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re:Virals 144

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was

 
     finding a home
     on her naked skin -
     the kingfisher


          — Eva Limbach, failed haiku Volume 2, Issue 20, (2018) 

Garry Eaton imagines:

As with any good haiku, this one requires an act of imagination to make it complete. The wording suggests the impossible, that a kingfisher flies in and transforms itself into a tattoo on a woman’s naked skin. We know it’s impossible in reality, but there is something satisfying in imaging it happen anyway, in seeing life imitate art and transcend, to some degree, its usual limitations.

Willie Bongcaron steps out of his comfort zone:

“Everyone has his/her own comfort zone…” is what comes to mind in this ku. Even a kingfisher, which is ever alert perched on a branch, does have its own comfort zone. The kingfisher though could also be construed as “the threat” vis-a-vis our comfort zone. Thus, picture an alert kingfisher on a branch with threatening attitude. This ku is deep and with a story to tell that definitely applies to everyone.

Jacob Salzer thinks critically:

When looking up “kingfisher” on Google, we find: “any of numerous fish or insect-eating birds of the family Alcedinidae that have a large head and a long, stout bill and are usually crested and brilliantly colored.”

I see the image of a kingfisher as a tattoo on a woman. I also see the kingfisher as a symbol of freedom in terms of flight, and enjoy the paradox of a seemingly permanent image of our human impermanence. Also, the emphasis on “naked” emphasizes a stark contrast. It brings a feeling of an empty drawing board, innocence, and vulnerability, where bold mental impressions (in Sanskrit, these are called samskaras) seem to appear. Also, this haiku brings a feeling of unity with something not human, in this case, a bird. In the digital age, I think it’s critical for more humans to develop a real sense of connection with our natural environment.

Marilyn Ward keeps it brief:

This Haiku made me think of a young woman flashing her new tattoo.

Clayton Beach goes down to the river:

There’s a delicate sensuality to this ku, with my first reading delivering the image of a kingfisher, tattooed perhaps, on a woman’s skin. Her nudity and the bird suggest a riverside scene, a young lovely basking unabashed in the peaceful tranquility of the halcyon days, with an underlayer of eternal glory suggested through spiritual symbolism. The kingfisher is a bird that is rich in associations in western poetry, thus it taps into the vertical axis in a way many shasei inspired English-language haiku fail to do.

If we take a step back, and split the poem at the cut, the base section can be read to contain a sense of self-discovery, “finding a home” and then, with a slight change, “[in] her naked skin,” this section openly serves to place the image on the woman’s body, but an undercurrent also suggests a level of self-acceptance, of reveling in one’s own body and an open sensuality reminiscent of haiku by poets like Enomoto Seifu,

umi ni sumu / like a fish
uo no goto mi wo / in the sea, this body of mine
tsuki suzushi / cool in the moonlight

trans. Ueda (Far Beyond the Field)

In the superposed section, the simple image of the kingfisher comes to mind, in its natural setting—brilliant oriental blue and cutting into the water without a splash, it has the power of raw nature, and if contrasted to the feminine sensuality of the previous section, also contains a masculine energy in the bird as it swiftly enters the water.

This short poem is at once sensual, ecstatic and serene, with several layers of meaning and image to explore, a well-crafted and traditional poem that feels perfectly natural and appropriate to our contemporary world. Oddly enough it was published as senyru in “Failed Haiku,” but this only serves to show that our finest English-language “senryu” read very much like modern, humanistic haiku, and are certainly the furthest thing from failure.

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As this week’s winner, Clayton gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
 
re:Virals 144:

 
     crow's inner circle
     the dark part of my eye
 
          — Stephen Toft, Is/let 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great comments! I see a tattoo, too.
    .
    I wondered (via”finding a home”) whether the kingfisher Eva had in mind might be on the endangered list, but most seem to be fairly stable.There is one though: ” The Marquesan kingfisher of French Polynesia is listed as critically endangered due to a combination of habitat loss and degradation caused by introduced cattle, and possibly due to predation by introduced species.”

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    There are many sorts of kingfishers worldwide. Not counting the kookaburra, the one I’m most familiar with is the Sacred Kingfisher. http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Todiramphus-sanctus
    .
    This little flash of blue returns to a local creek (in Melbourne) in the warmer months and spends the colder months up North. They breed and raise their young around the creek. For many years, it did not return because the creek was polluted, but does again now, after volunteers and local councils cleaned up the creek and replaced the native plant life. There was great celebration when it returned and an annual celebration still happens:
    .
    https://ceres.org.au/events/return-of-the-sacred-kingfisher-festival/
    .
    So I can’t help wondering, via “finding a home on her naked skin”, whether the kingfisher Eva had in mind has lost its ancestral ‘home’ due to environmental degradation and the tattoo is a mark of “her” awareness, a text that points to the story of what has been lost, the ‘naked truth’ of environmental degradation. . . but also what might be regained if humans can get their act together and restore habitats to a viable state for such birds.
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    After all, a bird “finding a home” on “her naked skin” rather implies that the bird couldn’t find its home in its natural environment, doesn’t it?
    .
    – Lorin

  2. .
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    finding a home
    on her naked skin –
    the kingfisher
    .
    — Eva Limbach, failed haiku Volume 2, Issue 20, (2018)
    .
    I’m immediately reminded of Ray Bradbury’s collection of short stories titled The Illustrated Man, and of course, of another science fiction writer, that of Philip K Dick, with The Illustrated Woman, and Bladerunner, often about identity, and its consequences.

    .

    The opening line, to the haiku (strong seasonal reference after all, and use of a visual punctuation symbol aka N-dash) can be just seen as literal; aren’t many of us looking for a home; whether bricks and glass, or something else that keeps us calm without havoc?
    .
    Is this woman vulnerable, as author, and/or narrator: We don’t know if they are one and the same The narrator says her skin is naked, which is intriguing: Skin is automatically bare, naked, nude, by default. Unless an unmarked skin is even more than “being bare” to this person/persona, opening up to intense scrutiny, and threat to her identity? Is this about being without ink (tattoo, or writing poetry)? The Kingfisher is highly symbolic, from Greek mythology onwards, suggesting trust, honesty, spiritual growth, and a need for peace.
    .
    .

    “A kingfisher, said to be the first bird to fly from Noah’s ark after the deluge, supposedly received the orange of the setting sun on its breast and the blue of the sky on its back. It was considered a symbol of peace, promising prosperity and love.”
    https://www.irishnews.com/lifestyle/2017/04/08/news/take-on-nature-why-the-kingfisher-is-known-as-the-halcyon-bird–986553/
    .
    .
    The Kingfisher holds various powers if dead a s well, such as if dried, it can ward off thunderbolts and storms – possibly literally, possibly on a personal level.
    .
    Vulnerability and identity are bedfellows, aren’t they? What do we all do, to protect both? Add a talisman, an open carry sidearm, in ink by tattoo, poem or other gun.
    .
    .
    The poem mechanics:
    .
    .
    finding a home
    on her naked skin –
    the kingfisher
    .
    .
    “Naked” stands out, almost shouts or screams (out) to/for me, despite the apparent calmness of the sounds of ‘finding’ and ‘home’.
    .
    ’On her naked skin’ jars, positively, for me, it works to jolt me, as skin is naked, so why state the obvious? As a child, at times I was deeply self-conscious and into young adulthood, and for no actual reason, other than the often intense scrutiny and insecure curiosity of some constituents of society, and thankfully at other times completely unembarrassed and indifferent at/with peer cruelty. But I walked the line, between both.
    .
    I was fascinated by tattoos as a youngster but never wanted anything but a temporary transfer I could wash off: I’d get bored adorning myself with any kind of ‘jewelry’. As a lover of birds, mostly bright, like Titmice, and River Kingfishers, the idea of one hovering by, near, and around me was seductive.
    .
    Also, back to the author and/or narrator, her skin is open, and naked, to protect the vulnerable; it need not be her (author and/or narrator), perhaps, as many women are, and she may be a defender, quietly and effectively, at home for those who might otherwise dart away, down to their own river.
    .
    Naked need not mean vulnerability after all, but strength and refuge, whether for a spirit, bird, animal, or human; child even.
    .
    .
    POETICS
    .

    The near-rhyme and closer rhymes:
    .
    .
    ‘fin’ [d] ‘ing’
    .
    ‘skin’
    .
    ‘king’
    .
    and ‘fi’ 1st line and ‘fi’ last line
    .
    and ‘home’ and ‘on’
    .
    are both poetic devices of rhyme and rhythm, and also coda perhaps?
    .
    Coda (music):
    In music, a coda (Italian for “tail”, plural code) is a passage that brings a piece (or a movement) to an end. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
    .

    …and mythology, but pointing to something: is it to protect something or someone or be protected by them?
    .
    The more I read this poem it burrows into my own skin, folds like a tattoo in paper creases. Is it about a tattoo? Is it someone so attuned to nature, her skin enters another realm?
    .
    The Human Skin: Philosophy’s Last Line of Defense by Arthur F. Bentley might suggest that skin is a barrier to knowledge and our essence: https://brocku.ca/MeadProject/Bentley/Bentley_1941.html

    .
    Do we need a portal or portals plural to enter some things, a doorway?
    .
    Is skin a barrier then? The movie Under the Skin (2013 film) suggests vulnerability as well, even in a defensive and also predatory manner, and in the post-Weinstein era, where invisible becomes less so, with all kinds of female gender identity stepping forward for both themselves, and a better society, even at greater danger, where both female identity, and vulnerability, are to be embraced, but at cost too. But isn’t life as fleeting as a speeding bullet of a kingfisher down a river?
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    I enjoy not knowing what the poem is about. Why should I know? It moves me, more each time I read it, and it becomes my own talisman. I remember my mother loved kingfishers and I bought more than one brooch or pin with their image. Was I protecting her, or me; my own vulnerable identity (I’m adopted). Halcyon days, everyone: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/halcyon
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