Writing on a Page: Haibun

This is a Haibun for dVerse. Kim asked us to write about handwriting.


In the time before laptops, I sit in archives making notes in pencil on index cards—sometimes printing neatly, sometimes writing in a scrawl, which I will later regret when I can’t read an important word or date. In the old Philadelphia City Archives, I unwrap the brown paper from books tossed haphazardly on the table in front of me. In other archives, documents are treated with more care, even if we do occasionally pass some of the more ribald ones around. I read the flowing copperplate of professional clerks, as well as less legible handwriting. I learn to decipher superscripts and abbreviations no longer used. I read the words, ponder—ideas flow, and I write.


geese rise heading north

chaos becomes organized

writing on a page



My published work on history, gender, and sexuality can be found here.


















29 thoughts on “Writing on a Page: Haibun

    • Thank you very much, Toni. I spent a lot of time in archives, and it took forever to finish my dissertation. There is a sort of magic to be found in archives and libraries, although I have to admit that digitalized documents and articles have made my life so much easier.

  1. I remember index cards, Merril! Laborious and painstaking but we knew no different –
    they were so important – and it was a pain if your card index box fell off the library or archive table and spilled over the floor! And that’s before you started to used them and realised you couldn’t decipher some of them! Your haibun brought it all back and your delightful haiku flew off the page.

    • Thank you very much, Kim. I’m glad I brought back memories for you. I don’t think I ever dropped a box of cards, but I did have rubber bands around them snap–and then there were all the photocopies, too. . .

    • I took notes on legal pads, too, but the index cards are better for organizing specific thoughts, people, etc. I believe that’s how we were taught to do term papers.
      That is quite a project to decipher your father’s diaries. I hope he had neat handwriting.

  2. I’m struck by how timely the topics you published in the first decade of this century are in 2018. Sad, really . . .

    Of course, I wrote notes on index cards too from high school through to my graduate degree and used microfiche as well.

    • Thank you, Marian. It is very sad that the topics are so timely.
      My younger daughter used to make study notes on cut up index cards–something that my dad did, too–though she didn’t know it.
      I didn’t use microfiche, but I did go through rolls and rolls of microfilm. Deadly!

  3. I love your story – how wonderful to decipher old manuscripts and books. (And I am seriously impressed with your publications.)
    My second ever job was working at the Prescription Pricing Bureau, deciphering doctors handwriting and then pricing the scripts. It has stayed with me, as I can make sense of even the wildest scribbles…
    Anna :o]

  4. researching through those pages must feel like history come alive at your fingertips. I always imagine the indent made was the very passion and essence of a person. your haiku is brilliant. i see the geese forming a sentence up there!

  5. Lovely haiku. Lots of birds this week. You brought back lots of memories…index cards were how I organised my revision notes for (so many) exams. I did find pleasure in distilling the information down.

  6. My daughter (the lawyer) has talked about future generations being unable to read old cases if they can’t decipher handwriting…it’s an expressive piece of us I hope isn’t lost! (K)

  7. I loved the index cards in the libraries of old. Something is lost searching on the computer somehow. Enjoyed your write, great haiku!

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment.
      I have to say that I do enjoy the ease of computer searches, but flipping through the (often idiosyncratic) library card files had its own charm. 🙂

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