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re:Virals 449

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 Melissa Dennison, was:

     
beach walk
billions of years
between our toes
—Carly Siegel Thorp
 The Heron's Nest, Volume XXV, No. 1, March 2023

Introducing this poem, Melissa writes:

I have chosen this particular haiku partly due to an interest in geology. However I enjoyed the use of alliteration, as well as the playful vision of sand between our toes. Reading this also reminded me of the famous words by William Blake about being able to ‘see the world in a grain of sand’. Carly sees so much more here in this moment, which resonates with the geological notion of deep time, which unfolds over billions of years.

What is great about this poem is the way the author juxtaposes a brief moment in time, something so fleeting and ephemeral as a walk on the beach with this notion of something greater – deep time, where the processes of weathering, erosion and deposition have been slowly working their magic over eons. Our lives may be fleeting by comparison, like the beach walk, but they are interwoven with or a part of the epic tale of life on Earth.

Opening comment:

More frequently, walks along the beach are associated with the ephemerality of footprints in the sand. Here, the duration of aeons is introduced between our toes, opening a meditation for the reader on all that has happened to bring about this moment, and perhaps that we too will be reduced to sand ere long. It’s not a new insight, but one that stands digging out again and sharing, in the same way that stars never lose their awesomeness through being seen most every night. Technically, we have the use of zooming in both space (the wide beach to sand grains between toes) and time (billions of years to the present moment); and the use of ‘our’ which can be taken to invite the reader in as part of shared humanity, rather than limited to the poet’s companions on the day.

Sebastién Revon:

I might overlook the merits of this verse by simply saying that it appeals only to my intellect. The sand formation over millions of years does indeed create the space between our toes. But, here, we have billions of years. This verse brings us back to geological times and even before that. The lighter elements of the universe are, to current knowledge, a maximum of 13.7 billions of years old.

Our connection to the universe is implied by the sensory aspect of our feet touching the sand. The element silicon was formed inside stars by stellar nucleosynthethis, a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

All of that is fine but this poem, in my opinion, relies heavily on the reader’s ability to make a significant interpretive leap and as a consequence lacks emotional resonance. The verse is intellectually stimulating, but the grand scale of time juxtaposed with the mundane act of walking on the beach feels too abstract for me.

For the musicality of the verse I guess everybody will have noticed the use of the letter b at the start of each line that produces a nice alliteration and reminds myself of the Big B, the Big Bang. This feature of the verse is again appealing to my intellect…

Nevertheless, what I look for in haiku is for it to strike an emotional chord. Something deeper than my intellect. I prefer when a haiku reaches deeper than my cortex. When it speaks to the animal in me. It is this way that I feel more connected to the universe and its vastness.

Leena Anandhi:

Walking on the beach with sand washing away from your toes with every wave has always been a surreal experience. As though it took you to a different realm momentarily. That moment came alive, and that is something to say of a well written haiku. The sand as an analogy of time has been a poetic device of yore, so what is new? The sand slipping by the toes reminds us of the hourglass, of the passing of time, of it being beyond our control. Although it reminds me of Blake’s grain of sand and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos where the water rather than the sand slips through the fingers, the billion years slipping relives the sensory feeling of the sand or water slipping through. It also seems to say how new we are in the evolutionary calendar, the existence of other species on earth outnumbering the humans. A haiku that most of us can relate to.

Lakshmi Iyer:

What a brilliant poem!  Line 2 ”billions of years’ caught my attention. It’s so huge to describe line 1 ‘beach walk’ —an endless journey of life, and we keep searching for that eternity ‘between our toes’!

Each line has a concrete cut between images and the clarity is just the right meters away…not too close and not too far. I really loved the vast image of line 2 which is brought down to line 3.  Now what is it that the poet wants to convey. The ‘billions of years’ that the earth and the sky and the heavens and the ocean and the sea and the beaches are around us and how captivating to gather that vastness between our toes!

The authenticity of the poem lies in the resonance of the lines and the echo that leads us to that moment of experiencing silence. Here it is very visible in the casual beach walk and how the poet extends this to billions of years back when we don’t even know who walked on earth and yet the poet catches those footprints between her toes.

Zooming out to zooming in, the silence between notes and the cut after every line as a stand alone line/image and the yet the relationship between them with perfect balance makes it so very unique and fresh!

Dan Campbell:

This poem made me think of leaving footprints on a sandy beach. The symbolism of footprints on a sandy beach is profound. They serve as metaphors for human impact—the mark we make on the world and in the lives of others. Like the actions we take and the words we speak, footprints are susceptible to the forces of time and nature, reminding us of our brief existence.

Reflecting on personal memories associated with footprints, I recall walking alongside my dear wife on the beaches of beautiful El Salvador. The parallel lines of our footprints marked a shared journey. Today, those footprints are long gone, washed away by waves, yet the precious memories persist, reshaped and retained in the corners of my mind.

In terms of our lives, footprints in the sand challenge us to think about the marks we make—both fleeting and lasting. They invite us to live fully, to tread mindfully, and to embrace our over too soon existence. The footprints we leave behind, however temporary, can still make a meaningful impact.

Rupa Anand:

I enjoyed this poem as it went from focus to wide-angle to zoom, in a panoramic 360 degrees spanning billions of years of creation, sustenance and dissolution.   Very often, a haiku moment lies in the unsaid or in the expanse of what is said. I see both here. When I read this haiku, its inherent meaning hit me in an intuitive flash, creating a resonance within; an insight far bigger than the words the poet has used.

L1- the haiku opens on a sea shore, I can see the vastness of the skies, I can hear the rush of the waves, I can sense the depth and the never-ending expanse of the ocean
L3- The tactile, immediateness of a billion years of creation felt right here between the toes is a leap through eternity.
Short, succinct, eight words, nine syllables showcasing our existence through beginning-less time.

Jennifer Gurney:

What power in just ten syllables.

I like the sound of the poem. The alliteration of the lines all starting with b creates a nice synergy. The rhythm of L1 starts us out with a slow pace. Each one-syllable word – beach and walk – reads like a step, left, right. L2 and L3 have a longer, more fluid feel, like we’re meandering along the beach, perhaps searching for treasure. I like the sensory detail as well, especially the grittiness of L3’s “between our toes.”

But it’s when I think about the meaning that this tiny poem explodes into life for me. I love natural history and thinking about the longevity of sand, rocks and fossils along the beach fascinates me. The very idea that we are walking on the billion-year-old history of our planet is breathtaking. We often think of sand as a nuisance, a bother, casually brushing off any that sticks to us … instead of bowing in reverence and gratitude to its history.

Growing up in Michigan, my family and I spent a lot of time walking the shores of Lake Michigan. My dad and I often searched for Petoskey stones, the elusive coral fossils only found in that area. When dry, they look like ordinary gray stones. But when wet, their magical hexagonal fossil patterns emerge. They are roughly 350 million years old. Although the poem references billions, the Petoskey immediately came to mind. I’ve only found two in my entire life – both the same day – and much more recently than those father-daughter beach strolls of my youth.

This poem has it all – sound, rhythm, meaning, connection, emotional tug. It was a pleasure to read and dive into.

Alan Harvey:

The timeless quality of a beach. Imagine a moonlit stroll on the dunes, you look up at the stars from billions of years ago and feel sand from ancient times. Each line of this enduring haiku begins with a soft and voiced B sound. This haiku reminds us of the timeless quality of sand in a poetic way which makes us appreciate the sensory feel of sand and our need to protect and treasure that feeling.

And what a romantic way to think about geology. Sand is the result of countless ages of rock weathering and erosion being carried to the seas. This is a simple geology lesson.

However, sand is a finite resource being rapidly over-exploited for construction needs. We are damaging the environment and facing shortages by mining sand. So, this seemingly limitless resource is running out.

Carly Siegel Thorp reminds us to take a walk on the beach and let the sand get between our toes. Contemplate the cosmos and save the environment. That’s a lot for a little poem to carry.

Nairithi Konduru (aged 9):

This is a very fun haiku. It means that – when we are walking on the beach, we are walking on sand. The sand that we are walking on must have been there for billions of years. Thus, instead of writing –
‘beach walk
sand
between our toes ‘
—-the poet has written:
beach walk
billions of years
between our toes

Dinosaurs could have walked on that sand billions of years ago.
Was it even a beach billions of years ago? 😮
Was the sand even there billions of years ago?
Was the sea/ocean there or was it just land or was it frozen in the ice age?
This haiku makes you think maybe the poet wants us to focus more on the ‘billions of years’ and less on the ‘beach walk’.

Ashoka Weerakkody:

Seemingly a short poem stimulating an endless stream of thoughts, this piece by Carly Siegel Thorp leaves everyone guessing as to how and why this inclement time warp engulfed our unsuspecting beach walker who under different circumstances would simply be just another soul trespassing the sandy stretch the waters are rushing in and out, back and forth, the whole time land and sea had been in existence. But for the fact that the present beach walk turned out to be phenomenal since the waters have likely gone back, receding into the ocean, and curiously forgotten to return as it always did, regardlessly crossing the beachwalkers’ path. Footmarks imprinted on the sand stay on, as never before, for a prolonged interval of time. Unknown though time might be running out for the walker on the beach due to many possible scenarios including an imminent giant wave, a reflux from the massive belly of the ocean into which the now absent volume of salt water could well have retreated, a tactical retreat before swinging back gathering momentum, taking its time as the dynamics of it should decree, shall rise taller than the treetops, striking menacingly everything in its path taking all the foot marks in its wake.
Tsunami !
That’s one all-inclusive package deal, the 4.5 billion year(s) old Earth, its vast Ocean, the boundless skies and the captive atmosphere. With war raging within this only livable canopy of all (man and beast), and safe haven of Life in the whole Universe, as far as our minds can(‘t) grasp, tragedy is so vehemently mongered by prospective victims themselves engineering massive blasts as a daily routine, the Ocean floor shall react with the only resonance it finally offers. A massive undersea quake creating the big belly as said before becoming the launch pad of the mighty doomsday weapon the Tsunami.

“Billions of years between our toes” is also reminding me of the lovable comic character Captain Haddock for a moment even in the middle of all this gloom, particularly his oft repeated line expressing the fiercest disagreement with a thing as happened often in those Tintin episodes, ” billions of billious blue blistering barnacles.”  In that lighter vain I rest my case still unaware, unenlightened and rather ignorant of what passed through the far reaching (“billions of years”) mind of the poet when penning this fantastic Haiku.

Maurice Nevile—a mantra for walking the beach:

Here, a simple ‘beach walk’ reminds the poet of the greatness and astonishing longevity (‘billions of years’) of creation (whatever the source!), noticed in the sand ‘between our toes’. The ‘sand’ isn’t mentioned, but it’s sand (not pebbles) that we typically feel ‘between’ our toes. Is this perhaps a romantic walk (‘our’), a special occasion, or friends or family on holiday or just walking locally? It doesn’t matter, and nor does the time of day (dusk? dawn?), or the relentless waves and weather and their power to shape and sediment stone. What matters, what’s appreciated, is time beyond such a moment of walking, beyond the moments of our days, and of our very few years here on earth. The sand we touch momentarily long predates our presence and will long outlast us. Yet with every step, we can engage with a scope of time and change that we cannot imagine, just as we cannot ever hope to count the billions (trillions?) of grains of sand. Grand and eternal creative processes can be felt in the utterly mundane, personal, and shared experience of sand between the toes. I like too that, at least for a speaker of Australian English, the poem’s sound and rhythm can reference a walk with others, taking step after step, with 2-4-4 syllables across the three lines, as 1-1, 2-1-1, 2-1-1, with each line beginning with ‘b’, vowel repetition across the three lines (‘ea’, ‘ee’), the line-central ‘of’ and ‘our’, and with the many forms of multiples (‘billions’, ‘years’, ‘our’, ‘toes’). ‘billions of years between our toes’ would work beautifully as a repetitive mantra for meditative beach walking.


fireworks image

Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Maurice 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:

silent sky
the wedge tailed eagle
takes its time
—Hazel Hall
From Eggshell Sky (2017, author): haiku by Hazel Hall
calligraphy by Narelle Jones and  Angela Hillier
artwork by Painting with Parkinsons.

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:

Originally from Cape Cod, Carly Siegel Thorp lives in Sterling, MA, and has been writing poetry on and off since high school.  In the COVID shutdown she stumbled upon haiku in the summer of 2020, drawn by its simplicity and connection to nature.  A birder and an avid reader,  she finds in haiku and its poets a passion for its unique form and the natural world it represents in  those simple moments that many people take for granted.  Carly has been published in The Heron’s Nest, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Prune Juice, and other journals.

—–

Concerning the question of whether matters of the intellect can raise a visceral, emotional response in the human animal, I find they can. The poetry and logic of Donne, Pope, Eliot, Blake’s grain of sand…, an awesome equation or discovery, a flash of insight, an elegant and concise function in computer code, the structure of a carbon ring, of chlorophyll, of DNA; a steam locomotive, a perfect toaster (we have a wonderful French one, named a Vision of all things): all these can have beauty, can arouse awe, excite pleasure, perhaps affection… Sometimes the intellect spots irony, arouses humour, in a way that slapstick does not.

—-
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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Hello Keith and others,
    I only read now your comment on footnote.
    If re:virals is a place where only positive comments can be respected then it is probably better that I pass on.
    I think it is honest to say and write when a poem doesn’t touch one’s soul and explain it respectfully.
    Your comment on the footnote, using French, doesn’t convince me a bit. I am still not moved by this poem. I wrote it respectfully in my commentary, I expect the same for your footnote. Your ironic comment, using my own language, is a form of disrespect. You should sometimes be more careful when you write and think of how the target will take it. The way you wrote it is meant, in some way, to make fun of what I wrote. I don’t appreciate that.
    No hard feelings though but this had to be said.

    1. I’m sorry that you took it badly. It was not meant that way. I have excised it.

      Comment on haiku in this feature can of course be critical; as can comment on the host.

  2. John Green comments via the submission form:

    An instant classic. The key to its strength is not mentioning sand in L2.

    I must confess that this fine poem lead me to think of two of my children’s poems in Whimsy Park.

    Grains of Sand

    I noticed little grains of sand
    stuck on my toes like glue.
    I asked, “What are you doing there?”
    They said, “We have no clue.”
    “But, if you will, please help us
    cool down from this heat.”
    I stepped into the nearest wave,
    and they dove right off my feet.

    Keith mentions footprints as an often used image along the edge of a beach;

    Footprints

    I came across two footprints
    relaxing on the sand.
    They had just finished dancing
    the whole beach hand in hand.
    A gentle wave rolled slowly up,
    embracing the peaceful pair.
    I looked along the water’s edge,
    but the footprints were not there.

    (Keith comment: Lewis Carroll would have liked this…)

    1. Thanks, Keith.

      Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass are classic loves. Imagination is never far from childhood.

      Hats off to Carly Siegel Thorp for her inspiring poem.

    2. A gentle wave rolled slowly up,
      embracing the peaceful pair.
      I looked along the water’s edge,
      but the footprints were not there.”

      (Keith comment: Lewis Carroll would have liked this…)

      … and Old Possum, too.

      “Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
      For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
      He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
      For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there! “

      1. Lovely, Lorin!
        My wife and I are cat lovers so we appreciate this poem especially.

  3. Beach walk has become common for me now having shifted to a coastal town and living one road across the sea. However, this increased frequency of trips to the beach had found me complaining within myself about the sand between the toes and all over until I read this haiku by Carly. I was blown by the poet’s thought of taking the time to ponder over the ‘to me unpleasant sand’ (I enjoyed only the waves and all other things about the sea). But yes, without the sand, one cannot enjoy the shore or the sea as much one does with the presence of sand. Also, the creatures living and making homes in the sand along the seashore, where would they go? Would there even be a seashore without sand?

    Another concept that came to my mind other than the consonance of the verse is that all living and non-living things from the days of yore have finally become part of the sand we now walk on and one day we’ll be part of that sand too. So in essence, to my eyes, this poem conjures up the oneness of the universe along with the toes carrying sand particles and the billions of years of existence.

  4. I sometimes think, , as reader and “co-creator” of a haiku, that my vision of it, if I could get it into words, would be better, but then I think, I would have no vision at all without the original.

  5. “Concerning the question of whether matters of the intellect can raise a visceral, emotional response in the human animal, I find they can. ” – Keith

    Of course they can. Awe, for instance, is an emotional response, as is amazement, wonder. . .

    Beaches : I spent the first 11 years of my life across the road from the beach, a white sand beach of a bay. warm to walk along. After that age, an inlet and its ocean beach (the 90 mile beach of Victoria: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninety_Mile_Beach,_Victoria )
    Beach sand is warm and pleasant to walk or run on, or lie down on, or make sculptures with. I took it for granted. Sand hills are great for sliding down. Sand dunes have some tough plant life and secrets. Of course there will be sand between one’s toes, whether our feet are wet or not.
    Who stopped and thought about how old that lovely sand might be? Not me. I just thought “always”. It never occurred to me to wonder how long ‘always’ might be, literally.
    But Carly Siegel Thorp, in swapping the ordinary physical sensation (of sand between our toes) for a scientific assessment of how old that sand is (billions of years) creates a comparison between our short lives and the relatively short
    time humans have existed at all (or any animal or plant life, for that matter) with how long sand has been around.

    Just by swapping the physical experience of ‘sand between our toes’ for the contemplation of the time that sand has been around takes us to geology. I am now about to read through a Britannica article I’ve found online:
    https://www.britannica.com/video/185632/formation-sand-quartz-role-processes-weathering-grains

    I like this haiku a lot, and am most impressed.

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