The Heron's Nest

Volume XXI, Number 4: December 2019

Editors' Choices

refugee camp
pork and beef cooking
in one pan

Bakhtiyar Amini
Dushanbe, Tajikistan

pine forest
all sounds are green
until further notice

Jonathan Humphrey
Brentwood, Tennessee

three tiny bones
in my inner ear
meadow lark

Marietta McGregor
Stirling, Australian Capital Territory

The Heron's Nest Award

refugee camp
pork and beef cooking
in one pan

Bakhtiyar Amini

Each word is essential to the central message in this precisely carved haiku. Bakhtiyar Amini uses common language and immediacy to combine universally recognized, concrete images. The poem's two-part, classic haiku structure invites readers to discover multiple interpretations. The setting, "refugee camp," followed by a caesura, opens a door; but only when I read the next two lines can I fully enter the poem. Neither part alone carries the subtle yet rich underlying significance of the two parts side by side. It is in what the juxtaposition of the images implies—in what is not written—that I find the core of the poem. Paul W. MacNeil describes it this way: "I put it to you that it is in the space between [the parts], that space created by the break or cut, that haiku are found."1

On the surface, "pork and beef cooking / in one pan" seems an ordinary scene, not particularly interesting—just some meat being prepared; but within the boundaries of a refugee camp, the image demands closer scrutiny. These second and third lines have become for me a metaphor for refugee camps around the world: the throwing together of desperate people into the same "pot," where there is often a mix of backgrounds and beliefs, different religions and cultures. Although broad swaths of refugees have religious restrictions on certain foods, the threat of starvation can create cruel choices.

One might be reminded of the "melting pot" metaphor that came into general usage in the 1900s, describing the assimilation of immigrants to America; however, many came here not necessarily in search of the American dream, but rather to escape violence against ethnic minorities or unbearable hardships. Obviously, there is a difference between immigrants who move to another country of their own volition and those desperately seeking refuge who have fled or have been driven from their homes. Millions of refugees worldwide, too many in squalid camps filled with disease and extreme privation, whether hoping for assimilation in a foreign land or resisting it, must first survive.

I sense the unspoken presence of nature in "the space between." Someone watches the sun rise, someone watches the sun set. I hear flies droning and mice rustling, a dog's bark. Are people hovering close to stoves and fires, or rationing water and laboring in intense heat? Perhaps there are new vegetable gardens waiting for sun and rain. I believe "refugee camp" to be a haiku for all seasons, the time of year to be found intuitively by each reader.

Afghan refugees registered in Tajikistan numbered 2,800 by August 2018.2 Today there are over 25 million refugees worldwide.3 This sensitively written, topical poem focuses on the human condition, and by implication, war, terror, desperation, and the routines of daily human survival. It is a reminder that we must never take our freedoms for granted. Bakhtiyar Amini's "refugee camp" embodies the essential qualities of haiku and reflects The Heron's Nest ideals.

Ferris Gilli
December 2019

  1. Paul W. MacNeil, Haiku Forum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English, "Q & A: 3a," February 9, 2002.
  2. Global Voices, ASIA, August 16, 2018.
  3. CNN World, By Rob Picheta, CNN, June 19, 2019.


The Heron's Nest XXI.4 (12-2019)

Next Page