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The Heron's Nest
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Volume II, Number 2: February, 2000.
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editor's Choices • Haiku: 1, 2, 3, 4 • Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      waterfall . . .
      the passage of a floating leaf
      slowed by wind
                                Rick Tarquinio

The following is one of many possible scenarios and is based on the understanding that what is perceived of the "outer" world is determined by one's inner condition.

It's the final day of a wilderness vacation. Tomorrow the campsite is to be struck, the car loaded and driven back down the twisty mountain road. In two days it'll be back to work where a crucial project is scheduled. The few carefree days of the vacation have passed, days when warm sun, puffy clouds, the scent of pine, and the rush of the river made up the entire world. As departure nears the body begins to tense; increasingly the mind fills with concerns about the upcoming project. But today is today, and there's still time this afternoon for one more hike to the top of the falls. At the river's edge there's a large rock to sit on and once more there'll be the warm sun and the mesmerizing sound of water pounding the rocks below. Thoughts about work continue to babble the mind but gradually drowsiness deepens into sleep. Eventually a cloud passes over the lowering sun and the cool of its shadow puts an end to the nap. It's time to go back to camp, build a fire, cook one last dinner. A pale green leaf falls onto the glossy water. It turns slowly and begins to drift toward the falls. It'll take a minute, maybe two, for the leaf to reach the edge and pass over . . . why not wait until it does, then start back. The current quickens near the edge; so does the leaf. But wind rising from the shadows under the waterfall slows the leaf as it's about to slip over. The moment seems longer than it ought to, almost an eternity.

On the way back to camp, the image of the leaf lingers and there's a realization: returning to sit by the waterfall one last time and the slowing of the leaf are two versions of the same thing: an instant of tranquility before an inevitable plunge. In the moments preceding radical change, time often appears to slow. The future and the past lose their power. Uncluttered by thought, things are perceived in the vivid clarity of the present. Innumerable paths lead to this poem, or one like it; they converge in an awakening–a clearly focused moment revealing the ultimate potential of all moments: eternity.

The experience of this haiku is reproduced both visually and rhythmically. The word "waterfall" is quick (usually spoken with one accented syllable) yet the ellipsis adds duration to the quickness (both qualities of waterfalls). The second line (three beats in eight syllables) is long, resembling the journey of the leaf. The rhythm of the final line ("slowed by wind") corresponds with the action described; as we read we too slow down. The word "slowed" is the point at which we are transformed÷the instant of letting go, of being fully present. Interestingly, the cause of this slowing is a quick thing: wind. Water rushes down. Wind rushes up. The leaf is held back and we are suspended in a timeless moment of heightened awareness. Awareness of what? The ephemeral. Rick Tarquinio's haiku epitomizes the Japanese term "yugen," the profound and mysterious realization that all things pass. But for me the most pleasing aspect of this poem is its demonstration of our capacity to be keenly aware of this passage.

  Christopher Herold
February, 2000