Luke Levi’s owl

between two worlds
an owl at sunset

Luke Levi (USA)

(previously published in Fireflies’ Light, issue 25)


I immediately connect with this haiku, partly because I am drawn towards Indigenous spirituality and appreciate how they acknowledge everything has a Spirit in the Great Mystery of life. I also connect with this haiku because I have seen owls in person that have inspired writing a few haiku about owls and their dreams. When I read “caught between two worlds,” I imagine twilight or what some people call the “golden hour” between day and night. It has been said that twilight can inspire mystical or spiritual experiences.  

At the same time, I appreciate how the poet left the first two lines open for interpretation. When I read “caught between two worlds,” my first interpretation was the gap between the material/seen world and the Spiritual/unseen world that actually may not be seen as separate at all. The Buddhist saying: Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form comes to mind. Even atoms are mostly “empty” space. Therefore, it seems material forms are not as concrete as they appear to be. The two worlds could also be between a lifetime on Mother Earth and a spiritual afterlife after physical death. As the sun sets into the mysteries of night, this could be a symbol for our last breath into the afterlife. The two worlds could also be between the waking-dream state that many call “reality” and the world of sleep, dreams, and the subconscious. Possible states of consciousness between these two worlds are the hypnopompic (the state right before entering the “waking” world) or the hypnagogic state (the state right before falling asleep). Regardless of our interpretation(s), I think this haiku has a universal appeal and significance. 

In more down-to-earth terms, I think “caught between two worlds” could easily apply to a wide range of relationships between two people with very different backgrounds and/or worldviews. In a broader sense, the two worlds could even be two cultures, two perspectives, or two sides of a war, etc. It seems the word “caught” holds inherent tension. It’s interesting to observe worlds within worlds here on Mother Earth: from microscopic/quantum to macro/cosmic perspectives and everything in between.

In Indigenous cultures, there are myths and legends about owls. Owls are excellent observers who are very quiet. It’s been said they mostly live their lives in solitude. In this perspective, one interpretation is the poet might be deciding whether or not to be (or possibly remain) single vs. be in a relationship. The word “caught” could imply uncertainty. 

In short, I feel this haiku expresses animistic/Indigenous spirituality, different perspectives, and the depth of relationships and solitude. I also feel this haiku is also a portal into the world of dreams and the subconscious. It seems to carry contemplative power and encourages introspection. I think it also has the power to open our hearts and minds to what is possible in this lifetime. Perhaps it can encourage us to try our best to resolve conflicts. Ultimately, it seems in the gap between two worlds, we can silence the mind and experience peace. A powerful haiku. 

 — Jacob D. Salzer (USA)

The poem starts with the simple word ‘caught’ that resonates a lot and pauses our thoughts to think for a while before moving on to the next lines. The two worlds can be interpreted as: changing seasons, day and night, present and past, life and death, or time and space. Whatever it is, there is a transition where something got stuck, and it is experiencing some sort of unknown circumstances. Being inclined to spiritualism, I can see the two worlds as materialism (outer self) and selflessness (inner self). It’s more like yin-yang where one world reflects the other, or where one world overshadows the other one, causing chaos, confusion, or bewilderment. I also see ‘caught’ as a threshold level where a person initially tries to adjust to what is not visible or known to them.

The third line reveals some specifications of two worlds where ‘owl’ and ‘sunset’ may project time and space. An owl can symbolize wealth, prosperity, a good omen, wisdom, or fortune but in certain other cultures, it is a sign of bad omen. Keeping both aspects in mind, an owl as a nocturnal bird personifies our life as a combination of both good and bad, where a person struggles by exploring their inner and outer worlds—passing through ups and downs but with choices. It depends on where a person’s locus of control is. The sunset gives a clear demarcation of two worlds where the light enters into darkness and opens the new horizon, which may be subtle or sophisticated for a person if their senses are intact with reality.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

If I were to say what the kigo or seasonal reference is for this haiku, I would say winter. Owls are commonly a kigo for winter in the haiku tradition, but they may be different in various locales. Winter is often seen as a magical time, with gleaming snow and the cold that brings about a whole new landscape. This relates well to the supernatural symbolism of the owl.

In terms of how the two parts of haiku operate, we have the cut in the second line with the line break. It’s not a direct juxtaposition, but rather an association between the sunset and two worlds, plus the owl itself and two worlds. The sunset is a transition from one time to the next, which could be said to be another world. The owl, as we have discussed, has mystical qualities that can be seen as a bridge between two worlds or dimensions by many cultures.

This haiku might contain yugen or as described by Zeami Motokiyo: “To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds.” There is a sense of natural awe and mystery in this haiku, plus a possible nod to nothingness as espoused by Buddhism. The nothingness in this haiku is the owl not being a part of any world, where its identity is gone. The nothingness in Buddhism is not physical but rather the emptiness of identity.

Two letters stand out to me when I read this haiku out loud: “t” and “o.” The letter “t” is great at creating an atmosphere of starkness and the letter “o” is excellent at slowing down the pace and making a piece more contemplative.

The format follows the common short-line-short lines sequence of English-language haiku that try to match the 5-7-5 sound units in Japanese judiciously. Most haiku by masters are between 6-9 words, and this one fits in nicely with eight. This ensures brevity and the effectiveness of expression.

The feeling behind this poem is deep, philosophical, and introspective. We need more haiku about owls in English, and this is a fine addition.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

“Sunset Owl” by Alan Galindo

Paul Callus’ crescent moon

crescent moon —
the baby kicks            
inside her womb

Paul Callus (Malta)


I appreciate how the crescent moon visually resembles the curve of the mother’s womb. There is a long historical and spiritual connection between women and the moon that can be traced back thousands of years in indigenous cultures. In the dark womb, it seems the seeds of unknown karma and samskaras (past mental impressions) are being brought to life.

I also see a playful quality in this haiku or lightness (karumi) when the baby kicks. At the same time, I appreciate how this haiku offers insights into life in the womb and how important this stage of life is. I’ve read that a baby in the womb can hear music, and this affects brain development. Classical music in particular has been shown to create more complex neural connections. The immediacy of kicks could also foreshadow the complex relationship between the mother and the child that develops over time.

In short, this is a dynamic haiku that expresses mystery (yugen), karmic impressions, and the complex relationship between a mother and her child. I also see this haiku as an expression of a mother’s unconditional love for her child. A powerful haiku. 

 — Jacob D. Salzer (USA)

As Alex Fyffe introduced me to a creative writing technique called synecdoche, so I see this haiku in that context where ‘the baby kicks’ represents the sign of a new life, hope, and connectivity.

This haiku revolves around all senses where the most obvious ones are sight, sound, and touch. The birth phase is beautifully related to the phases of the moon where the crescent moon symbolizes birth, the start of a new month, or a new beginning. If we dig deeper into this poem, we can find more analogies between the moon and the baby inside the womb i.e. delicacy, subtlety, and light. It seems the mother is keenly following the birth process where she counts every single day. It shows how excited she is about this new life and finds the kick to be a welcoming sign. The curve that is common in both cases may reflect the beauty of life that gradually passes through various phases before it’s in full bloom.

In a larger context, the relationship between cosmic objects with life on earth, especially human birth, is quite natural and interrelated. It shows the significance of the time and space we live in and how things are revealed to us during a new journey of life. 

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

Jacob and Hifsa explored the meaning and aesthetic of this haiku in great detail. I will dabble in the technical side of this haiku a bit more.

The kigo or seasonal reference of this haiku is “crescent moon.” It is a phase of a moon that can happen any time of the year, but it is often associated with autumn. With its sharp shape and mysterious air, the crescent moon is a classic haiku topic.

In the first line we also have the kireji, or “cutting word.” In English, we use punctuation to separate the parts of a haiku and give extra resonance, but in Japanese, kireji are actual words in place of punctuation. The dash is used well, with it illustrating the hard kick a baby can give within the womb. It also makes the reader stop a while to appreciate a crescent moon in their mind’s eye.

I like how the second line comes with a surprise in relation to the crescent moon, and the third line resolves why the baby is acting the way he or she is. We can assume in the second line it is about pregnancy, but the poet could have written anything, such as “the baby kicks/her diaper away.” The use of “her” is also important, as it claims the womb for the baby and not the mother.

The length of the lines are fairly standard for English-language haiku, but usually the second line is a bit longer to have a more lilting rhythm.

The two most prominent letters in this haiku is “s” and “o.” “S” here comes off as soothing and mysterious, whereas “o” elongate the syllables and make the reading leisurely. The “o” sounds also relate well to the shape of a moon.

Finally, I enjoy how to crescent moon could be a comparison of the shape of a woman’s pregnant figure, or the kick being similar to the sharp tip of a crescent moon.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Painting by Charles Thomas

Carmela Marino’s first buds

first buds—
I dust the head
of a stone Buddha

Carmela Marino (Italy)
(previously published at the Golden Triangle Contest March 2022)


This is an interesting haiku that touches both the hard and soft sides of life deeply and perhaps spiritually. The opening line ‘first buds’ gives some hope of spring—the season of new beginnings, or rejuvenation. The plural form of ‘buds’ makes it a bit mysterious where it looks like there is an abundance of buds on a branch, falling, or stuck on the head of a stone Buddha. But, when I take this haiku as a whole, I find it more intrinsic, more towards ‘self-enlightenment’ and/or ‘wisdom’ where buds can be the lessons of wisdom or Buddha’s philosophy unfurling in different phases of life as a sign of hope, progress, learning, and change.

It only needs some clarity, mindfulness, or crystallization of thoughts which is signified in the second line ‘I dust the head’ where the emphasis is beyond seeing i.e. introspection or meditation. I liked the way the poet blends both the delicate side of nature (buds) with the hard and concrete side of nurture (head) by masterfully using the technique of ekphrasis and yugen which may catch the eyes of many haiku lovers. 

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I appreciate the contrasts in the juxtaposition. The flowers are soft: the Buddha statue is not. The first buds symbolize birth, while dust symbolizes death. The flowers are full of color, while the stone Buddha is not (unless he’s wearing a green moss robe). After Enlightenment, it’s been said the Buddha escaped the wheel of samsara: the endless cycles of birth and death. Actually, in a way, it seems this haiku succinctly expresses the essence of Buddhism by showing the nature of impermanence (symbolized by dust). The Buddha shows us that the mind’s attachment to what is fleeting and temporary creates suffering (while nonattachment reveals peace and ends suffering).

This haiku also brings to mind a quote by my favorite Estonian composer Arvo Pärt: “Time and timelessness are connected. This moment and eternity are struggling within us.” 

It seems impossible for the human mind to experience life that is timeless because the measurement of time seems to be hardwired into conditioned thoughts. Yet the timeless ever-flowing “now” is the only time we are ever alive. It seems the present moment is actually something the mind can never identify with because when it tries to describe the moment, it’s already describing a past event. Thus, it seems the experience of living in the timeless ever-flowing “now” is not a mental concept or idea, but rather seems to originate from the spirit without any words or thoughts. Of course, our measurement of time has its place in modern society. We frequently measure our lives in years, months, weeks, minutes, and seconds. We have work schedules, meetings to attend, and appointments to keep. In the world of jobs and making a living, time is money. However, this haiku puts our small human lives into perspective. One day, we will all physically become dust on the stone Buddha. Therefore, who am I?

Interestingly, the fact there is any dust to begin with made me initially envision a Buddha statue indoors somewhere. At first, I only saw human dust. However, on the second read, I see pollen and the poet is dusting the pollen off the Buddha statue in a garden or park somewhere. This also could be true. 

In regards to the first line, the flower buds could be symbols of hope for new generations. It’s also been said the Buddha gave his disciples a flower without speaking a word. This was a transmission of Enlightenment: a wordless unity that is devoid of thoughts. It’s also true that not all flowers bloom at the same time, but they naturally open to sunlight when the time is ripe. In a way, it seems the same could be said regarding our spiritual unfoldment. I also appreciate the saying: “When the student is ready, the master always appears.” For me, this haiku speaks to this quote as well, where the new buds are students. Perhaps most powerfully, without a single word, the stone Buddha guides us to look within, to become still and quiet. It seems only in those silent depths can I begin to realize his Spirit is not separate from my own Spirit. Perhaps eventually, ultimately, the master vs. disciple duality will seem to disappear. 

In short, this is a powerful haiku that expresses impermanence, the timeless flow of the present, and the teachings of the Buddha. 

— Jacob D. Salzer (USA)

Hifsa and Jacob wrote extensively on the meaning and interpretations of this haiku. I will in turn dive a bit into the technical world of this poem.

In the first line, we have a traditional kigo, or seasonal reference, for spring. “Buds” is fairly general, but I think the poet may have wanted to shy away from putting too much attention on the flower itself in order to focus more on the Buddha. Also in the first line, we see a dash used to separate the two parts of the haiku, which is the fragment and the phrase. This is another classical element of this haiku.

The second line brings in the action. Commonly, haiku only have one verb so that we can concentrate on one movement. Here, the “head” could be the head of a flower without reading the third line.

In the third line, we discover that the head is not of a flower but of a stone Buddha. I think it is important that the poet capitalized “Buddha” as she is not referring to not just any buddha but the Buddha in the form of a statue. She is treating this stone as the actual Buddha and giving it proper reverence. Dusting the statue’s head might signify cleaning or clearing the way to enlightenment, as with a clear mind, one can be in nirvana.

Looking at how the lines are arranged, we have a non-standard length of lines according to English-language haiku. The longest line is usually the second, but here it is the last. There is nothing wrong with this, especially since syllables and Japanese sound units don’t match up well. As long as the rhythm flows well and brings about a potent mood, which I think this haiku does. The rhythm present makes “Buddha” stand out more, which is not a bad thing at all.

We have some interesting usage of sound in this poem, too. The “u”s in “buds,” “dust,” and “Buddha” seem to provide a sense of reverence to me. The “b” sounds pop and make the haiku reading more powerful.

In terms of aesthetics, this haiku might show ba. According to Jim Kacian, “If you look up ba in any Japanese-English Dictionary you’ll find it means “place” or “site” or “occasion”. And these are all true in the most general sense—ba is a pointer to a kind of awareness that something of importance is happening in time and space.” I feel this haiku demonstrates a spiritual importance to the moment of dusting a stone Buddha’s head, where it plays with spirituality, physical objects, and manifestation.

An enjoyable haiku with multiple layers of spiritual and religious meaning.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)