living will
I bequeath my ashes
to a young rimu

Karen Peterson Butterworth


Impermanence, life-in-death, death-in-life. We are definitely in haiku territory.

Here’s an honest, realistic and responsible confronting of death, neatly expressed – calmly, simply, matter-of-factly. The haiku is fresh, immediate, has energy and evokes both seriousness and humour; all aspects of a good haiku. This haiku is firmly located in New Zealand / Aotearoa as indicated by the word rimu.

The rimu is a tall coniferous, long-lived tree with graceful weeping foliage. It has a most important personal association for Karen. Over fifty years ago her father chose a rimu in the Catlins, North East Otago as a Family Tree. Since then a special commemoration has been held there after the death of a family member. Karen, the oldest sibling, is now the sole survivor of her birth family.

Here, living links with a young rimumy ashes have life before and after death. Death surrounded by life, life enhanced through death. I like the idea of those who have lived a long life – ‘the old’ – supporting ‘the young’.

Despite the subject, the haiku has a lightness. There’s humour in that I bequeath. The poet could have said; I give my ashes / to a young rimu. That would have worked also but without the implied chuckle. And perhaps too there is a sense of increased importance in choosing the word, bequeath.

This haiku opens a scenario to the reader, inviting one to consider their own death, identity and place nature, a call for reflection.

Haiku first published: Kokako 25, Nov 2016

Selection and commentary by Nola Borrell, Aotearoa / New Zealand

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