus,” was a favorite. Of course, my maternal grandmother usually hid behind her Welsh, whispering “hyll” at facial hair and bald babies, or “ach y fi” at cold sores and bad feet. And so it was a relief to hear her simply call me “plain” one day. As for Mam, she had the same word for every girlfriend I brought home. “Unfortunate,” she’d sigh, followed by a sniff.

christmas afternoon
chasing down smoke rings
from the hole in gran’s throat

Presence, issue 68, 2020


I have been sitting at this desk, staring out the window, since dawn. A few hours ago, a kestrel hovered over a patch of bleached grass, and now, in the distance, wisps of virga hang from a growing thunderhead. Later this evening, a few fat spats of rain may stain the patio before vanishing.

blank page
this thirst
for one word

Presence, issue 67, 2020


Sometimes, it can happen in a moment—on an abandoned path, in a chanced glance, through a tingle in the fingers. Sometimes, we need the seed of an idea to change a life, and a little magic for it to germinate.

Cambrian shale . . .
on a mudcracked slab
fossil raindrops

Published: Modern Haiku, vol. 51.3, 2020


I was born fifty-six years ago in Cardiff, Wales, in the slum district of Splott. On days when I wasn’t getting the shit kicked out of me, I would never have imagined being in Washington, DC on this April day.

Everyone is nervous. Fathers check their watches, a mother readjusts her son’s necktie, and even the newborn swaddled in lace has a luster of sweat.

As the hour approaches, the doors open. “Form a line,” the guard says. “And remember, it’s alphabetical.”

free school lunch—
the hollow clang
of a soup ladle

An usher leads us into an oak-paneled room. We state our family name and country of birth before taking our seats, a final check that we’re in order. I count four men from Somalia. Their knuckles are white. We sit in silence. No one coughs.

Suddenly, a judge steps onto a podium flanked by two American flags. He is solemn, dignified, and he speaks of the history and importance of the ceremony. A woman in a hijab begins to shake.

We are asked to stand, right hand raised. The words of the Oath of Allegiance appear on a screen, and the room speaks in a low murmur. I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince…

Dad’s will
his old zippo
in the thumbprint

We are welcomed to the United States of America.

As we file out of the room, a woman in a large, purple headdress hugs me, and several men shake my hand. The same guard opens the main door, and we spill out into the light. Unknown friends appear with confetti. Gradually, the crowd begins to disperse.

gust of wind
out of the street gutters
cherry blossoms

I should feel joy and gratitude, but I can’t escape the sense of my betrayal of where I’m from. And that’s when it hits, the gut-punch ache of longing, for all that’s lost, for all that’s gone, and the bitter-sweet sound of a word I know will never stop.
Hiraeth (Welsh):  a deep yearning for a home, a place, or a time one can never return to, or perhaps that never was.

Haibun Today, vol. 12.4, December, 2018

Moving out Moving in

Moonlight on a stuck wardrobe drawer
Socks stuffed into the corners of an old suitcase
Dirty shirts wrested from a tangled nest of bras
A stack of CDs—the unbearable loss of empty cases
Opening a frame—the brittleness of an old photograph
A briefcase lined with proof that you exist
The hiss of salt filling a ziplock bag
Kissing the grain of a child’s bedroom door
A final glance at the defiant hip
The chance of rain

first night alone
I reprogram
the passenger seat

A 4-digit code and the click of a door
Stale disinfectant—the glare of ash parquet
A stainless steel kitchen and its strange cafetière
Signs of past life on cutlery
The threat of a 10-page inventory
A strand of dark hair in a porcelain sink
The sickening tear of the last sheet of toilet paper on earth
The temptation of a cut glass ashtray
The fear of the telephone
The respectful silence

one by one
where she will never find them
my poems

Prune Juice, issue 28, July 2019

Ghost Ranch

Do you know your lips never changed?
Here beneath the Padernal
the vistas are the color of your skin—
not like the stark Black Place
whose charcoaled depths you sketched,
but pastel hues of cool salmon pink.

dust devils
a haunting song
from the cow’s skull

Would it shock you to learn
I have run my hands through all your smocks
within the museum’s archives?
I even lifted something light, alive,
so worn and caked in cotton sweat,
and smelled you, musk and all.

growing wild
on an adobe wall
green chiles

I could have fallen for you,
would have scaled a thousand cliffs
to gaze into those water-colored eyes.
Even now, when you come to me at dawn
and wake me with the brush-stroke of a kiss,
I open like an iris.

single cot
a hollow in the mattress
still warm

MacQueen's Quinterly, issue 5, 2020