how it feels
to hold a rake
The December Heron's Nest Award poem epitomizes the haiku potential for awakening recognition of a
profound mystery within what seems most ordinary. Why do we do some things so automatically? With but
nine words, "ragged clouds" has the power to enter the reader's psyche and evoke a sense of wonder. How
can we just pick up a rake and rake?
A good haiku employs numerous tools and Robert Epstein's poem is an example of many. Economy of
words, alliteration, use of kigo, internal rhyme, sensuous aesthetics and ambiguity combine to create the
essence of haiku.
"Clouds" and "how" might ask a reader to determine the weather, and even though "cloud" is an all season
kigo, "ragged" makes me feel autumn in my bones and its ever-changing sky. An amalgamation of
"clouds" and "hold" makes "cold" and I immediately sense a bite in the air. The alliteration of "r" sounds
almost says brrr, while the repetition of "h" signals huff, and I see white clouds of breath.
Are the ragged clouds coming from my own mouth?
After clearing the yard for a time, I stop to admire my work. My arms lean on the rake for support as I rest
and inhale the scent of churned leaves. Then I explore the smooth wooden handle. It's warm where my grip
was: one hand high, the other halfway down, one pushing and one pulling. I actually notice for the first
time the action of raking or sweeping. How did we learn this movement as we grew up? How could we
have practiced enough for it to become second nature?
Not long ago I visited my grandson, who is almost a year old. I watched him wield a toy hockey stick in
play, imitating what he had already observed of the sweeping motion. Some actions (holding eating
utensils, putting on clothing, or taking steps) we do daily, without thought, until maybe one day we can no
longer do them. This haiku reminds me to appreciate the gift of all such abilities.
Other important attributes of good haiku are resonance, potential for multiple interpretations, and different
layers of meaning. According to William J. Higginson's The Haiku Handbook, "the lack of connectives
allows the images of a haiku to resonate with each other." The definite pause after "clouds," even without
punctuation, separates the two parts of the haiku, while the emotional connection between them remains.
Just as the layers of leaves are dragged away, so too are the layers of story. On a second reading, one might
see a storm coming in those ragged clouds and during the fight or flight adrenalin rush might feel the rake
handle slip and pull in an awkward manner. Thus the poet might require a re-grip. On a third reading, we
may see a deliberate need to aerate the grass, removing the leaves first, so that the grass can breathe. And
thus the ragged clouds are connected to the ragged edge of each grass particle and, once again, the ragged
breath of the raker.
There is little need to say more. Each of you will find your own story in Robert Epstein's fine poem, and on
behalf of the editors and all our readers I would like to thank him for sharing it with us.