starless sky
the black cord
to the fuse box

Robbie Coburn


On first reading I was immediately taken by the originality of this haiku.

While the scene is explicitly dark, we would not be surprised to see a bright flash at any moment. The darkness of this starless sky and the word black creates an effective contrast with the possibility of light (as sparks) from the fuse box. Does something in the fuse box need attention to restore the lights? Has someone made their way to the fuse box by torchlight? There is a sense of danger and suspense in all this, perhaps there has been a blackout caused by an electrical storm, power lines may be down, but that fuse box could be live!

There is also an effective suggestion of similarity in the (potential) sparks from the fuse box and the stars; for although it is a starless night the stars are none-the-less brought to mind in the mention of the word starless, hidden though they are behind dark clouds. So much in this poem is present in latent form, unstated but brought to mind anyway – the possibility of light from the fuse box, lightning in the sky, the suggestion of storm season, stars behind dark clouds, torches in the night and high voltage lurking in the darkness. Hidden within this simple observation of a simple scene lies the potential for great energy and chaos. During power outages we frequently resort to candles, but you can see I am clutching at the comfort of light, perhaps there is space here to enjoy the darkness as it is – ah listen, that might be rain. But you know what they say about water and electricity.

Our own physiology and nervous system is profoundly electrical, running on the most delicate voltages fundamental to mind and body. Investigating the fuse box, live wires, short circuits and lightning are often used in film to convey feelings of physical danger as well as of psychological and emotional tension, and I do get a sense of the cinematic here. Although the allusions and latent imagery in this poem are strong they are subtly and skilfully implied. A most impressive haiku.

First published: Windfall, issue 6, 2018

Selection and comments by Simon Hanson

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