Dripping Azaleas

The following poem first appeared in Geppo XLIII:4, August–October 2018, page 1, and was selected for commentary in the following issue, XLIV:1, November 2018–January 2019, pages 12–13.

        dripping azaleas
        traffic noise
        enters the garden

Since the azaleas are dripping, there must have been a rain shower. The traffic noise on smooth dry streets is the kind of sound that disappears in our consciousness due to its chronicity (or because it is too ordinary), but the splashing traffic noise is different, and it is just beginning to enter the garden. A delight!
—Emiko Miyashita

This poem can be read as a soundscape. Against the white noise of the distant cards going by, we hear, near at hand and clearly, the pleasant drip of dew or rain from the azaleas. It’s the dripping azaleas that tells us this is about spring, about renewal, about liveliness. But the “traffic noise” is not benign. It’s entering the garden; it could be read as threatening to the peace here. It has the potential to overpower the drip of the azaleas. Beware!
—Patricia J. Machmiller

Azalea (tsutsuji) as a seasonal reference setting the haiku in late spring illustrates the complexities we face when exporting the Japanese saijiki to climate zones that may be quite different. I used to live in the northeastern U.S. where azaleas marked the abundance of spring. In that context I see and feel a warm rain that has saturated the white, pink, and red flowers and their lush green leaves. Rain also enhances the sound of traffic on wet streets, making the haiku a rich tapestry of color, scent, and sound. On the other hand, if I conjure the imagery where I live now in California, the haiku is quite different, because by late spring or early summer, the dry season may have started. Azalea roots cannot be allowed to dry even briefly, so now the dripping water comes from garden sprinklers. The traffic sounds from outside the garden will be different, and they may be accompanied by the smell of exhaust. In this alternate reading I sense and unseen gardener who’s caring for this precious, vest-pocket paradise.
—Linda Papanicolaou