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re:Virals 152

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

 
     ラジオ鳴って留守か留守居か花マンガ
 
     Radio blaring.
     Is he out, or just pretending to be out?
     Mango flowers . . .

          — Taki Katsuya (勝谷多喜), Translated by Danny Blackwell. 
            Original Japanese sourced from The National Diet Library, Japan.

Alan Summers speculates:

Back in the early 20th century, up to the 1930s, a number of Japanese people moved to Brazil and often started writing haiku under intense ill-health due to weather, endemic diseases, and work conditions.

The key word is mango, and the haiku was composed at the time when mangos were truly exotic to anyone outside of Brazil, and not the common fruit they are today. I don’t think this is any mere kigo thrown in to suggest a season. Mangos are tricky to grow, maintain, protect, and cultivate, and every aspect of weather, second by second, effects its outcome.

If you’ve never truly tasted ripe mango picked just minutes or hours previously you might not get the extra dimension that cannot be caught in commercial mango juice drinks, it’s just not there. It’s a parallel aftertaste, a contradiction in terms to be sure.

In the collection of kigo/seasonal words and phrases for Brazil called “Burajiru Kiyose,” Summer is defined as November to January. Brazil has a tropical and subtropical climate, and new kigo were required. I can guess that the author was either involved in the fruit farm business, or was visiting, not realising how farm work is entirely weather based, and not a 9-5 affair, and thus either a pre-arranged or off the cuff get together is meaningless for someone who works on a farm.

Perhaps the author of the haiku finally guessed, had “the penny dropped,” when he noticed mango flowers, and that their friend would have had to rush off at less than a second’s notice.

“. . .the most important aspect of the fruit business is the least certain: weather. It influences everything from growing and distribution to sales. Temperature makes the fruit ripen more quickly or slowly. Tropical rain can wash out the dirt-track access to a farm. As regards sales in Britain, sunshine is as important as temperature: a bright weekend can boost sales by 30 per cent and the supply chain must rev up quickly to meet demand…workers may go six times or more to each tree to pick the fruit at its peak, when it is sweetest (. . .) Next to the ripening fruit are other trees covered in cascades of flowers awaiting pollination by ants and bees. Though only a few flowers on each stem become fruit, there will be up to 120 mangoes on each of these trees.”

Hattie Ellis (Oct 2013) The Telegraph newspaper. (With love from Brazil: the mango’s journey to Britain.)

The radio still playing is no Marie Celeste moment, it takes vital seconds to even rush over to the device and fumble the switch off. Those seconds are best preserved getting footwear on, gloves, and any other equipment, including a bottle of water. This is Summer, and there’s going to be intense and highly demanding work, best not to forget anything for the day. The radio can wait until the evening after all.

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As this week’s winner, Alan 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 152:

 
     just-fledged light
     chips of wren song
     from the log pile
          — Claire Everett, Presence #45 (2001) 

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. An interesting commentary, Alan. I was unaware of the history of Japanese migrants in Brazil.
    .
    Of course, mangoes originated in India and thereabouts, long, long ago. They were brought to Australia in the 1800’s, so the fruit has been a summer treat for me since childhood. As you’d know, they grow here mostly in Queensland.
    .
    But the flower . . . I’d not experienced that until I was an adult. The flowering is happening now, August . . . pre-spring and cold down south where I am, mild and warm in, say, Cooktown, where I first inhaled the incredible scent permeating the air just after sunset. (and not in an orchard, just in big old trees around the town) I had to ask what the scent was, where was it coming from! The flower bracts aren’t much to look at, but on a warm, balmy night the perfume is superb and (to me, anyway) alluring, seductive, and it carries a long way.
    .
    I imagine in Brazil the flowering time would be about the same as in Australia. The fruit takes about 4 months to mature to picking stage. I’m not sure how much orchard work would be happening at flowering time.
    .
    An interesting haiku. And it’s not necessarily set in daylight hours. An alternative interpretation: Could it be that that the mango flower scent has drawn the author’s friend out into the warm, pleasant night? Or perhaps he has the radio up loud and is not answering the door because he has other company and doesn’t want to be disturbed? 🙂
    .
    – Lorin
    .

    1. Yes, it could have so easily have been an add on, but those Japanese workers were made to work long hard hours, and I guess would have been surrounded by the aspects of their at home and workplace. And without much health and safety, or medical care, and low, very low wages, so every extra minute of work, if they were paid for that. was more for their family.

  2. Dear esteemed poet,
    warm greetings! delighted to go through your speculations. yes, when i was young , those were the days, radio played a very vital role, now replaced by television. still
    the resounding voice of the announcer!
    Next, the farming, weather and agricultural constrains – all leading to mango – how wonderfully you have analysed in this haiku. Very much enlightening.
    with regards
    S.Radhamani

  3. Alan, your comment is informative and interesting, and you certainly understand the bigger picture of the agricultural worker.
    The radio is an essential piece of kit which I have often left on myself 🙂

    1. Thanks Carol! 🙂
      .
      I didn’t use a radio much in my Queenslander house, when I’d rush off to help look after a 2000 acre landcare project, looking after, and planting, new trees, often from pre-dawn to gone past dusk, but I could relate a little. 🙂
      .
      warm regards,
      Alan

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