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Valentine Awards 2000

The Heron's Nest
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Volume II, Number 5: May, 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

      spilt milk
      spreading along the grout lines
      morning chill
                                            Carolyn Hall

Beautifully exemplified here is the capacity of a haiku to embody topics of vast proportion. The above poem expresses the law of karma. It also contains a memory of emotions that arose from careless action, and more immediately, a new response to a similar action. All this in just a few words that, of themselves, describe only what is happening in the here and now. Carolyn Hall gives us a haiku seed that has the power to expand our consciousness of space and time.

“morning chill” is a reference to autumn. Condensed in these two words is possibly the first recognition of a point in the cycle of seasons when the life force begins to turn inward again. The image has a sense of inevitability, a foreshadowing of the passage of life, or at least of a return to dormancy. Coming last, this line serves to echo and to intensify the implication of “spilt milk.”

As in “morning chill,” “spilt milk” is dense with meaning. For a great many of us it is sure to conjure up the old adage: “There's no use in crying over spilt milk.” Parents often say this to a child whose inattentiveness has caused some minor catastrophe. Why the reproach? Because until we know better we tend to cling to being upset with ourselves. Experience (the adult) reminds us that nothing can be done to erase the results of our actions (karma). What's done is done. “Get over it,” they say.

It's interesting that the poet doesn't seem to be in a rush to grab a sponge or dishcloth. She opts to linger a while, observing the passage of milk between counter tiles. It could be that she's a slow starter, still a bit groggy from sleep, not about to rush to do anything. But I don't think so. Among other things, Carolyn Hall is a haiku poet. To write effective haiku she had to learn to slow down, to open her senses to what life proffers, and to take note of details and ramifications. Often the ramifications in our haiku are only perceived subliminally but, nonetheless, they're there. What is grout? A substance that connects and holds together tiles. What is self-esteem? Knowledge that connects us psychologically to ourselves. Some milk is spilled. It spreads along the grout that holds together the counter. If this brings about a bad feeling, the feeling spreads along self-esteem which holds together the emotions. In our youth we don't yet recognize that every manifestation contains its own dissolution (feeling bad will pass). As we grow older we relate more and more to impermanence, hopefully finding it easier to be detached, and to appreciate the connections between such things as spilling milk, grout, and a morning chill.

Standing in the cold morning air, Carolyn calmly watches milk spread along lines of grout. Maybe she remembers a time long ago when she was upset with herself, having caused something unpleasant to happen. Maybe she remembers being told not to hold on to her feelings.

The milk slows, stops, and seeps in. Just beyond the leading edge of whiteness, the grout darkens . . . In ignorance we think we make mistakes. In wisdom we become aware that we are ignorant. No mistakes.

  Christopher Herold
May, 2000