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
prairie storm the darkness disperses as buffalo — Chad Lee Robinson, The Heron’s Nest XIX:3 (2017)
Robert Kingston ponders the wild west:
From a British perspective my first thoughts were, we don’t have prairies nor buffalo.
Then I got to thinking it was a simple descriptive ku.
A dark cloud appearing on the horizon, slowly petering out to reveal the calm of migrating buffalo.
Delving deeper I found myself immersed in an historic battle. A battle that effectively still rages today, in the form of the capitalist that knows no bounds. The great lands of the Native American, infiltrated by the rise of the gun that came with the early white settlers and has slowly given us a growing stain across societies around the globe.
For me, Chad’s haiku has created a wider boundary for how much can be squeezed into so few syllables. Just 13 of them.
Reka Nyitrai sees a darkness:
Ever since I started to read (and write) haiku I have been mesmerized by those poems that capture a change, a transformation in progress: a becoming.
For me haiku is a space and time (a world) where a bird’s chirp becomes azure (Kazuko Nishimura), snowflakes become ocean (Larry Kimmel), a sinking octopus becomes the color of the ocean (Sengyo Uemura) — to emphasize just a few metamorphoses captured by some esteemed haiku poets.
In Chad Lee Robinson’s ku darkness thins out taking the shape of a buffalo.
I can easily imagine this dark, fading away buffalo eventually becoming a dot in the vast prairie.
In nature, just like in our emotional lives, darkness is always followed by light. Darkness can be diminished, compressed into nothing, but a dot.
I think there is no coincidence that Chad Lee Robinson has chosen a buffalo to carry away darkness. The buffalo is a symbol of survival. We shall be as strong as a buffalo to survive storms and darkness. We shall be as strong as a buffalo to be able to carry our darkness, to journey with it inside us on our own path up to the moment when darkness naturally becomes less.
The Buffalo is a sacred animal and in this ku it takes darkness away and lets us be thankful for surviving the storm.
Vicki Miko moves through the seasons:
Every word of Chad Lee Robinson’s haiku seems to give me a separate telling message. I can smell the approaching “prairie storm”. I can hear thunder. It’s springtime. The buffalo are migrating from the low valley back to the high prairie where spring grasses are becoming plentiful. The “darkness” of winter “disperses”. Or is it the last stage of a “prairie storm” when dark nimbus clouds begin to break and dissipate? I can picture the gradual morning light. Days become longer and ease into summer when the buffalo will gather to mate.
In another way, maybe the author hints of late fall after a last “prairie storm” when the buffalo start to scatter and migrate to the low valley. Days become shorter and “darkness disperses” over the prairie. Winter is coming. The low valleys tend to have less snow cover, so the bulls and pregnant cows can scratch up sustainable grasses. Buffalo are a wonder. This huge, powerful, almost terrifying, mammal eats only greens. Likewise, storms can be equally powerful and terrifying or peaceful and refreshing.
Moving past the seasons, perhaps the poem reveals an allegorical lesson. Buffalo have strong instincts and resilience. They can withstand extreme weather and are known to face “into the storm”. For we humans, sometimes this same strategy proves to be a good way to master something difficult. Instead of running away—face it head-on, go through it. Move forward, like the strong nature of a storm and the strong nature of the buffalo. Eventually, the “darkness disperses”.
Lastly, could the author be suggesting a subtle metaphorical dark “storm”? From when the buffalo were near extinction, as the true wild buffalo is threatened today, to the continued vulnerability of the overall environment and their habitat? They survive.
For me, Chad Lee Robinson’s poignant haiku reveals many meaningful messages. Perhaps we humans need to pay attention to the nature of things “as buffalo”.
Dave Read has that “aha” moment:
The full impact of a well-constructed haiku is often not felt until its final line. A patient author may pull the readers along, lure us into thinking the poem is going a certain direction, and then, with a quick and thoughtful twist, shatter our expectations to take us somewhere new. Such poems provide the “aha” moments often discussed in haiku which are incredibly difficult to compose and deliver.
In the selected poem, Chad Lee Robinson provides an example of such a haiku. With the opening line, “prairie storm”, Robinson creates an expectation of a weather event. The second line, “the darkness disperses”, lets the reader imagine the dispersal of clouds: an image that implies the storm is ending. Yet in the final line, “as buffalo”, Robinson turns our expectations on their heads. Rather than a weather event, the “prairie storm” was a stampede. Indeed, herds of buffalo are often said to “thunder” across the plains all the while raising clouds of dust through the mad pounding of hoofs. The dispersal of darkness, then, occurs as the dust clouds settle. The clear air reveals it was buffalo, not the weather, as the cause of the storm. In his cleverly crafted haiku, Robinson expertly creates a surprise, an “aha” moment, that enriches our experience in reading the poem.
As this week’s winner, Dave 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!
a horse with no legs floats in a jigsaw puzzle called post-surgery — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)