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
care home the window and a fly both see dunes — Alan Summers, Haiku Dialogue (2020)
Vicki Miko ponders many possibilities:
Alan Summer’s poem is a haunting thinker. Does his poem tell a story of some windblown ruin of what once was? The death of a loved someone who once was a resident of a certain “care home”; or the lives of many former residents of a once viable facility — for whatever reason, now abandoned, dead, and reduced to sand and a haven for flies? All that remains are parched window frames.
Dunes can conjure loneliness. A landscape where evolution has been stifled. Few species can inhabit or survive in a desert sand dune. There is little shelter and comfort. Are the “dunes” an eerie and heartbreaking metaphor for a particular “care home”?
The “fly” changes the visual of the poem to chilling. Is the fly on the inside or the outside of the “window”? When you think about it, really think about it, all the secrets a window sees are inside and outside. Does the poet equate “carelessness” with flies? A “care home” that is less than standard with less than adequate looking-after may draw flies. Does the poet hint at something else? A fly sees different things than humans. A fly’s eyes see all ways at one time. A fly does not see all colors; it does see yellows. Yellow can be spiritually enlightening like daisies and sunshine; or the color can devolve to old, rancid, unhealthy decay.
But dunes and flies are also beautiful. Flies are an important part of the food chain; they pollinate, they clean up. The dunes are an ecosystem all their own. Beach dunes protect coastlines. Desert dunes are full of thriving life no matter what the common perception — smooth, sculpted terrains designed by the four winds with patterns specific to whatever stands in their way. So, perhaps this is another way to look at the poet’s “care home”: a place where daily assistance — feeding, bathing, movement, and emotional support — are all required; a place where life can thrive. The poet has captured many inklings. I love it, it gives me goosebumps.
Margaret Walker fills in the negative spaces:
Alan Summer’s poem is one to be read and re-read.
The first line “care home” immediately brings to mind the conditions in facilities for the disabled or elderly, especially during the pandemic. One wonders how much “care” is being provided.
Line 2, “the window and a fly,” moves us in a seemingly different direction. Where is the window? Where is the fly? Is someone looking in or out? Is the window open or closed? Clean or dirty? Can anyone see in or out?
The last line, “both see dunes”, raises even more questions. Are the dunes those of the “sea” (a pun here perhaps)? The Oxford Dictionary defines “dune” as “a mound or ridge of sand.” But the mind of the reader can leap to an image of residents huddled in bed under blankets, or possibly the many recent mounds of a nearby graveyard.
The negative space in this poem leaves room for many “stories” and to wonder again and again about the author’s backstory for this piece.
Reka Nyitrai is immersed in melancholy:
I love haiku that skillfully use anthropomorphism. I truly believe animals and objects, too, have souls and emotions.
Here, in this haiku, I feel that melancholy is the predominant emotion.
For me, the inhabitants of this care home are probably old and sick people. The moments by a window where they are spending most of their time looking at the dunes and even the fly (which I assume is an autumn fly) are filled with sadness as they yearn for a happiness they felt in another time and another place.
I like how the window (the eye of the wind) represents the residents of this care home. It becomes their eye.
The window and the fly “see” the outer world for them.
For Hemapriya Chellappan, loneliness pervades:
“Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another.” — Octavio Paz
What a poignant haiku! It perfectly summarises in three lines how lonely it gets for those who sacrifice most of their life for the sake of children thinking they’ll take care of them, only to end up in a care home. I can already hear the winds howling outside the window and the dunes changing shape. Time stretches like it’s never gonna stop. Yes, that’s what loneliness sounds like. It’s not a feeling, it’s a frame of mind. But really, it depends on what one sees outside the window. If it’s a lonely tree amidst the sea of sand that the fly and the window see, then the observer might’ve had a fulfilling life and be ready to face what may come at this point of their life. The question is, will they leave footprints on the sands of time or sink in the crystals of silica?
Jo Balistreri looks beyond first impressions:
The first line sets the stage, and we can imagine a home chosen for our elderly loved ones. We choose a place we think is efficient, has a compassionate and skilled nursing staff. We select surroundings that are calming, a room with a picture window that looks out upon the sea. A place both pleasant and safe. We need not worry. The third line fills out this setting.
In the second line, the window made of glass looks out on the dunes. It is the person in the care home’s link to the outside. The fly on the window could easily have come through the outside door. The fly could also have come from the inside, a generational fly when the parent fly laid its eggs in the trash, an over-watered plant, etc. Regardless, the fly is a possible hazard, the proverbial “fly in the ointment.”
The window is the seeing agent for the person that looks out. The window allows him/her this beautiful view of the dunes. Dunes are a protective man-made attempt at providing stability for the beach. The beauty of the sea houses a powerful coiled dragon, and when the right conditions are present, the sea can be dangerous — a tropical storm, a hurricane — and take those dunes out as high winds stir up that usually welcoming sea into monstrous waves that can wipe out sea oats, beach grasses, grape leaves, whatever.
For me, this exquisite haiku made me ponder my ideas and ideals of safety — the carefully chosen care home with a big window and the sea with its dunes. But safety is an illusion. It only goes so far as nature is in control. The fly can be a disease carrier. The person inside the home is vulnerable. The window could be shattered in a storm. Neither the dunes nor the home are an absolute protection. We do the best we can, but life gives no guarantees. People in nursing homes contracted COVID-19. The haiku is a wonderful example of impermanence. Nothing is forever.
My thanks to Alan for this engaging poem.
As this week’s winner, Jo 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!
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between two moons our first person plural — Kelly Sauvage Angel, sonic boom 16 (2019)