The Heron's Nest

Volume XXII, Number 3: September 2020

Editors' Choices

stillborn lamb
the storm reduces itself
to quiet rain

Chad Lee Robinson
Pierre, South Dakota

deep autumn
now I am
the oldest

Bill Kenney
Whitestone, New York

off-center kiss
the moon enters
earth's shadow

Tanya McDonald
Woodinville, Washington

The Heron's Nest Award

I suspect we all have some sort of vision, accurate or not, of life on a farm. Informed by a cast of characters from our childhood — Chicken Licken, Old MacDonald, or Charlotte on her web — we viewed the farm as a place of magic and perhaps developed a romantic attitude towards the nature of farm life. This was reinforced in my childhood, in the Garden State of New Jersey, in the 1960s. At that time, the agrarian roots of the state were still very evident and the joy of nearby farm animals was part of childhood. Within walking distance of my house were numerous farms with horses, cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and oooh, a donkey. I relished each animal based on a mix of mythology and careful observation. Of all of these animals, sheep seemed to embody most the pastoral life, floating about the pasture like cumulus clouds.

Chad Lee Robinson's haiku transports us with immediacy to an authentic moment of life on the farm unlike those of my childhood. The opening image of a "stillborn lamb" causes the reader to pause. Here we have a lamb, the symbol of purity and innocence, motionless. Lifeless. There is no need to adorn this image with any additional words as both "stillborn" and "lamb" are emotional triggers on their own.

The opening scene, if you linger, is filled with an untold sensory background. There is a scent — perhaps of lanolin or the dirt that clings to the ewe's wool. Are we in a meadow where the scents of dried grasses and wildflowers waft through this scene, or inside a barn where a mix of straw and manure keeps us company? There may be a breeze flowing across our skin in the meadow, or in the barn, a stifling stillness. We have been transported to a farm but with this opening image, are our senses firing at all? We look on in silence.

What follows this opening line gives this haiku life. The lamb, immediately in front of us, is just part of the scene. What follows provides a backdrop, a setting. A "storm" is present, adding more drama and sensation to the scene. Every single storm is unique. Wind, rain, thunder, and more are all a possibility. What did you see? Feel? Hear? Still silence? I think not.

As we continue, the storm is modified linguistically, as it "reduces itself." Oh my, this haiku has just blossomed! With careful word choice, we are given innumerable possibilities regarding the nature of the storm. Is this storm simply spent, running out of steam, or rain? This choice of words also gives the storm a sense of control, a life force. Did this storm carry some malevolent intent? Notice too, the contrast presented — the storm, with its implied ability to control its intensity, and the helpless lamb, unable to participate actively in birth or simply arrive alive.

I really appreciate a good meteorological event, and like all storms, this one comes to an end. We are left with quiet rain — the soft sound of raindrops in the meadow, or on the rooftop, and the cool moisture in the air and upon the skin. It is almost as if the clouds are weeping in sadness as we inhabit this scene. Somewhere between the first and second readings of this haiku, other possibilities emerge that do not involve an actual weather event at all.

Picture the ewe in the storm of labor, struggling to give birth to her lamb. Picture the attendant shepherdess, head bowed and full of anguish, concerned about the state of her ewe and the lamb. In either case, we are left with "quiet rain," sadness and tears after the trauma of this event. This takes us right back to the beginning of this haiku and the stillborn lamb.

I shared Chad's haiku with a friend and local shepherdess, Lucia Huebner of Beechtree Farm in Hopewell, New Jersey. Unfamiliar with the nature of haiku but intimately familiar with the world of animal husbandry, her response to this haiku may be similar to many of the readers of The Heron's Nest. Curious about what the poet was trying to say, she listened to my repeated readings and her breath was taken away. She quickly identified the range of possibility and saw this as part of the substance of haiku.

As Lucia and I talked further, I described the encounter and harvest of the haiku moment, and the art of crafting a resonant haiku. Chad opens his haiku with an unadorned image that provokes an emotional response without feeling manipulative. The opening image and background image of the storm echo off each other. We explored the interplay between concrete image and symbolism in this haiku.

Lucia described for me her role as a shepherdess, providing safety and welfare for the flock. The shepherd is the caretaker, moving the flock to good forage, and away from the danger of predators. During lambing season, it means stints as a midwife. It is a rewarding endeavor, full of challenging moments, heartbreak, and the unparalleled beauty of nature. In the end of our discussion, she offered to mentor me in the art of raising sheep. For now, I will stick with haiku, no less challenging, and no less rewarding.

Jeff Hoagland
September 2020


The Heron's Nest XXII.3 (9-2020)

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