WHR March 2019‎ > ‎

Editors Choice Haiku

WHR March 2019




         the nursing home
        she greets the stranger
        she gave birth to

Mary Alves Sella
United States


My own mother passed away on the seventh day of the New Year 2019 at a care home in Tokyo. She was 101 years and 4 months old. I had made a point of visiting Japan twice a year from England to see her and to get a bed brought in to sleep side by side with her in her room several nights during each visit. That seemed to put me under the somewhat strange but very comforting illusion that I was still living with my mother, and that, more significantly, all’s well under the sun. What it gave me was a sense of security and continuity, in that I felt that love was still possible, that life was still worth living and that, above all, the world was not such a bad place to live in after all.

The Editor’s Choice of the present issue deals with a similar situation. It does not reveal who “she” is, or who “the stranger” is in so many words, but the definite articles in L1 and L2 and the whole feelings evoked in the poem are a dead giveaway that the latter is none other than the author herself and the former is her mother (Of course, I could be wrong). In addition, the two definite articles make a strong and realistic/vivid impact on the reader, so much so that he/she would feel as if he/she were actually there, witnessing everything, and that could only be the author and not a casual visitor.

Senile dementia is unnervingly common and increasing in the world and yet it still remains a taboo to a larger or lesser degree in all societies. When a patient can no longer recognise you, you cannot help feeling that you have lost half of him/her already and wondering who and what this person is that you are dealing with. A huge chunk that holds the relationship is gone. For you the person is not a stranger like he/she regards you as. At the same time, the person is not the individual as you have known. In the interaction of the two persons the relationship has lost most of its meaning. As the person does not think these things, the onus is entirely on you to either make sense of the relationship or give up trying and become philosophical.

Such emotional roller coaster is not explicitly mentioned in this haiku. On the contrary, objective facts are objectively stated almost like news reporting or historian’s description. Which makes one think that it may not be the author’s mother being talked about. However, if this haiku is based on the author’s observation of someone else’s mother, or on the story she has heard from somebody, would she bring herself so far as to write a haiku about it like a novelist of realism? I should not have thought so, because if that were the case the haiku would have lost most of its power to move us. Such power is generated by the restraint which the author has exercised not to indulge in the outpouring of emotions but to stick to the cool facts of what is going on in this tragic circumstance.

Towards the end of her life, my mother began to find it increasingly difficult to recognise who I was when I approached her and smiled hello at her, though eventually she did each time to my relief and delight. It was sad. However, I put it down to my lack of filial piety of living outside my motherland nearly fifty years. For mothers that would be desertion. There is a well-known, poignant senryu to the effect that when a son or daughter realises at long last the huge indebtedness to their parents and would sincerely want to do something in return, they are no longer with us. Alas!