Sandip Chauhan’s flowing river

flowing river . . .
the spot where I poured
his ashes

Sandip Chauhan (USA)
(IAFOR Vladimir Devidé Haiku Award 2016 – Runners Up)


This is a powerful haiku that sparks a conversation about life, death, cycles, time, and the afterlife. Does a river know of past or future, or any sense of time? Because of its continuity, the ever-present flow of now is the only time we are ever truly alive, while past and future seem to be abstractions. In the river’s flow, the person’s ashes seem to simultaneously conjure up the past and the future of the person’s soul. The interesting part about this haiku is “the spot” because it implies a specific place, but that spot in the river is always flowing. In fact, it seems the spot in this haiku can only be recognized because of a nearby landmark, such as a boulder.

This haiku contains yugen (mystery), leaving room for us as readers. Who is the male persona in this haiku who has passed away? How did he pass away? Because we don’t know the answer to these questions, this haiku can conjure up mixed emotions that relate to our own experience. In addition to grief, this haiku could conjure up gratitude for both the person who passed away and the river itself. To the poet, the male persona in this haiku could be his father, brother, son, another family member, or a friend. Regardless of who he is, it’s clear this is a moment many people can relate to. 

In this haiku, the person’s ashes become one with the river. Perhaps this haiku can inspire us to feel connected with Mother Earth and treat water with more respect before physical death as well. 

In terms of spirituality, it seems the individual soul (jiva) is like a river that eventually becomes one with the universal spirit (Shiva) likened to the sea. According to the spiritual teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, if there are karmic mental impressions (samskaras) left at the time of physical death, this necessitates rebirth at the right time, and this is how individual souls are reborn. 

Regardless of our views on death and the afterlife, this haiku brings mixed emotions and ultimately seems to bring a sense of ease that even at the time of physical death, life goes on. A powerful haiku. 

Jacob D. Salzer (USA)

It’s about life and death where ‘pausing and flowing’ comes together. It’s time that heals grief and lets us move on like a flowing river. The ellipsis in the first line shows how meaningful and significant it is to keep going on no matter how difficult life is. ‘The spot’ is the place where life and death depart from each other in terms of letting go and catching on.

I see it as a person, despite grieving over the death of a loved one, trying to console themselves by accepting the bitter reality, which is the ‘departure or death’—ready to accept what comes next. 

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I’ll explore the seasonal reference, pacing, language, sound, and meaning.

There is no clear kigo (seasonal reference), but a flowing river probably cancels out it being winter (lack of frozen water). Because of the tone, I imagine this haiku to be autumnal.

The pacing of the lines is a prime example of the English-language attempt at replicating the traditional Japanese rhythm of “go-shichi-go.” The standard is a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. As many know, syllable counting does not match the 5-7-5 Japanese sound units on well, and we use the aforementioned rhythm primarily.

In terms of the language, the poet rightly uses simple vocabulary so as to not be formal or verbose. Like the haiku written by the masters, the poet employs language that cuts straight to the reader. The last thing you want to do in a haiku is bog down the expression of the moment in verbosity and formality. From Matsuo Basho onwards, the haiku (then hokku) became a vehicle of vernacular speech and casual expression.

The first thing I noticed about the sound of this haiku was the repetition of “o” sounds. These elongated sounds carry the leisurely but melancholic movement of the river. “S” also features strongly, providing the music of the river in the reader’s mind.

Jacob and Hifsa have discussed the meaning of this haiku already, but I’ll add that this poem gives me feelings of both the importance and triviality of the body—and perhaps identity. The poet knows the exact spot where he offered the ashes of a loved one in the river, but the river is not stagnant or static. The river is ever-changing, which mirrors Heraclitus who said, “The only constant in life is change.” We can try to claim an identity, but even that is constantly fluid and flowing.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

“Flowing River” by Diana Miller

Małgorzata Formanowska’s white morning

white morning
on grandfather’s grave
fox footprints

Małgorzata Formanowska (Poland)
(published previously in Frogpond vol.44.1 Winter 2021)


I like the notion of reincarnation or transformation in this haiku. From the untouched snow, new life. Out of death, signs of life. Out of silence, new stories. A part of me wonders if the poet’s grandfather liked foxes and the poet sees their grandfather’s spirit in the fox in some way. 

I like the atmosphere and deep silence in the first two lines. It sets the tone of the haiku and paints a somber mood. Additionally, when I read “morning” I also think of “mourning” sonically, so I feel hints of grief already in the first line and then the mood solidifies in line 2. By contrast, the third line contains new energy that is fresh and alive. Even though we are only seeing footprints, I also see a timelapse of the fox trotting through the graveyard with his or her vivid orange fur against the stark background of snow. 

This haiku transports me into the lives of my own grandfathers and stories I know about them. I appreciate the acknowledgement of the poet’s grandfather in this haiku. I could also see this haiku as being an excellent start to a haibun about the poet’s grandfather and his stories.

Overall, an excellent haiku that pays tribute to family, animals, and the cycles of life.

 — Jacob D. Salzer (USA)

When I visualize ‘white morning’ I feel as if I am drifting through a dream that is not so vivid or clear to my imagination or sight. The white morning adds more subtlety to this haiku as it’s the early part of the dawn—probably pre-dawn or early dawn. The time when a person’s mental faculties revolve around the self that reflect the true or deep meaning of the realities of life.

The grandfather’s grave with fox footprints gives a sort of mystery that takes us on a walk through the white morning or a dream to imagine a cemetery—perhaps an abandoned one or somewhere in a wild place. I could see the fox footprints as memories of the past that are fresh and deeply imprinted on the mind, maybe from childhood. The connection between the grandfather’s grave and fox footprints is elusive as it could be certain family traditions that pass on from one generation to another, or family affairs that seem to be not well settled, or it could be a sign of good or bad omens.  

Overall, I see it as certain deeds or behaviours remaining fresh and unforgettable even after the demise of a person. It’s the next generation who decides how to perceive and interpret them, especially when there are a lot of rumours about them that are not clear, like the white morning. 

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

We have a clear kigo (seasonal reference) with “white morning,” which refers to winter and specifically snow. In context of this haiku, it brings a sense of coldness and melancholy.

For the pacing, we have a traditional English-language rhythm of a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. What is also of importance is that the second line acts as a pivot, where it can be read as connecting to both the first and third line: “white morning on grandfather’s grave” and “on grandfather’s grave, fox footprints.”

Turning our attention to aesthetics, this haiku may contain ma, which is a Japanese aesthetic that stands for not only the unsaid in the poem, but also “the sense of time and space, incorporating between, space, room, interval, pause, time, timing, passing, distanced, etc. More particularly, ma may be taken as the timing of space, as in the duration between two musical notes. Silence is valued as well as sound. It is said that the ma aesthetic is influential upon all varieties of Japanese art” (Simply Haiku, Denis Garrison). There is quite a bit unsaid in this haiku, but we can feel the powerful possibilities therein. In addition, there is a play of time of someone’s passing and the occurrence of fox’s footprints, bringing the past and present into union.

Looking at the sound, I’m drawn to the “o” sounds that elongate the reading and make it more somber in tone. The “i” sounds also give it a sense of urgency.

The language used is simple and effective, and not unnecessarily formal, sentimental, or verbose. It follows the principle of employing just the right amount of words needed to express the moment and feeling.

A haiku with an ethereal quality that makes the reader step inside the emotions and mystery of the moment.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Painting by William Preston

Jacob Salzer’s green tea

scent of green tea
in my travel mug
the forest’s darkness

Jacob Salzer (USA)
(published in The Heron’s Nest, December 2021)


Commentary is first by the poet himself, and then others

Green tea is my favorite beverage. According to my college studies, green tea polyphenols have more neuroprotective benefits than any other kind of tea, among many other health benefits. It is an integral part of my life, and I take it with me at times.

Last year, I spent some quality time hiking forests in the Pacific Northwest, particularly on the Columbia Gorge in Washington state and the Wildwood Trail in Portland, Oregon. The Wildwood Trail is the largest urban forested trail in the United States, running over 30 miles long. On this trail, I started to contemplate the soil’s rich darkness that provides nutrients and a safe haven for tree roots and plants. I contemplated geological history and the layers of the Earth. I also thought about the balance of darkness and light that is necessary for trees and plants to grow and thrive, as well as the cycles of life, our ancestors, and the womb of Mother Earth. But the forest’s darkness in this haiku is not limited to the soil alone. I wanted to express the depth, resilience, and mysteries of a forest and how we are connected to the Earth in both obvious and much more subtle ways.

For me, green tea is a bridge in this haiku. It constantly reminds me that I’m a part of something much larger than myself. It reminds me to step outside of my small ego, to remain conscious of my connections with Mother Earth, and to be grateful. Perhaps more subtly, the scent of green tea could resemble transience and my mortality. Simultaneously, if we envision tea steam, it could signify the human spirit evaporating into what Indigenous people call the Great Spirit or the Great Mystery. Additionally, the forest’s darkness might conjure up all the damage we have done collectively to forests, and points to the dangers in a forest, especially at night.

In short, this haiku reminds me to walk in the forest with respect, reverence, and compassion.

 — Jacob Salzer (USA)

A meditative state of mind that travels from here and now to an unknown time. I can feel a sense of transformation that isn’t limited to the scent of green tea, as it highlights how the sense of smell takes us to a special situation, memory, thoughts, or simply daydreaming that can be related to the scent of green tea. It is a deep, therapeutic process where the poet is transformed while holding a travel mug, and travels from the present to the past, or from the present to the future, or from the outer world to the inner world.

I see a sense of realization and awareness here, where ‘the forest’s darkness’ can be interpreted as his inner world/inner self that is revealed to him during this ‘tea meditation’ where each sip is clearing his mind and thoughts—a sort of crystallization of thoughts. The journey to the inner self is being bridged by the traveling that usually brings a person close to their true self especially when they are alone.

Overall, I liked the mystery of this traveling without ‘time & space’ from a cup of tea to the forest’s darkness. There is also an element of healing where one can confront the dark side of one’s life, and to gradually overcome it through patience, self-awareness, and spending quality of time with oneself.

When Nick shared this haiku with me, I felt as if I am the one who is on this journey of transformation. So, an idea came across my mind about this haiku where I read it like this:

green tea dregs
in my travel mug
the forest’s darkness

HIfsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

Looking at the technical side of this haiku, it is hard to identify a direct kigo, or seasonal reference. “the forest’s darkness” might refer to autumn or winter, though.

In terms of Japanese aesthetics, this haiku may present yugen and/or zoka. Yugen is the subtle profundity of things that are only vaguely suggested, while zoka is the ongoing, continuous self-transforming creativity of the natural world. I think this haiku subtly suggests many deep meanings through its juxtaposition, as Jacob and Hifsa have espoused. The idea of nature’s movement to a travel mug in the form of green tea reminds me of zoka.

For the pacing, the length of the lines are a bit different than the standard English-language haiku. Usually, it is a short first line, a longer second, and a short third. There is nothing wrong in deviating from this, however. There is an elongated syllable in the second line in “travel” that makes it a longer read than shown. What is also cool about the second line is that it acts as a pivot line where the forest’s darkness could be in the travel mug, or the scent of green tea could be in the travel mug—or both.

There are significant things to mention about the sound, too. “e” is the most prominent letter in this haiku, with it being in almost every word. It is a lilting letter that adds positivity to a haiku that has a sense of mystery. The letter “t” is also a major player, where most of the instances of it introduce a softness to the reading.

This is a haiku with many interpretations possible, written in a light way with profound resonance.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Painting by Lilith Lucratea