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re:Virals 196

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!
re:Virals 96:

     a horse with no legs
     floats in a jigsaw puzzle
     called post-surgery
          — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. So interesting to read all the responses to this beautiful poe, both the ones in the post and those in the comments.

    Pratima, your comment underlines the differing context that each reader brings to a poem. Your description of the Indian buffalo is so contrary to my western American image of the towering, thundering herds of noble buffalo.

    Garry, your comments also underline the context that each reader brings to the poem. As Robert did, I also was moved to a metaphorical leap in that aha moment. My reading of this poem can not escape my knowledge that the iconic buffalo so representative of our western heritage has been slaughtered by the millions as we made our relentless drive westward. I don’t believe there are any wild free herds left at all, though they are being raised on farms and there are efforts to reintroduce them into the wild. My reading of this poem sees the dark dissipating into thin air evoking the memory of the buffalo emerging from the storm. The storm may be concrete or it may be metaphorical. What matters is that it lead us to that moment of connection. It reminds me of the images of the wild surf waves taking the form of charging horses before collapsing onto the beach.

    Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts on this powerful haiku.

    1. Peggy, it is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote the response. Each reader is dictated by her own life and environment, it colors the poem in many ways, facilitates many readings…not just this one but each poem her written and read.

      I would leave the word metaphor out of haiku, and also would like to admit that metaphor has never been more complicated than in the writing of haiku.

      What I absolutely absolutely agree with you is the moment of connection. irrespective of a larger and varied assortment of global perspectives, we all get there: the moment of connection.

      How have you been…

  2. Once again, DAVE, kudos.
    Reading Chad Lee’s haiku, I puzzled over his use of “as” in the final line.
    Your ‘aha’ solved the puzzle for me. Thanks to you, I found myself saying, ‘Why, of course!’
    Thanks too to VICKI, REKA and ROBERT.
    And to DANNY for re:Virals itself.

  3. Robert tries to read this haiku as symbolism. But haiku are specific and concrete, and about as far from symbolism as you can get. Trying to find criticism of capitalism, environmental degradation, gun culture, and all that in this haiku is a stretch way too far, and a bad case of propaganda mongering.

    1. Hi Garry. You are of course are right with regards to concrete images in haiku.
      Chad delivers that perfectly. It was never my intention to politicise. I clearly state that I found Chad’s lines taking me deeper. I also state this is from an exterior perspective. Hence it could have been any herd kicking up the dust.
      I would agree with Danny that Dave brought the contents together more succinctly.

  4. hi all,
    interesting to read the responses. If I am thinking on any one thing, it is the singular use of buffalo,

    coming from India as I am, ( oh what a lot of words for personal identity) I have seen a lot of buffaloes and single buffalo, amble by, they are lazy, slow and don’t care much for the rush. They sink into shallows and kids ride them…they don’t seem to mind.( though I would never ride one, prairie storm or not …)
    I agree that the colossal dark of the storm tapers off into the beyond and gets smaller, small enough to be a buffalo ambling off into the distance…

    I am not in the philosophical frame of mind …so the reader is blessed with not much deviant thought from me…:)

    I like the poet’s works. Always have. Is he reading this? Will he help me understand the poem and how it got to be? Chad Lee, I am a big fan of your work.

    Gosh, I missed reading virals. And babbling about the poems.

    1. Dear Pratima,
      Same word “buffalo” but very different animals — your continent and Chad’s. The USA beast is just that … quite primitive and in no sense ever tame or domesticated. Quite dangerous, in fact. Chad’s “herd” is how they live and how they defend themselves and their calves. Tourists are warned in the West, where wild buffalo (also called bison) still roam, to not approach them for selfie photos… and foolish people are injured every year. There are some US ranches now that farm them for meat. I can attest that for meat eaters bison is delicious, lean, and full of flavor.

      1. thank you Paul. So, it is a very dangerous storm that storms through the prairie…oh-k ! much like the speeding animals… what does the singular mean, is it a collective term? buffalo is a collective term for the entire herd? I ask because I don’t know plus I trip on that singular, it confuses me …

        1. Dear Pratima,

          It seems to me, quite clearly, that Chad used “buffalo” in the plural. Just inference from his setting. One single animal, however dark and large it may be, would not have that effect. But … ?

          English is in many ways a strange language. “Buffalo” is both a singular noun and a plural one. Like the word for “deer.” No “s” needed for many buffalo. The same for “elk” and “moose.” All animals. Yet “fox,” “cow,” “wolf,” and “weasel” for examples are all singular animals and requite a plural. “sheep” is like buffalo… “Goat” need a plural. why? I scratch my head. It is hard to understand similar to the masculine/ feminine dichotomy in French… of “le” table (M) and “la” chaise (chair = F). I just had to memorize those odd ones.

          Plural agreement is often a sticking point even in haiku. However, some words just need to be learned or memorized. Sigh . . .

          Ask your friendly editor? When I am stumped, I ask Ferris Gilli… a definite English Grammar Expert.

          1. Yes, always the …but

            I saw the herd receding to be just a speck, as small as one buffalo from many buffalo…a dot of a moving cloud fast receding,
            and so also the prairie storm.
            Which means that the poet could be using the word – buffalo both as singular and plural.


            thanksess yous for leading mees and monkeys to this facts. And for these columns, my favorites editors is Dannys.

            Byes Pauls, later laters


            (ⁱᶠ ʷᵉ ᶜᵃⁿ ᵘˢᵉ ˢⁱⁿᵍᵘˡᵃʳ ᶠᵒʳ ᵖˡᵘʳᵃˡ ᵗʰᵉⁿ ʷʰʸ ᶜᵃⁿ’ᵗ ʷᵉ ᶜᵃⁿ ᵘˢᵉ ᵖˡᵘʳᵃˡ ᶠᵒʳ ˢⁱⁿᵍᵘˡᵃʳ)

  5. Thank you Danny Blackwell.

    I love this! Each interpretation is so interesting and meaningful. The beauty of reading commentary about an exceptional haiku poem fills a hankering to make the “moment” last just a little longer. I’d say to pause and think and feel and learn. More, you can interpret each interpretation and mull over that for a while…on and on. Thanks to the commentators for the thoughtful pictures.

    Robert Kingston’s “The great lands of the Native American” and “the gun that came with the early white settlers”

    Reka Nyitrai’s “a dot in the vast prairie.” and the buffalo “surviving the storm.”

    Dave Read’s “aha”, “was a stampede.”, “clouds of dust” and “the dust clouds settle. The clear air reveals it was buffalo”

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