dead wood
the ministry
of wind

Jonathan McKeown


On reading this my first image was of a stand of dead trees on a hillside nearby ravaged by bush fire, making a stark calligraphy of bare branches against the blue sky and imposing silhouettes at night. Though yet to walk this hillside on a windy day I’ve wondered how a strong wind, or a gentle breeze for that matter, might weave its way through these trees. I thought too of a marvel one sees in eucalypt forests, of towering old gum trees whose original trunks are long dead and partially decayed yet the canopy continues to flourish by virtue of a narrow band of living bark connecting it to the ground and to its roots. Such trees remind me of the relationship between life and death and of past and present generations. Such images and thoughts prompted by the haiku came without conscious effort; such is its immediate and ongoing appeal. I thought later too of the woodwind instruments and in particular of the flute; dead wood, played by breath, able to carry us into ethereal spaces.

In our communications I asked the poet if this haiku carried any intended meaning and his reply was especially insightful; ‘Most of my best haiku seem to come to me fully formed before I have much chance to think about them and so I don’t know whether “intended meaning” is quite the way I’d put it. They are more like the little lizards my brother and I would catch when we were kids.’ There is much that could be said here regarding the relationship between genuine creativity, spontaneity, the unconscious and perhaps deeper sources still, but I leave that to your reflections. The author also makes the interesting point that; ‘all this (associative material) comes after the poem is already given. It is hard to take credit for it but one can’t help but feel grateful and proud to be somehow conducive to the mystery of their birth.’ Regarding such ‘associative material’ considered ‘after the event’ Jonathan tells me the ministry of the wind can be read as a reference to the role of the wind in fanning bushfires so essential to the regeneration of native forests – fires that clear away dead wood, facilitating new growth. He further adds that there are parallels here between the wind and Biblical references to the breath of life.

This haiku was originally published as a stand-alone haiku and later incorporated in a haibun entitled Genesis. This poignant haibun touches on the subject of life and death from another perspective and adds a further dimension of contemplation to this richly layered haiku.

First published: The Heron’s Nest, Volume XVI, Number 2: June 2014

subsequently published as part of a haibun entitled Genesis in A Hundred Gourds 4:2 March 2015

Selection & comments by Simon Hanson

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