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The Heron's Nest
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Volume III, Number 02: February, 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

The birdbaths are covered with ice, and wrappings of bed sheets have turned bushes and trees into misshapen ghosts. As the frigid wind creeps into the house and into my bones, I combat it with hot coffee and layers of clothing, and by reading this haiku:

      the slow turn
      of a barber's pole–
      afternoon heat
                                            John W. Wisdom

Those lines transport me into another time and place, into summer, where the soothing drawl of Southern speech matches the unhurried pace of my small hometown. "Uptown" consists of a row of buildings facing the railroad track. The plate-glass window of the general store advertises Sweet Peach snuff, fresh hens' eggs, and Red Goose shoes. Other lures include five-cent bottles of Orange Crush and Coca-Cola chilling between chunks of ice in the drink box, and the latest Pocketbook paperbacks available for a quarter apiece. A spotted hound lies dozing beneath an oak bench, stirring occasionally to snap at a bluebottle fly. He ignores the shrill peeps of hundreds of mail-order chicks in cardboard boxes, and the smells of chicken manure and fowl mash that drift from the adjoining two-room post office.

The first building in the row is Smitty's Barber Shop. Beside the door hangs the modern counterpart of that ancient symbol of barbering and bloodletting, an electrically driven barber's pole, with its slowly spiraling red, white, and blue stripes. Half the shop roof is sheltered by a huge, hundred-year-old magnolia, but the shadows cast by dark green leaves and full, creamy blossoms are deceptive; this afternoon it's 102 degrees in the shade. To walk, to sit, to wave a paper fan–to simply breathe–is to sweat. A barefoot child whose father is inside getting a haircut sits between two great tree roots, gazing nearly hypnotized at the incessantly flowing curves of the barber's pole.

The slow rotations of the pole remind me of the turning of the Earth. The rhythm and imagery of John's haiku represent the essence of summer. As dog days begin, it seems that the time of torpid air and blazing sun, long days melting into one another, will never end, just as the bright stripes curve continuously into themselves with the endless turning of the pole. The broad temporal boundaries of the season are reflected in the shape of the poem's words on the tongue, words that ask to be read leisurely, the "r's" barely pronounced, to emerge slowly like cool syrup poured from an earthenware pitcher.

Occasionally we are given the gift of a poem that awakens sensual memories, allows us to re-visit a moment of our own, and resonates so strongly that we experience a physical shock of wonder and recognition. Finely and concisely wrought and perfectly complete in its brevity, this haiku is such a poem for me. I am grateful to John for this vivid reminder that the seasons change, that winter will end.

  Ferris Gilli
February, 2001