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The Heron's Nest

a haikai journal ...


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Volume IV, Number 3: March 2002.
Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors' Choices • Commentary • Haiku Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 • Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      gray morning
      the weight of mist
      in Spanish moss
                                            Peggy Lyles

Spanish moss is not Spanish, neither is it moss. If you have not seen long drapes of Spanish moss swaying with the wind, attached to branches of live-oak, cypress, or other Southern trees, take a trip into your memories of movies, dramas, or novels. Such trees shaded Atticus Finch’s house and Big Daddy’s, where Maggie the Cat lived. Join Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara as they step from the heat of Tara’s dance floor. Stroll with them down the curving drive where the guests’ carriage teams are tied to hitching posts. Stand in the moonlight by the magnolias hung with Spanish moss–hear the mockingbirds, frogs, and insects. Although the plantation life of the Old South is long gone, moss and trees remain as they were before the presence of humans. Swamps and forests devoid of settlement are still homes for the moss. Native Peoples had called it “tree hair” before French explorers (mocking their rivals for control of the continent) named it “Spanish beard.” The taunt lost some of its edge as “moss” replaced “beard.”

Peggy Lyles’ haiku gives us a study in one color: gray moss, gray sky, gray mist. A flowering plant that reproduces from airborne seeds, Spanish moss grows into long, hanging masses of thready (primarily gray-colored) fibers. It is particularly common in rainy, humid parts of the southeastern US, with a range to Argentina and Chile. Seen at a distance, some species of lichen such as “old man's beard” may be confused with Spanish moss. Mist and rain feed this plant; the twisted colonies hold moisture well. When wet, as Peggy has observed, Spanish moss is stretched by the pounds of water that it can retain. What is also heavy in this poem is the atmosphere it depicts. With such drenching humidity in the morning, I predict a steamy, hot day. Perhaps the mist will burn off as the sun comes out.

So few words, yet the author’s poem evokes omnipresent heat and a scene of nostalgia. Her words are slow to read, even slower to pronounce, and they are plain. A distinct break comes after the opening line. Nouns with final t's (one an st), make up the second line, and even slower s's bring the poem to a close. Note the end-word shapes of the second and third lines–mist morphs into moss. Peggy Lyles’ haiku demonstrates very skillful control of subject and language. The poet disappears so thoroughly that I could believe it was my idea to experience this languid scene.

  Paul MacNeil
March 2002

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