Heron’s Nest Award
my son shows me the way
In order to discern the merits of any haiku, I know that I must answer two key questions: Is there more to it than its surface imagery? What are the elements from which I will draw in order to explore the poem's importance
Preparing to write about John McManus’s “crayon map,” I realize that this poem holds more than an affectionate moment between a father and his son, though I am not sure what I should write or where to start.
Then, as I turn the work over and over in my mind, something wonderful happens. The haiku begins to open, lotus-like, as I study it. I find my uncertainty replaced by enlightenment that is rooted in reality, yet enhanced and
clarified through imagination and introspection. I have entered the haiku (with my inner child), and it is this meeting of poet and reader that makes resonance possible, even inevitable. Our combined presence illuminates a
bridge between worlds.
While the poem certainly should be read as a literal experience, its interpretive potential goes far deeper than that. The third line, a perhaps universally recognized literary reference to a favorite and often-reproduced
children’s story, loops back through the haiku, enriching it and leading the way in.
Perhaps this “crayon map” represents a route not only through the stars to a fantastical place, but also into the son’s view of the universe and into his dreams, which almost certainly harbor make-believe
beings that are as real to the child as they once were to the father. If so, it is an infinitely precious gift to the parent.
Childhood and adulthood might be perceived as two adjoining countries with only a whimsical border between them. Perhaps in McManus’s poem, “Neverland” is another name for childhood. The poet’s son,
by showing his father the way to Neverland, invites him to put away the rules and strictures of parenthood, to join his son as playmate and accomplice in a magical but temporary world.
Is the young, earnest face turned up to the father’s, the boy’s half-playful, half-serious plan apparent in his trusting smile? Maybe he really can come with me. He’s my dad — I’ll
bet he can! Perhaps the poet, one foot already midway across that border, is thinking, What if we could? What if we really could?
Children dream of going to places like Neverland, Camp Half-Blood, FernGully, Sherwood Forest, and Hogwarts. Adults may at times experience an almost debilitating nostalgia, a yearning to regain our childhood, surrounded by
the people who protected us and shaped our lives — and to once more believe in the magic we once knew existed. Yet if we could return, we might “find the native air has lost its invigorating quality, and that life has
shifted its reality1 . . . .”
Adult readers who at some time in their lives longed to fly away with Peter Pan (from the play and novels of J.M. Barrie, 1902, 1904, and 1911) will find McManus’s haiku powerfully evocative. Peter, a little boy who
lives on the small island of Neverland, will remain a boy forever. His never-ending childhood in a fantastic, dangerous place light years from his real-world home is a circumstance of choice: Peter Pan refuses to grow up.
Fascinating and mystical, the human condition of Neverland and Peter’s adventures can be especially moving for parents who may suspend disbelief long enough to ask, What if this were my child?
A perfectly executed model of haiku concision, “crayon map” contains not even one non-essential word. Enforced with inner and implied juxtaposition, the poem is multi-layered and immediate. The appealing rhythm
begs for the poem to be read aloud. Its concrete imagery evokes a clear mental picture, and the critically significant literary reference shows the way inside. As for season, it has a wintry feel to me, with a cozy sense of
Feet firmly on the ground, readers may share a sweet moment between the poet and his son — and oh, so very much more, if one will but enter . . . and believe. The Heron’s Nest editors thank
John McManus for giving us and our readers the opportunity. Second star to the right and straight on till morning!