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A Hundred Gourds 3:3 June 2014

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A Five-Balloon Morning: New Mexico Haiku – Charles Trumbull


reviewed by Lorin Ford




book cover

A Five-Balloon Morning, by Charles Trumbull
Red Mountain Press, Santa Fe, N.M., 2013
approx. 62 unnumbered pages
IBSN 978-0-9855031-3-0
Print book: 5.5” x 5.5”, perfect bound
Price: $US16.95 + s&h









It’s unlikely to be by chance that Charles Trumbull signs off his foreword to A Five-Balloon Morning with “Santa Fe, May 17th, 2013” beneath his name. It happens to be the anniversary of his birthday, as he enters his seventh decade of life, and the book is a celebration of country, the country of his childhood, to which he returned in 2009 after living elsewhere for 50 years. “My roots in New Mexico run deep . . .” he states in the foreword. This fine collection of haiku is convincing evidence of the fact.

The approximately 120 haiku in A Five-Balloon Morning are presented in five sections: ‘Leaves From the Tree’, ‘Leaving New Mexico & Coming Back Home’, ‘A Coyote Circling’, ‘Trinity’ and ‘Turtle Dance’. The very first haiku can, beyond its literal meaning, serve as an analogy for the first section. Past time co-exists with the present and informs it.

raking into piles
leaves from the tree
I climbed as a boy



Many of the haiku in A Five-Balloon Morning, specific to New Mexico and so far away from my own country though they may be, immediately evoked recognition. The poem which provides the book’s title (which doesn’t appear until the fifth section of the book, ‘Turtle Dance’) is such a poem:

sunrise
over the Sandias –
a five-balloon morning!



Looking up photos of the Sandia mountain range, I could see how lovely that sunrise would be, but I’m quite familiar with five-balloon mornings. Where I am, the best season for balloons is in the milder, calm weather of early to mid-autumn. The balloons start out early, before sunrise and drift almost silently over, their presence announced from every backyard by dogs. In Trumbull’s haiku the rising sun itself is like a golden balloon, and the five balloons seem to be an assurance of a very good day, just like a five-star rating for a restaurant assures the diner of a very good meal. The poem exudes a sense of exhilaration.

We know we’re in a rural region when the driver of an oncoming vehicle shows the old-fashioned courtesy of greeting us. Where I’m from, it’s a nod and the lifting of the right index finger from the steering wheel. In ‘Colfax County’, though, it seems the locals are particularly polite: the gesture, a telling one, immediately conveys a sense of country culture and tradition.

Colfax County
the oncoming driver
tips his hat

stretching fence wire
now and then
the rasp of a locust


The sound of ‘stretching fence wire’ will be the same in grazing areas the world over. We are clearly in a place of open spaces, where these sounds carry and might be the only sounds heard repeatedly on a hot afternoon.

The boy in ‘grass hill country’ might be a boy seen in the present or he might be the author remembering what he did there as a boy, or both together. Vivid memories of such enjoyable physical experiences as the freedom of bareback riding are often evoked by place. The scene is timeless, and parched red earth seems to be something that New Mexico and Australia have in common.

grass hill country
a boy rides bareback
over red earth

across the old bridge
I still find myself checking
for La Llorona


Whilst La Llorona and the Bunyip are legends from very different cultures, both have served to warn children away from the dangers of watery places, for fear of being taken by these dreaded entities. Trumbull’s haiku ring true. Embedded in the present moment are layers of the past, of other times and experiences.

Some initially mysterious things and activities in A Five-Balloon Morning became familiar ones for me after a bit of quick research: ‘jacklighting’ is identical to ‘spotlighting’ – hunting small animals, mostly rabbits, with rifles at night.
     jacklighting
     a rustle in the bushes . . .
     the rabbit dies

rural speed limit  the necessary bullet hole


Some sights on a country road in New Mexico seem to be as obligatory as they are in Australia. The two haiku above evoke a blokey culture quite unlike those of city and suburban areas.

There are haiku that seem iconic of New Mexico and its neighbouring USA states, such as the strangely beautiful desert scene in ‘pale moon’. The bone-white moon and the bleached pelvis bone of the mule seem in communion. In ‘Roswell gas station’, we find that the now legendary town still gets some strange-looking visitors.

pale moon
through the pelvis of a mule
desert quietude

Roswell gas station
two goths ask the way
to the UFO site


The fourth section, ‘Trinity’, is a sequence which, in Trumbull’s own words “… records, journal-style, impressions from a visit to the Trinity Site in October 2011.” All the facts needed to understand the significance of the Trinity site are given in this introduction, which is written in clear, succinct reportage. It begins: “Human history changed in a flash on July 16th, 1945, with the first explosion of an atomic bomb . . .” In context of the significance of the development and deployment of the atomic bomb, it’s not surprising to find layers of uneasiness rising and shifting through the images in the haiku.

Trinity Site
in the guard’s vehicle
fuzzy dice

we drive through the gate
feeling very American—
weeds through asphalt

65 years:
the persistence
of trinitite

we leave the site
in the malpais
sand shifts slowly


In that last haiku, above, the literal slowly shifting sand also evokes the sense of time, events and thought shifting slowly but ceaselessly, never settling.

A Five-Balloon Morning, Charles Trumbull’s paean to New Mexico, USA, could inspire more haiku writers, spread as we are over two hemispheres and many world regions, to write more bravely from the hearts of our own localities. Perhaps we all, wherever we’re located, might draw confidence from his example and write more freely about place without worrying whether this or that editor will ‘get it’ or could be bothered to make the small effort of a little research. Though the Spanish and Spanish-derived terms that crop up frequently on these pages were unfamiliar to me, with a little help from Google and dictionaries, I’ve found in A Five-Balloon Morning more than enough to convince me that haiku with all four feet planted firmly in a particular place and its local terminology is, happily, no longer the sole province of traditional Japanese haiku.


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