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The Heron’s Nest


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Volume X, Number 2: June, 2008.
Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors’ Choices • Commentary • Index of Poets • 
Haiku Pages:  1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7,  8,  9,  10,  11,  12


Heron’s Nest Award


    slicing apples
    into the dented pan —
    howl of the wind
                                       D. Claire Gallagher


A haiku poet’s experience can be a flash of insight into the rightness of things, or something that slowly moves into consciousness. Both parts of a haiku might be pre-existing; one part may serve as background, until something else intrudes. In “slicing apples,” Claire Gallagher juxtaposes a peaceful, homely activity against a potentially tense situation. That readers are allowed to appreciate the kitchen scene before they are made aware of the intrusive wind sounds is crucial to conveying the poem’s essence.

One can infer that the poet is baking in her home while a storm is blowing outside. From the description, I intuit a winter storm. “Apple,” a late-autumn kigo, can rightfully belong in other seasons if context is given.

The cook will have turned on the oven to preheat it, found or remembered a recipe to ad lib, and gathered the appropriate ingredients. Since she is preparing apples and cutting them directly into a pan, she has already peeled and cored them with special tools, or perhaps she labored with only a simple paring knife. In my own “mind’s eye,” I see the slicing done with apple halves in hand being cut toward a thumb. Repetitive, practiced motions yield thin, nearly identical, slices. Apple after apple, knife and cook are in rhythm. The cook is aware of the wind; its voice is in the background as she works. With just the right portion of apples finished, the cook will sprinkle cinnamon over them, along with either white or brown sugar. The pan of apples is shaken. Staples are mixed for a crumb topping: flour, butter, more sugar, some liquid, and other family-secret ingredients. On to the oven. In a while, the fragrance of this apple brown betty or apple crisp (cobbler if more of a crust was called for) will begin to attract family members to the kitchen to investigate. This recipe, in one form or another, has been baked for centuries. Okay, now I am hungry.

Claire’s skillful haiku has several other aspects that let me share in this experience. The wind’s “howl” is apposed to a knife “slicing.” The parts of this poem are wonderfully assembled. Lines one and two have a rhythm fitting their meaning. Two senses are explicit: movement and sound. Smell is close to the poem, even from the raw apple. A fourth sense to imagine, taste, seems assured. The use of words is such that craft itself does not show. The key here, for me, is that the pan is “dented.” Oh, how much weight this word delivers!

How was it dented? Possibly by just repeated kitchen use, but it might have been an occasional toy for crawling-age generations . . . such a lovely drum. What kind of a baking utensil gets banged up? It might be the aluminum which has problems with acidic recipes, but certainly not undentable cast iron. My guess is tin or tinned steel. I own some similar cookware handed down from my mother and her mother. In the cupboards are a few of these humble old containers whose looks don’t matter, but predictable utility does. Each has come to fit certain recipes. Dented and perhaps quite discolored with the patina of long wear, Claire’s pan may have an aesthetic beauty ultimately not very different from that of cooking apples themselves.



Paul MacNeil
June 2008


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