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A Hundred Gourds 3:2 March 2014

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Commentary: on a tanka by Chen-ou Liu


By Lyn Chatham


a feathery thing
perches on the edge
of my dream …
the apple on the tree
hangs hopelessly in sunlight

Chen-ou Liu        Gusts 14


The first line of this tanka feels somewhat familiar, ‘a feathery thing’ evoking books and films in the horror genre. ‘Perches’ and ‘dream’ also are clichéd. However, the dreaming room in lines four and five is immense, thereby ensuring that these lines really stay with the reader. Each of those lines is unexpected. What does ‘an apple on the tree’ have to do with ‘a feathery thing’? Granted, a tree’s branches may be feathery if it is a Japanese maple, for example. But then the line, ‘hangs hopelessly in sunlight’ completely disconcerts the reader. An astonishing interpretation can be put on this line, in that a person may be without hope, even when their environment is bright and vibrant and has given that person their very existence. And what has made this person feel such a lack of hope? One doesn’t usually think of plants having feelings, so that image is an arresting one. Apples are bright objects, whether they are green, yellow or red. And for such an object to be trapped in a brighter ‘thing’ (sunlight) is a very powerful image.








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