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re:Virals 74

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

     Nagasaki . . .
     in her belly, the sound
     of unopened mail
          — Don Baird, HaikuNow! Contest First Prize (The Haiku Foundation, 2013)

Marion Clarke walks us through this surprising poem:

This well known, striking haiku by Don Baird begins with the word “Nagasaki” which comes loaded with horrific associated imagery. We switch to a human in the second line, in particular the “belly” of a woman. This could suggest a pregnancy, or perhaps the narrator has a bad feeling or instinct about something (“a gut feeling”) With the words “the sound” on the same line, we might expect it to refer to an ultrasound or other medical reference, but no, we learn that this is the sound of “unopened mail”! This seems absurd at first, as this shouldn’t make any sound. However, in a house with a letterbox (mailbox) on the door there might be a thump when the mail hits the floor, unopened or not. So this could be the results of a medical examination the narrator is dreading. Maybe it is a medical report of a scan to see if the baby is healthy. It could be a metaphorical sound in that the results could have a devastating effect on the lives of the recipients. With Nagasaki in the first line, it does not suggest that the news is good.

I have read this haiku many times and it always chills me.


Marion didn’t supply us with next week’s poem, so I’ve chosen one, 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 74:

     K-T boundary
     on the sandstone bluff . . .
     a rock wren calls
          — Allan Burns, Notes from the Gean 1.3 (2009)
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