grave offering
her tiny palms cup
the dead finch

Gavin Austin

blue-sky

I was recently gifted a copy of Changing Light: haiku and senryu by Gavin Austin. Lucky me!

Of the most memorable pieces in this fresh and immersive collection, this one stayed with me, rewarding through many rereads, in part for the juxtaposition of its quietly impacting imagery and because it resonated with my own memories of a universally poignant experience of children and the passing of (their) animals.

With the first line grave offering, my mind went to the commonplace offering of flowers. With the second line her tiny palms cup, imagined details came to light: a small posy of hand-picked wildflowers. After I’d been lulled into this tranquil scene I was immediately pulled up by the abruptness of the final line – the dead finch.

On rereading the haiku as a whole, I found its combined parts offered alternate possibilities: the (presumed) child literally placing the dead finch in a grave or the child gravely offering up the small corpse to god/nature, a parent or other adult figure. There is a fragility to the occasion, brought about by her tiny palms and that particular sense of solemnity children often bring to the death of an animal. I remember when my daughter requested I pour concrete into my heart-shaped cake tin in order to make a headstone befitting the love she had for her pet chook.

The choice of the verb ‘cup’ signifies gentleness and respect in the handling of the corpse. There is a startling rawness to the juxtaposition of the image of the second line her tiny palms cup and the bluntness and finality of the third, the dead finch.

Why finch and not just bird? Finches are usually resident and do not migrate, creating the possibility of a regular encounter. But perhaps, more aptly, finches are common pets, suggesting a certain depth of relationship.

A beautifully rendered haiku depicting what is often for children their first encounter with mortality through the loss of a beloved animal.

First published: Creatrix #37 June 2017

Included in the collection Changing Light, Alba Publishing, 2018

Selection and comments by Jane Williams