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The Heron's Nest
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Volume I, Number 3: November, 1999.
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Heron's Nest Award

      gray day
      smoke from a mill meanders
      over the river


This haiku is deceptively plain, and perhaps seems as lackadaisical as the day it describes. But there is more, much more than appears on the surface. One of the great gifts of haiku is that they encourage us to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary. There is great depth in this poem if one knows, not where, but how to look.

First, what is presented? We are told straight away, and in general terms, that the day is gray–no surprise, nothing spectacular, just what is–and the grayness seems applied to everything. Imagine a mill: several large, dark gray buildings. Smoke issues from a tall chimney; it too is gray, but paler than the buildings. The sky stretches overhead, a few shades lighter than the mill, a few shades darker than the smoke. The river–as gray as the sky it reflects. And the disposition of the poet who takes in this panorama? Gray. The magic happens because the poet doesn't struggle to alleviate the feeling of heaviness but rather allows herself to sink into it, to be part of it. There's little energy in the air. The smoke doesn't rise straight up, nor does it stream or sink; it meanders, like the river itself. In fact "meander" is a word that more often describes the movement of rivers than of smoke . . .

. . . which leads me to syntax. The use of "meander" to describe the movement of smoke, brings the river to the sky and the sky to the river, melding them. Although an'ya's poem reads simply and naturally, her skillful lyricism and patterning of rhythm are exceptionally effective. The first line "gray day" is two distinct beats. The long "a"s stretch those beats beyond the visual length of the words, yet the hard first letters keep the line succinct. Surprisingly, these two syllables serve to slow us down. Spread well apart, the three "m"s in the second line continue to slow the pace, stretching the three beats waaay out. Much like the smoke described, the "m"s seem to meander. In the last line, the two "ver" sounds return us to the rhythm and tempo of the first line, but now the tone is soothing, like a broad river. This poem is a wonderful onomatopoeia. It conjures the slow flow of the day.

At first glance, this haiku is a black and white photograph, not a color slide. The photographer is an artist, a writer who appreciates the subtlety of the wonders spread before her: a treasure trove in shades of gray. She sees the way the smoke crosses the river, one meandering stream crossing another. She chooses to participate in this intersection, and the pervasive gray in which it is embraced, opening to it, drinking in the nuances. She is transformed, and if we readers allow it, we too are transformed. Through this poem it is possible to enter into an abiding sense of peace and, in the resulting gratitude, begin again to see and to appreciate color.

  Christopher Herold
November, 1999