Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, proposed by Marion Clarke, was:
eating apple slices
off the blade
— Chad Lee Robinson
Acorn: a journal of contemporary haiku , no. 36, 2016
Introducing this poem, Marion writes:
Chad Lee Robinson’s haiku instantly resonated with me, although not because it evoked of a memory of my father, as expected, but rather of my grandmother. I distinctly remember being mesmerised as I watched her peel, cut and eat an apple with a knife—not exactly a great example to her grandchildren, but she often did things of which my parents would no doubt have disproved!
Further reading encouraged more thought on the imagery in the poem—the combination of Father’s Day and slices and blade. The poet may have intended this haiku to reflect a fond memory, as it did for me, but perhaps not everyone will interpret it in this way. I guess it depends on what emotions are stirred by that first line. I’d be really interested to hear of other possible readings.
This rang my bell. I remembered how my father would peel, quarter and core an apple with his red-handled penknife and his thumb. A crafty verse. The specific “Father’s Day,” with the blade, conjures up masculinity, and also suggests the poem is from his child’s perspective. For me there’s an overall hint of the open air, the backwoods. And also, the occasion suggests a gift. I remember being given my first penknife, or rather ‘buying’ it from Dad for a penny, because of the folk superstition that to ‘give’ a knife would bring bad luck. I still have three — and gave one, a fine multi-tool, to my eldest daughter, and another to a son.
A delightful poem with lots going on: “eating apple slices / off the blade” is a slightly unsafe activity, and one a parent might caution their child against. Is the poet, in an act of small rebellion, reminded of this parental warning as he eats the apple? On Father’s Day, of all days? It is, of course, a rule that only applies to children. Does the poet feel that they are old enough now to ignore it? I prefer to think that the poet is a father himself, perhaps newly made, and that the poem describes the moment in which he realizes that he too may have to set boundaries for his children—which sometimes might include providing silly rules that he himself breaks. Suddenly “Do as I say; not as I do” becomes less hypocritical. There are no answers in this poem; just questions. How like adulthood.
I fell for this haiku straight away, its vivid story-telling and ominous feminine/masculine symbolism implied by the apple and the knife. There is of course another more domestic scene, perhaps of a picnic or a camping day, a special moment between a child (I sense is a girl) and a father. But something more sinister stays with me, the cut apple, the fallen Eve. But has the child cut the apple or the father?
At a more basic level, this haiku conveys the no-frills ways of many men who prefer not to have any fuss on their special days – be it a birthday, a marriage anniversary or a Father’s day. It’s this preference for the rough and ready that seems to be conveyed here by eating apple slices off a knife’s blade, maybe even without coring or peeling, and certainly without arranging it on a plate.
At a deeper level, the haiku may be conveying the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. The blade could represent Eve who, tempted by the serpent, cuts the apple fruit from the tree of knowledge – the only tree forbidden to them by God – eats it and shares it with Adam, both thus acquiring the power to become Gods unto themselves, and learn the secret of good and evil. The pair is banished from Eden and become the first parents of the universe. So Adam is the first father and the apple slices the many children they beget from the blade of knowledge that gives humans both autonomy, and the capacity to battle through good and evil to win that autonomy.
Fathers teach their sons about knives; how to use them, how to look after them. We all remember our first penknife, a marker of growing up, a sign of independence. Knives promise both danger and survival.
In this haiku it’s clear we are outside. Perhaps the writer has inherited his father’s knife. He stops for a moment in an orchard (Did his father plant it?) and reaches for a ripe apple from a tree, slices it open and eats the slice from the blade. Maybe he remembers his father doing this. It’s a private ceremony which brings back his dad. He tastes the sweetness of the apple and the coldness of the steel. He balances reward and risk.
Father’s Day originated in America as another marketing opportunity for the greetings card industry. This haiku cuts through all that. It’s private, symbolic and genuine.
Thanks to Chad Lee Robinson for, giving us a write reminding us of the vital significance of a father’s parental contribution in bringing up children. Each day has its own role in shaping our lives, in its contribution of prosperity, good luck and new approaches. We have Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Children’s Day, contributing to a family’s financial prosperity, children’s well-being, growth , solidarity, shelter and stability. If a mother shows affection, a father may infuse a sense of fear and distance. Nonetheless, filial bond and togetherness are attributes of a father.
The very first line, “Father’s Day”— with a pause — leaves space for the reader’s imagination to augment the significance of the Day. One aspect of partaking in celebration here is children, cutting apple slices with some small knife, eating them straight from the blade. Perhaps, even, a child is taking liberty with their father, in feeding apple slices into his mouth…. joy, play, and mirth all intertwined.
Apple season is mid-August through September, so we know that the kigo in Robinson’s haiku is Father’s Day, which works well. We have a store-bought apple (possibly from the store which Robinson manages), and a man slicing it with his knife and eating the slices right off his blade. Alternately, he’s feeding it to his child and creating a bonding moment between the two of them. Perhaps they’re both eating an apple slice. Either way, this is a very intimate and natural moment captured eloquently in a haiku. Readers can taste and feel the juiciness of the apple, to be sure, but also see the well-used and well-worn knife the man is using. One can see the father and the child sitting in the shade, sharing the apple, and enjoying the simple pleasures of the Sunday afternoon.
The craft of this haiku is subtle but strong. The long “a” sounds in “Day” in L1 and “blade” in L3 make for a solid assonance rhyme that’s different enough as to not stand out or bludgeon the reader, but strong enough to linger in the reader’s ear. Furthermore, there are hints of trochaic meter throughout the poem (“EATing APple SLIces/OFF the BLADE”) which make for a very rhythmic haiku. This is an aural delight for the reader, even in a poem so minimal.
What makes this moment so memorable is the aware of the haiku. There’s a longing for a simpler time in this poem, for an innocent time, a time when apples were plucked right off the tree and enjoyed naturally between a man and his child. This pathos is subtle, and not heavy handed, but it’s certainly present.
I would like to imagine the poet has chosen to capture this moment because, in a world of 100 or so apple varieties, most citizens have probably only had no more than a dozen or so. Those varietals that are commonly sold are often marketed less for their taste or uniqueness but more for their shelf life. They are polished with wax and packaged into yet one more commodity to buy year-round, removing the people from the joys the season, wandering apple orchards and plucking their own apples or attending a local apple festival.
The father in this poem is desperate to capture this moment with his child, possibly tapping into a sense of sabi. There’s no actual patina on these objects, except perhaps the wear on the knife handle, but the moment is one of an earlier, simpler age, one that might be photographed in sepia. It’s a stirring moment, a father passing down one of life’s simple joys to his child with what limited tools and resources he has, and this makes for a soft and subtle poem that carries its own social commentary as well as a rich mood for the reader.
Tim Cremin — a father’s role…:
I love how the blade remains hidden in the apple and is only revealed at the very end of the poem. The contrast between apple and blade nicely evokes the complexity that the father-child relationship can take on: the child is nurtured (provided with food) but sharp edges (anger, resentment, or even the threat of violence) may lurk just below the surface. The blade also evokes the father’s role of initiating a child into adulthood via rituals that often include an element of danger. The poem works incredibly well on a literal level as well on multiple symbolic levels.
Author Chad Lee Robinson comments:
I dug through my notebooks to see what I could find out about this haiku. It appears I wrote it straight up as is without any revisions on January 28 or 29, 2016, and included it in a submission to Acorn just a few days later. The work around it in the notebook didn’t provide any further info as far as what imagery or themes I may have been working with at the time. It seems this poem came to be pretty much as is, which rarely happens for me. But I will say that my father is a prominent figure in my writing, and I have also written about my son. I have no doubt that this haiku sprang from my thoughts on my relationship with my dad as well as my son. As far as any interpretation, I will leave that to the reader.
Thank you for including my work in the re:Virals feature. Always a pleasure.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the best commentary this week, Tim 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, which take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentary’s author gets to choose the next poem.
Anyone can participate. Simply use the re:Virals commentary form below to enter your commentary on the new week’s poem (“Your text”) by the following Tuesday midnight, Eastern US Time Zone, and then press Submit to send your entry. The Submit button will not be available until Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in. We look forward to seeing your commentary and finding out about your favourite poems!
Kingfisher 1 (June 2020), 34
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Fascinating takes on this week’s poem, with Tim’s succinctly insightful commentary just edging it among several very good ones. Keep them coming. After the deadline, we received:
“I find this Haiku quite fascinating. Fathers’ Day can be a happy one if father spends it quietly with family doing what they want. Unfortunately, some family days are quite painful depending on the circumstance. In this Haiku, I like to picture a father and child spending time together eating apples. It may very well be out in the field or in the back yard. The only knife available seems to be a knife Father carried in his pocket. Perhaps a pocket knife not meant for any violence but a handy tool. I believe he would cut the apple and share a piece with the child. This would be a moment to remember.” — Helen Herr
“It reminds me of that Gene Kelly movie “Singin in the Rain”.
Good haiku.” — Paul Engel