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The Heron’s Nest

a haikai journal ...


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Volume V, Number 11: November, 2003.
Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

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


Heron’s Nest Award


       Deathbed . . .
           my old friend’s imitation
                    of a firefly

                                             vincent tripi

July second, 1826, in a custom-made bed (extra long), in an alcove between office and bedchamber, in a house he designed, the third President of The United States fell into a coma. Very ill for five days from an intestinal malady, probably cancer, Thomas Jefferson was attended by his physician, daughter, family, and friends. The house slaves listened from adjoining rooms and from the basement through the dumbwaiter. For the next two days, Jefferson regained consciousness several times and clearly asked what was the date. Told it was the second of the month, then the third, he fell back insensate each time. When his question was answered that it was the fourth of July, he sighed, and was dead at age eighty-three. He lived until the fiftieth anniversary of the formal signing of The Declaration of Independence he had authored.

vincent tripi’s haiku brought to mind this story still told by the docents at Monticello in Virginia. More personally, I was also transported to memories of several deathbeds of my own loved ones.

The one-word setting, “deathbed,” is an extremely powerful beginning for this poem. It evokes images surrounded by ritual. The solemnity and import of the process of dying is quite universal across cultures. With the first line set apart from the rest by an ellipsis, a reader pauses to ponder the natures of death and living. Using a second concise image, tripi tells of friendship. The relationship between the two people, one dying, one surviving, has been a long one and a reader may infer that neither principal is young. The poet himself is indeed central to the poem. He shares this experiencing of death with his friend. The poem’s third part is the concept of “firefly.” In the dark, a firefly is bright then gone again, flying on in blackness. Its reappearance is a flash in a different place. Haiku as a genre can contain such a figurative image. tripi employs it so lightly that its resonance brings me back to the intensity of the opening image. Rather than just mentioning the insect for the setting, perhaps as a line unto itself, he shows the metaphor directly. The technique is masterful, much more subtle and effective. The poet states that what he sees is an imitation. The haiku succeeds because of this gentleness of touch; it avoids an obviousness that would ruin the sharing of deep emotions.

How powerful is this simple evocation of experience so basic to humans. Light and dark . . . consciousness here and gone . . . life and death. How rich was this friendship, this love.



Paul MacNeil
November 2003


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