along a dirt road
Selection and comments by Rob Scott
This haiku from Ashley Capes resonates on a number of levels. Firstly, Capes writes from a place that is identifiably Australian. Largely desert or semi-arid, Australia is one of the great dust producing nations of the world. Combined with the wind, dust and dirt roads are a powerful and uncontrollable force, contributing a large chunk towards our polluted air. Capes’ haiku is a nod to this omnipresent feature of the Australian landscape. Of course, we’re not alone, and I’ve had cause to drive many a mile on a dusty road in Europe, North America and many parts of Asia. A dirt road is a dirt road. But familiarly Australian, nevertheless.
Dirt is no stranger, either, to adumbration in Australian haiku. There are many fine portraits, and with this poem, Capes adds another indelible image. In a discussion of kigo in my thesis on the history of Australian haiku, I offered up several sources of distinctively Australian phenomena that could be potential sources of ‘cultural kigo’, relegating seasonal references (the key cultural ingredient of Japanese kigo) to the role of background scenery.
“When included sensitively to haiku poems, (these phenomena) have the capacity to act as anchor and symbol, providing a local and allegorical context and drawing the cluster of associations….vital for the creation and sustenance of a local haiku tradition.”¹ Dirt, or dust, was not included in this discussion. But it could well be.
But it’s the inclusion of ‘memories’ that gives this haiku its clout. There is an intuitive connection between memory and dust. They both carry weight, and the verb ‘pushing’ has been carefully chosen. By the time we get to the third line (‘the wind’) we have a strong sense of the magnitude of the load and the force required to move it.
We are all dust. An accumulation of time. Of experiences, including memories. Life, we’re often told, is a journey. A journey over which we have limited, and sometimes no control. At times we’re forced to go simply ‘where the wind takes us’. Every now and then, the dust settles, bringing with it a momentary pause. Until the wind blows again.
First published: Third Australian Haiku Anthology (2011)
¹ The History of Australian Haiku and the Emergence of a Local Accent Rob Scott (2014)