city heat —
the grocer spritzes his greens
and little girls
With grit, grime, and traffic sounds stirred in, city heat can
be wiltingly oppressive. Every activity requires extra effort. Pavement
steams. Energy withers and tempers flare. Amid such discomforts,
Peter Yovu captures a refreshing moment of human activity that suggests
a whole way of life. A few words are enough to recreate the scene
so readers, too, can relish the squeals and laughter.
The grocery is small and makes careful use of every inch of space.
Otherwise, it would not survive economically, given the challenges
of urban rents and nearby competition. The grocer counts on attractive
fruits and vegetables to entice potential customers. Perhaps the
produce is displayed under an awning or within a roofed alcove just
next to the sidewalk. Keeping it fresh requires close attention.
Spraying cool water on cress, romaine, endive, and Boston lettuce
is an important part of the grocer’s routine. His livelihood
depends upon the appeal of those greens.
Almost certainly this store is part of a real neighborhood where
people tend to know their grocer. Are the little girls the daughters
of patrons or passersby, or are they the grocer’s own children?
There are several ways to read “his” in line two. It is possible
that the poet himself is a passer-by and doesn’t know the answers
to such questions. Haiku usually leave much unsaid, allowing readers
to continue the creative process.
I like to imagine that this might be a family business. Maybe the
family lives above the store. That way of life is relatively rare
now, but it played a vital role in America’s development. I wonder
what accent I might hear if Yovu’s grocer spoke, and whether spritzing
the girls has become a part of his summer routine. Whatever the
circumstances, his gesture is endearing.
The playful redirection of the water provides an eye-opening surprise
for the poet and his readers as well as for the little girls. The
power of haiku to make us stop and take notice feeds ripples of
sympathetic awareness and encourages good will. Lightness and vitality
sparkle through the sludge of heat, and human spirit shines.