Whose Kid Is That?

“Once, on the way to Oregon, I stopped at a California winery to get free wine from the tasting room. Just at that time a tour was starting so I decided to go along. A young man of about 23 was the guide and began that strange kind of language guides use, almost a chant: “And on the left a 1,500-gallon redwood barrel containing Burgundy kept always at the temperature of” and then he said “Whose kid is that?”

The force of whose kid is that caused everyone to pay attention to the real moment we were all in. A small child was about to fall in a very deep vat of wine. I vowed, at that moment, that every statement in my poems should at least have the force of “whose kid is that.” It is an impossible standard, but a good one. Few really bad lines can stand against it.

The guide was chanting remembered lines to a vapid audience. The distance between his Mind, our Minds, and the subject of wine-making simply was not being bridged. But the endangered child called words to his mind which were immediate and un-premeditated—it was organic, as a leap would be if one were frightened by a truck.”

—Lew Welch


Haiku poetry often employs a two-part juxtapositional structure. One of those two parts should typically try to have an effect similar to saying “Whose kid is that?” That unexpected part is appropriately jarring and necessary and urgent. It’s situationally immediate and clear and unexpected. For the context it’s exactly what needs to be said, and fully an extension of the present moment, both psychologically and experientially. Jack Kerouac once said that haiku should be as simple as porridge, and the directness called for here is one of the ways. How often do your haiku surprise readers with the effect of “Whose kid is that?” How often do mine?

cherry blossoms

drifting from the tree . . .

whose kid is that?

—Michael Dylan Welch, 5 July 2012 (prose), 23 April 2019 (poem)