Trivarna Hariharan’s comb

wind swept leaves––
the memory of mother
combing my hair

Trivarna Hariharan (India)
(previously published in Isacoustic)

A touching haiku. When I hear and see “wind swept leaves,” I feel the spirit of the author’s deceased mother loving and connecting with the poet from another dimension. It’s as if the wind itself is the mother’s spirit that carries her voice and invisible hands.  

Jacob Salzer (USA)

This heartfelt ku reflects many shades of memories related to the poet’s mother. Windswept leaves here may indicate autumn or dry leaves that have no destination or direction. The leaves have been further scattered due to the strong wind. Same are the thoughts and memories of the loved one that scatters or loses the colour of life when the strong wind of time blows them away. 

The last line, ‘combing my hair’, may either reflect how a person is either contemplating or getting ready for a funeral. Combing hair may also show how things get settled after tragedies or mourning. Also, it may represent the deep remorseful feelings of a person who finds it soothing to untangle hair. 

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I feel there are two sides to this: one of melancholy and one of warmth. Wind swept leaves in relation to one’s mother combing our hair, especially as a young girl, can bring out emotions of lightness and relaxation. On the other hand, autumn can bring about feelings of loneliness and a sense of emptiness. Having these two interpretations enrich the reading experience.

Finding a comparison between leaves and hair, and the motion of combing and the wind, is a great haiku moment. The poet has seen a common natural occurrence and discovered a link between it and her deepest memories.

Onto the technical sides of things, the format is standard for English-language haiku. The kigo (seasonal reference) is clear, the kireji (cut marker between parts) is given as an em dash, and the sense of reverence to the main subject often displayed in traditional haiku is present. There is also a strong sonic element to the haiku: the letter “m” dominates with “memory,” “mother,” and “combing.” This letter usually conjures a sense of satisfaction in readers. The letter “r” is also featured. It’s almost as if we can hear the roar of the wind.

A naturally written haiku that uses a common experience in nature to find a special connection with a childhood memory.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Unknown painting of maple leaves.

Brad Bennett’s skull

the baby’s skull…
summer clouds

Brad Bennett (USA)
(previously published in Modern Haiku 51:3)

There are two soft spots on a baby’s head where the skull bones have not yet joined together. These soft spots are called fontanels and allow flexibility for the newborn baby to move through the mother’s birth canal. Metaphorically, this softness and flexibility could be the neutral place between two rigid points of view: a bridge between apparent opposites or two sides. I really like how “summer clouds” could be the clothes a mother is wearing, or a blanket, or a pillow. Though I imagined a mother in this haiku, it also could be a father. There is inherent warmth and compassion in “cradling” with its gentle, slow movement. 

There is another interpretation that leads to a contemplation of life and death, and the unsettling, sad stories of very short human lives. However, “baby’s skull” could be another form of life in this haiku. It could be a baby bird’s skull left in a puddle reflecting summer clouds. Summer clouds could also conjure up a feeling of heaven with sunlight coloring or illuminating the clouds, though I feel the real heaven is not seen in the sky but is rather hidden within us. Even in the midst of death, this haiku could imply that the baby’s soul has merged with the universal spirit. 

Brad did a great job using a powerful verb and descriptive imagery, leaving space for the reader’s imagination and engagement.

Jacob Salzer (USA)

Cradling can mean an oscillation between two ends, which indicates something is not yet settled. The baby’s skull and ellipses at the end shows mystery that can be haunting and sad as well. The baby’s skull may point to either a newly born child or a child that is weak due to malnutrition, drought, poverty, or other reasons.

The skull as a hard part of the head may show the significance of what’s in it: wisdom, insight, the intellect, or thoughts that people are gifted to use to overcome issues in order to make this world safe for the next generation. The action of cradling allows readers to think gently and wisely about the issues a newborn must face: the recent pandemic and climate change.

I think summer clouds show a connection between the human intellect and the confusion or obscurity of the global issues that threaten the survival of the current and upcoming generations. It seems cradling/oscillating is more like moving in between the positive and the negative aspects of life.

This insightful haiku is well woven with the threads of mystery and prudence, which makes it unique and thought provoking.  

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

The above commentaries already mentioned the interpretations of this haiku in depth. I want to add that the word “skull” makes all the difference. If the poet had written “head,” a different resonance would have been created. “Skull” brings us to thoughts of mortality and perhaps transformation, as newborns’ skulls are malleable. This flexibility relays the message that as parents and family members, we shape a child’s future.

With summer clouds, I felt the transience of youth but also the magic of it. It’s a great intuitive comparison with a baby’s skull. The poet could be saying that the newborn has passed away, and now summer clouds are cradling the child.

Looking at this haiku more technically, we clearly have a kigo (seasonal reference) and kireji (mark for separating the two parts of the poem). The lengths of the lines are standard for English-language haiku, and this haiku rightly employs brevity and simple language. In terms of sound, the letters “c” and “k” in this haiku present a stark sonic experience.

With powerful word choice, imagery, and sound, this haiku creates a strong resonance that stays with the reader.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

“Summer Clouds” by Tony D’amico

Patricia Davis’ snowflake

the rest of its life
in my hand…

Patricia Davis (USA)
(Akitsu Quarterly spring 2020)

I like how the first line could not be referring to a snowflake. It could be anything small that fits in your hand. Though, if that’s the case, it seems to invoke melancholy when witnessing the last moments of its life. If the first two lines refer to a snowflake, I like how a snowflake is given special attention as its shape naturally dissolves. Snowflakes have grace and a delicate beauty. Each snowflake is different in design, yet they are all made of the same substance. This brings to mind the Great Seal of the United States: E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “Out of Many, One.”

This haiku reminds us of how temporary our human lives are and to make the best use of our limited time here. It also brings to mind a well-known Buddhist saying: “Form is Emptiness. Emptiness is Form.” Snowflakes are made of water and human beings are mostly made of water. In a spiritual sense, it seems this haiku is marking a transformation from form to formless, from ice crystals to water, to mist to sunlight. Yet, when the sun draws up the water again, and the rain and snow comes, will we be reborn? Who am I? A wonderful haiku with personal and universal significance. 

Jacob Salzer (USA)

A temporary life is manifested in each element of nature, like snowflakes, that delicately take beautiful yet complex patterns in the air but are quite light in weight and barely visible. This is how the fragility of life looks when we reach old age.

“The rest of its life” shows an uncertainty that depends on fate and human touch. In other words, this haiku reflects the compassion and kindness that makes this temporary journey better due to care. To me, the hand symbolizes sympathetic behaviour, support, and caring. Ultimately, we should make life lighter like a snowflake and beautiful like its structure.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I can see a snowflake slowly fading away in the poet’s hand. It feels like it’s a celebration and remembrance of a short-lived life. Time is relative, though. Our lifespan as humans is minuscule compared to the age of the universe, and possibly the universe before this one. I get a sense from this haiku that this poet wanted to express the ethereal nature of our existence (which might relate to the Japanese aesthetic furyu), but also to cherish it. The idea of divinity popped in my head as well while reading this poem. God is said to have us “in the palm of his hands.” The image presented has resonance with this sentiment in relation to us and nature. Through our actions, we will either allow nature to dissipate or to flourish.

Looking at this haiku technically, the ellipsis works well. It shows the gradual duration that the snowflake fades. Even though the length of the lines is not standard for English-language haiku, I believe the poet did right by not having the snowflake come in the first line. This way, it is more surprising and leaves more white space. In terms of sound, the “l” letters to me have the most power. The lightness of the snowflake is expressed through this sound.

A simple yet profound haiku that gives the resonance of concern, spirituality, and introspection.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Wilson Bentley’s “Snowflake 332” (ca. 1890). Photograph. 

Małgorzata Formanowska’s winter twilight

winter twilight
one by one

Małgorzata Formanowska (Poland)
(Wild Plum Haiku Contest 2020 – Honorable Mention) 

There is a stark contrast and a mystery in this poem. Twilight in winter is deep and quiet, and crows are expert scavengers. What did they find? “one by one” hints that they found something substantial to eat. Whether it is early morning or evening, against the sunlit horizon, this haiku is a meditation on the cycles of life and death. When I read this haiku, I see stars in the night sky giving signs of an afterlife. 

Jacob Salzer (USA)

Winter twilight is a time when the sky reflects the colours of both sadness and healing. The purple and scarlet sky project the deepest feelings of a person who may be either in solitude or meditating. Also, the sky or horizon portrays the road to departure where a murder of crows covers twilight’s hues and turns it grayish black.

Crows in this case may depict the transformation of day into night or personal thoughts/memories that are lost in the darkness. The crows symbolically show how all the colourful activities of life slow down in the evening and become profound and deep like the dark colours of crows or night. It also connects to the protective nature of crows, who before departing or retiring for the night, give a message of annihilation, silence, and peace. 

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

The image I see when I read this haiku is the sheen of twilight and crows one by one covering that light. It is simultaneously meditative and melancholic. I also noted a harmony of nature, working together to close out a day. In addition, “winter” and “crow” can both be seen as cold words. They are both ominous and a bit dreary.

I enjoy how the writer gives space for the reader to ponder with “one by one.” We are not sure if the writer intended the crows to fly, land, or do another action. But, we intuitively feel the imagery.

In the first line, the usage of “i” lends to the starkness of winter, and the “o” sounds in the second and third lines slow down the pace so that we can easily imagine the crows’ movements. The shape of the poem is also relevant to its content, with each line dwindling in size.

An excellent, sparse haiku that connects different parts of the natural world which creates a potent mood and imagery with just a few words.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

George Henry Boughton, Winter Twilight Near Albany, 1858