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
impending buds yellow with caution we cross the border — Scott Wiggerman, Chrysanthemum 17 (2015)
Two moving responses to this moving poem, the first, by Alan Summers, parsing the technical means the poet has used to bring us to this point:
Haiku demands precision because any loose words weaken the container holding water, and starts to leak. Here Scott Wiggerman allows no chance of water leaking out, and uses a number of power words that enhance the reading of this haiku.
Those power words: ‘impending’; ‘caution’; ‘cross’; and ‘border’ bring a tension that few of us may ever experience. But for those who cross the border, both literally, be it physically, emotionally, or changing for the better, or metaphorically in other ways, we are indeed latent flowers, impending buds that may flourish, or die away.
A great leading and opening line followed by a crime scene of a middle line: In haiku every line counts, and only so far as there are no superfluous words weakening the container. Haiku is not all about the last line, in itself, but how the earlier lines build up and support what otherwise could be a weak last line. And are last lines really that but an invitation to come back to the beginning of the poem?
Haiku done well are more than three-line poems, and each first, second, and third line makes the poem cyclical, just as nature itself is. Here we have a poem that might be five lines if we re-read the first two lines again, after crossing the border. Perhaps, sometimes, we are our own borders that we have to cross, to grow as humans, and so we are impending buds yellow with caution, but the bravest of us get across and move on, and evolve.
This is such a quietly powerful haiku that continues to explode and expand in my mind using all the potent devices that this short very specific genre has to offer.
The second, from Matthew Moffett, limits itself to the visceral:
The buds are yellow in color, but also because they’re afraid. This is understandable, given that in the world outside everything eats everything else just to survive. The third line gives us the surprise, where what we thought was just about “nature” is now about humanity as well. Now we see that it’s the human speaker and his/her compatriots who are “yellow with caution” as they “cross the border,” presumably into another country. Of course, that’s also betraying my bias toward humanity, given that the buds could just as well be announcing their crossing into the outside world. Then, too, I go back to that first line and read it as the children in a family of immigrants, terrified, trembling as their parents herd them into another country, where, given current events, the natives don’t want them, even as they have nowhere else to go (just like the buds, who can’t very well unblossom themselves). Powerful, powerful poem.
As this week’s winner, Matthew 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!
leaves blowing into a sentence — Robert Boldman, Cicada 4.4 (1980)