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
brush strokes — the mother I’ll never be — Kirsten Cliff, Issa’s Untidy Hut, 40 (2011)
Corine Timmer reflects on images:
Brushstrokes can tell a story about the artist creating them. Perhaps in this poem the subject, who is clearly conflicted, escapes her torment by painting. I envisage fluid brush strokes on the canvas. For a moment in time, she can escape from the person she has become or the person society expects her to be into the person she wants to be — herself.
Another image that jumps to mind is of a mother brushing her daughter’s hair. Some mothers are gentle and patient, taking care not to tug or scratch, whereas others fall into the category of “no pain no gain.” Perhaps the subject falls into the latter category, much to her daughter’s despair? Or can it be that the subject witnesses a tender mother-daughter moment and realizes she will never experience it? Like an interesting painting, this poem creates space for individual interpretation and reflection.
Radhamani Sarma enters the poem from two angles:
Delighted to comment on this poem by Kirsten Cliff, possibly a two-fold point of view, both as a daughter and as a mother. The efforts of a responsible mother using a comb on the long, thick hair of her daughter to bring about a unified plait have resulted in pain – all put in short coinage.
The first line — “brush strokes” — leaves more room for the reader’s speculation, implying a mother’s dexterous hand with hair. Not only is pain and unease expressed by the movement of her daughter’s body, but also the intricate knots beyond the easy management of this mother. “brush strokes“ serves both as a descriptive phrase and an image depicting clusters of hair knots.
Amidst all her daily chores, we find the mother spending time with her daughter, combing her hair, which results in her voicing an observation emanating from the painful situation. The mother’s point of view is well carried through in the second and third lines:
I’ll never be”
Given the situation, she does not want to be a mother. Her emphatic denial stems from a great ordeal arising not out of a political or national disaster, but simply an ordinary, individualized experience.
This piece can also be taken from the child’s point of view: She admits that, as she grows, she cannot visualize being a mother put in the same tricky dilemma, veering through brush strokes, knots or clusters of hair and pain.
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă sees a torn artist:
This poignant poem reminds me of a Latin phrase, namely “ut pictura poesis,” whose literal meaning is “as is painting so is poetry.”
Someone — we don’t know if it is a master or an inexperienced person — is ready to paint a picture using those special movements of the brush which can be tiny, vigorous, swirling strokes. What we precisely know is that the artist is a woman who bears a great burden: She can’t be the perfect mom.
The reader, of course, wonders why and speculates. Because once you dedicate yourself to this art, it is clear that you no longer have time for the art of being a mother. Painting requires suffering, sacrifices, continuous searches for new paradigms, lost time, insomnia, maybe successes, maybe failures. In other words, the painter becomes a demon who lives in another world, and that’s why we obviously perceive the regret that transpires from the verses of this poem.
Brush strokes may just as well suggest the movements of the unborn baby in the mother’s womb, and it causes the woman to think about all kinds of difficulties which are related to being a mom.
In my opinion, keeping to the proportions, the poem, in an Expressionist manner, is the muffled cry, the scream of inner turmoil that does not give peace to the artist, who is always looking for an identity.
Marietta McGregor considers the nuances of life’s “brush strokes”:
This wistful haiku reads to me like a sigh of regret, and yet acceptance. The poet is pondering over a life full of a great deal of experience, rendered like a beautiful painting in layers of wash and color or a sumi-e brushwork in nuances of monotone, the “brush strokes” of history and existence. The assonance in the first line gives the poem its long sigh. The poet is perhaps engaged in painting as she composes the haiku, lingering over the gentle sweeps of her brush. Then her thoughts take her somewhere else, somewhere she will never go — motherhood. Whether by choice or by fortune, the poet seems philosophical about what might have been, and resigned to what will be.
As this week’s winner, Marietta 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!
Sundial shadow: a butterfly lands and changes the time. — Garry Gay, The Silent Garden (1982)