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The Heron's Nest
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Volume III, Number 01: January, 2001.
Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editor's Choices •  Haiku: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 •  Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      cold snap
      the rattle of a rake
      over stones
                                            paul m.

A haiku is a door. Beyond the portal is experience -- and mood. Some haiku are quiet; what action there is is carried in a few words. A complex scene and its interrelationships are distilled with careful management of language. paul m. takes the reader over the threshold with five key words. Within his haiku one senses temperature, sound, and the sight of an action (portrayed without a direct verb). The haiku unfolds seemingly without a guide; the poet is invisible. Indeed, by the time we finish reading, the clarity and immediacy of mood may have caused most of the words to disappear as well.

The writer has very artfully employed his "keywords" not only for meaning but for their sound, music, and emotional effect. The mood of the haiku is heightened in this way and a reader may not be aware (should not be aware) of this until later analysis, intellection. "Cold" is not only the season word (paired with "snap," the word it modifies), the long "o" sound makes it slow to say, so we feel its meaning even more. "Snap" is a direct word: blunt and short. The season is probably early to mid-autumn. A particular feel is in the air and it seems likely that this experience took place early in the morning, often a time when there's very little wind. Everything is still. In cold, dry air, the "rattle" is a brittle sound. The observer turns toward it. The noun "rattle" is modified and explained by a tool: the rake. The quick assonance of "snap" and "rattle" flows into the consonance of "rattle" and "rake." We are led from from one to the other in rapid order. Then the poem closes as it began, with slow sounds: the "o"s in "over" and "stones." The last word now shares the characteristic of the first; the stones are cold as well.

Resolution for the question of who is doing what is not fully supplied to the reader. Without explicit direction one may assume fallen leaves move with the strokes of the rake. The leaves also rattle, but not like the skittering of rake teeth. It may be that this is a Zen garden, but with the author's use of "stones," rather than sand or gravel, it is more likely that we are simply pointed toward the regular maintenance of a landscape.

Do we see the gardener's breath or is the whole scene out of sight, only the almost-unpleasant sound reaching us? Do we see the bare shadows of trees on the ground and the rake passing through them? The angles of both? Is the raking rhythmic? Do we smell the leaves? The pureness of the air? Is a deep breath of this air as satisfying as the rake-on-stone sound is unsettling?

Analysis aside, as readers the three Editors were unanimously drawn to this haiku, to the power of its mood. Before we knew of one anothers' responses we had each moved fully into the moment, adding our own unique experiences to that of paul m.'s.

  Paul MacNeil
January, 2001