Sasha A. Palmer is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2021 for her poem
beneath the blossoms
she counts her years
on one hand
— (Japan Fair Haiku Contest 2021)
Commentary from the Panel:
This was one of my favorites from the very first reading. I immediately thought of A. E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees” where he is counting his years left to see the cherries in bloom. The little girl is counting how old she is, but the illusion is lovely. There is something soft and light about this haiku that echoes those joyous days of spring when the world is young and everything is possible.
Blossom represents the symbol of energy, purity, youth, and beauty. At the same time, the wilted flower reflects the ultimate cycle of life and inherent truth at the end.
The middle line, acting like a pivot-line, can be associated with line 1 and also line 3 imparting layered meanings. Here she counts her age sitting under the flower-laden tree and perhaps holding the weathered flowers in another hand. She might be at her youth that juxtaposes the beauty of blossoms, or might be at her graceful old age. It could be she is partially physically challenged. The haiku is multilayered in a way as quoted by Wallace Stevens: ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’. The poet tries to keep the space open for the readers to think like an unfinished poem (seisensui) as Basho writes: Myriads of things past/ Are brought to my mind/ These cherry blossoms! (Tr. Ueda). There lies a poetic sincerity (fuga no makota) and whitespace (ma) in the visual demonstration of the poem with a meditative tone.
Possibly she is at her autumn age. She might be reconciling the cycle of life sitting under the tree and profoundly clasping the wilted flowers as poet Torin Charlotte in his poem Cherry Blossom writes:
I fell asleep
Beneath the cherry blossom
Because I had no place I should be
And it felt like home to me”
A child, four years old, maybe five. An old woman who’s been told how many years she has left. Each can appreciate the cherry blossoms in their own way.
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.