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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 4, December 2016

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Anne Benjamin
Toongabbie, Australia


On Paresh Tiwari’s “Fossils”

I was not previously familiar with the poetry of Paresh Tiwari but I found the choice of “Fossils” an easy one when enjoying the contributions in Haibun Today 10:2, June 2016 .

Was it the language of the piece that attracted me or the sentiment conjured up by that language? Perhaps, it is a needless and distracting distinction. Suffice it to say, I was immediately present to the images that are as strong as they are simple.

The definiteness of the opening declaration, "I decide to put roots in the garden of my house. I spread my arms like branches and dig my heels in the soft, loose soil," immediately places this reader within the mood of what is to come.

In the second paragraph, there is a sense that the poet is having a little fun with the image he has created about the speaker in the haibun: as though he has said to himself, “let me take this idea a little further and play with it.” And we are given the lovely images of a songbird that builds a nest in the old man’s hair, a light-footed squirrel completely at home with his stillness, and a woodpecker who “keeps knocking at the cage of my heart.” Such a lovely image. And then, the added touch, just to underline the sense of settled-ness, the man’s beard reaching into the earth itself.

Then, in the third paragraph, the poet takes us to another place, into his own story (or at least the story of the voice he has chosen in this piece), and we learn about a wife who has “withered away,” the arrival of a granddaughter and the joy that she brings to the elderly speaker. The images in this paragraph are delicate, intimate and breathtakingly gentle. They prepare us for the haiku, just as the haiku takes all these images further . . .

dandelions . . .
holding my breath
for an eternity

In these fourteen syllables, Paresh captures the beauty of the moment for the old man in the closeness of his granddaughter and the fragility of it. After all, he knows: he knows about change; he has resisted change (in the opening paragraphs); and surely knows that this moment will also pass too soon. It is as poignant as it is charming.

There is more in this short piece. For me, it is so evocative of another poem by another Indian poet—the great Rabindranath Tagore. In Tagore’s poem, "The Banyan Tree," the poet chides the banyan tree to remember the “little chile” that nest in its branches.

Do you not remember how he sat at the window and wondered at the tangle of your roots . . .

And later in the poem,

The child would sit still and think. He longed to be the wind and blow through your resting branches, to be your shadow and lengthen with the day on the water . . .

How true of small children and beloved elders.

The banyan tree is revered in Indian cultures. It is a symbol of long life and can be seen by devotees to represent Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. While this poem of Paresh Tiwari does not name the tree-image as a banyan, the very nature of the images he has used suggests the age, the spreading branches, the hanging roots of just such a tree. So, too, his piece carries references to creation, preservation and death. Read this way, “Fossils” (a title with a touch of wryness perhaps) could be interpreted as a reflection on wisdom. Perhaps, my reading is not what the poet intended, but if it is, there is a special sadness in the closeness of the poet and child because, in Tagore’s poem, the small child, “like the birds that had nested” in the banyan’s branches, leaves the tree and goes away.

The voice of the old man in Paresh Tiwari’s piece captures this sadness elegantly:

dandelions . . .
holding my breath
for an eternity



Fossils

Somewhere along the way, I decide to put roots in the garden of my house. I spread my arms like branches and dig my heels in the soft, loose soil. I even ask my son to water me from time to time.

A month, a year, a decade passes by. A songbird builds its nest in my hair, a squirrel scuttles over my limbs and a woodpecker keeps knocking at the cage of my heart. Even my beard has begun to touch the earth trying to find foothold.

Over the years, I watch my wife wither away, my son marry and his wife bear a daughter. I feel myself flow in her veins when she climbs over my shoulders and tucks a red crayon behind my ear. When she plucks a purple fruit from my fingers and stains her summer shirt, I tickle her with my leaves. I kiss her curls, when she, bathed in the winter sun, leans on my chest and closes her eyes.

dandelions . . .
holding my breath
for an eternity

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