Volume XXIII, Number 2: June 2021;
I build the snowman
the Mekong he brought home
South Bend, Indiana
final resting place...
the wind decides
Michele L. Harvey
Hamilton, New York
The Heron's Nest Award
I build the snowman
This well-crafted haiku is both timely and timeless. There is sufficient framework to situate the experience while retaining enough room to explore further. The reader has the opportunity to invest that open space with their own memories and meaning.
It's been a while since I've built a snowman, but growing up in Maine I had plenty of opportunities to build snowmen and snow forts. I spent hours outside in the snow. My son, on the other hand, didn't see snow until he was five years old. He didn't like the cold, and he wasn't all that interested in making a snowman. The hot chocolate afterwards was the best part for him.
The winter scene suggests aging as a theme and the poet states this quite plainly in the first line. Middle age can be thought of as the midpoint in one's life—a lifetime folded in half. The exact span of years that constitute this season is open for debate even among social scientists. It's not so much a number but a series of life events that mark a transition from a carefree young adult to the physical decline of old age.
One major characteristic of middle age is generativity—investment in the welfare of others. It naturally occurs within the family as we care for our children and negotiate ongoing relationships with our siblings and parents. It is in middle age that we start to contemplate our legacy. What do we want to leave behind for others? How can we contribute to the next generation?
Peter Newton's haiku goes right to the heart of this concern for others. After an afternoon of play creating a snowman, he steps back to observe this lone figure. Something is missing. He creates a smaller version out of snow, not for himself, but for the snowman. It is such a simple gesture but it conveys so much connection and compassion. Even this lump of snow shouldn't be alone to face the remainder of its short time in existence. The haiku doesn't dwell on regret, but frames this circumstance in the most positive terms.
Due to the lockdown and shelter-in-place orders loneliness is at an all-time high. And while this haiku doesn't mention the coronavirus pandemic directly, it is there nonetheless. Not seeing our friends and family for over a year has taken a toll on our collective psyche. When will we be able to see, hold, and play with our children and grandchildren? Will we ever return to an old sense of normalcy, or will social distancing and masks be the new normal? In the meantime we can look outside and see a snowman and his snow son through the poet's eyes. This reassures us that things will go back to normal someday. We will be able to congregate with loved ones without fear of contagion.
Cherie Hunter Day