in the old man’s brow
Selection and comments by Joanne Watcyn-Jones
Living on a dry land in a world of climate change is something that, to a varying degree, affects us all – but nobody more directly than the farmer, who not only makes his living from the land but is often on property that has been in the family for generations.
The deep ‘furrows’ in the old man’s brow bring to mind an immediate image of ploughed land waiting to be sown – but without water, crop growth to maturity is impossible. While this haiku is written in the present, the old man’s furrows would have taken many years to gain their depth. Years of worry, hard work, scorching sun, bank loans and frustration, offset by relief only if the rains arrive when they’re needed. The furrows also reach into an uncertain future – the concern over how long the farmer can afford to carry on if the crops fail for another year.
In this unsentimental but moving image of the farmer standing in a field of failed crops, we feel the harsh reality of his loss and despair, ingrained along with the dust and dirt into the lines of his forehead. Lines as deep as the soil the old man has tended all his life
In the two most vital words here – ‘furrows’ and ‘failing’ – the repetition of the ‘f’ adds emphasis to the beginning and the ending of this simple yet powerfully expressed haiku. It serves both as a reminder and an acknowledgment of the constant struggle undertaken by all those connected to the land, and the unflagging dedication necessary to a successful outcome.
First published: Windfall, issue 5, 2017
by Joanne Watcyn-Jones