First published in a slightly shorter form in Frogpond 22:3, Fall 1999, page 69. Written 4 January and 11 May 1999.
still in the taste yard sale
of afternoon tea, sunlight filling
my grandmother’s brogue mason jars
I think both of these poems by Jerry Kilbride are somewhat subjective, the first because the quality of a sound is transferred to a taste, and the second because it’s not literally true for sunlight to “fill” a jar—at least not in the way mason jars are normally filled. Nevertheless, in their carefully crafted subjectivity, both poems present rich and resonating images.
In the first haiku, to say that a “brogue” (a sound) exists in the taste of something is a bit abstract, but is still rich and believable—or at least, readers suspend their mild disbelief (because it’s not literally true) long enough to let the associated meaning come through. A brogue is a dialect or regional pronunciation, especially an Irish accent. Jerry is Irish by descent, so it’s a perfect word for this haiku. The associated meaning is that the custom of having afternoon tea (an Irish as well as British custom) has survived into the new world—and that the memory of the Irish accent comes to the poet’s mind when he is having afternoon tea.
In the second poem, “mason jars” are a particular kind of wide-mouthed jar used for preserving that most Americans would be familiar with. As they are usually used to preserve fruit, jams, and so on, it is unique to have them filled with sunlight. And when not used, they are often kept in cupboards or might get cobwebs on them. As they are made of glass, having them sparkle with sunlight is an especially visual image. An additional meaning comes from the mention of the “yard sale”—another American custom, where families sell unwanted household items on their front lawn or in their garage (a “garage sale”). These are often social events, where neighbours can meet each other, but are also ways that people get great bargains on good things—and put up with seeing a lot of worthless stuff priced very cheaply. In addition, the sellers earn a bit of extra money by selling things they no longer want or need. That mason jars are being sold at a yard sale suggests not only that they have value but that the family has changed, that the person who did all the canning of preserves is longer doing it, and that the family has decided to sell the jars. Yard sales are potentially bittersweet occasions, so in addition to the vibrant and unexpected image of sunlight in mason jars, this poem has the overtones of sabi and harmony in the setting of the yard sale.