church bells versus
the ice cream van
a wafer each way
© Helen Buckingham (UK)
(Presence, 54, 2016)
The image at first reading draws an amused smile, thinking of this van whose call is contrasted by church bells and which at the bottom presents its ice creams in wafers similar to the host. But, a reflection immediately arises. The ice cream van is so earthly, a bearer of carnal pleasure, compared to the bells that for centuries have been calling for moments of spirituality. It is, therefore, to be thought that the van is practically reduced to silence. It makes one think of the Middle Ages, of the centuries in which every frivolous pleasure was branded as a mirror of evil… and, in the present moment, to the heavy hand that every religion continues to have, openly or more subtly, towards its believers. This poem leaves a lot of food for thought, that delves deep into reality, and keeps a sense of lightness, which is the merit of a successful haiku.
– Margherita Petriccione (Italy)
As I perceive this, there is an element of conflict between divine duty and human desires. The haijin is trying to keep both in balance but keeps humor alive. There are irony and humor in this and I feel this haiku has the Japanese aesthetic of karumi.
– Pragya Vishnoi (India)
I can see both the materialistic and spiritual sides of life in this beautiful haiku.
Church bells are a call for prayer to gather the blessings of life and also indicate the awakening of the inner self by focusing on spiritual energy. This aspect takes us closer to the self that we usually ignore due to different activities of life. The bells repeatedly toll to remind us to take a break from worldly chaos and the fast pace of life. On the other hand, we always rush to complete our daily activities and to-do lists so that we can find ways to stay in competition or do work well.
The ice cream van indicates our cravings that build up from different flavours and tastes of life which pull us towards them. But, they melt down fast like ice cream and we strive for the next flavor or taste of life. This endless cycle goes on, where we share mixed feelings and collect precious memories as well.
The word ‘versus’ in the first line shows that we are oscillating between two ends, one that leads us deep inside–a sort of spiritual journey. The other one is worldly desires that pull us daily to enjoy the bounties and blessings of life that surround us. In both ways, there is a wafer that may come as blessings, happiness, joys, or self-fulfillment only if we keep a balance between both ends, which can bring harmony in our lives and give us real satisfaction in life. I love the simplicity and choice of words in this haiku that metaphorically hide the image of the entirety of life and give us a lesson about enjoying every aspect of life by keeping balance.
– Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)
A lot is going on here. While an ice cream van can represent the season of summer as a kigo, to me this reads more of a senryu than a haiku.
I like the clash between the sound of church bells and the notorious melody an ice cream van makes at the same time.
I can picture people outside the church being tempted by a passing ice cream truck perhaps because of the outdoor heat while struggling to make it to church on time because that’s the purpose of church bells, which is to gather people of faith together, while an ice cream van gathers people for profit.
The struggle between what’s holy and the worldly is strong in this senryu. What makes it strong to me is the power of God over something trivial as ice cream or vice versa if you’re an atheist.
Then, the poet adds on the last line “a wafer each way” which makes me, the reader, wonder if it is a communion wafer or an ice cream wafer? Perhaps a person who’s taking a communion wafer is thinking of ice cream at the same time or it could be the other way around.
This poem is a great example of ‘show, don’t tell’ through sensory images. Mixing the images lets the reader visualize or interpret what is happening when two things happen at once.
– Fractled (USA)
I enjoy the comedic nature of this haiku/senryu. “a wafer each way” instantly makes me chuckle. However, there is a deeper layer behind the comedy. The temptation of eating ice cream, something earthly, is summoned by the ice cream van’s music, while the church bells bring out a sense of faith and duty in us. This mix causes a person to choose between what is most important to him or her. In a way, life is about making choices, and those choices determine who we are.
I like the sound of “van” and “versus,” “wafer” and “way,” “church” and “cream.” It brings out the playful sense in which this poem was written. The lack of punctuation and the pacing of the poem also suggest that it leans more towards a senryu.
An enjoyably deep senryu.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)
Did you enjoy this poem and the commentary? Let us know in the comments.
– Saint Andrey’s Church in Kyiv, Ukraine