not now, crow …
the wind’s painting
© Robert D. Wilson
Under the Basho 2016
Often, the power of a haiku (or a hokku) is driven by the strength of its third line. Playing against expectations, the poem leads us one way only to change directions and surprise us in the end with an unforeseen insight. As readers, we are shocked into an “aha” moment and given a fresh new way of looking at the world.
Robert D. Wilson, in his superb hokku “not now, crow …”, bucks this approach. Instead, he hits us with a powerful first line, imposing upon the reader an array of implicit questions. Why not now? Why a crow? What is the relationship between the narrator and the crow? Are they companions? Adversaries? And what, exactly, is it that needs to be left until later? These questions, triggered by three short words, work to create a wide space into which the reader can step.
Within this space, Wilson places an image of the wind “painting canyon walls.” While the wind does not literally paint, it does so metaphorically through erosion. Over time, the wind will alter the shape and look of a canyon wall through its steady pressure. The wind is one of nature’s creative forces, an agent of change in the world.
Yet just as the wind is an agent of change, so too is a crow. As scavengers and eaters of carrion, crows are widely associated with death. The narrator is fully aware that the world is a changing place, and what the crow represents within it. Reflecting back to the opening of the poem, we realize this hokku is a contemplation of mortality. Against a backdrop where “the wind’s painting canyon walls”, the narrator begs off the crow, tells it “not now”, and remains unready to face that final change of death.
– Dave Read