Ku of the Undead
Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum
When you find a safe place to stop and reload your shotgun, take a minute to listen to what your zombie pursuers are moaning. Aside from the incessant braaaains, you may notice certain neatly doctored meditations about the everyday trials of the afterlife. Maybe you'll hear this:
Nothing hurts me now.
Normally the screwdriver
wouldn't have gone there.
This haiku was penned by Chris Lynch, the fictional zombie-poet in Ryan Mecum's new book Zombie Haiku. Written as series of journal entries, the book recounts Lynch's foul and gruesome encounters as an infected zombie through the traditional Japanese poetic form.
Keen poets may note that Mecum's "haiku" are more accurately senryu, since nearly all the poems lack the the traditional reference to nature and describe life’s follies with sarcasm. But for the majority of us, if the poem's got a 5-7-5 syllable structure, it's a haiku.
Zombie Haiku opens with an innocent anecdote about Lynch’s typical commute to work. But the story quickly turns to a desperate race for life as the townspeople around him have been turned into zombies by a worldwide plague. Of course, they get him. As Lynch regresses into zombiehood, he continues to write haiku at a steady pace, even through potentially stressful moments. Like eating his mother:
I loved my momma
I eat her with my mouth closed
how she would want it.
Mecum's poems state the facts and are devoid of sentiment, both affirming our simplistic idea of zombies as apathetic creatures and moving the story along without becoming sodden in questions of morality. However, because of the expository use of the haiku, it’s easy to breeze through them, not giving enough time to let the "humor" factor set in.
With so many 17-syllable poems sandwiched on each page, it is easy to mistake them for mini-paragraphs and miss the clever pacing Mecum designed. By pausing after each line, it’s easier to inhale the meaning as you would when taking in more traditional haiku. Read the poems like a zombie would—slow and looming. Better yet, channel your inner Christopher Walken to read them as deadpan as possible. If done right, the words will roll out of you flatly, like a dull test-tone:
All I think about
is how hungry I will be
once I eat this foot.
Conform to the apathy, and you may just crack a smile.
Mecum has brought zombies into the uncharted waters of concise poetry, and many zombiephiles would willingly drown, following them into the deep end. We living have an affinity for zombies—the dumb, disposable monsters Hollywood directors toss into sets almost automatically. We've seen zombies try to win back their living girlfriends (My Boyfriend's Back) and loads of other zombie love stories (Corpse Bride, for example). We’ve seen zombies as the potential bringers of the apocalypse (I Am Legend) and as the monster in horror flicks (Night of the Living Dead). And Shaun of the Dead cleverly parodied all the tools in the classic undead toolbox. And, of course, there is Max Brooks’ masterpiece The Zombie Survival Guide. Mecum has exploited our dead, lovable oafs in a new way.
Zombie Haiku, simply, is another newcomer in this niche market. For those of you who never liked zombies, maybe these intimate little poems of murder and rot will make you a bit more tolerant. But for those twisted souls who love zombies exploiting tradition, meet your new favorite nighttime read.