I put the night
to sleep
making the bed

Ruby Windsor

blue-sky

Haiku, it is frequently said, requires a focus on sensitively engaged observation, preferably depicting, at least at one of its poles, a perception of ‘nature’. Often this is something that is practised, either for reasons of tradition or by common experience, as a seasonal reference. For those working with a saijiki (a handbook produced for haiku poets for the purposes of classifying kigo) it is this seasonal reference, something considered to recur cyclically and therefore quasi-universally in contrast to the contingencies of the immediate present, that generates a cut in the haiku. Nevertheless, the poem as a whole is usually presented (at least in English) as an encounter in the present tense.

I would like to draw attention to this charming haiku from the Second Australian Haiku Anthology by Ruby Windsor which breaks many of these rules. There is no seasonal reference, no observation of nature, no explicit use of any of the five senses and no cut. It is in the present tense – but which present tense? Do we have a single moment or the recognition of something habitual? Perhaps both.

Here, Windsor captures and expresses some subliminal part of the mind in which, in the act of making a bed, a woman re-enacts the memory of putting dolls (or children) to bed. The language is strikingly simple, although I think I can hear a patting hand in the iambs of the first two lines. Yet it shows an unusual delicacy of self-perception.

This psychological portrait is taken further by the apparent illogicality of night being identified as the recipient of the speaker’s ministrations. Our day-mind readily accepts and categorises the play-acting of putting toys to sleep. But in our night-mind (which has ready access to the mind of the child) night, and even perhaps the bed itself, can also sleep. Still half dreaming, she makes the bed occupying a parenting role, and in doing so enters the more ‘rational’ world of the adult.

Is there more? Does this haiku open a crack in a door through which we can glimpse tangled sheets and child (and adult) nightmares intense enough to require a ritual banishment?

If so, it is the hinge between the states of night and day, child and adult that is the primary focus. It is the awareness of the mind’s transitions between states usually sequestered from one another that makes this haiku stand out for me.

Selection and commentary by Alice Wanderer.

Haiku previously published: Second Australian Haiku Anthology/ edited by Janice M. Bostok, Katherine Samuelowicz and Vanessa Proctor, Haiku Association of Australia and Paper Wasp, 2006.