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re:Virals 453

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 Vidya Premkumar, was:

thin walls 
the couple next door 
prays for me
—Vandana Parashar,
Prune Juice Issue #42, April 2024

Introducing this poem, Vidya writes:

Vandana Parashar’s poem intricately weaves themes of proximity, empathy, and human connection. Employing the minimalist aesthetics characteristic of haiku, Parashar captures a moment of profound significance within a seemingly mundane context. The “thin walls” symbolize not only the physical closeness of the neighbours but also the permeability of emotional and social boundaries. This imagery suggests an intimate interconnectedness where the lives of individuals, though separate, are inevitably intertwined. From a psychoanalytic perspective, this proximity can be seen as a breach of the private self, where the unconscious desires for connection and support manifest through the actions of the couple next door.

The couple’s prayer introduces a layer of spiritual and communal care. This gesture transcends verbal communication, emphasizing the power of silent empathy and support. As an act of kindness, the prayer signifies a collective human consciousness that extends beyond the individual. From a phenomenological viewpoint, this moment reflects the intersubjective reality where individual experiences are influenced and shaped by the presence and actions of others. It highlights how empathy can break through the isolation often felt in urban settings, offering solace and a sense of belonging.

Furthermore, applying social theory, the poem subtly critiques the modern urban environment, which often fosters anonymity and disconnection. The “thin walls” act as both barriers and conduits, illustrating how genuine human connection and compassion can still prevail even in the densest of living conditions. The couple’s prayer represents a moral and ethical stance, reminding us of the inherent goodness that persists despite contemporary life’s often harsh and impersonal nature. Parashar’s senryu encapsulates the delicate balance between isolation and community, revealing the depth of human empathy beyond our walls.

Opening comment:

How we wish to be a fly on the wall and know what others are thinking, but may be appalled or delighted at the consequences!

Thin walls work both ways, whether we are thinking of living accommodation or our own vulnerable thin skins. Therein lies the delightful haikai humour of Vandana’s senryu, which leaves the reader wondering what the poet has done, or suffered, to trouble her neighbours so. The verse also has good vibrations: of their thoughtful concern — or as it may be, of generous forgiveness as the poet learns her neighbours think she’s a likely candidate for Hell and piously pray for her soul! All is possible.

I sometimes read the well-meaning stricture that haiku “do not tell a story.” I put it to you that not always, but quite often, they do. Or at least, suggest one. We have seen repeatedly among your favourite haiku and senryu in re:Virals that a good verse immediately gets the readers’ attention (vital in such a short form) and engages them to think, reflect, wonder… much as a good strap line of a movie, or the first line of a novel or short story. This senryu fits that bill. It could be the opening line of a short story. I would want to read on.

Jennifer Gurney:

I have to admit it. I belly laughed at this one! That’s all I’ve got. Well done.

Alan Harvey:

Although easily understood, “thin walls” allows each reader to interpret it according to their own experiences.

One person may be pleased that someone is looking out for their well-being by praying for them. Another person may be annoyed someone is praying to a supernatural being to intercede for them. Embarrassment washes over the reader who was caught in an awkward position in the flesh or heard through the thin walls.

Vandana Parashar is an Indian microbiologist. Could the neighbors next door have overheard some laboratory experiment gone horribly wrong? Maybe she contracted a mysterious bacterial disease and needs our prayers or is about to unleash an exotic new disease on the world and we need to pray for her soul.

And actual thin walls work both ways. How does the individual know “the couple next door / prays for me”? Maybe listening through the thin walls? Much intrigue for such a short poem.

Ann Smith:

I expect a lot of us have been on at least one side of this wall.

This verse made me smile and reminded me in particular of some passages in one of my favourite books -The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in which the Prince is musing on his lovelife and his marriage to his very puritanical Princess and thinks:

“…….I’ve still got my vigour; and how can I find satisfaction with a woman who makes the sign of the Cross in bed before every embrace and then at the critical moment just cries, ‘Gesummaria!’”

So thank you Vandana and Vidya for reminding me about this book which I have nor read for decades but am now looking forward to the pleasure of reading it again

Melissa Dennison:

How many times do we hear people complaining about noisy neighbours or having thin walls? This notion is turned on its head in this haiku, as this is a positive sound, which suggests a close bond or relationship between the poet and his neighbours. Many of us live in cities where we don’t know our neighbours, not even their names. This haiku reminds us of the importance of human connection, that we need others, we need good neighbours, since no man or woman is an island.

As I continue to engage with this poem I ask myself why are the neighbours praying for the poet? Is she ill? Down on her luck? Or could her lifestyle be one they disagree with and wish to change? I like the space here which the poet leaves for our imaginations to fill.

Thin walls also speaks to a feeling of vulnerability, we are all vulnerable and will experience times when we need the support of others even if we are not aware of this now. Sometimes we think we are invincible, but life has a tendency of letting us know that we are not.

I enjoyed reading this haiku, as it is thought provoking with an air of mystery about it.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

This senryu can be read in two ways. One is a reading which would be pleasing to the reader as well as the poet as well to the next door couple. Everyone is happy. The next door couple’s prayer truly rings in care, concern, love, blessings and joy to the speaker in the poem.

Now thin walls could mean heard through the door or window or through gossip from x, y and z. Even walls have ears, mind you!

The other way to scrutinize the poem is the senryu way – the ku having a wry sense of humour. We only know of the couple praying for the poet, how soft or how loud and what exactly is being prayed for, isn’t revealed. Is it something good or something really bad? Is this prayer really warranted? Had the speaker really done something so irrational? Can there be no tête-à-tête and an amicable settlement or considerate conclusion?

In another reading, the poet may have been surprised with the next door couple’s prayer. May be the poet had a very good opinion of them but it turned out the complete opposite. Or even, the poet may not have thought much about these people but the unexpected prayer heard from their mouths changed the poet’s opinion about them.

Also, there may have emerged a marital discord between the couple because one of them has developed a crush on the speaker of the poem and hence the hearing of some unpleasant sentences/prayers.

A verse which brings a smile, gives a chuckle as well as makes one sympathize with the speaker/poet. I enjoyed the dual nature of the poem.

Leena Anandhi—cheeky or pious, a true senryu:

Often we view and opinionate from our own perspective, failing to wonder how our own behaviors fall on the other. Thin walls- could be thin walls, a congested neighbourhood, a community which doesn’t give room to one’s privacy- all of which fills us with frustration, complaints and belligerence occasionally or otherwise. Thin walls can allow your exuberant festivities, loud music or abusive events, expletives or a tragedy to pass through. In any case, the response can be almost always an urge to shut it all out. Here in the poem of course the other side prays, a goodwill gesture or for an atonement of bad behavior. A lot is left to our imagination. But the irony of it gets to us immediately, it brings a smile or laughter in whatever way we imagine it to to be. This then is a brilliant senryu, true to its form and just cheeky or pious, in its irony. Great choice.

Author Vandana Parashar:

I live in an apartment building and like every such housing, the privacy is wanting. People can hear what you are talking about on the phone on the balcony and sometimes even what is going on in the room above or below you. By “thin walls” I wanted to imply proximity and a lack of privacy, but also to suggest vulnerability and openness to others’ lives. In close living quarters like these, lives intersect in subtle, often unspoken ways. Like every family, we, too, sometimes have disagreements and sometimes my girls like to play loud music “to create a vibe”. Whatever the case, I’m never at ease thinking that someone might be eavesdropping and even if not intentionally, they get to know whatever is happening in our home.

This senryu came to me when one night my daughter came running to me telling that something weird was happening in the apartment above us. She heard loud voices, banging and kids crying. I wasn’t sure if I should go and ask if everything was alright. I did say a silent prayer and hoped that it was nothing serious. I was relieved to find the family in the elevator the next morning and everything seemed fine between them.

I can’t say how many times our neighbours might have said a prayer for us, and I don’t know how to take in all this except to write about it and put it out into the world for the readers to feel the depth of human relationships in confined spaces, and how physical closeness can foster emotional bonds.

fireworks image

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

without a bed . . .
a river wanders
city streets
—Marilyn Ashbaugh
 Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue, April 24, 2024

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.


Vandana Parashar is a widely-known and able haiku poet with several awards and publications to her credit. Her short bio may be read in Haikupedia. Lately she has been a guest editor for THF’s Haiku Dialogue; and she offers advice to those starting out to write haiku in our New To Haiku feature, March 2022.
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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Yes, Keith, after all, the author of ‘Four Quartets’ is also the author of ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’. 🙂

    1. The one time he let the mask slip! Who doesn’t love Macavity et. al. ?

      if you stand on the shoulders of Eliot
      another great poet in the list
      you won’t see a thing because Eliot’s head
      was already lost in the mist

  2. thin walls
    the couple next door
    prays for me
    —Vandana Parashar,
    Prune Juice Issue #42, April 2024

    What I like about this senryu is simply the humour. The “the couple next door” , in their naivety, seem not to be aware that the thin walls also allow the “me” of the verse to hear what they’re doing. Both parties, the next door couple, piously praying and the “I” of the poem, having heard their prayer/s and now passing the event on to others (to us, the readers of this verse) are equally guilty of eavesdropping.
    Human nature is exposed in an essentially humorous situation, which is what, I believe, senryu is supposed to do and here it is done well.

    1. Thank you, Lorin. I value haikai humour, an ingredient of renga as well as senryu and many haiku too. Lightness of touch is often missing from the many verses that strive, sometimes a little too conspicuously, to arouse other emotions.

      Susumu Takiguchi’s Humour in Haiku

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