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The Heron's Nest

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Volume IV, Number 7: July, 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

      spring twilight–
      the unexpected weight
      of a swept snail shell

                                            Yvonne Cabalona

With unexpected freshness, Yvonne Cabalona's depiction of a traditional and often-used haiku topic delights the mind as well as the tongue. It is a pleasure to read “spring twilight–” aloud. The susurration of the repeated “s” hints at the poet sharing a secret with her readers. This quality coupled with the clipped cadence of the last line conjures a sense of excitement.

This poem offers insight on several levels. In general humans don't like to be confronted with death, no matter how small and insignificant we may perceive a dead thing to be. This is especially so in the West, where we prefer not to be reminded of our own mortality. Sweeping that dry, lifeless shell right off the porch or into a litter pile may be a metaphor for the human proclivity to quickly remove such reminders from view.

This poet, however, is attuned to nature and has great respect for it. Acknowledging that the snail shell is empty and no longer needed, she sweeps it along with the trash. Perhaps feeling sadness at the death of the little creature that created this unique, whorled house (or possibly because she wants to study its design) the poet picks up the shell. It is heavier than she expected. How can such a small, empty thing feel so solid and meaningful in her hand?

At this point, I am reminded of the mandala. Symbolizing wholeness, this geometrical art form is often used for meditation in Eastern religions. A mandalic design consists of the “circle with a center” pattern which represents the basic structure of creation. For example, snowflakes, tree rings, spider webs, and snail shells reflect the primal mandalic pattern. Our solar system, the earth, the shell, and each of its atoms is a separate mandala that is also part of a larger one. The snail shell's unexpected weight confirms what the poet presumably knows: Even a bit of shell is an important part of nature's mandala. In dying, the snail leaves its shelter behind, and it is no different for humans. No matter what kind of dwellings we may obtain for ourselves, we too must leave them behind when we die. We can't take them with us, but they continue to exist, and will affect the living earth, perhaps in ways not apparent to us.

There is a second possible scenario suggested by the poem. I imagine the poet sweeping a porch, and upon seeing what appears to be an empty snail shell, she sweeps it too. But at the touch of her broom, she notices that it feels surprisingly heavy. Distressed that she may have been sweeping away something alive, she lifts the shell in her fingers, and finds that the living creature is still there, tucked snugly inside its casing. She carefully places the snail out of harm's way, relieved that she discovered her error in time. Yvonne's lovely spring poem not only evokes deep feelings and considerations of life and death, it invites me to consider the infinitely great by focusing on a thing that is very small-a hallmark of fine haiku.

  Ferris Gilli
July, 2002

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