grandma dozes off
© Christina Sng (Singapore)
Kokako 25, September 2016
What stroke me the most about this haiku was the ambiguity of the last two lines. The act of dozing off could mean simply that her grandma was sleeping or that she had passed away.
It might not be so unclear though, as winter evenings can be harsh and lonely, and Christina sets an appropriate mood for death.
However, there is also an air of comedy as well. If she wrote, “grandma closes her eyes/mid-conversation” it would be much more obvious as to the poet’s intentions.
In haiku, though, ambiguity is a strength. Part of the reason why masters of haiku are read throughout centuries is because their haiku was not straightforward. Reading a haiku over several years, and maybe a lifetime, can yield discoveries of new layers of meaning and/or implication.
If one reads this haiku out loud, the second line seems light in mood, whereas the third line seems more serious. Plus, “winter evening” is a serious seasonal reference or kigo. So, I don’t want to pin down this haiku, but I am leaning more on the serious than the comical.
Though seasonal references are not required in haiku, they do add a lot of historical and philosophical information. With “winter evening” Christina adds our collective memories of winter evenings. They are often stark, lonely, harsh, but also a time for families to come together. In fact, each season is a duality. Winter is harsh, but brings us together for holidays and to escape the cold. Spring is the time of blossoms, but sometimes winter’s harshness remains, which is shown in what does not blossom. Summer is a fun time and full of energy, but the sun sometimes causes famines and natural disasters. Autumn is when the natural world is dying all around us, but in such a beautiful form that sometimes we forget about the suffering nature is enduring.
Just like winter being double-sided, so is this haiku. You can feel sadness, comedy, or maybe an indescribable mixture of both. This haiku shows us the spontaneity of life, and possibly death. Though we try to control our lives and manage our surroundings somewhat, we are far from being rulers over our lives.
Looking at it sonically, the “i” sound in the first line makes the winter even starker. The “o” sound carried through the last two lines show the lull and continuation that is insinuated. I think Christina made a smart choice not to use punctuation or kireji (cutting word) in the first line, as she already used a hyphen in the third line, and using a dash or ellipses may have looked awkward.
Technically, sonically, and atmospherically, this is a poignant haiku that begs to be read over and over again.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)