arrangements crawling with ants
life is everywhere
This is a zen haiku–because of the ants and the poem’s perception of them. (I use the popular, rather than the faithful, sense of the word “zen.”)
The syllables of the first line fit nicely. In addition, as in the previous haiku, the first line runs on to the second. The first line’s label stands alone, as an announcement of the event. At the same time, it marries the next word in the next line. This marriage signifies the flower arrangements seen in the attached photo. Our mother arranged these flowers, as she has been doing professionally and personally for many years. She loves finding the colors, shapes and sizes that fit the occasion and the table. Some of my enjoyment in arranging words surely comes from her artistry. As we tried out these several arrangements the morning of the dinner, little black ants began emerging from the vases. We tried brushing them away, squashing an occasional one, but they kept coming, kept crawling out of the ferns and flowers. We decided to set the vases aside until evening, so that the insects could get their exercise somewhere other than on the dinner table. As it happens, our plan worked. The dinner was ant-free, as far as we could see. The image, though, stayed with me and crawled into line two of this haiku. Yes, the ants appeared to spoil the table that morning, but this is my favorite line of the poem. The phrase “crawling with ants” we hear often, and it fits here because it describes what we saw. At the same time, the whole line captures the larger idea of arranging or planning anything, only to be disturbed by an unexpected presence. The word “crawling” does not exactly match the number of little black feet parading across the table cloth–we saw an ant here and there–but it captures the oh-no feeling we had.
The last line, I used to think, is my least favorite because it seems vacuous. What does it mean, if anything? The line actually grew from my wife’s suggestion that we move the vases aside that morning. Her idea reflects the poem’s zen element. If the arrangement is causing problems where it sits now, move it over and give it time. To quote a favorite statement of hers, “If something is not working, change it.” The ants, as the only concrete image, anchor the poem. Flanked by an abstract label and an empty statement, their line moves the poem forward. (Outside the poem, my wife’s suggestion brought a sensible, productive pause into the morning by recognizing the ants’ energy and moving it to another spot.) This last, seemingly meaningless, line, though, invites an appreciation for all life, even the challenging parts. This invitation suits the occasion of a marriage that has lasted sixty years.