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re:Virals 75

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

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

Sheila Sondik helps us to unpack this challenging poem:

This is an example of a haiku that may require some research by the reader. But once the search engine has revealed the meaning of the first line, the reader is rewarded with a short poem spanning a moment in a contemporary bird-watcher’s day to a cataclysm 66 million years ago.

The K-T boundary (since renamed the K-Pg boundary) is a thin band of unusual rock which marks the end of the Cretaceous Era. The band contains a rare concentration of iridium, an element which is much more plentiful on asteroids than on earth. This is a key part of the geologic evidence of the impact and explosion of a huge asteroid, which caused the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs and many other life forms.

But birds, which evolved from dinosaurs, survived. Here’s a rock wren giving testimony to the long and miraculous evolution of life on earth.

And then Lorin Ford parses its layers:

Two natural things are present in Allan’s haiku: a K-T boundary, a visible line in rock, such as may be seen at Trinidad Lake State Park, Colorado, USA and many other places worldwide, and the call of a rock wren.

What we need to know about K-T boundaries:

1. “. . . the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) boundary is a geological signature, usually a thin band of rock.” (These are)” associated with the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, a mass extinction which destroyed a majority of the world’s Mesozoic species, including all dinosaurs except for birds.[4] “ – Wikipedia

2. “The K–T boundary is very important to geologic time as it marks a catastrophic global extinction event. Numerous theories have been proposed as to why this extinction event happened . . . including an asteroid known as the Chicxulub asteroid . . . Some researchers suggest that climate change is the main connection between the impact and the extinction. The impact perturbed the climate system with long-term effects that were much worse than the immediate, direct consequences of the impact.[3]” – Wikipedia

What we need to know about wrens: they are the descendants of survivors of the mass extinction event which occurred 65 million years ago, they are small birds but their calls are LOUD.

Birds, in the folklore of many cultures, have been messengers. Simply connect the evidence of a massive extinction event on our planet 65 million years ago and bird as messenger, as Allan has so subtly implied, and the now acknowledged (by most people) climate change that’s gathering force. This haiku is a magnificent call to awareness: awareness of the past, the present and the likely future if we allow ourselves or our world leaders to continue to put personal or national interest before the very real issues of climate change. Deep history can repeat itself, with variations. That rock wren’s call is a wake-up call.

And Allan Burns did it all in 10 words, without pedantry or politics, allowing readers to think and feel and make the connections ourselves.


As this week’s winner, Lorin selects the next 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 75:

     scratches where driftwood dragged the coldest month
          — Jim Kacian, A Hundred Gourds 1.1 (2011)
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