Michael Dylan Welch, Judge
First published (I believe) in The Dragonfly, the newsletter of the Haiku Poets of Central Maryland, in 2006, or at least circulated to all contest entrants in a results flyer. Originally written in January 2006. I believe that first prize for this contest was $500.
father & son—
The immediacy and simplicity of this poem belies its reverberations. The words “just there,” though relatively abstract, imply a raised index finger as the father points out the Pleiades to his son. Or perhaps it’s the other way around—we don’t know. This cluster of stars lies in the constellation Taurus, the stubborn bull. In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas, placed in the sky by Zeus to keep them from the unwanted affections of Orion. Six of the stars are visible, the seventh considered “lost” (though telescopes reveal many more). Because of its prominence at certain times of the year, the star cluster is associated with the growing season, and perhaps the son is just now entering into his own growing season, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. In Japanese, the Pleiades are called Subaru (the logo for this Japanese car company depicts the star cluster), and functions as a summer season word. If the reader knows this background, it may reverberate with the relationship between father and son. If not, the appreciation for nature that is transmitted from one generation to another is still amply present. One can see the father or the son leaning in to see where the finger is pointing (just there), and so, too, their relationship is brought closer together in observing and appreciating the natural world around them.
a clock ticking
at the other end
Any call placed at night—this is surely very late at night, long before dawn—must be serious and important. The weight of what may have been said, or not said, causes silence at the other end. All that the caller hears is the ticking clock. Not only is it late at night, but the clock itself makes the caller more acutely aware of the time—and aware of time itself. This focus on the time of day may be analogous to a time of year. Though the poem lacks a seasonal reference, the lateness of the hour may bring to mind lateness in the year, say autumn or winter. Night, too, has a peculiar silence such that certain sounds, normally unheard, become more prominent, only this time the sound punctuates the stillness across a phone call. Perhaps, too, the call crosses many time zones, and the clock’s ticks indicate a very different time of day. And surely whatever was said, or is about to be said, will make a significant change in the life of the person hearing the news. Ultimately, of course, we do not know who called whom, or why the call lapses into enough silence so that one person or the other hears the ticking clock. Yet we are left with a vivid moment, deftly drawn, that is pregnant with anticipation, whether positive or negative.
autumn sunset . . .
she lowers the silk
into the dye
This traditional haiku offers the name of a season paired with the implied beauty of a sunset. The unexplained “she” (an artist, a hippie, a factory worker?) is dying silk, and we see the beauty of the sunset echoed in the beauty of the colors in the dyed silk. The time of day and the fact that the sunset can be seen from wherever the person is working suggests that this is not a factory worker, but more likely an artist. This is not mere cotton for a tie-dyed T-shirt, but silk for some more elaborate article of clothing or artistic endeavor. There is commitment in the lowering of the silk into the dye. The silk is expensive, and the dying cannot be undone. As it passes into sunset, each day also cannot be undone, and perhaps a life lived with commitment will bring about brighter colors than a life lived otherwise.
Honorable Mentions (in order)
Van Gogh gallery—
the bus group moves
from painting to painting
This poem is not an allusion, but a direct naming. The famous painter’s name brings to mind his paintings, and in this way the poem becomes personal as each reader thinks of a particular favorite painting by the artist (I think of sunflowers). The tour group that has come to see the special exhibit is ushered along, or simply moves as a group, as it perfunctorily views the artist’s work. We are left to wonder how deep the appreciation may be, and perhaps we can identify with the moment and when we ourselves have moved—sometimes too quickly—from painting to painting in a gallery. Or perhaps the appreciation is frustrated just in certain individuals by their having to move along as a group. Despite our desire to appreciate beauty, we too must sometimes make compromises. This poem captures one particular color of human existence, a simple stroke that is as authentically vivid as any Van Gogh tincture.
the roots come up
We all cling to something. Our bad habits cling to the stones in our hearts, reluctant to be removed. Perhaps this poem has this meaning, for we all have desires that we cling to. At its face value, of course, this poem is not about that, but the simple act of weeding a garden. An unwanted plant, perhaps a large dandelion, is yanked from the earth, and we find that its roots have pulled up some stones. Perhaps, then, the act of removing the weeds serves a helpful double purpose as the weeds pull out unwanted stones. Or perhaps the stones are useful for drainage in the garden and the weeds are doubly unhelpful in pulling them up. Either way, our gardens—both literally and figuratively—need our constant attention.
New Year’s Day
our angel returns
to the attic
The angel, of course, is one that topped a Christmas tree. With the holiday season over, the decorations are returned to storage. But perhaps there is more to it than just that. This is New Year’s Day, a new beginning. As the year begins, an angel that is thought to protect the family is again above them in the house, portending good fortune for the time ahead. This is the sort of interpretation that one may read into the poem, whether intended or not. Even if not intended, it’s the sort of reverberation that can be allowed to flourish by the poet’s trusting the objective images that show what we experience every day.
still shifting his weight
to influence the shot
Every golfer has done this. Here we not only see the shifted weight (and perhaps a distorted facial expression as the golf ball curves closer to the cup), but the choice of “decades later” tells us something deeper. This word choice not only shows us continuity, that the person is the same now as he was many years ago, but also shows a relationship. This shifting of the weight may be characteristic of any golfer wishing to influence an uncertain shot, yet surely this is a specific golfer, and the poet has had the privilege of a relationship with him over the years—whether as a friend, as a spouse, or in some other family relationship. That a bodily gesture was noticed then and noticed now shows some degree of admiration or affection in the observer, and though we do not know much about the relationship, we see the humor in the golfer’s illogical bodily gesture as well as the seriousness of the observer’s relationship—as well as the golfer’s passion.
—Ernest J. Berry
The melancholy of this anniversary is that age has robbed the wife of her memory—of even the name of the most important person in her life. Despite reaching a rare milestone, the couple’s quality of life has unfortunately deteriorated—or at least hers has. The rich accumulation of memories of a life shared for so long is eroded by Alzheimer’s. Surely, though, love still remains, and the anniversary can still be celebrated happily, even while younger family members remain aware of the passing of time and the ravages of age.