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
retracing my steps the bread crumbs of her parting words Bob Lucky, Frogpond 37.3 (2014)
Jo McInerney follows the poet’s trail:
Bob Lucky’s ‘retracing my steps’ is a beautiful piece of shape-shifting in which juxtaposed images act as implied metaphors and then become frankly figurative.
Line one is a physical description with an allegorical undertow. N’s recovering of old ground seems both literal and metaphoric. The reader imagines him going back over his previous path, finding his way by following the impressions of his earlier steps. However, the line also has a symbolic dimension, with the speaker able to be imagined as reconsidering his former actions, perhaps remembering words he has spoken.
Whether literal or figurative, the question remains, ‘Why this going back over the past?’ It seems likely that N is not satisfied with his former course of action. Possibly, subsequent developments have not been what he hoped and he is left trying to determine the cause. Is he responsible for where he now finds himself? Is he trying to return to the point at which things began to go awry and make amends or seek to change what has since occurred?
Line two draws out these possibilities. ‘[B]read crumbs’ is an evocative image. Despite the specificity of ‘bread’, these crumbled remains also seem partly metaphoric, suggesting the meagre remnants of former plenty. Together with line one, they also seem an allusion to ‘Hansel and Gretel’, the folktale in which a young boy strew breadcrumbs to lead him back to his home. The story is a devastating one of innocence betrayed by a hostile stepmother and a weak father who leave their two children to die.
With line three, the haiku becomes overt metaphor. The crumbs are the parting words of another. The echo of the folktale reinforces the suggestion of lost love and desertion; though the reference to breadcrumbs is now more problematic. Are they intended as a spore, a scat, something N can follow back to the unnamed woman who spoke them? Or are they something carelessly thrown away, a parting gesture more dismissive than tantalising? There is no way of knowing. However, with re-reading, N’s reliving of this final leave-taking increases in emotional impact. His partial self-recrimination, flickering hope and sense of abandonment achieve a growing resonance with the reader.
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!
home alone I enter the crawl space of a younger self Robert Epstein, The Heron’s Nest XVII:2 (2015)