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re:Virals 347

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 Barbara Sabol, was:

           her hat
   in a desert stream
   the years wear on

— Victor Ortiz
Acorn #48, spring 2022

Introducing this poem, Barbara writes:

This haiku transports me to a place completely different from my verdant NE Ohio landscape. I’m struck by the shape and four-line structure of the poem and intrigued by all the possible narratives this visually- and sensory-rich poem suggests.

Opening comment:

At first reading, a haunting poem.

I may have written “dissect a poem? the animal’s already dead” but the biologist in me can’t resist. There are so few words in these short poems that each one has to carry weight. Here the poet has two complementary continuing actions: “dipping” and “the years wear on.” This is about the passage of time. He’s also specified a woman in a desert. Although the desert may briefly bloom when there is water — and we have a stream here — the main connotations are of dryness, heat and perhaps infertility. Putting these together with the years, there’s more than a hint of a climacteric, yet there is a stream to dip into, of whatever sort, cooling, life-giving; and the hat suggests the head or mind. The reader can do the rest. For me, it’s an arresting verse, out of the run of formulaic haiku, and all the more refreshing for that.  Excellent.  I look forward to Victor’s comments on the poem’s genesis.

Shilpa Bharti:

The selected haiku offers varied possibilities. I can see the element of both spiritual awakening and spiritual hindrance.  While pondering, dipping her hat in desert stream might showcase the human inability to let go of painful memory and the lines ”the years wear on” is a representation of havoc afflicted by the spiritual absence of letting go!  The two separate parts of the haiku did put me into a debate with myself wherein I had to come to an equal ground with spiritual awakening.  The poem perhaps pointed to the deep rooted traditional Japanese culture kintsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”). The act of mending makes an Art seem relatable to the process of resilience and personal growth.

Lorin Ford:

If this haiku by Victor Ortiz hadn’t been posted on re:Virals I might not ever have seen it, having drastically reduced my subscriptions to overseas print journals, so I’m grateful it’s been selected for comment. It strikes me as brilliant.

To me, this haiku is primarily about time. By coincidence, I’ve just re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’, a novel I first read in my late teenage years, but didn’t understand. My recent reading of that novel, by association, took me back to T.S. Eliot’s interesting concern with time, from his ‘Ash Wednesday’ to his ‘Four Quartets’.

What first strikes me about this haiku is its seeming infringement of (or great leap away from) the Zen-inspired idea of the ‘haiku moment’ that seems still popular among some. (I note that “the haiku moment” implies a single moment.) Keeping to present tense, here the poet time-jumps from a present, clearly observed image (a woman is dipping her hat in a desert stream) to another present, many years later, when that original ‘moment of experience’ which involves the poet, happens again. The image of the woman dipping her hat in a desert stream seems to repeat over time and it’s suggested that it has repeated time after time after time. There is a clear cut between the two parts of the haiku and in this space each reader will infer their own interpretation as to the meaning of the image that’s being repeated and also the speaker’s relationship to the woman, and why it might be recurring.

This haunting ‘moment’ of observation may have been ‘on replay’, recurring over many years; perhaps tedious years, as indicated by the final line: “the years wear on”. Does the recognition of time passing suggest that there are at least two ‘haiku moments’ in this haiku? Does it matter that there seem to be layered “haiku moments” instead of just one moment in a haiku, or doesn’t it? Is it possible to “step into the same river twice” (Heraclitus) and even perhaps many times, after all? It seems to me, in the context Victor Ortiz has given, that it is quite possible.

Being of a certain age, I sometimes wake from clear and detailed experiences that my waking, logical self must describe as ‘memories returning as dreams’. But that description isn’t sufficient. The experiences don’t feel like memories or dreams. Though they do feel somewhat familiar, they feel as if they’re happening in present time.

What do we really know about time? How long is a moment? How long is now? What did Einstein mean by his often quoted: “People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”? Why did T.S. Eliot write: “And all is always now.” ? (‘Burnt Norton’)

I don’t have any of the answers but I thank Victor Ortiz for writing this superb haiku which has opened the way for me to ask such questions.

Radhamani Sarma:

A run-on flow of contrasting idea/feel/image. This haiku of four lines or “haiqua” begins in the third person as if in the middle of a story…“dipping/her hat…” Maybe she is sweating, or struggling in hot sun for want of a cool stream. Establishing a connection with a strong contrast — a “desert stream,” aridity. Is there even a stream, or as “the years wear on” is it just the faint glimmer of her hope in an implied meaningless, vague journey, her aging into a void, nothingness?

Sushama Kapur – grateful for those dips in the stream:

A visual quirkiness in this 4-liner is how the placement of words are in the shape of a hat! The “hat” being part of the first image.  The way the poem offers the words, line by line, links to the pace of the poem: slow and savouring (one word, then two, and then four plus four), and despite its implied inadequacies (desert), with refreshing moments (stream).

The first image, “dipping her hat in the desert stream”, intrigues with its possible double meaning: the literal (as in actually immersing the hat in the stream for a moment – wetting it perhaps to counter the dry surrounding?), and the metaphorical (dipping or taking part in the flow of life).

The last line (and the second image), is matter of fact, accepting the seasonality of life, with chronological time as inevitably moving forward. But what adds something deeper to the image is the word “wear” – “the years wear on”. Time as a fabric that is thinning, wearing, becoming threadbare, but very importantly because of use (a life lived well). It’s interesting to note it as a continuous image: time moving forward (“the years wear on”). With the word “on”, comes this sense of continuity. Not ended. Still moving.

A greatly heartwarming haiku. To make do, to the fullest, with what has been given or earned. And not forgetting to take those dips in the stream …

Author Victor Ortiz comments:

Thank you and thanks to Barbara for selecting my poem.

This is really a birthday poem for a friend while a group of us were hiking in the California desert. It was a fairly hot day when we came upon an unexpected stream in a beautiful canyon. The birthday gal dipped her hat into the stream to cool down and was grateful for the chance. The first three lines came fairly easily to me but I had to wait for the fourth line. I had the birthday idea in mind (birthdays and hats go together and the stream as a joyful birthday gift from the desert was there as were other associations) and the feeling that we wear our years similar to the way we wear hats, revealing character in both cases, took me into the direction of line four. Wearing a hat may also reveal and/or conceal things of importance about us. So, the word “wear” became for me thick with multiple levels of meaning. Now, I felt that this birthday was a very significant one to her for her own personal reasons and that she was particularly grateful to celebrate this one. So, as we grow older and wear our years, I asked myself why should birthdays fill some of us with dread while others are grateful to have another year of life. She was clearly thankful to still be alive. I don’t have an answer, but this question did arise as I was considering the fourth line. Finally, I didn’t realize until later when it was pointed out to me that this haiku also has a visual component to it since the poem itself is in the shape of a hat and that realization was as unexpected and pleasing to me as the stream we happened upon that particular day.


Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the best commentary this week, Sushama has chosen 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!

in the beginning
he was just pretending
to sound grumpy

— John Stevenson
Frogpond 45.1 Winter 2021/22

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.


Many thanks to Victor for his invaluable comment on the creation of this poem. Victor Ortiz is a distinguished haiku poet, widely published and with many an accolade. His short bio and a few of his haiku may be viewed in the Haiku Registry.

It was hard to choose between Sushama’s commentary and Lorin’s this time. Sushama hit more nails squarely on the head, with elegance, while Lorin raised wider fascinating issues pegged to this week’s haiku (and it was so tempting to see what she would put forward for next week).

Concerning the poetic “haiku moment” (not to be confused with the “aha moment” which is in the reader): it seems that this stems most from Shiki and can be overplayed. His was not the first nor the last word in hokku/haiku composition. Your comments welcome.

There are many haiku with impeccable credentials in the tradition, that deal with extended periods of time either from the past or into the future, notwithstanding the convention that they are written in the present tense. Indeed, since the poet is writing about it “now”, one could argue that all haiku are “in this moment” whichever tenses are used. And that time present contains time past and time future – cue Eliot.

Eliot’s Quartets were written before the big bang theory, but after the second law of thermodynamics – which he ignores. The universe will cool to the point where, there being no energy gradients, nothing more will happen. Time, just a succession of events, will then be standing still.

But not just yet. The floor is yours…

       still alive
       under the slightness of my hat
       enjoying the coolness
       Basho tr. Reichold

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Congratulations, Sushama!

    I must admit that it didn’t even cross my mind that “dipping her hat…” (the hat part, anyway) could be read as a visual pun. 🙂 If it was intended to be such, it seems to me to be be an oddly-shaped hat to wear in a desert. (It looks more like the hat worn by The Cat in the Hat, but not quite as tall.) Similarly, party hats such as Victor mentions would never have occurred to me either, in this context of a hat worn in a desert and dipped into a cooling stream. In my mind, the woman was wearing a proper hat for desert conditions, such as a women’s Akubra (Americans can insert the USA equivalent for Akubra here, Indians can insert the Indian equivalent, and so on.)

    It’s interesting to read the background that Victor gives in his comments, and the further comments by all involved.

    Peter’s comment: ” . . . this might mean that it is possible to experience a poem like Ortiz’ not only as a “moment” . . ., but as the larger moment of past/present/future. . . .For some, this will be seen as a distracting “snag” in the flow, necessitating thought. For others, for me, it adds dimension and interest.” I totally agree. How long is a moment?
    “The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree . . . ”

    I found the image of the woman in the desert haunting, timeless, unchanging as it recurs over time, quite unlike the years that “wear on”; “the years wear on”, for me, isn’t a pun related to the hat in the image (worn by the woman) at all, but in context, it gives a sense of fatigue and weariness experienced as time passes (one feels ‘worn-out’) in contrast to the image of the woman dipping her hat in the desert stream.

    I must admit that it didn’t cross my mind that “dipping her hat…” could be read as a visual pun.

    1. Thank you, Lorin!
      I found your commentary totally fascinating. Thank you for that experience.
      I suppose the mark of a great work of art is how its readers can see things in it from different angles. And this poem is like that. There is something timeless and universal about it. It ‘increases’ your soul.
      I am so happy it was chosen, and shared on re:Virals, so that we could find aspects of it that resonated.

  2. dipping
    her hat
    in a desert stream
    the years wear on

    — Victor Ortiz

    Someone, I’m sure, will remember that thing Basho said about haiku running like water over pebbles. Whatever that was, I think he meant that haiku have (or could have) a free moving quatlity, no obstructions: arriving and departing in one stroke.

    I don’t say it to hold up an ideal for writing haiku, rather because Ortiz’ poem brings it to mind, though in this case, there is an interesting “snag” in the flow, around which ripples are created. It happens with the word “wear”, which as he points out, has several meanings.

    What happens in the mind when it is confronted with ambiguity? Does it hold two or more meanings at once, as tree holds light and shadow? Iain Macgilchrist’s studies (very exhaustive) show that the perspective of the right hemisphere of the brain is— these are my words— all-at-onceness. It takes in both detail and context inseparably. The perspective of the left is to make a re-presentation of that so as to be able to “analyze” it. In this case, that might mean that it sees the various ways the the word “wear” may be understood. It can “read” the poem now in shadow, so to speak, and now in light— but not together.

    Macgilchrist says that when the brain is functioning optimally, what the left brain has taken apart, the right brain can put together, and be enlarged by so doing. One way to put it would be to say that it now contains both detail (information) and context. This gets a bit abstract in the description.

    In terms of haiku, this might mean that it is possible to experience a poem like Ortiz’ not only as a “moment” as Lorin says, but as the larger moment of past/present/future. For some, this will be seen as a distracting “snag” in the flow, necessitating thought. For others, for me, it adds dimension and interest. Undisturbed water does show the pebbles in a stream with clarity, but sometimes one wants to see what water looks like. Like consciousness, perhaps. Like what one wears and is worn by.

    I wish to add something not related to the poem. I always wince when I see that someone is the “winner” for contributing the “best” commentary of the week. Though I would guess that most people understand that this is not really a contest. The reward for writing about a poem is that immersion brings greater understanding.

    1. Thank you, Peter, for an insightful comment. I wince somewhat at ‘winning’ and ‘winner’ too. And I am slightly wary of the practice of competition in poetry although it is much embedded in the tradition of haikai/haiku. On inheriting this weekly column I replaced one “winning” with “best” and I think I’ll do the same with the remaining “winning.”

      Indeed almost every week it is difficult to pick one of the commentaries over some of the others as “the best.” All of them add to the multidimensional appreciation of a haiku, which is the joy of this feature; but someone must earn the opportunity to put forward the next poem.

      I look forward to commentary on the new verse this week.

    2. Loved reading your insightful comment, Peter. I’ll need to go back to it again for some of the nuances.
      I so agree about this: “The reward for writing about a poem is that immersion brings greater understanding.” All the commentaries always add value to my thinking. And it’s wonderful to read thoughts, ideas and feelings in different styles.
      I suppose, though, to continue getting a new poem every week that has been chosen by one of the participants is also something that is novel to re:Virals.

    3. “Someone, I’m sure, will remember that thing Basho said about haiku running like water over pebbles. . . . ” – Peter
      That’d be the image Basho is recorded to have used when trying to establish his last haikai aesthetic: karumi (translated to English as ‘lightness’). The image of ‘a shallow river flowing over sand’. Shirane mentions karumi / ‘lightness’in his book on Basho, ‘Traces of Dreams’ , and elsewhere (e.g. – Micheal Dylan Welch’s website, if I recall rightly).
      I’m familiar with such a river since I grew up with one and spent a lot of time in and around it. It flows swiftly and is transparent to its sandy bottom. What some people don’t know (but I think Basho did) is that there is a lot more water there than is visible: it’s stored in the depths of sand in the river bed, beneath the visible sandy bottom. ( Something handy to know about desert streams, too: it may look dried up sometimes but if you dig deep enough water will be found)
      Keith and Peter: for what it’s worth, I disagree that ‘winning’ and ‘winner’ are a problem and that ‘best’ is better, especially in relation to re:Virals which actually has (in this case) both a judge (Keith) and the author of the haiku (Victor Ortiz, this time), whose comments the judge will likely have seen before he has chosen the winning commentary . The author’s comments, almost inevitably, will likely have influenced the judge’s final choice (and in this case I’d lay odds on it. )
      ‘Best’ is a judgement, a judge’s prerogative, but ‘winner’ and ‘winning’ are more open: chance comes into it. ” Every dog will have its day, any dog can win.” – Paul Kelly 🙂 And we never assume that the person who holds the winning lottery ticket is the best person, do we?

      1. Lorin: thanks for your comments and points. Just to note that I make sure to write my opening comment before any other commentaries are received, and take delight in the unfolding of views as they come in which may be very different. Sometimes the poet’s own comment, when received, leaves me red-faced and chuckling at myself! When tackling the usually difficult matter of judging, which has to be done, then I am looking at the extent to which a commentator has addressed the poem itself from all angles – including critical perspectives and technique. A good deal of some commentary is as much about the reader’s creativity as about the poet’s. I aim off a little. And yes – if an author has come up with insightful comments about their poem, and a good commentary has connected with them, that does also weigh in the balance. An element of poetry, even of all art, for me, is communication.

  3. Dear Lorin Ford,
    Going through your keen observations, following capture readers’ attention,
    very thought provoking

    “What first strikes me about this haiku is its seeming infringement of (or great leap away from) the Zen-inspired idea of the ‘haiku moment’ that seems still popular among some. (I note that “the haiku moment” implies a single moment.) “

  4. Dear Sushama Kapur,
    Congratulations. Very interesting to read your observations; in the process,
    the following are worth remembering.
    Time factor in your note, wonderfully penned.
    “Time as a fabric that is thinning, wearing, becoming threadbare, but very importantly because of use (a life lived well). It’s interesting to note it as a continuous image: time moving forward (“the years wear on”). With the word “on”, comes this sense of continuity. Not ended. Still moving.”

    1. Thank you, Radhamani ji!
      I am happy that point resonates with you. Your commentaries are always interesting, and I especially like the way you sometimes include the season where you are at the moment.

  5. Dear Keith Evetts,
    Greetings. Each Friday, curiosity awaits our setting with enthusiastic involvement to read and comment. This week very interesting to read so many
    new approaches; Thanking you for the wonderful opportunity.

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