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re:Virals 58

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

     morning fog . . .
     when my embryo
     had gills
          Tyrone McDonald, Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of The Heron's Nest (2015)

Mojde Marvast was impressed:

Brilliant insight!

To breath in fog!
A memory of my embryonic life.

Paul Miller layed out the terrain:

In last week’s re:Virals Scott Mason posited that “haiku are vessels for sharing of personal discoveries.” Yet in Tyrone McDonald’s poem I don’t think McDonald has so much made a discovery as discovered a puzzle; one he struggles to answer. Biologists tell us that human embryos go through a stage where they have slits much like the gill slits of fish — which points to a common ancestor between the species. While this poem can be looked at as a reflection on faith, it seems to me that it is more a question of how far we have evolved (in all manners of the word) — if at all. Through a “morning fog” McDonald wonders at our multi-billion-year progress, and perhaps ultimately, what it means to be human.

And Tom Sacramona filled in some of the detail:

Humans are seldom writing about their rich evolutionary history — why is that? Brooklyn poet Tyrone McDonald is writing about this fresh topic and he does so with classic articulation — his control of voice is what instantly grabs me.

I imagine the speaker (maybe driving, maybe walking) along the water when this moment of connection occurs. I picture an ocean, in keeping with the vast sea that is evolutionary history, and the morning fog speaks to the poet’s state of mind: life is uncertain, I know where I am going today, but why am I going there? was life ever simple? The poem is evocative because it explores a tension between the speaker’s current, aging life and the fleeting thought of his embryonic origins. When did the Hox-gene give us this new body plan? The realization becomes exceptional for the poet: his knowledge of that moment in utero is as clear as today is clear (in the “morning fog”).

In any genre, but especially haiku, Tyrone McDonald’s poem has all the trappings of an impressive verse: considerable depth and a fresh perspective on life.


As this week’s winner, Tom 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!

re:Virals 58:

     trash day —
     a drum set
     in the pouring rain
          — Brad Bennett, tinywords 13.2 (2013)
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