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
train window... the shape of an apology on her lips — Praniti Gulyani, The Heron's Nest, Volume XXII, Number 2 (2020)
Radhamani Sarma considers all angles of the window:
Train journeys, whether of long or short duration, speak of many things: departures and farewells, smiles and tears, stretched out hands waving or shaking other hands, inconsolable and inexplicable sentiments compressed for the long haul, all from a train window.
This week’s write by Praniti Gulyani highlights the train window in terms of the lips of a woman. The first line, beginning with “train window,” leaves room and a wider chance of speculation for more and more expansion of ideas.
As pointed out above, the train window is not merely part and parcel of a compartment, dragged by bogies and reeling wheels. A train window is a place to view passing trees, stations, fields and rivers, moving by faster than one’s eyes can catch. Often, the window seat is a place that children vie with each another to occupy first.
Train windows are of many shapes: square and oblong, in-between and set sideways, made of steel or iron bars, and are a hold or a sign of demarcation. Sometimes, passengers even use them to get into the train.
Symbolically, a train window in this poem could portray a different picture. The passenger here is a woman. The second line leading into the third, “the shape of an apology/ on her lips” might be interpreted thus: The vertical iron rods or bars of the window are synonymous with teeth or lips not closed; hence the apology on the lips.
Sometimes, when she presses her lips against the window panes, looking out from close quarters, even shedding tears while bidding farewell, the shape of her lips becomes distorted; thus the apology on her lips. Apart from the moving sights viewed from within, a train window may be seen as a symbol of sadness or sorrow at the gates of departure.
Kaiser von Kahn summarizes the scene:
It is obvious that this poem presents a classic movie scene that has in the foreground two lovers who have just quarreled. He stays on the platform as she leaves by train. Maybe she said harsh, insulting words to him out of jealousy. We can’t know, but we can speculate. Perhaps the man still hopes that she will not leave forever and that is why he imagines that he sees on his girlfriend’s lips the sign of a reconciliation.
The window in the first line represents the chance to escape or to dream about a new beginning, the hope of freedom. Maybe she intends to get rid of a toxic love, to leave behind a painful past. At the same time, the train as a means of transport involves the idea of leaving for a new destination to help the woman calm down, to start over. The ellipsis seems to suggest hesitation or perhaps regret for unwritten words. Just as well, they could symbolize the tears shed by one of the two.
I like the second verse the most because it simply makes you wonder what shape the lips of the woman could give to an apology that is eagerly awaited.
Anyway, the agitation of her lips leaves room for interpretation and incites us to decipher a message. The sound “s” at the end of the ‘ku is like a skipping stone – the image of the woman’s lips makes waves in your mind long after you’ve read the poem.
If the woman herself is a poem par excellence, then her lips represent the quintessence of sensuality.
Peggy Hale Bilbro traces many tracks toward a story:
What a poignant and intriguing poem! We begin with a train window, but with no indication of whether the view is from the inside looking out or the outside looking in. From there, we move to lines 2 and 3 where the shape of an apology is seen, but not heard. The barrier of the train window allows us to see only the apology. So many questions are left unanswered! Is the woman who apologizes on the train or on the platform? Is she the one leaving or the one being left behind? Is she apologizing to the poet, and what is she apologizing for? Or perhaps the poet sees two strangers playing out a silent drama as the train pulls away. Is the train already moving, with no hope for reconciliation, or is it still stopped at the station with the possibility to change the arc of their story? As with trains, life moves on, often leaving apologies (or requests, or denials, or love) to fall against the invisible barriers that separate us, like the glass of the train window. Praniti has given us a compact yet wide open haiku that allows the reader to build an entire novel around these three lines. Indeed, the reader becomes a partner in the creative process. This is no simple train. It is the story we choose to make of it, with our own invisible barriers.
As this week’s winner, Peggy 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!
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flowing by water making room for water — Gary Hotham, frogpond vol 42:2 (2019)