Skip to content

re:Virals 442

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of your favorites among the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, chosen by Harrison Lightwater, was:

  
     no questions asked
     an immigrant
     donates blood
     — Ravi Kiran
     Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue, February 28, 2024

Introducing this poem, Harrison writes:

This senryu made an impact on me. It was commented on by guest editor Carole MacCrury, and our host made a brief comment in the discussion that followed — “more complex and allusive that it looks on first reading, plenty of inwardness, ‘resonance,’ and thoughtful crafting.” I’d like to hear more, and to learn how other readers react to it and assess the reasons why. The poem was a response to a prompt. A prompt can raise many predictable responses, but this one was completely unpredicted. I wondered whether it reflected a direct experience of the poet or is it an example of a successful ku that is entirely the product of a creative imagination?

Opening comment:

Without thinking twice about it, with no hesitation, no reserve, an immigrant donates blood for the benefit of fellows in his (or her) new country of residence. I find very many depths in this verse, and considerable skill in its assembly.

The first line is unusual, and not the stock adjective-plus-noun with which we are yawningly familiar. It gets the reader’s attention. “No questions asked” is a phrase of a rare type I collect, that in essence invites the reader subliminally to think, or think of, the very opposite. Here, “no questions asked” prompts consideration of what questions might have been asked. From the perspective of those taking blood, beyond the standard precautionary questions asked of any volunteer blood donor concerning travel, past diseases, there may be unvoiced and uncharitable questions, reservations about this foreigner, the thought that they are “not one of us.” Or the immigrant from his (or her) perspective might have asked themself whether the receiving country has behaved well enough to deserve this voluntary act of kindness or regards him as inferior or contemptible. Worth reminding oneself that there are many kinds of immigrant. Not all are poor refugees. But all are “foreign,” “different,” strangers to the local culture, not always welcomed.

Then there is the immigrant’s motive for donating blood. That it is not money (if in a country where a small fee is paid) is made clear by the poet’s specific use of the word “donates” rather than simply “gives blood.” Thence we have simple humanity, perhaps with a slight admixture of gratitude for, or possibly a wish to belong to, one’s new country.

Blood carries a weight of associations: blood is seen as our very life. And it is the same for all, for everybody who shares a blood group, regardless of their outer appearance or origin. By donating blood, the immigrant underlines that we are all alike, and symbolically cements a relationship with the adopted country where he himself may be the beneficiary of a transfusion in the event of mishap.

As to the construction: the lines trip off the tongue, but more than that. In these seven words we have juxtaposed resonance between “no questions” and “donates:” the simple act of giving from an unconstrained heart; and between “the immigrant” and “blood,” this demonstration that foreign or not we give life to each other, for we are all the same under the skin.

For all these reasons, I think this is an excellent verse, elevated from an ordinary occurrence expressed in plain detached words to something much finer.

Alan Harvey:

I immediately focused on an immigrant donates blood which is a commendable thing. But no questions asked is more perplexing. Why were no questions asked? And why was the immigrant donating blood in the first place?

I know there are rules for donating blood. After traveling to Guatemala in 2014, I was asked to not give blood. This was modified after a nurse interviewed me and reviewed my itinerary, realizing I hadn’t traveled to any lowland locales where I could have picked up certain blood-borne pathogens. So, I know my blood center asks questions. Why no questions asked?

Maybe this donates blood is a euphemism for lose/spilled blood? This idea seems darker to me. At America’s southern border, an immigrant is willing to risk razor wire and a resultant loss of blood to enter our country. These travelers are willing to leave family, losing their blood relations, for the opportunity for a better life. They may be sending money back to the home country while living in their new lands. But they no longer have the closeness of their family. Could this be their donated blood?

And more recent remarks about how immigrants are poisoning America’s blood suggest another option. In most cases, the immigrant is offering their life for increased economic growth and enriching the culture. They offer diversity and innovation and new ideas. In addition, the crime rate for immigrants is lower than the national average. We should reduce our rhetoric around immigration.

Thank you, Ravi Kiran, and re:Virals for this thoughtful haiku. I hope we hear from the poet’s thoughts about no questions asked / an immigrant / donates blood.

Lorin Ford:

I have a question, or several: Why? What is so special about this immigrant or the occasion that the usual questions are not asked? I’m assuming that blood donation, in any country in this 21st century, would entail similar questions to those asked of everyone offering to give blood in Australia:

“Are you between 18 and 75 years old? Have you had a tattoo in the past 4 months? Are you pregnant or have you recently given birth? Do you have a heart condition? Are you low in iron? Have you engaged in ‘at risk’ sexual activity in the past 3 months? Have you injected recreational drugs in the past 5 years? Will you travel overseas before your donation?” & etc. Every Australian must hear and answer these (& more) questions. Every visitor or recent immigrant must, too. Nothing odd about that.

I suspect this is a trick ku. There may be (I imagine) circumstances such as war, where a person will definitely die without receiving a blood transfusion and supplies of blood aren’t available, have run out, perhaps . In such an emergency, any available & willing person of the same blood type might donate without answering too many questions.

The trick here is, I suspect, that the reader is supposed to think the immigrant would usually be treated differently (worse) than a native-born person. But “an immigrant” isn’t a clone, is an individual person.

(To stir things up, I suggest readers listen to the lyrics of ‘I pity the poor immigrant’, composed by the brilliant American poet & songwriter, Bob Dylan. )

Radhamani Sarma:

Thanks to Ravi Kiran for giving us a write-up on the significance of blood donation. The haiku is an inspiration for us all. However, the very first line “no questions asked” poses many a tricky vital question; why is it so? But the simple immediate answer is the necessity of blood required for the patient; who is the donor? The previous records show a clean chit; healthy body, good ambience and good clean life led by “an immigrant” who has migrated from one place to a totally new one for a fresh start in a new atmosphere.

One also goes back to ponder and question – why “no questions asked”. It may be on either side, from a donor’s point of view, or from that of a receiver – in the sense of the needy. The writer also implicitly means that donating blood is giving everything to the new community. After all, immigrants bring “fresh blood” and fresh solutions to many problems to the place they now call their “home”. Therefore, the immigrant is a saver, a problem-solver, a life-giver, a panacea.

And I quote “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Lakshmi Iyer:

Donation is an act done spontaneously without having any second thoughts about who, what, when, where and why. It’s that moment of Karma which helps one to redeem oneself from any past, present or future karmic misfaults knowingly or unknowingly.

An immigrant who lands in some unknown place always makes an attempt to respect that land that is going to feed him and his family. In this context, we don’t know the reason for him to donate. There are chances of reaching out in need or for any financial support. Here Line 1 is very clear as ‘ no questions asked ‘ which states that its an emergency or urgency to help. The rest is very clear.

A very simple poem but haiku always helps either to elevate oneself or learn from the experience. Here, we need to appreciate the immigrant’s thought process. He could have simply remained silent or ignore the situation. But, he came forward and showed his grit and determination to extend whatever he could in spite of being in a land away from home.

How many of us reach out? We hesitate even to help a co-passenger or our neighbour. We even think twice to smile. We never give money to strangers. It’s because our growing up is like that. No harm since even the kids have mastered this cellphone age. One can make an attempt and ‘be the change’ as our former President Abdul Kalam Sir stated once. I loved this poem. Thanks Ravi!!

Amoolya Kamalnath:

A situation has occurred, the reader doesn’t know how this has happened. There have been no questions asked. Has a great injustice occured? However, now the moment is passed (L1). The reader, though, has many questions in mind.

Then it is seen that an immigrant has offered help in a time of crisis by donating their blood. Now, the authorities, who usually have many questions towards an immigrant, have none. They aren’t looking for information or explanations, there’s no time or necessity. All they want is to save that one life, probably a citizen of the same country or may be even another immigrant.

Similarly, the immigrant too hasn’t any questions as to the particulars of the person needing the life-saving procedure. He/she readily jumps in. There was no need of an identification of the person needing blood, the country, language, colour, race, religion, caste, creed etc. And after the blood is transfused, the donor’s blood and the recipient’s blood become one with each other.

This again reiterates that borders are man-made. Humanity is innate. Why then, a need for aquisition of another man’s land? Is there a need for war and bloodshed? Whose blood are we spilling onto the earth?

A piece of the donor lives on in the recipient and a piece of that donor will live on in the recipient’s family and that land/country long after he/she moves or leaves from there.

Joshua Gage—critiquing ourselves:

When one analyzes senryu, or any poetry, one is asked to seek a connection to the poem, often through the commentary the poem makes on the human condition. In other words, when analyzing a poem, readers are asked how the poem changed their perception of something or urged them to see the world in a different way. Alternately, readers will often discuss a shift in emotional perspective, or mood. Kiran’s seven-word senryu does both equally well.

Line one sets up a scenario in which questions might be asked or would be appropriate, but they’re not. Usually this means something is being done surreptitiously or under the table. There’s an air of defiance as well as an air of “mind your own business” in this phrase, as well, a tacit unspoken agreement between the asker and the answerer that questions would not serve in this instance. This already heightens the mood for the reader, creating a sense of anxiety and suspicion.

The next line taps into cultural fears, which works well. Kiran has already created an anxiety in the reader, and then plays off of traditional Western stereotypes of “anti-other” to heighten that fear and anxiety. What’s interesting, of course, is that the immigrant simply existing shouldn’t heighten this anxiety, but it does because it’s juxtaposed against the scenario established in L1. We know nothing about this person–no race, no gender, no sexuality, no religion, no age–only that they are “other” in a situation where questions are not asked.

All of this tension is subverted in L3, when you realize the immigrant is actually performing an act of charity, thus imbuing the “other” with a sense of humanity, creating empathy in the reader. This is the shift that makes this haiku, the realization in the reader of their own suspicions and wariness.

What a powerful way to imbue empathy and connection in the world. Rather than using senryu to comment or satirize others, Kiran has created a senryu that allows the reader to satirize themselves. Kiran uses an investigative lens to explore the readers’ cultural anxieties and suspicions and breaks open those fears, not with a punch, but with an act of kindness detailed in L3. This senryu not only shifts perspective in the reader, but it also allows the reader to sit in the emotional unease of their false suspicions and critique themselves, which is always a good thing.

Author Ravi Kiran:

When I wrote this haiku, I had in mind the things that an immigrant goes through. On one side are the circumstances that forced the migrant out of his / her own country. On the other hand are the challenges they encounter in the nation where they are settling down. More often than not, they are looked down upon.  Though there are people on both sides of the divide, the overwhelming odds are stacked against immigrants. Despite such hostility, the immigrants have a sense of belongingness towards their foster homeland and would step out to do their bit on humanitarian grounds.

This haiku barely conceals the irony the immigrants face. At the time of their entry into the foreign nation, they are subject to a volley of questions and verification and what not. Yet when it comes to an emergency where blood is needed, such red tape is conveniently sidelined. Often such acts of generosity either go unnoticed or are quickly forgotten. This haiku was intended to portray the unfair world we live in.


fireworks image

Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Joshua 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. All with respect for the poet. Out-takes from the best of these take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the chosen commentary’s author gets to pick 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!

Poem for commentary:

     
     one fly everywhere the heat
     —Marlene Mountain  
      Cicada 2.1 1978

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.


Footnote:

Ravi Kiran is an electronics engineer and a working professional. He lives in Hyderabad, India. Ravi’s haiku have won international contests and are featured in leading journals such as The Heron’s Nest, Modern Haiku, and Frogpond among others; and three appear in the latest Red Moon Anthology. Ravi is a web-editor with the journal haikuKATHA and edits LEAF – the journal of The Daily Haiku.
Top of page

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Ironically, I once tried to donate blood as an immigrant and, after some questioning, they turned me down due to my nationality because they were concerned about Mad Cow Disease.

    1. 🙂 Yes, Danny, that would probably have been the case in several countries back in the “mad cow disease” days. It was definitely the case for Australia, at that time, as it was reported on the news every day and night.

      My first ancestor to migrate here wasn’t a migrant by choice, but was transported here with a lot of other unfortunate Englishmen in the hulls of English sailing ships. The term used by Dickens in his newspaper columns was “penal servitude”.

      My 2nd migrant ancestor came of his own accord and headed straight for the gold fields in the Ballarat region, where he married. (What was a single woman doing on the goldfields, which was occupied by men from all over the world?) He had a Dutch name but migrated to Australia from England. Who knows if he was a migrant to England before he was a migrant to Australia or if it was one of his ancestors who went to England?

      My third, several generations after, was my maternal grandmother, who, having been born to a Welsh family which was forced to migrate to the factories of England, had a fight with her mother and as soon she was eligible (18 years of age) migrated to Australia as a “ten pound Pom”. And married a descendant of my first migrant ancestor, one Mr. Smith, a railway clerk.

      My 4th migrant ancestor was George Ford, who came in the ’20’s and claimed to be a Scot. Who knows what his reason to migrate was?

      “. . . the immigrant is a saver, a problem-solver, a life-giver, a panacea.” – Radhamani Sarma

      An angel sent from heaven, perhaps? Hmmm…

      There is no such thing as “the immigrant”. There are immigrants, each (or each family, anyway) has their own reasons. Certainly some people were encouraged to migrate to Australia: how else would there be herds of camels running wild here? The English soon learned that they couldn’t explore inland on horseback: horses need adequate water. So they imported camels, from Afghanistan, and along with the camels the absolutely necessary camel trainers.

      1. Fascinating, Lorin. Thanks to genealogy sites I’m in touch with a descendant of one of our Evettses who went to Oz 150 years ago. I still have a boomerang from Kalgoorlie where Dad’s best friend went gold digging after WW2 and was lost to view.

        Me, I’m surely a Norman on both sides of the family: one of Yvette’s… (But I don’t feel a need to apologise for Wm. the Conqueror. Let his own descendants do that).

  2. Reflecting on Ravi’s poem during the week: although he wrote it to portray how unfair is the world we live in, its tone is not bitter, but positive in the good example shown by the immigrant. I think that is part of its appeal.

  3. This one-liner ‘one fly everywhere the heat’ is highly evocative. With just five words, a complete picture is presented. Congratulations, Marlene.

  4. “After all, immigrants bring “fresh blood” and fresh solutions to many problems to the place they now call their “home”. Therefore, the immigrant is a saver, a problem-solver, a life-giver, a panacea.” – Radhamani Sarma

    Tell that to the indigenous people of Australia, and to those of Northern America (if there are any left there), too.

  5. Thank you for writing this thought-provoking senryu, Ravi. Thank you for choosing this ku, Harrison. Thanks, Keith, for the deliberation.

    A riveting read of the various interpretations on this Friday evening.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top