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

Samo Kreutz’s train station

train station— 
among a pile of luggage 
dawn light

Samo Kreutz (Slovenia)
(translated by Alenka Zorman)

I have a certain affinity for trains. So, this haiku naturally piqued my interest. We have a scene at a train station where luggage is left on the platform and is either going to be loaded on the train soon or has already been unloaded. But, among these belongings is the light of dawn, applying its weight.

We usually think of luggage and possessions as our own. However, the world interacts with everything we acquire. It becomes a part of it, and in turn, becomes a part of us. In the context of this haiku, dawn light integrates with someone’s journey, even for a second.

The format is in the usual short/long/short form of English-language haiku. The poem utilizes a dash to cancel out the confusion of the second line becoming a pivot and allows the reader to pause and imagine a train station. There doesn’t seem to be a word out of place or of no use. It is a simple observation with meaningful consequences.

The drawn-out “a” sounds of “dawn,” “train,” “station,” and “luggage” show the casual pace of the train station. The light “l” sounds display perhaps the faintness and beauty of dawn light.

It’s a universal haiku that speaks to our relationship with nature and how we don’t truly own anything.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

A train station is no less than a place for yearning for dreams, reminiscing about memories, feeling nostalgic, and having personal experiences, especially when alone. Moreover, a train station can be related to the departure and arrival of mental states a person can go through on their journey.

A pile of luggage is no less than a burden for a person who is already passing through any of the above-mentioned experiences that keep them engaged mentally or psychologically. In that case, luggage is merely a burden that a person holds but does not relate to or feel any association with. In other words, if train stations are life, a pile of luggage may be desires, longings, and wishes that stays with a person throughout life and they cannot fulfill them.

In my opinion, dawn light is a hope that encourages a person to keep yearning for one’s dreams and wishes and move on in life.  

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

“Arrival of the Normandy Train, Saint-Lazare Train Station” (1877) by Claude Monet

Taofeek Ayeyemi’s withered blossoms

withered blossoms —
locals packing the remains
of a bomb blast

(previously published in Creatrix, Issue 49, 2020)
Taofeek Ayeyemi (Nigeria)

This haiku starts with the word ‘withered’ which shows a lack of life or annihilation. If we imagine ‘withered blossoms’, they can look dark, black, dry, and drooping—in other words, like destruction.

Relating ‘withered blossoms’ to a bomb blast site sketches the scene of a bomb blast area that appears more dark, black, and withered. Similarly, packing the remains of the blast is akin to collecting memories

If we relate this to our lives, it means our memories are probably traumatic ones that fade away or wither with time. We keep reminiscing about what is left behind.

This haiku tells me that life goes on even after hopelessness, destruction, and chaos.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

“Remains” is a chilling word in this haiku. It can mean materials but also people. This poem could be either associating packing the remains after a bomb blast with withered blossoms, or locals physically packing the withered blossoms away as a souvenir or for another reason.

The withered blossoms can be acting as a symbol of the bomb blast as well. Our wars make our lives like these degenerated blossoms. It could be alluding to how we are born innocent and later become corrupt.

“withered blossoms” is either an autumn or winter kigo, but I would lean towards autumn. I get a sense that the poet is speaking about human atrocities as humanity’s “autumn.”

The em dash in the first line gives proper weight to the subject and allows us to pause. The format is standard for English-language haiku and just enough words are used to convey the feeling and message of the poem. Note also the string of “o” sounds that may give us an idea of the sound of the bomb.

Overall, this is a haiku that weaves themes of innocence, war, nature versus humanity, and possibly more. Though simple on the surface, it lends to several readings and has a substantial power behind it.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Painting by Vincent van Gogh

Joshua Gage’s distant stars

distant stars
a crow’s shadow
sweeps the fresh snow

Joshua Gage (USA)
(previously published in Presence 63, 2019)

“Distant stars” is a subtle expression that provides a lot of resonance. It’s something you can see as a mere dot but still reflects its own light in the dark sky.

‘Distant stars’ here may indicate less visibility due to fog or dense air. It also seems to show the longings and desires that are more visible during a silent winter.

Moving on to ‘a crow’s shadow’, it may be the persona an individual holds onto while being a guardian, protector, or dreamer. A crow never fails to bring out various emotions in us through its cawing and unique attributes.

The word ‘sweeps’ is used efficiently to perhaps show how dreams or hopes end over a period of time. I take fresh snow as a representation of our vivid memories that stay for a short while but leave a huge impact.

I can relate distant stars to ‘longings’, a crow’s shadow to ‘maturity, wisdom’, and fresh show to ‘vivid or temporary memories’. Together, it’s a fantastic combination of sight where light, shadow, and snow beautifully relate to our longings that are not fulfilled but still come to mind to remind us that there is still some hope in life.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

What I enjoyed right away about this haiku is the connection between far and near. Distant stars are viewed and in the next moment, the poet notices a crow’s shadow pass over fresh snow, probably in the moonlight.

This connection contrasts and compares. The sparkling of stars is akin to the glittering of fresh snow. The contrast is with the darkness of the crow’s shadow against the twinkling of stars.

The word “distant” plays well in this poem, as a shadow is a type of representation of the distance between ourselves and what we cast.

The word “sweeps” works wonders to liven the readers’ imagination. It also presents a great string of “s” sounds in nearly every word of the haiku. It gives the reader the sound of a broom sweeping a floor as if the crow’s shadow is really sweeping the fresh snow.

A unique image, a great sense of sound, and myriad connections give this haiku power and resonance.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

 “Konjikido in Snow, Hiraizumi” by Kawase Hasui, woodblock print reproduction

Marilyn Ward’s monarch

meadow grass…
the Monarch butterfly
lends its colour   

Marilyn Ward (UK)

Grass in a meadow is the ultimate attribute of this feature of land, which distinguishes it from other fields and highlights its beauty. Meadow grass is also abundant with a variety of flowers, herbs, and small seasonal plants, adding more colours to it, and enticing beautiful insects to visit it not only for sustenance but also for whispering the secrets of nature through pollination.

The ellipses after ‘meadow grass’ holds our imagination for a while to imagine and enjoy being there, and feel and absorb the colours, and the site of an enchanting and lush green meadow.

This haiku reflects a profound relationship between nature and its creatures where the concept of compassion and kindness is beautifully presented without losing the essence of a great haiku.

The Monarch butterfly shows longevity, peace, and positivity with its radiant yellowish-orange colour like morning hues. The word ‘lends’ is wonderfully added in this haiku. It displays the symbiotic relationship between insects and the meadow. The meadow is abundant with colours and beauty that any small insect can go and enjoy fully. It appears to be a spring meadow where insects usually get involved in pollination and cross-pollination, and as a result, retrieve fresh juices to drink from the freshly bloomed flowers.

It can also be related to our mood that needs deep inspiration from nature by living close to it. The colours may also symbolize the ‘aura’ of a person with a deficiency of colours, energy, and enthusiasm, and the mere sight of a wide meadow boosts their aura and fading energy.
It may also show the blessings of a spring meditation that enriches our body and soul with the true colours of nature.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

Sometimes we forget about the power of small things. A monarch butterfly is one of the most celebrated butterflies for its magnificent wings with an orange and black pattern. Even though it is minuscule in comparison to a meadow, it lights it up (from the perspective of the poet) to a great effect.

I imagine a meadow of green grass stretching as far as the eye can see and a single monarch butterfly flying around it, giving it color here and there. It is moments like these that bring happiness and awe while we are in nature. One cannot help but be enchanted.

As Hifsa noted, I think this is a spring haiku. The flourishing of colors surely comes in spring. Another aspect to note is the use of the ellipsis as a kireji. Through it, we can imagine the flitting of the butterfly and its carefree ways. The format is also standard for English-language haiku, with a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line.

The sound of the haiku is melodic as well. With two powerful “m”s, you can feel the weight the butterfly has on the scene. There is also a string of “o”s, which provides a lilting feeling to the reader.

A joyful haiku that reminds us how the simple things in life can give us solace and awe.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

an’ya’s snowflake

palm up
a snowflake lands
on my life line

an’ya (USA)
(previously published in Ardea)

The opening line presents a sweet gesture. It shows the simplicity of our connection with nature. I feel this is a soothing scene where a person feels the depth of their relationship with winter.

I can see the element of loneliness here, as deep winter may bring shades of depression and anxiety. So, snowflakes may act as a source of entertainment or a change that can divert one’s thoughts and feelings from dull and freezing weather. A snowflake sways like a falling leaf before it settles on a surface. It is a delicate element of nature that brings subtlety in our mood and feelings.

It may symbolize the life of a person who has passed through ‘cold’ realities, and faced harshness and rejection. A snowflake’s life is anonymous because it has no sound, no set pattern of falling, and irregularities or weaknesses. 

The life line on one’s hand indicates the time of death, departure, or the ending of old patterns of life that are fragile, insignificant, or useless. 

I see this haiku in two ways: both nature and human nature stand parallel in the universe and share common characteristics that connect them deeply and which makes them learn lessons or gain inspiration from each other.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

With this winter haiku, the poet allows us to ponder whether or not fate is real, in my opinion. A life line on our hands usually is said to tell us how long we will live and how we feel about our lives. I like that the poet leaves it up to the readers to see what symbolism they want in the haiku, though.

It could reflect the “cold” or “fragile” life that the poet has lived. It could also show how something as delicate and small as a snowflake can be a thing of beauty in one’s life or how nature enters into our lives unexpectedly with something wonderful.

The poem is written in a simple style without punctuation. This is a common way to write haiku now in English and in many other languages. I like that the haiku seems like a journal entry that allows readers to come to their own conclusions. It also has a pleasant sound with many lilting “l”s and two calming “s”s on the second line.

The poet captured a moment that stirs wonder, melancholy, and philosophical thoughts within us through seemingly simple yet well-crafted language.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

“Lumberyards at Fukagawa, 100 Famous Views of Edo” by Hiroshige Utagawa, woodblock print reproduction

Jim Young’s cat

the cat
is fast asleep
and so is my leg

Jim Young (Wales, UK)

This haiku is full of compassion, love, and care. It shows a deep bond between a person with their surroundings, especially with creatures who depend on us as part of the ecosystem. I loved the overall imagery of this haiku that reflects genuineness and innocence.

Cats are known for their possessiveness and extreme loyalty. This may illustrate that they are not a mere pet. The article ‘the’ places importance on the cat and makes it the center of the poem, at least for the first two lines. ‘Fast asleep’ may be a metaphor for the comfort and calmness when a person, for a time, keeps possessions aside and focuses more on inner energies, or the inner self.

In other words, the cat always feels comfortable when it gets the personal touch of its owner, which displays the power of feelings or deep relationships that are irreplaceable. The strong bond between the man and his cat induces the feline to go to sleep, and consequently, the man’s leg.

I am not only seeing a leg here that lacks sensitivity due to the cat who is sitting on it, and the person out of love, care, and compassion doesn’t move it. I can also see the laborious work and hardship a person goes through all day long and finally feels muscular fatigue. He needs a break from his busy life, and the cat may represent a true friend who gives comfort to him.

The overall theme of this haiku revolves around the sincerity, loyalty, compassion, and care that a person needs to feel inner peace.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

It’s a charming haiku that exudes compassion and care. Rather than disturb the cat’s sleep when the poet’s leg has fallen asleep, he allows his cat to keep resting. Cats sleep most of the day—about 15 hours on average. To let his cat sleep more without annoyance shows the poet’s feelings for the cat clearly.

There is also a sense of union here. The cat is fast asleep and a part of the poet’s body is also “asleep” from the weight of the cat. They are sharing an experience that illustrates the bond between animals and humans have had for centuries. I feel that the poet is saying to us, “Love and connection is the important thing. It is not whether we are human or not.”

With a few words and simple language, the poet has expressed a great deal of feeling and humor. I also like the sound of “cat/fast” and “asleep/leg.” An endearing haiku.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Sleeping cat by Asha Sudhaker Shenoy