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Viral 5.1

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.

Core   by Scott Metz


                             bare branches
                             I choose a layer
                             of blue silk

                                                  — Peggy Willis Lyles

We make choices virtually every moment of our lives: big ones, small ones. Choices that have become so mundane that we are no longer even conscious of them. But we make them nonetheless. Oftentimes, we are overwhelmed by the variety of choices we have before us. The avoidance of making a decision is a decision as well, and has consequences. Some of our best decisions though are accidents or unintended, made in a second. From the gut. Inspiration.

All art requires making careful choices, even if they are sometimes spontaneous or out of the blue. The art of haiku, especially, requires careful and specific choices. And, though inspired by an instant or a moment of some kind, an image, a memory or memories, a deeply felt feeling or connection, or a flight of the imagination, the words to express and describe them don’t necessarily arrive as easily, but are instead considered and sculpted and, if one chooses, revised. In some cases, extremely revised. Sometimes we make those choices and decisions. And, if we are serious about our art, then those decisions are serious; and those decisions have consequences in some way or another — the words we choose, the sounds, the beats, the line breaks, or lack thereof. Sometimes though they choose themselves and decide what goes down, and what goes where.

Bare branches have always reminded me of human lungs, antlers and coral, which leads to breathing, and the concepts of extending, branching out, growth, oxygen, and ultimately life itself. The tree has also long been an archetype in mythologies all over the globe: in The Book of the Dead they are where souls of the deceased find blissful repose; from India there is the Bodhi tree beneath which Buddha attained enlightenment; in the Shintō religion of Japan, where nature is sacred, is the especially sacred sakaki tree (Cleyera japonica), an evergreen, and is found in Japanese mythology, literature, and sacred rituals; in The Holy Bible (The New King James Version) there are the two trees in Eden (The Tree of Knowledge/Wisdom, of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Immortal Life, the tree of the return), as well as the tree/cross Jesus was crucified on (metaphorically returning humanity to the tree of life/eternal life); there is also the “Christmas” tree tradition of Germanic paganism, symbolic of the continuation of Life through the cold and darkness of winter; and in Mayan mythology the Tree of Life (Yaxche), traditionally a Ceiba tree, was their axis mundi (navel of the world), and could be found at the center of most pre-Columbian Mesoamerican villages.

Yes, the bare branches also allow more sky, more blue, to be seen, and therefore connect to the choice of a layer of blue (soft, like a blue silk scarf, or perhaps an inner layer, something no one else could know about or see?). But this is only a literal interpretation and possibility, only one side of the coin. What if the sky behind and around the bare branches is instead actually cloudy and gray? What follows after the first line then becomes a kind of deep, and deeply felt, wish — an inspiration/decision influenced by a strong desire and need for warmth, for change, for the sunnier days soon to come and for the new leaves that are certain to come. They cannot come sooner for the poet here, revealing an inner thought from the core for clarity.

“Bare branches” also creates other things for the reader: a sense of atmosphere, the world around it, as well as a state of consciousness. And it does so creatively, with strong imagery, without being explicit or taking the easy route (“winter tree” for example). Seasonally, it allows its reader room to breathe. Whatever the case, those bare branches are full of life and motion, with leaves and buds, and perhaps fruit, to come, even though it might not be perceived on the outside. There are layers to the tree’s life unseen by the naked eye, layers to the sky and earth, and layers to the poet. In this haiku the core is touched and the layers connected and revealed.

“bare branches” was first published in Wind Chimes 26 (1988)

As featured poet, Peggy Willis Lyles will select a poem and provide commentary for Viral 5.2.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Geez, a gem from a favorite poet, a mentor, a friend. To have waited as long as I did to say something about this one that speaks mountain ranges to me is nothing short of a sin. Forgive me, Peggy.

    The first time I read ‘bare branches’ I was humbled by how Peggy sculpts her words. Not one out of place. Not one does not belong. Not one fails to serve to hold this one together structurally and otherwise. While am I more than sure that she would not accept that idea that this is ‘minimalist’ haiku, in much the same way Raymond Carver did regarding the bulk of his work, it does have that feel about it. And that is no knock at all against the approach. Take any one word from this and its poignancy is lost. As other commenters have noted the clearest and, excuse the pun, barefaced, associations that may be made in ‘bare branches’, I’d like to offer at least one alternative reading that sees the selection of that blue silk layer as a subtle act of defiance. How so? In this reading the poet is stubborn in the sense that she doesn’t reach for a winter garment (bare branches=winter kigo), a cotton sweater, a lazy robe,etc…

    Don’t let me lose you here. Imagine a woman standing in her almost nakedness before her wardrobe. She glances off out the window. Bare trees, perhaps a whistling wind or snow. She ponders the scene and says to herself, “No, not this time” as she pulls from herself a strength, perhaps a curiosity, that defies the dictates of winter and all that says be glum. Assuming Peggy isn’t one for going gentle into that not-so-good day (She sees the trees. It can’t be night. Could be it around 4:30 p.m?) in her silk apparel, she’s staying in. Was there somewhere she was heading when she made that choice of garments? Perhaps. But she’s staying put. Has she a colorful pallet of silk garments to choose from? Only she can say. She chose blue. All sensual assumptions aside, and this is as ‘fleshly’ a haiku of taste that we’ll see, that she chooses a layer of silk that is blue, not as voluptuous and inviting as say, a red or black layer of silk, tells me that she’ll not be enjoying her lover’s company, but I imagine her somewhat settled in her thoughts for the evening to come. This is as exquisite, provocative, suggestive, and downright pretty, as haiku gets. A classic.

  2. bare branches
    I choose a layer
    of blue silk

    — Peggy Willis Lyles

    there are no surprises here, since to me Peggy in my opinion, if not the best,
    is one of best English language haiku poets of the 20th century:

    If we think about poetry, its roots, throughout history, it has always been an
    genre: lyrical, a story, a song, a psalm, an event, etc., orally, and what better
    way to open up a line of a haiku with the “r” sounds of “bare,” and “branches.”
    Even a man can feel barron, the emptiness, remorse, and so on, that death,
    even within our seasons, such as autumn, can make one feel.

    [When, Elizabeth Searle Lamb passed away, Marian Olson sent me a note,
    and in sothern New Jersey, there was a hard frost, and nothing moved, not
    even the crows…]

    Then, within line two, Penny adds a layer, even if this is only one, it still implies
    warmth, as does the color of blue, even when silk may feel cool to one’s body
    creating a mood, such as the color blue will.

    Anyone still own a Mood Ring?

  3. A fine meditation on Peggy’s poem. Ideally, had we time, we’d approach every haiku in this manner, allowing associations to ramify (–and branches, etc. make an apt metaphor for the process).

    The sound of this poem is finely crafted as well, with the obvious alliteration of “bare branches…blue” along w. the subtler interlocking pattern of liquids (“r”s and “l”s) and the repetition of “ch” in “branches” and “choose”, binding together image and psychology. A tight composition in all respects.

    It’s interesting to note that Peggy and the last featured “Viral” poet, Marlene Mountain, though very different stylistically, were both born in 1939. At least three other outstanding English-language women haiku poets were also born that yr: Caroline Gourlay, Marian Olson, and Ruth Yarrow. A truly remarkable group for just one revolution of the Earth–and 2009 is a good yr to celebrate them all.

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