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
a horse with no legs floats in a jigsaw puzzle called post-surgery — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)
John Levy is puzzled:
The first line, “a horse with no legs,” makes me see a horse’s corpse. I would rather see the corpse than a living horse that somehow lost its legs and is in its last agonizing moment(s) of life. The second line can be read as something of a relief, allowing me to visualize a drawing or painting of a horse with no leg rather than a flesh and blood body. Perhaps the image is surrounded by clouds or otherwise floating in a realistic or surrealistic jigsaw puzzle. The third line changes everything again so that “floats” brings up the sensation of floating anaesthetics or pain killers may produce.
This is a haiku that may be interpreted in many ways. Is it “about” a post-surgery patent’s hallucination? If so, why has this patient chosen (if a hallucination is a choice one’s subconscious makes) a horse and then why is the horse so mutilated and/or dead? This is sad and frightening no matter how I imagine answering the why.
A jigsaw puzzle is typically an object one uses to challenge oneself and pass a length of time pleasantly, solving and being rewarded by creating a whole from many fragments that are meaningless in themselves and have intriguing individual shapes. It seems unlikely that the jigsaw puzzle in this haiku is a literal jigsaw puzzle (to state the obvious). Is the haiku’s jigsaw puzzle completed or near completion? It seems that the puzzle is at least sufficiently finished so that “a horse with no legs” is recognizable and its immediate surroundings also have been pieced together enough to show a horse that is floating.
In such a short poem the two articles, both of which are “a,” are important. If one substitutes “the” for either “a” the meaning of the haiku shifts.
This powerful, moving, and evocative haiku has an affinity with another haiku that was recently the subject of re:Virals, this haiku by Reka Nyitrai:
in her father’s lungs . . .
first autumn rain
Both of these haiku are striking, haunting, and memorable. And both evoke sad and scary situations. Nyitrai’s haiku’s third line introduces the season whereas Ramsey’s haiku doesn’t seem to exist in any season or outside of any season. Both haiku are empathetic and unsentimental.
Dave Read puts the pieces together:
Ramsey’s haiku begins in abstraction but is grounded and given context with the surprising third line. In fact, learning the setting is “post-surgery” helps better inform the poem’s surrealism and deepen its expression of the surgery’s immediate aftermath. The details augment the content, and work as metaphors. A “horse with no legs” is both not whole and unable to do what we most associate horses with: run. As such, there is the implication that one coming out of surgery may feel incomplete while suffering a loss of capability. Furthermore, that the horse is “floating” brings to mind the high that accompanies anaesthesia and other medicines. The patient continues to be drugged up. Finally, a reference to the jigsaw puzzle provides the idea of being put back together again. While Ramsey nowhere mentions a specific medical condition, the reader can only be left with the impression that it required major surgery. Some time and effort will be involved in moving towards full recovery, if it is even possible
As this week’s winner, Dave 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!
stone cairns a faded cap drifts downriver — Debbie Strange, 1st place, 2015 Harold G. Henderson Haiku Contest.