Monday, August 24, 2009

Saigyo Awards for Tanka 2009

I just received the list of winners from the Saigyo Awards for Tanka for 2009. As usual, the winners are Orientalist. As usual, I have a poem that is an honorable mention.

not the great white whale
but your restless heart
I'll take with me and
bury in the sea


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Asking Passage

Two years ago I went for a walk in early spring in the abandoned lot outside my window. Although it is much smaller than Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood, it is a place with its own mysteries. I wrote all the tanka poems below on the spot. The sequence was published by Lynx, a journal for linking poets. During the hike, I was struck by how much the Japanese aesthetic of aware (the pathos of transitory beauty) resembles the Western momento mori.

Asking Passage

asking passage

of the briars,

I step deep into

the hollow forest

trash tells me

that other feet have

trod this trail,

but today

I am the first

windchimes —

tall saplings

bare of leaves

sway and rattle

their branches

a moss carpet,

greening before

the trees

acquire new leaves

and close the forest roof

two dark birds

hopping through

the underbrush,

slated-colored, like storms

without names

last year’s

brown weeds

slowly sink beneath

a rising tide

of new green

“nothing in haste”

the brambles remind me,

gently, slowly,

ease through

the difficult parts

Twitter. 4 August 2009.


the blackness of

their heads


the mating season

yellow blooms

of woodland strawberries

darkened for just a moment

by the flicker of

a bird’s passing shadow

woodland hiking —

the youngest shades

of green being born

shining like a mirror:

the end of a discarded

beer can

before the weeds

cover it

try as I might,

these boots

trammel green things;

the crack of sticks

rebukes my heavy ways

stones at the root

of tall trees

covered in moss;

the bones, sinew, and skin

of earth himself

something large

and not human

laid down in these weeds,

made a nest,

and rested a while

looking back,

the trail I have left

is ragged

and wandering,

a stranger to this land

a sunny thicket —


I cannot find my way

in shadows

unless I too am shadow

that trail

through a tunnel

of greenery

wasn’t made for

human beings

an orange stake

labeled “control point”

flagged with

blue and white ribbons

in the middle of the woods

discarded soda cans,

“Moon Mist” flavor

next to the stake

that calls itself

“control point”

again that

barking birdsong

I know so well,

but never have I seen

the one who sings it

walking through

tall weeds beside

the highway,

the white bones of

a deer skeleton

surprisingly human

these vertebrae,

legbones scattered

in all directions

hollow ribs,

empty of marrow,

hollow vertebrae,

empty of will,

all things come to this

no skull nor pelvis,

but an empty soda bottle

where a heart should be,

the bones disturbed

before I ever found them


I take a path

never taken

that can never be

taken again

tall brown weeds,

their toppled stalks

point the path of

the prevailing winds

the remains

of another dead deer —

the stench drives me back

to view gnawed legbones

and a torn pelt

a nest of dead grass

where the doe first lay,

her legbones torn away

and licked clean by

something hungry

those first bones

were so very small —

without the dead doe

I would have never

known the fawn

a bramble rose

snags my sleeve —

a reminder of

this living world

about to bloom

a faint perfume

from a tree with

pale flowers,

this too is a thing for which

I have no name

clumps of

yellow blooming weeds

in this field

it is I am who am

useless and unwanted

I want to go home now —

this forest no longer

gives me passage,

brambles and deadfalls

block my way

thorns grab

my clothes and

hold me back,

but this rock

offers me a place to rest

this cool breeze,

this bed of wild

strawberries in bloom,

bird calls all around . .

perhaps I shouldn’t leave

in these

freshly toppled weeds,

I recognize my own trail

and follow myself back

to whence I came

after the woods,

the bleeding hearts

planted by

a previous tenant

are pleasantly domestic

pungent green air —

the smell of the woods

clings to my shirt

my black boots

still in the shower,

drying off

after hiking

through the woods

'Asking Passage.' Lynx, a journal for linking poets, XXII:3. Gualala, CA:, October, 2007.