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re:Virals 204

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

     hefting a plum —
     I know by heart
     my father’s orchard
          — Michael McClintock, tug of the current: The Red Moon Anthology 2004

Radhamani Sarma teases out the genetics in the orchard:

This haiku by Michael McClintock gives us a chance to go into the orchard to taste the juicy fruits to suffice our thirst in this hot summer. This week’s haiku deals with fruit variety, here especially plum and the person’s related experience in his father’s fruit garden. In the very first line, the singular ‘a’ plum, giving the task of lifting the weight of a plum to the speaker, leads further to so many prospects of building the haiku. Obviously, his father, either being an owner or a landlord who grows various plum fruits, must have reared many kinds by sowing typically various seeds, or plum varieties; hence, he must have had access or distinct knowledge. The same must have been inherited by the son.

The second line “I know by heart” amply augments the view that a family’s traditional occupation is naturally passed on to the son, be it a musician, or singer, or vedic scholar, why even a barber; why one can say he inherits the same, as we see in the case of a fisherman or a farmer. In light of this context, if we interpret the phrase “I know by heart,” we derive the meaning: that as a seasoned or well-trained person, he knows every variety — its color, its yield prospects all by its weight — as easily as a goldsmith can distinguish the yellow metal from a fake or fourteen karat gold.

Anitha Varma plumbs cherished memories:

This, to me, paints a deceptively simple picture – that of an older person holding a single plum. ‘hefting’ is the word used – an unusual usage when associated with a single plum. ‘Heft’ is usually used in conjunction with heavy weights, whereas here, we are talking about a little plum. The word ‘heft’ actually plummets the humble little plum into the heavyweight category. It is a whole load of memories which the plum brings on, that is weighing it down, so that the poet has to ‘heft’ it. 

These memories are, to me, childhood memories, as hinted at by saying how familiar the poet is with his ‘father’s’ orchard. Each reader is invited to fill the ‘dreaming space’ this ku creates, to fill it with memories of his favourite childhood haunts and activities.

This is a very evocative ‘ku which invites and makes the reader a creator along with the poet.

Rich Schilling relives the past:

In doing a research for this haiku I found that it is part of a haibun titled “Men of Property.” Michael McClintock lets the reader know that the orchard is being sold and he is walking through, one last time . There is an interesting detail about a bullet hole in a tin pail that he remembers and although his father has most likely passed on, I don’t get the sense a bullet has anything to do with it. It sounds more like the tin pail was target practice when he was a kid.

Michael relives a memory in this haiku and gives a perfect amount of detail to convey a sense of loss, and of growing up. He feels the weight of a plum, what I see as a metaphor for himself as a kid. I have three kids, and as a parent we heft our kids and we feel how much they have grown, until they are too big to heft. You feel proud but at the same time you feel sad. They are growing up, and one day they will leave the orchard to put it in the context of this haiku. The symbolism of an orchard perfectly represents Michael’s youth and growing up, just as the fruit becomes full grown. The plum is also the kigo in this haiku. Plums are usually harvested between May and October. And while a specific month doesn’t affect the feel in any way, I’d like to think it is late summer, early fall. In haiku plum blossoms have also been used to represent the transitoriness of life.

I relate to this haiku as a parent and as a son. I’m lucky my Dad is still living. Our “orchard” is his backyard where we used to play basketball, or the lake we have fished our whole life. He has watched me grow just as I watch my kids grow. We all have an orchard, a place we grew up, and we all relive those memories. We feel the weight of something, something as specific as a plum or just any aspect of life. There are always moments we look back on like in this haiku. We know them by heart. Some of us even write those moments down. Not all of can put it as eloquently as Michael McClintock, but we can try.

Reka Nyitrai considers the heft of memories and emotions:

For me this ku of Michael McClintock is about weighing. It is about finding out how heavy a plum might be while one looks back at past events and situations that concern him, his father and his father’s orchard.  

For me, weighing is a biblical undertaking and its end result usually is about finding the weighed subject/object wanting, insufficient. However, in this case, the tested plum is found heavy, jam-packed with childhood memories and emotions.   Even so the plum is heavy with memories it is found short on, bringing back into present the poet’s father.  This is why Michael McClintock’s plum is dense and bittersweet. 

Reading and re-reading this haiku left me with the sweetness and bitterness of memories “known by heart”,  memories that still ripple over a father’s and a son’s orchard, memories that surely will be passed down to the forthcoming generation. 

As this week’s winner, Rich 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 205:

     a fork in the
     the road turning into a
     a clock
          — Peter Yovu, Sunrise (Red Moon Press, 2010)

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. hefting a plum —
    I know by heart
    my father’s orchard

    — Michael McClintock

    Masterfully written haiku! I say this because of the way, owing that the poem is written in the present tense, I was able to effortlessly be “right there” with Mr. McClintock living his present-moment experience of a vivid, past event. Also, I love not knowing whether this moment of remembering was positive or negative and whether the past experience itself was positive or negative for him.

    Relationship is perhaps the strongest presence for me in this poem … his relationship with the plum in his hand, (what it looked like, felt like, and as a small representation of his relationship with a piece of his past, his father and the larger orchard), his relationship with his own heart (not his head) as the seat of his “knowing” the many details and intricacies of the orchard, the land and fruit belonging to his father and to him by virtue of his relationship as a son to his father.

    I am reminded of how something small and seemingly inconsequential can so vividly reconnect us, in intimate ways, to our relationships with experiences, things and people from our past … experiences, things and people that we maybe didn’t realize were so important to us until something happens like holding and then hefting a plum.

    The question of what do I know by heart because of my past experiences and relationships is something I’m sitting with. I’m also thinking about how our lives, so often unbeknownst to us, touch, impact and maybe even leave indelible impressions (both positive and negative) on others’ lives for many years into the future if not their entire lives. So I’m thinking about what the legacy of my life is in the lives of others.

    Thank you, Mr. McClintock, for this beautiful haiku!

  2. hi all

    Planting a tree, is one of the most selfless things to do. One may or may not ever enjoy the shade or the fruits of the tree, but the generations to come surely will.
    I did not know about the haibun. ( Hi RIch!)
    However, it is wonderful to grow up alongside an orchard growing up too, and playing in there, knowing the trees, naming them…sometimes, knowing the fruit each tree bears… that is what I read in the second and third lines of the poem

    To know something is to grow with it, nurture it, cherish it and recognise the small things that go with it … and to know by heart is a bit more of knowing, …

    what does everyone else think?

    1. Hi Pratima,

      I agree with all that you’ve detailed in your comments. Your last paragraph in particular resonates with me and captures much of what I see in the featured haiku:

      “To know something is to grow with it, nurture it, cherish it and recognise the small things that go with it … and to know by heart is a bit more of knowing, …”

      Thanks for your commentary and sharing your thoughts.


  3. Hello, Mark. Thank you for your comment and observation about the resemblance of a plum to the shape of a heart. I also had similar thoughts. I wrote my own commentary but didn’t include it with the others. Here it is:

    The word that caught my attention in the context of Michael McClintock’s haiku was ‘heft’. Its appearance with a plum, a rather small fruit, seems at odds. However, the family inheritance the narrator knows so well — his father’s orchard — clearly tells me that he feels a heavy responsibility to carry on the tradition, perhaps with some reluctance. Does the narrator feel he has little choice in the matter? ‘by heart’ reminds me of the heart-like shape of a ripe plum and by extension that the family is often ‘the heart’ of one’s life. I sense that although the narrator realizes he is expected to carry on the family tradition, he is vacillating or wondering what life would have been like had he not followed his father’s vocation. Yet he is close to his father and family whom he knows ‘by heart’.

    I have enjoyed reading all of the comments submitted last week and so far this week. I encourage everyone to submit a commentary for this week’s selection.

    Thank you,

    1. Hello Theresa, I’m very interested to see your comments. The idea that we all heft our own plum inside our chests is very poignant. Best wishes.

      1. Thank you, Mark, for reading and for your reaction to my commentary. I’m pleased that you found it poignant.


    2. I really like the idea you bring up about the narrator struggling with the decision to care for his father’s orchard. Deepens the haiku even more!

  4. I don’t know whether this was intended by the writer, but one thing that came through strongly with me, that wasn’t picked up by the comments, was the link between the plum and ‘heart’. ‘Hefting’ is clearly a key word here, and the commentators noted that this was giving the plum a significance greater than its role as a medium-sized fruit. But for me the dark red, oblong shape of the plum reminded me of a heart, and ‘hefting’ referred to both the physical and emotional weight of the organ in our chests. So when lines 2 and 3 talk about the father’s orchard, both perhaps in the past tense, I wonder whether the plum reminds the writer of his father’s heart, perhaps the cause of his demise. A subtle haiku with much depth.

  5. re:Virals

    I like the way fork and clock both have an o and k in them, even though only the ending sound is the same. Both the fork in the road and the clock can have a Y configuration in them, visually connecting them as well.

    The viewer, reader, is left to decide for themselves what the connection between time and choosing could be. Perhaps the meaning is, don’t linger too long over your choices, be decisive!

  6. Dear Rich Schilling,
    Greetings. Linking with the transitoryness of life- with the months when plums are harvested, vital piece of information for us.

    “The plum is also the kigo in this haiku. Plums are usually harvested between May and October. And while a specific month doesn’t affect the feel in any way, I’d like to think it is late summer, early fall. In haiku plum blossoms have also been used to represent the transitoriness of life.”

  7. Dear Anita Verma,
    Linking childhood memories with father’s orchard in this haiku – well expressed. Childhood haunts in one’s life .
    with regards

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