The Heron's Nest

where tradition and innovation meet

Volume XXIII, Number 3: September 2021


Editors' Choices

i wonder if wind
is even necessary
cherry blossoms

Tyrone McDonald
Brooklyn, New York

who's to say
it isn't—
praying mantis

Tanya McDonald
Woodinville, Washington

October sky
the ratio of copper to tin
in the old church bell

Alan S. Bridges
Westford, Massachusetts

The Heron's Nest Award

i wonder if wind
is even necessary
cherry blossoms

Tyrone McDonald

Readers of this issue's Heron's Nest Award poem might have previously encountered other haiku featuring cherry blossoms. Perhaps a handful. More likely dozens. Just possibly hundreds. And here we've chosen for honor yet one more "cherry blossoms haiku." Go figure.

And yet ... it also isn't.

To be sure, cherry blossoms, when experienced in "real life," will take your breath away. Lovely in full bloom and glorious in profusion (especially against a cobalt sky), they become—after their all-too-brief moment in the sun—simply exquisite in freefall. Descending cherry petals both stir and rend the heart.

Wallace Stevens famously declared, "Death is the mother of beauty." Writing of another blossom, Lisel Mueller elaborated: "as if what exists, exists / so that it can be lost / and become precious." Little surprise, then, that cherry blossoms have touched and inspired haiku poets for centuries with the everlasting poignancy of their ephemeral beauty. They impart bittersweet intimations of our own mortality. The cherry blossom also serves as the quintessential kigo, or haiku season word, associated with spring.

But that's not quite the type of cherry blossoms haiku Tyrone McDonald has produced.

Between these falling petals I discern something else altogether. I find a fellow seeker. I see in this poem a human mind, imagination, heart and soul—each captured at that instant when reverie turns to rumination. This haiku is the snapshot of a person yearning to understand why he feels how he feels. Yes, there are cherry blossoms here. They've gently released the shutter.

I believe that haiku work most effectively from the outside in. We learn about ourselves from our surroundings. With haiku we look beyond ourselves—to cherry blossoms, fireflies, the moon, the ten thousand things—to recognize and appreciate the ground of our being. As Alan Watts noted, you did not come into this world, "you came out of it."

There are two, not just one, other-than-human elements to this haiku: cherry blossoms and the wind—whether present in its effects or in its absence. One can make much from such spare materials. Emily Dickinson could conjure a prairie with just "a clover and one bee" and Robert Frost could expunge the world with either fire or ice. But both their poems end with a quip. Fine haiku are few where that would suffice. While other types of poems might successfully conclude with "a click like a closing box" (Yeats), the most effective and affecting haiku operate in an opposite fashion. They unfold. And the reader must assist.

This reader infers a cloud of wind-blown cherry blossoms as the unspoken and only half-seen ghost image behind this poem. Even as a figment of my imagination or recollection, the specter remains spectacular. How could anything top it? This, then, becomes the emotive substrate of McDonald's poem as I read it. The cherry blossom cloud and its emotional clout would not be possible without the operation of the wind. The wind is pivotal. It acts as the motivating agent. It's necessary.

I let the haiku unfold. Now I imagine the poet at home—just as I am—behind a desk, in front of a laptop, a window nearby. Vaguely he senses a fluttering. He slowly peers up from the screen. He follows a single blossom, outside the window, feathering earthward. What immortal hand unloosed and propels that petal? Certainly not the wind. But here we sit, deeply moved through its movement. Transformed in its passage. Gobsmacked by grace.

Is the wind even necessary?

Truth is, this very poem would not exist but for the wind. So yet one more crease unfolds.

Haiku is the one breath that fills my mainsail and takes me where I need to go—even when I forget the destination or how necessary the voyage. That voyage allows me to experience the experiences of others. To see my own with new eyes. Perchance to wonder.

Scott Mason
September 2021