Heron’s Nest Award

The following poem by Francine Porad won the Heron’s Nest Award in April 2003. The following appreciation appeared in The Heron’s Nest V:4, April 2003.

bird house empty of seed

even the jays

look for Bernard

Francine Porad

It is most unusual to use a proper name in a haiku. Since a majority of readers would be unlikely to know who the person is, there would seem to be an unbridgeable gap between the poet and the reader, which of course, runs contrary to haiku sensibility. Yet this poem is proof that a proper noun can be effective when obviously symbolic of a close personal relationship. That Francine refers to Bernard by name makes this poem far more poignant than if she were to have written impersonally of “him.”

“Even the jays,” (brash and careless as they are) sense that something has changed. Where there’s usually food to be found, there’s none. But this haiku isn’t about birds. It isn’t about Bernard either, nor is it just about Francine, who is now facing a void in her life. Even the emptiness she feels (the emotional crux of this poem) tells but half the story. By themselves, each of these elements say little of what the poet wishes to express. By putting them together, however, Francine Porad has painted a vivid picture of indisputable truth: the only constant is change and to survive we must be adaptable.

The emptiness that the jays discover is only that in a feeding station. The poet describes emptiness felt as a result of profound loss. Even though there are readers who don’t know anything of Francine Porad, of her life and her works, they cannot help but glean that Bernard is someone important to her and that he is gone. Those who do know Francine are aware that Bernard was her husband and that he recently passed away.

To one degree or another relationships involve dependencies and compromises. Some are so subtle that they aren’t noticed until one partner is no longer physically present. The recognition of Bernard’s absence accentuates the fact that he continues to exist in Francine’s life. They were married for more than fifty years. Memories of him are sure to arise again and again, often quite unexpectedly, and sometimes in odd places.

Along with “empty,” “even,” and “Bernard,” the word “seed” is important to this haiku. Through it, Bernard is seen to have been a provider. Not only did he provide for his family, he routinely fed the birds. What power Francine creates by juxtaposing Bernard’s absence (emptiness) with something so full of life as a seed! In this poem, seed can be thought of as physical, intellectual, and emotional nutrition for a relationship. The bird house is not the only house that is empty.

Ultimately, this poem is about change and the spirit necessary to adjust to ever-changing circumstances. Even at a difficult time of loss, Francine Porad is so sensitively attuned that she recognizes her feelings objectively and has the courage to express those feelings through art and poetry. This makes me happy. It affirms that she is indeed thriving.

Christopher Herold

April 2003