The Heron's Nest

Volume XVIII, Number 2: June 2016

Editors' Choices

the world winnowed down
to wheat

Alan S. Bridges
Littleton, Massachusetts

faraway rain
the chime of a nail
driven deeper

Ron C. Moss
Leslie Vale, Tasmania

cloudless sky
a pelican's pouch
full of light

Debbie Strange
Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Heron's Nest Award

the world winnowed down
to wheat

Alan S. Bridges

"The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of."1

Matsuo Bashō

"Less is more."

Robert Browning, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and doubtless others

Non-haiku poets build edifices, many of them with stylish façades, fine craftsmanship and well-appointed rooms (stanzas). Such edifices are something to behold.

Haiku poets make doorways, mostly with the help of strangers (their readers). Such doorways let us pass beyond, or within.

Non-haiku poets strive to use "the best words in their best order" so their edifices might stand for all of time.

Haiku poets frame their doorways with words that speak softly (no squeaky hinges) and, once they've let us pass, dematerialize...

Charles Dickens began Bleak House with a one-word place name—"London."—permitting his readers to conjure a panoply of historical, cultural and physical associations, all in the space of a second. Alan S. Bridges begins similarly, tapping "heartland" as the sole word in the opening line of this issue's Heron's Nest Award winner. Resolutely alone at the top of the poem, heartland serves as the mnemonic portal (at least for many North Americans) to a wide-screen image filled with "amber waves of grain" and peopled, if only sparsely, by rugged individualists of great moral fiber. The heartland is a central source of our most cherished values and, as if by providence, our agricultural bounty: it's the breadbasket of a continent and beyond. The word, and the place it names, evokes fortitude and plenitude both.

So the second line comes as an utter surprise. Beginning expansively ("the world"), it contracts instantly ("winnowed down"). The aperture narrows; our portal becomes a funnel. Has the heartland suffered some form of vasoconstriction? From what cause? In less than a breath we've slipped from bounty to doubt. There must be some hint in line three.

To wit: "to wheat." What once filled the screen becomes its vanishing point. What in the world could have led us from plenitude to dissipation ... the sickle-specter of continuous monoculture? ("Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." ) What fed us once is fed upon now by pests, blighting the landscape, bringing disease. To paraphrase Blake, O Heartland thou art sick.

The world ends not with a bang but a kernel.

Or does it? Our house may not be so bleak; Blake again: "To see a World in a Grain..." Why not of wheat? Why a vanishing point and not a starting point? Wheat has served us well: as a sacrament, a staple, a social lubricant ("Let's break bread." ). A building block of civilizations and a basic article of faith, this "winnowed down" thing is nothing less than our alpha grain: the very staff of life!

Bridges' haiku haunts me. My reading of it teeters between a sense of survival and annihilation, like the fate of Schrödinger's cat. Which way it tilts may depend more on the state of my mind at any given moment than on the poem's words. But the poem creates the requisite space—a doorway—for me to pass through and go where I must. Its less is my more.

Toggle switch or Rorschach, Bridges' haiku is one I shall not soon tire of.

Scott Mason

1Collected Haiku Theory, eds. T. Komiya & S. Yokozawa, Iwanami, 1951 (unknown translator)


The Heron's Nest XVIII.2 (6-16)

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