Virals is a section in which one person choses a haiku by another person and comments on that haiku. Then the author of that haiku is invited to select a haiku by someone else and comment on that poem, and so on. For an introduction to this section, see Virals.
Mother by Scott Metz
— Roberta Beary
Master Ogiwara Seisensui said that “a haiku is only one-half of a circle; it invites each reader to join the poet and complete the other half.” This quote seems to ring especially true in regards to the above poem by Roberta Beary, from her collection entitled The Unworn Necklace (Snapshot Press 2007), which, in 2008, was a William Carlos Williams Award Finalist (Poetry Society of America), as well as a winner in the Mildred Kanterman Merit Book Award (Haiku Society of America) contest.
This poem seems to be a test to our ability to imagine, as well as an intense invitation to dive into our life experiences and see what might possibly complete this puzzle.
Can the circle, in fact, be completed though? And is it necessary, or even desirable, to do so? It seems we can not help but try; that it is our instinct, our nature. So, in Beary’s poem, where is “here”? And where is “there”? Is it time? Is it space? Or is it both?
Allow me to imagine some possibilities.
Taking the brighter side first, perhaps we are outside, in a scene of warmth, amidst first blossoms or autumn foliage, and mother’s silence is a silence in awe of beauty and of nature itself.
Unfortunately, I think that that imagining is ultimately doubtful, and that instead what we have is a scene that, if not within an interior, at least pervades coldness and iciness. In this case, the scene could be any number of places: a parent’s home, a hospital room, a funeral home, or even a cemetery. If so, is this distance and time more akin to that of a silence that’s built up over a lifetime together, yet apart? From birth to death?
Or, perhaps we are being let in on the aftermath of a telephone conversation, with many miles separating them, perhaps even an ocean? If so, what, indeed, has been said? Who, after all, has not at some point in their life felt the cold silence of a disappointed, upset or concerned mother? Does it not toy with, if not destroy, something precious and profound? Does fault lie in the child’s hands here? Or is this simply a mother who can not be pleased, or who, it turns out, is simply so very different from their offspring and no amount of words could bring them closer?
The openness and invitation to participate in this poem is wide, and has much to do, I think, with its construction: 6 words; 8 syllables. This brevity opens the words up, freshens them, allowing them to sing: here, there, mother, silence.
And so they open, grow legs and vibrate, and breathe new life and meaning.
It also seems worth pointing out that the poem is universal in that the narrator could be female or male: it could be anyone’s mother. And yet, a great amount of depth is added, I think, when one knows this poem was written by a woman.
Lastly, who is this mother? What of her? Are we to take the word literally, as the poet’s actual mother who gave birth to her and (possibly) nurtured her? Or is it Mother Nature? Mother Earth?—“there,” in this case, being the starry sky, the moon, or fellow galaxies: Father Sky (is the silence then the silence of creation?). Of course, since this poem is great poetry, I think it can, of course, be both, and be both at the same time.
Or, to look at this gem from a different angle: is the mother the poet, referring to herself in the third person? And what does she think of her own silence?
Whether the scene is warm or icy, there is clearly an unspoken warmth, and a desire for warmness and connection. A longing that can not be dulled or extinguished. In this sense, “mother” becomes a global, universal keyword, able to be used in any season, in any year, on this planet where we all have, or had, a mother of some kind.
“from here” originally placed 2nd in the 2006 Penumbra Haiku contest (Tallahassee Writers’ Association).
As featured poet, Roberta Beary will select a poem and provide commentary for Viral 2.2.
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When I read this haiku I feel a wound. I feel Roberta’s exploration of a silence which she needs to be able to express, thus ending the silence. I feel the innate drive to individuation which in itself makes the wound deeper in the loss. Perhaps I feel too much? Like John, I probably read things from my own experiencial library.
While not wishing to be too restrictive, I would read this as a poem of mourning. ‘Here’ is the present, perhaps at graveside, and ‘there’ is some indefinite future date of reckoning. Until then, the speaker realizes, she must go it on her own, without mother’s guidance or companionship. The other readings so far proposed seem to be responding largely to a past duration rather than a future one, and that is a reading that seems to me less justified by the poem’s actual wording.
What I’ve always liked about this haiku, and the comments so far have confirmed this, is that there are so many windows or doors to enter it. Why, my first reading of it saw the mother going from one room and one door to another, taking that unnamable silence with her. I’ve forgotten who said that “silence” is an overworked word in haiku, but it is compelling in this haiku and without it would fall flat. In my several readings of a haiku as poignant as this, like John, I sometimes like to imagine a haiku within my own experience, but when that doesn’t reverberate, I’ll have people I know playing the part(s). If that doesn’t work, no worries, or course there is the imagination. In another reading of it, I had the mother passing away with an unsettled grudge and sinister clouds looming. So many ways to read this and fine comments thus far. And here’s to all that good back-patting going on in blogtown, Roberta, this poem is well deserved of its accolades.
mr youse needn’t be so spry
concernin questions arty
each has his tastes but as for i
i likes a certain party
gimme the he-man’s solid bliss
for youse ideas i’ll match youse
a pretty girl who naked is
is worth a million statues
e e cummings
I’ll just add that it is a tribute to this poem and to Roberta Beary that it can rouse different levels and kinds of imagination, body, heart and mind.
I’d just like to add that while putting the original posting together and spending a lot of time looking at Roberta’s poem on the screen, I wound up eventually noticing the repetition of “er” and how, possibly, it might be a kind of (still foggy) window into/connection to what actually set this poem in motion: that someone erred. And from that err came the silence over that distance. Just a thought.
Thoughts about “Mother” (Viral 2.1) following John Stevenson’s and Scott Metz’s comments. I seldom find myself imagining into a haiku, completing a scene or a story in the way Scott and John have described. I can certainly see how this poem strongly invites what I consider the narrative impulse. For whatever reason it is not a strong impulse for me, all of which is by way of introducing how I do, by contrast, see the poem, which is, I suppose, in a very primal way, as how the words first: move my body, and second, my imagination. Except here, imagination doesn’t so much mean the stirring of images—it feels more like the rousing of echoes whose originating sounds I have lost. And so, what I end up feeling is the nature of “hereness” as it becomes “thereness” within the field of “mother’s silence”, “here” feeling warm and present, “there” feeling cold and distant. I think this is a deep and universal experience within the human psyche. After all, it is impossible to maintain the very early dual unity with mother which can only be “here”. The discovery of “there”, which I feel in this poem though the original experience may be buried, is terrifying.
What I notice about the structure of the poem which embodies this is the shift in stresses which looks like this:
from HERE to THERE MOTHer’s SIlence
If you emphasize those stresses, I think it is possible to feel the shift from warmth to cold. (Technically, two iambs become two trochees).
Some may think it indulgent to talk this way (Mommy! Mommy! Look what I can notice) and I won’t deny that I enjoy being able to show people things that I see, and enjoy. I seem to remember Paul Reps saying something about the difference between a Westerner’s response to a rose and a Japanese’ response: the former says something like: “it took years of cultivation to achieve this degree of red…” but the latter says “Ahhh…”).
But sometimes, sometimes, saying what I notice is the best “ahhh” I can utter.
All of the above readings of the literal scene are interesting and have their individual resonances. When a haiku is effective for me, one mark of that can be how immediately I imagine it within my own experience. My reading of this poem has the mother and daughter (and then my father and me) riding in a car together. The conversation has faded or has come to a sudden halt. But the traveling continues. As the miles accumulate, perhaps all the way to the destination (“there”), the silence becomes more powerful, more intensely present. The distance is ultimately that between us. But the literal road is the living metaphor for it. I often reflect that, when I have to drive a long way, I will have to look at every mile of that road, whether I see any of it or not.
An interesting question, if this is taking place in a car, is who is driving.
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