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
hefting a plum — I know by heart my father’s orchard — Michael McClintock, tug of the current: The Red Moon Anthology 2004
Radhamani Sarma teases out the genetics in the orchard:
This haiku by Michael McClintock gives us a chance to go into the orchard to taste the juicy fruits to suffice our thirst in this hot summer. This week’s haiku deals with fruit variety, here especially plum and the person’s related experience in his father’s fruit garden. In the very first line, the singular ‘a’ plum, giving the task of lifting the weight of a plum to the speaker, leads further to so many prospects of building the haiku. Obviously, his father, either being an owner or a landlord who grows various plum fruits, must have reared many kinds by sowing typically various seeds, or plum varieties; hence, he must have had access or distinct knowledge. The same must have been inherited by the son.
The second line “I know by heart” amply augments the view that a family’s traditional occupation is naturally passed on to the son, be it a musician, or singer, or vedic scholar, why even a barber; why one can say he inherits the same, as we see in the case of a fisherman or a farmer. In light of this context, if we interpret the phrase “I know by heart,” we derive the meaning: that as a seasoned or well-trained person, he knows every variety — its color, its yield prospects all by its weight — as easily as a goldsmith can distinguish the yellow metal from a fake or fourteen karat gold.
Anitha Varma plumbs cherished memories:
This, to me, paints a deceptively simple picture – that of an older person holding a single plum. ‘hefting’ is the word used – an unusual usage when associated with a single plum. ‘Heft’ is usually used in conjunction with heavy weights, whereas here, we are talking about a little plum. The word ‘heft’ actually plummets the humble little plum into the heavyweight category. It is a whole load of memories which the plum brings on, that is weighing it down, so that the poet has to ‘heft’ it.
These memories are, to me, childhood memories, as hinted at by saying how familiar the poet is with his ‘father’s’ orchard. Each reader is invited to fill the ‘dreaming space’ this ku creates, to fill it with memories of his favourite childhood haunts and activities.
This is a very evocative ‘ku which invites and makes the reader a creator along with the poet.
Rich Schilling relives the past:
In doing a research for this haiku I found that it is part of a haibun titled “Men of Property.” Michael McClintock lets the reader know that the orchard is being sold and he is walking through, one last time . There is an interesting detail about a bullet hole in a tin pail that he remembers and although his father has most likely passed on, I don’t get the sense a bullet has anything to do with it. It sounds more like the tin pail was target practice when he was a kid.
Michael relives a memory in this haiku and gives a perfect amount of detail to convey a sense of loss, and of growing up. He feels the weight of a plum, what I see as a metaphor for himself as a kid. I have three kids, and as a parent we heft our kids and we feel how much they have grown, until they are too big to heft. You feel proud but at the same time you feel sad. They are growing up, and one day they will leave the orchard to put it in the context of this haiku. The symbolism of an orchard perfectly represents Michael’s youth and growing up, just as the fruit becomes full grown. The plum is also the kigo in this haiku. Plums are usually harvested between May and October. And while a specific month doesn’t affect the feel in any way, I’d like to think it is late summer, early fall. In haiku plum blossoms have also been used to represent the transitoriness of life.
I relate to this haiku as a parent and as a son. I’m lucky my Dad is still living. Our “orchard” is his backyard where we used to play basketball, or the lake we have fished our whole life. He has watched me grow just as I watch my kids grow. We all have an orchard, a place we grew up, and we all relive those memories. We feel the weight of something, something as specific as a plum or just any aspect of life. There are always moments we look back on like in this haiku. We know them by heart. Some of us even write those moments down. Not all of can put it as eloquently as Michael McClintock, but we can try.
Reka Nyitrai considers the heft of memories and emotions:
For me this ku of Michael McClintock is about weighing. It is about finding out how heavy a plum might be while one looks back at past events and situations that concern him, his father and his father’s orchard.
For me, weighing is a biblical undertaking and its end result usually is about finding the weighed subject/object wanting, insufficient. However, in this case, the tested plum is found heavy, jam-packed with childhood memories and emotions. Even so the plum is heavy with memories it is found short on, bringing back into present the poet’s father. This is why Michael McClintock’s plum is dense and bittersweet.
Reading and re-reading this haiku left me with the sweetness and bitterness of memories “known by heart”, memories that still ripple over a father’s and a son’s orchard, memories that surely will be passed down to the forthcoming generation.
As this week’s winner, Rich 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!
a fork in the the road turning into a a clock — Peter Yovu, Sunrise (Red Moon Press, 2010)