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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 11, Number 3, September 2017

Angelee Deodhar
Chandigarh, India

A Close Reading of ‘One Bowl’ a haibun by Penny Harter

Penny Harter is co-author of The Haiku Handbook and a past-president of the HSA. Her lyric poems, haiku, tanka, and haibun have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Among her over twenty published books and chapbooks, seven feature haiku and related genres. Her more recent books include The Resonance Around Us, One Bowl and Recycling Starlight. She lives in the New Jersey shore area. Earlier she lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, the late Bill Higginson.

In ‘One Bowl’, Penny Harter starts with a very mundane activity of loading her dishwasher. It is evening and she is obviously alone when she is struck with the thought as to how it would be to possess just one bowl, one fork, one spoon, one knife, and only one shelf to keep all these on. She contemplates using only one of each thing and therefore washing them by hand she raises them to the light to begin to see their shining qualities.

How does she choose that one bowl from the many she possesses? She goes back in time to the private school crafts fair, thirty-five years earlier when she acquired it. The bowl she has chosen is a treasured memory of her husband who had bought it and given it to her as a gift. It was made by a student who had tried his hand at pottery. The white glaze and the brown triangles on the bowl link her poem to the earth from which the bowl has been cast. With just two words – ‘late husband’, she conveys her status; she is a widow now living alone. Perhaps, now she feels that she does not need so many things and one bowl will suffice in her eremitic state.

To me the phrase – ‘One bowl – cupped hands’ could be from Ryokan’s poem:

“After spending the day begging in town,
I now sit peacefully under a cliff in the evening cool.
Alone, with one robe and one bowl –
The life of a Zen monk is truly the best!”*

In the last paragraph, she takes us from the spinning of the potter’s wheel on earth into a planetary orbit. The Milky Way’s whirlpool of billions of stars is believed to be a path to the otherworld, traveled by spirits, deities and shamans in trance. This myth is central to the ancient tradition of Shamanism. [1] Is Harter talking of this Native American myth taking us to the otherworld, while returning to the one bowl she has in her hands? Men’s spirits were thought to dwell in the Milky Way between incarnations. This conception has been handed down as an Orphic and Pythagorean tradition. [2]

In India, according to Vedic lore, Ganga (Ganges) resided in the sky (Milky Way) and was called 'Akash Ganga,' or Sky-River. [3] The Ganges of the sky corresponds with and flows in the physical realm alongside the celestial Ganges on that specific Oceanid. [4]

The phrase ‘pulling the spectra of a star’s gaseous fire from red to blue, and back’ is reminiscent of a "red sequence" and a "blue cloud." [5]

In the second last line - “through the unfinished round of the sky in the iris of your eye.” she again brings us back from the ecliptic and stars in the spiral galaxies to us watching from the ground. Here I would like to think of the pupil of the eye as a supermassive black hole!

The enigmatic one word in the last line’ One’ is a masterstroke. Does she mean one as to be one alone or does it take in everything to be One, the cosmos, the universe the sky, ether, fire, earth and air?

In the haiku which is far removed from the main text, Harter brings us to biology. Is she linking the star clusters of the Milky Way galaxy to the cluster of bees in the hive?

winter hive—
the cluster of bees

Normally in winter everything is still covered, and in hibernation but here the bees in the hive are active, vibrating, creating a primordial sound. Bees have one main job in the winter — to take care of the queen bee and keep her safe and warm. To do so, worker bees surround the queen and form a cluster with their bodies. The worker bees then flutter their wings and shiver. This constant motion and continuous use of energy is how the bees keep the inside temperature of the hive warm. [6]

The ancient Mediterranean bee goddesses relate to the Hindu Goddess: Bhramari Devi. She is associated with bees, hornets and wasps, which cling to her body. [7] She is an incarnation of the Goddess Shakti. In Hindu mythology, the Great Goddess manifests in sound form as a queen bee. The name Bhramari is derived from the word for the black Indian bumble bee, it describes the characteristic humming sound which it produces. The adjective bhramarin can also mean "sweet as honey" in Sanskrit or "that which produces ecstasy." Thus, in the haiku we are led from winter of alone-ness to the expectation of a sweet spring.

In just 173 words and nine lines, Harter brings to life many fascinating creation myths and legends from around the world. She also uses this deceptively simple example to force the reader to consider astronomy, cosmology astrophysics, biology, religion and mythology.

Penny Harter’s One Bowl is an excellent example of transculturalism, where she goes beyond mere description of a moment in her life to a much wider and deeper understanding of the aesthetics of simplicity, austerity and appreciation of natural objects and processes.

Penny Harter’s poem as it appears in publication:

One Bowl

As I load the dishwasher this evening, I think about how it would be to have one bowl, one fork, one spoon, one knife, one cup . . . and one small shelf to keep them on. Washing these by hand after each use, I would raise each piece to the light to contemplate its shining singularity.

One bowl—cupped hands. Which bowl would I choose from the many I possess? A small bowl my late husband bought at a private school crafts fair thirty-five years ago, its form born from a student shaping clay on a wheel. Brown lines criss-cross its white glaze, triangles circling the rim.

One bowl, one spiral on a potter’s wheel, one orbit of a planet round its host, pulling the spectra of a star’s gaseous fire from red to blue, and back. One bowl, one arm of the Milky Way slowly wheeling through the unfinished round of the sky in the iris of your eye.

One . . .

winter hive—
the cluster of bees

I am grateful to Ms. Patricia Prime of Haibun Today for giving me the chance to comment on one of my favourite haibun and for Ms. Penny Harter for allowing me to do so.

The Ryokan poem was taken from One Robe, Own Bowl by John Stevens.

For Further reading:

1. Shamanism:

2. Orphic and Pythagorean tradition:

3. Ganga (Ganges):,237108,237108

4. Milky Way:

5. Star Spectra:

6. Bees:

7. Hindu Goddess: Bhramari Devi:

One Bowl by Penny Harter:

8. Transculturism:



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