Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
ラジオ鳴って留守か留守居か花マンガ Radio blaring. Is he out, or just pretending to be out? Mango flowers . . . — Taki Katsuya (勝谷多喜), Translated by Danny Blackwell. Original Japanese sourced from The National Diet Library, Japan.
Alan Summers speculates:
Back in the early 20th century, up to the 1930s, a number of Japanese people moved to Brazil and often started writing haiku under intense ill-health due to weather, endemic diseases, and work conditions.
The key word is mango, and the haiku was composed at the time when mangos were truly exotic to anyone outside of Brazil, and not the common fruit they are today. I don’t think this is any mere kigo thrown in to suggest a season. Mangos are tricky to grow, maintain, protect, and cultivate, and every aspect of weather, second by second, effects its outcome.
If you’ve never truly tasted ripe mango picked just minutes or hours previously you might not get the extra dimension that cannot be caught in commercial mango juice drinks, it’s just not there. It’s a parallel aftertaste, a contradiction in terms to be sure.
In the collection of kigo/seasonal words and phrases for Brazil called “Burajiru Kiyose,” Summer is defined as November to January. Brazil has a tropical and subtropical climate, and new kigo were required. I can guess that the author was either involved in the fruit farm business, or was visiting, not realising how farm work is entirely weather based, and not a 9-5 affair, and thus either a pre-arranged or off the cuff get together is meaningless for someone who works on a farm.
Perhaps the author of the haiku finally guessed, had “the penny dropped,” when he noticed mango flowers, and that their friend would have had to rush off at less than a second’s notice.
“. . .the most important aspect of the fruit business is the least certain: weather. It influences everything from growing and distribution to sales. Temperature makes the fruit ripen more quickly or slowly. Tropical rain can wash out the dirt-track access to a farm. As regards sales in Britain, sunshine is as important as temperature: a bright weekend can boost sales by 30 per cent and the supply chain must rev up quickly to meet demand…workers may go six times or more to each tree to pick the fruit at its peak, when it is sweetest (. . .) Next to the ripening fruit are other trees covered in cascades of flowers awaiting pollination by ants and bees. Though only a few flowers on each stem become fruit, there will be up to 120 mangoes on each of these trees.”
Hattie Ellis (Oct 2013) The Telegraph newspaper. (With love from Brazil: the mango’s journey to Britain.)
The radio still playing is no Marie Celeste moment, it takes vital seconds to even rush over to the device and fumble the switch off. Those seconds are best preserved getting footwear on, gloves, and any other equipment, including a bottle of water. This is Summer, and there’s going to be intense and highly demanding work, best not to forget anything for the day. The radio can wait until the evening after all.
As this week’s winner, Alan gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
just-fledged light chips of wren song from the log pile — Claire Everett, Presence #45 (2001)