tanka

tanka--
small songs I sing
to join
my voice to other voices
hidden in the grass

Sunday, December 28, 2014

fluff

my breath sets free 
a thousand downy cattail seeds—
all the fluff 
I need to shed
before the new year comes


~A Hundred Gourds 3:2, Dec. 2013

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sanctum


Janet Lynn Davis
Jenny Ward Angyal

ancient chapels 
carved into the rock face 
of Mönchsberg ... 
once the tourists are gone 
I crawl inside myself 
    ~JLD (Salzburg, Austria)

inscribed
on the torii gate 
spirit of light—
fountains flowing
in the falling snow
      ~JWA (New York City, USA)


~Skylark 2:1, summer 2014



Thanks to my friend & fellow tanka poet, Janet Lynn Davis, for her collaboration on this short sequence. You can find more of Janet's fine tanka on her blog, twigs&stones.

We wish everyone a very happy Winter Solstice (or Summer Solstice, for our friends in the southern hemisphere)!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

in a lazy sky

vultures
tip-tilting in a lazy sky
I fling
into the meadow 
the carcass of ought


~Skylark 2:2, winter 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

echoes

a ribbon of birds
across the winter sky
the echo 
of earthbound magic
in those hollow bones


~GUSTS 19: spring/summer 2014




slow down 
slow down the song 
of the wood thrush
until at last it echoes 
the music of humpbacked whales

~Atlas Poetica 18, July 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

two birds


wind scours
the hospital grounds . . .
a sparrow 
tumbles sideways 
in the empty air


~GUSTS 20, Fall/Winter 2014



I walk alone
with the wind at my back—
one swallow
slicing  through dark clouds
with the edge of its life


~Ribbons 10:3, Fall 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Passage



                  going west
                  along the river—
                  water sweeps
                  around a stone cairn
                  shaped like a woman

                 on the riverbank,
                 a gate without a fence—
                 two windows 
                 frame the flow
                 of my journey to the sea

                 stumbling
                 onto a sand bar 
                 drenched in starlight
                 will I see your face
                 or will our eyes be one


                         ~Ribbons 10:3, Fall 2014



Saturday, November 15, 2014

one thread

the exile
in her prison cell
scratching poems
on a bar of soap . . . 
bubbles rise to the moon

~A Hundred Gourds 3:4, Sept. 2014

(for Irina Ratushinskaya, Russian poet & dissident) 



scribbling 
faint words to address 
the infinite —
I pluck  one thread 
in the harp of stars

~Skylark 2:2, winter 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

hawks

one by one
red-shouldered hawks
slip into the blue 
beyond the hills. . . 
this fire in my hearth


~Skylark 2:1, summer 2014



seizing 
six minutes alone
I soar
with a red-tailed hawk
four hundred heartbeats high

~Skylark 2:2, winter 2014


Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls



change your clocks
change your batteries—
how much longer
until I fall back
into that good night

~A Hundred Gourds 3:2, March 2014



All Souls’ Day—
against scudding clouds
a raven
rides the wind
from another world

~GUSTS 19: spring/summer 2014



the last few seeds 
on the dandelion clock
letting go
I set my watch 
to the next season

~Atlas Poetica 15, July 2013










Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Riffle in the Stream

sinking
onto creaky knees
she dams the brook
with shining pebbles . . .
time wells up and overflows


a west wind
circles the empty house
scattering
petals on the grass
she lets go her names


she comes
to the end of her path 
through the wood…
no trace of her footsteps
on moss deeper than memory




~cattails 3: Sept. 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

doves


only bones
under the turned earth
of Bloody Kansas—
those passenger pigeons
the Choctaw called lost doves

~Atlas Poetica 18, July 15, 2014


mourning doves
drawn to a decoy—
our fascination
with the whirligig wings
of war



Friday, October 10, 2014

stone

long ago
I scaled a boulder 
the glacier left behind – 
my knee still bleeds 
against the granite edge of time 


~Ribbons 10:2, spring/summer 2014 

a stone woman
gives birth to a child
in the night
my book falls open
to the words, I need . . .



(The quotation in the second tanka is from Mountains and Rivers Sutra by Japanese Soto Zen Master Dogen Kigen, 1200–1253)



Saturday, October 4, 2014

thyme

substituting
summer savory
for thyme
I concoct a recipe
for the autumn of my life


~Moonbathing 9, Fall/Winter 2013-14

Saturday, September 27, 2014

[my cat . . .]

RIP Tara        2/10/2005--7/25/2014















my cat 
watches the water run, 
unruffled
by the endless flow . . .
how tight I wind my cuckoo clock 


~cattails 3: Sept. 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

autumn fruits


twin fawns
browsing the orchard
for early apples . . .
how little we knew
of autumn rain

~Fire Pearls 2 Anthology, summer 2013



wild persimmons
not yet sweetened 
by frost
I paint the long days
with a tincture of hope


~Atlas Poetica 14, March 2013




Friday, September 12, 2014

in spring rain

the heartbeat
under my heartbeat
stops—
a rip in the membrane
between worlds

~Fire Pearls 2 Anthology, summer 2013

rebuked
for writing a poem
about her miscarriage 
     in spring rain 
     she cleans the bluebird boxes

~Fire Pearls 2 Anthology, summer 2013



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Will the Circle Be Unbroken



My mother is helping me hang wallpaper in the kitchen of my first house. Eagles, oak leaves and acorns march one-two, one-two around the walls, back to our starting point above the window. But here’s a dilemma—we’ll have to put two eagles side-by-side, or else two oak leaves. To me, either arrangement looks glaringly wrong. But my mother cheerfully pastes up two eagles in a row, taking care to select a left-facing eagle where the pattern calls for right.

a circle
inked on white paper—
imperfect
open to the drift
of stardust and ashes

                 ~Haibun Today 8:3, Sept. 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

[suspended . . .]

suspended 
on unseen silk
a spider
touches the Tao Te Ching
mother of ten thousand things


~A Hundred Gourds 3:3, June 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

potter's wheel



scraps of sky
in a muddy ditch—
the sleeve
of heaven
turns inside out

~A Hundred Gourds 3:3, June 2014


the birthplace
of life 
in a slip of clay—
this potter’s wheel
of stars


~A Hundred Gourds 3: 2, March 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Clearing the Spring: Poet & Tanka Essay

The following is an essay I wrote 
for the "Poet & Tanka" feature in Ribbons,
 the journal of the Tanka Society of America.  
It appeared in Ribbons 10:2, spring/summer 2014.



Dont say, dont say there is no water 
to solace the dryness at our hearts
~Denise Levertov, “The Fountain”


I climb the hill with my mother to clear oak leaves from the spring.  A frog leaps in. The water in the cold stone box rises out of the earth and flows down to our house through a copper pipe. Clearing the springthat is tanka, but I will not discover it for half a century.

I grew up immersed in the worlds of nature and of books. Stones and streams and sky were my childhood companions.  I listened to my mother recite Alfred Noyes "The Highwayman" and read aloud from Edna St. Vincent Millay, and in time I discovered Yeats and Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings.  My own first composition is penciled on brown paper in my brothers hand because I was too young to print the letters myself.    

       
          at age five
          my first poem, an ode
          to lampshades
          trying ever since to grasp
          the nuances of light
              
               ~A Hundred Gourds 3:2, March 2014


I continued to write throughout high school and college, but while I pursued marriage, further education, two successive careers, and raised two childrenone with significant, multiple disabilitiesit often came as a relief to ignore the naggings of the muse. For long periods she fell silent, though she never left me.  I wrote factual educational materials about biology, but the poetry in that had to stay deeply hidden. I taught nonverbal children how to communicate, but their means of expression were more often pictures than words. I struggled to understand my younger sons disordered communication, and sometimes I found poetry there.


          you write the wind
          a poem on fluttering paper:
          sky moving
          blow windy just Earth
          thunderstorms rain strong
             
                ~from Sky Moving, a tanka sequence, 
                   Lynx 28:1, Feb. 2013


My life expanded when my disabled son, now grown, at last found a safe, caring home away from home, and it expanded again a few years later when I retired. During this period I began writing more than I had in decades.  I published a fistful of poems, and won a couple of awards from my state poetry society. I wrote mostly free verse, but I entertained the niggling suspicion thatas Robert Frost put itwriting free verse is like playing tennis with the net down. I experimented with formsestina, sonnet, villanelle, ghazaland even tried my hand at a few haiku.  Although I intuitively understood the benefits of having a flexible form to push against, I did not discover my form until I stumbled upon tanka.

For that I thank Jane Reichhold.  I had never heard of tanka until I read her little book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku: AHands-on Guide.  Immediately I thought I could do that and began experimenting.   Curiously, my first published tanka comprised an entire sequence, The Rosewood Bird, which, to my amazement, was one of three winning sequences in the twentieth (and final) Tanka Splendor Contest sponsored by AHA Books.  Writing that sequence about my father showed me the uncanny power of tanka to give voice even to a complex grief muffled for forty years.


          still folded
          in a trunk
          the sweater I wore
          the day I learned
          what you had done
             
                 ~from The Rosewood Bird, a tanka sequence,
                  Twenty Years Tanka Splendor, AHA Books, 2009


Over the next several years I made a gradual transition to writing tanka pretty much exclusively.  In 2012, I joined the AHAPoetry Forum (more thanks to Jane Reichhold), which has provided invaluable companionship and help on my journey.  The chance to read and comment on other poets works-in-progress sharpens the eye and ear; and my own tanka receive just the friendly drubbing they often need. 


          the story
          of my life as a changeling
          this poem
          a silk purse stitched
          from a sows left ear
              ~from a sows ear, a tanka sequence, 
                  kernels 1:1, April 2013


More recently, I have taken on the role of Reviews and Features Editor for Claire Everetts Skylark:A Tanka Journal, and in that capacity I look forward to reading and sharing some of the many fine tanka collections currently being published.  Although I have not yet put together a collection of my own, I hope to do so eventually, and in the meanwhile I maintain this blog as a repository for my poems.

But why tanka?  Friends, family, and even mainstream poets are often mystified by my enchantment with the form. 

Tanka clears the spring. The need for compression forces the writer to select only the most telling detailsthere can be no muddying the water with abstract maundering. Simple, concrete images laid side-by-side transmogrify into metaphor as if by magic, like an image coming clear in the rippled surface of a pool.


          small stones
          skip across the water
          trailing glints of light
          our footprints
          on the riverbank
               
              ~A Hundred Gourds 2:1, December 2012


William Stafford, in Writing the Australian Crawl, says that "A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them."  For me, tanka is that process.  Often, I go to sleep frustrated by the elusive whisper of a thought, by a compelling image whose significance I cannot grasp, by a strong but inarticulate feeling.  And often I wake to a flow of words forming themselves into tanka, arising from some mysterious inner wellspring.


          a smattering
          of rain on the roof
          before dawn
          the curtain between worlds
          shimmers and lifts
               
                  ~unpublished


In five lines, tanka affords the writer just enough space to explore the subterranean passageways that connect subjective and objective realms, psyche and Gaia.

        
          the self
          I’ve clung to
          all these years
          moonlight
          on water
               
                ~Skylark 1:1, summer 2013


For me, the most potent source of images for that exploration lies in the natural world--from which we are never separate, despite our post-modern dreams and nightmares.


          ripples
          passing through
          each other
          in an ink-dark pool
          our mirrored faces
                
              ~Skylark 1:2, winter 2013


But while tanka may have a bit more room than haiku for the lyrical expression of the writers emotions and imagination, it is still a vessel small enough to catch and hold the elusive stream of nows that flow through our lives like mist on the wind.


          the gold flash
          of a flicker’s wing
          in gray rain
          I glimpse another world
          inside this one
                 
                ~redlights 9:1, Jan. 2013


And tankas brevity allows me to compose and revise whole poems in my head, so an undercurrent of poetry flows through nearly everything I doan enriching way to live. I hope to keep following that current back toward its source.


         poetry—
         a river to the sea
         cleansed
         of the heart’s darkness
         in marshes where the reeds sing
                 
                  ~Skylark 2:1, summer 2014