Stripping Away

My sweet warrior son
Stages sword fights, draws warships
Then snuggles in bed.

I’ve found that painting haiga, the art accompanying a haiku or senryu poem, is a process of subtraction, of stripping away everything extraneous until just the essence remains. This piece is a perfect example.

For the image, I began by printing out a digital photo of my young son snuggling in bed with me. At first I tried actually tracing the photo, down to the smile lines around his mouth and the wrinkles in the pillowcase. I kept reworking the image, feeling it just wasn’t right. Successive versions had less and less detail.

Finally, seventeen attempts later, I felt that “click” of recognition when a poem or painting falls into place. This deceptively simple piece, made of just six rapid, broad brushstrokes, captures the feeling I meant to convey in the poem.

As it goes with painting haiga, so it goes with writing haiku. I could spend the rest of my days describing my wonderfully rich and deep son, and still not cover everything. Yet in seventeen syllables, this poem distills some essential facets of his nature. And in some way it applies to all children, whose nature it is to expand and pull away from their parents as they explore the world, then return to safety and comfort to renew themselves, then pull away again, over and over.

As a parent, I am grateful for this dance: in essence, it means that my son is gaining the skill and strength to make his way in the world, and that, for now, he is also still willing to snuggle with his mom.