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re:Virals 249

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

     plumes of smoke
     curl around...
     the half-opened roses
          — Hifsa Ashraf, haikuniverse (2019)

Corine Timmer considers life’s rituals:

Each time I read this poem, a different image jumps to mind. One of them is a coffin in a place of worship; a child’s coffin. On top of the coffin is a bouquet of half open white roses. The roses are half open because the child died before reaching puberty. The roses are white because white petals represent peace after death and happiness in the afterlife. White also represents innocence. The plumes of scented smoke curling around the roses are from burning incense. Incense is used in rituals and ceremonies all over the world, including funerals. The word “curl” is a powerful choice. Like the plumes of smoke curling around, the image lingers in my mind, creating an almost magical atmosphere. The curls are like a final farewell. It’s hard to let go of a loved one. Rituals can help us by not only dosing the grieving process but adding a little magic, too. The second image that jumps to mind is of a group of young, teenage boys secretly smoking. At that age, smoking is perceived as exclusive to the adult world, a world every thirteen- or fourteen-year-old can’t wait to be a part of. I remember when I started smoking. My friends and I would try to outdo each other blowing smoke rings. The boys showed off, trying to impress the girls. In this scenario, the half open roses could be a metaphor for young teenage girls. A rose is the perfect flower choice for this hypothesis as it is commonly associated with love, confidentiality, and femininity.

Radhamani Sarma enters the garden:

Who doesn’t like the aroma of roses? The first line of this poem begins with a stunning image, taking us by surprise. “plumes of smoke” leads on to the second line, curling around roses, themselves a colorful bunch.

Possibly, the poet alludes to roses as a garden’s pride, all surrounded by foggy, smoky clusters during a wintry charm of blooms. This may be a reference to a cold winter with intense puffs of foggy smoke. The narrator admires the arresting blooms, the slow blossoms.

The third line’s shy offspring of roses slowly opens. This could be an entire garden, surrounded by the spiraling pale, a foggy pall of gloom, not giving a nod of go-ahead; hence, half-opened roses.        

Another possible inference is that somewhere near the garden’s fence, a caring gardener is busy burning gathered branches causing smoke all around “the half-opened roses.” Obviously, there is an admirable emphasis on the wording; say it again and again and an auto-reply emerges. The poet’s acute observation is testified here.

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă meditates on the apocalyptic:

The first part of this haiku highlights the threat looming in the area due to smoke, an image that immediately leads us to think about environmental pollution, a major problem of contemporary society, a highly industrialized one; or maybe, why not, it’s about an area affected by war, a bombed one.

The second part brings to the fore the disturbingly heartbreaking image of half-opened roses. The empathetic reader can feel how these flowers seem to somehow cry for help. It’s like seeing a baby wrapped in diapers left among the smoky ruins. The contrast between the two sides is so well constructed that it simply leaves you speechless and forces you to wonder what should be done. Unfortunately, humanity is too greedy for progress, supremacy and money and forgets to take care of the soul of the planet – mother nature with all its wonders.

The ellipsis can suggest tears of pain or those black plumes of smoke that stretch across the sky, deposit on the lungs of the planet and which, unfortunately, cannot be erased. At the same time, they invite us to meditate deeply on the consequences of pollution and war.

The whole picture is an apocalyptic one, and we should all feel guilty; accomplices, because we stand by idly. If we continue in this disastrous way, it means that we deserve the worst fate in the world. Let’s wake up and make the planet a better and more beautiful place for our children!

As this week’s winner, Cezar-Florin 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 250:

     so many times
     I wanted to say yes...
     summer stars
          — Angela Terry, frogpond, vol. 43:1 (2020)

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. My first thought as I read this poem was of the devastating fires in Australia last summer, and then I made the same leap as Cezar-Florin to a war zone. The use of the word ‘plumes’ intensifies the strength and amount of the smoke pouring into the skies. Then with the second line, ‘curls’ brings it closer as edges of that smoke begin to enter the peaceful garden and curl around the half open roses, portending loss and death. Such a powerful poem. But then I read the commentaries from Corine and Radhamani and am enchanted by their response to the poem. They carried me for a moment out of the destruction I found there. Once again, we see that the reader is as much a participant as the writer in the creation of meaning. Thanks Corine, Radhamani and Cezar-Florin for sharing your vision.

    1. Dear Peggy Hale Bilbro,
      Greetings. Thank you so much for your
      encouraging words of appreciation. It is this keeps us going ahead.
      with regards

  2. Thank you for these in-depth comments, and to Hifsa Ashraf for providing us with this poignant haiku.

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