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Claire Everett – Touchstone Award for Individual Haibun

Claire Everett is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Haibun for 2023 for the haibun:

A Thousand Thens

wind-shimmered wheat
the kestrel’s belly
uplit

A solitary walk through the fragrance of all that’s green and golden, and suddenly, I am not alone.

Breathing in, I am my dead-too-young father whom I thought invincible, secretly afraid of thunder, and the sea that took a cousin. Breathing out, I am the song of the blackbird he loved the best.

Breathing in, I am my mother, wound by worry, in her rocking chair to nowhere. Breathing out, I am the light of a wagtail across the river stones, and a memory of being taught how to skip with a rope.

Breathing in, I am my grandfather, bitterly disappointed by the lie my father told. Breathing out, I am the drowsy lap, the delight of pencil on paper.

Breathing in, I am my grandmother, straight and stern as the poker on the hearth. Breathing out, I am the crispness of freshly baked pastries made by cool hands and a warm heart.

Breathing in, I am not just born of love, but of pain and joy, triumph and loss. Breathing out, I am so many hopes, dashed and dared, so many dreams, burnished and broken. All are here, on this rung of the twisted ladder, this one moment on the double helix that unravelled me between a thousand thens and now.

endless sky . . .
two kestrels hunt
as one

 

—Claire Everett, MacQueen’s Quinterly Issue 19


Commentary from the Panel: 

Like Scheherazade from The Thousand and One Nights’ Arabian Tales, who enchanted her king with beguiling stories, this captivating haibun has one eager to read on. The poem’s title transports us into the poet’s lyrical world, referencing a time outside of time and an unfolding of moments so fluid and liminal they seem eternal.

The opening haiku immerses the reader into a state of grace rooted in the natural world. In the first line, the fresh adjective embodies movement. Without the need for a weighty verb, we too feel wind shimmering through the vast fields. This vision expands with the sudden appearance of a kestrel, a beautiful rufous bird of prey with blue grey wings, its pale belly uplit by sun bouncing off the golden wheat.

The opening stanza of prose effectively links and then shifts away from the haiku, where we join the poet on a solitary walk into a new landscape. We leave behind row upon row of wheat for somewhere fragrant and green, perhaps a forest or meadow, where gold light streams in and around us. Senses engaged with vivid sights, colors and sounds, we open to the possibility of a sixth sense, in the sudden perception we are not alone.

Breathing into this synesthetic state, we too become the dead-too-young father, his invincibility softened by his vulnerabilities and fears. Breathing out, we hear a sound the poet’s father loved, the uplifting song of the blackbird.

The remaining four stanzas, each resonant in structure, serve as a refrain and, like the blackbird’s call, pull us in. The “w” sounds from the first haiku echo in the third stanza in the description of the poet’s mother and again in the appearance of the wagtail who lifts the scene with its light. The poet inhabits the grandfather with a repetition of consonants, especially the “d” sounds and the delight of a tactile memory, a pencil scratching its way across paper, perhaps for the first time in the poet’s young life. Next, the grandmother is described, and despite her sternness, the “s” sounds collide into a sibilant vision of plenty.

The final stanza, with its references to hopes dared and dashed, skillfully captures not just the joys of family, but also the pain and loss that comes with loving, with opening our heart to the humanness of those in our familial lineage. The twisted ladder of a double helix, like strands of DNA with its language for life, becomes a time portal that unravels us, as we spiral between the now and all those who have passed through our lives, and into our own one thousand thens.

The final capping haiku shifts back to the topography where we began, as the endless sky unfolds above and we become the kestrel, also suddenly not alone, hunting with another.

This poem evokes qualities of all great haibun. Its originality of form contributes to and expands the canon, with song-like anaphora and an almost mystical embodiment reminiscent of the lyrics of a chant by the revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The compelling title, well-written poetic prose, evocative haiku, and satisfactory ending coalesce into a whole that is significantly greater than its parts. The universality and emotional tenor of the poem resonate again and again, deepening on each re-reading. A well-deserved winner in this year’s contest.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Gorgeous depiction of the tonglen( sending and taking) meditation practice from Tibetan Buddhism.

  2. What a remarkable and moving haibun, which I plan on rereading several times. Congratulations, Claire Everett! The commentary is also marvelous.

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