The Heron's Nest

Volume XVIII, Number 3: September 2016

Editors' Choices

length of the night
on her knitting needles

Maria Tomczak
Opole, Poland

one plate one fork one spoon
winter evening

Kristen Deming
Bethesda, Maryland

torpid heat the small breeze a dragonfly makes

Sandra Simpson
Tauranga, New Zealand

The Heron's Nest Award

length of the night
on her knitting needles

Maria Tomczak

What is the color of 'insomnia'? Black because you are in a dark tunnel? White because you cannot paint anything on the canvas in front of you? Imagine that you have knitting needles in your hands and you are given invisible yarn to work with. You sit on a hard chair. There is no moon outside. The snow stops falling and you are alone with the click, click, click of the needles.

Knitting is, in a way, an act of love. When I was a kid, I was so upset when my mother wouldn't allow me to grow my hair long. My grandmother made a knit cap with long braids for me. I grew up in a house with three generations living under the same roof. My young aunt, a half-sister of my father, went to a knitting school to improve her homemaking skills before her marriage. I tried to knit a scarf for a high school classmate with whom I fell in love. So why do I sense dark, lonely feelings in this haiku by Maria Tomczak?

霜の墓抱き起されしとき見たり      石田破郷

shimo no haka dakiokosareshi toki mitari

a grave in hoar frost
I saw it when I was
helped to sit up

Hakyo Ishida (1913-1969)

from Gendai No Haiku (Modern Haiku) an anthology edited by Shobin Hirai, Kodansha, Tokyo 1996

Hakyo had been in and out of the hospital due to tuberculosis for most of his adult life. In his haiku collection Shakumei (Borrowed Life) published in 1950, a reader can find many haiku involving a brush of death. He watched the gate through which a casket was brought out. He stared at snow falling silently, but rapidly, outside the mortuary. He joined other patients with ghost-like white hands around a burning pile of leaves. How many sleepless nights did he spend in his hospital bed? Did he sometimes hear the click, click of knitting needles?

死神に妻子あるらむ日向ぼこ      澤田和哉

shinigami ni saishi aruran hinataboko

God of Death may have
a wife and children...
I bathe in the winter sun

Kazuya Sawada (1980-2015)

from Kakumei Zenya (A Night Before Revolution), a haiku collection by Kazuya Sawada, Yuu Shorin, Nagano, 2013

Kazuya was a member of the haiku group that I belong to in Japan. He was a prolific writer of haiku and critical essays. He didn't hide the fact that he had been suffering from depression. But even after he quit his job and started living with his parents in his home town, he continued writing haiku. In January 2015 he informed me that his doctor had forbidden him to go online, so he would be incommunicado for a while. When he died by "accidental drug overdose," I was not the only one who suspected a suicide. He never married, nor had children. Did he envy the God of Death who has a wife and children? What was the length of his final night?

I don't know anything about Maria Tomczak, the poet, except that she lives in Poland. According to the Global Peace Index, in 2016 Poland is the 22nd safest country in the world. #1 is Iceland. Japan, my home country, is #9. The United States is #103, just one rank above Cambodia. Since Tomczak used 'her' instead of 'my' in her haiku, she might have simply been watching someone knitting. She might have felt that she sat at a safe distance from this person's night.

But have you had an experience telling your friend, "this happened to a friend of mine," because it is too painful for you to tell it as your own?

What causes insomnia? When do you see the "length of the night" on your knitting needles? Does the clicking sound resemble clock hands ticking time away? Do you feel the dawn approaching? Or do you hear the footsteps of a God of Death who will snatch the life of someone you love?

Fay Aoyagi
September 2016


The Heron's Nest XVIII.3 (9-16)

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