Tanka

Tanka is a Japanese form of minimalist poem. In English, the poem tends to "spill down" over five lines. Some poets count syllables (5-7-5-7-7). Many English language poets do not - I like to follow the short/long/short/long/long sentence structure. I find it appealing visually, but also rhythmically. Whereas haiku tend to be observational, tanka tend to tell a story, and are more narrative in nature. They often have an emotional aspect or impact. The best tanka "turns" on itself. The first three lines set up a situation, and the last two lines reveal an unexpected insight, emotion, or response. The following tanka have been previously published. ~ Marianne

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your hand
settling easily
into mine
the interlocking fingers
of river and shore
     Editor's Choice, cattails, May 2016

travelling
by myself in search
of solitude--
the loneliness
of hotel rooms
     Moonbathing, a journal of women's tanka, Issue 13


the passenger
never quite catching up
with the train whistle
this lifelong sensation
I have yet to arrive
     Ribbons, Spring/Summer issue 2016

testifying
at the murder trial
of my brother
deeper into the woods and down
the rabbit hole
      Ripples in the Sand, Tanka Society of America 2016

not enough
words for the subtleties
of snow--
all of my shortcomings
over a lifetime
     cattails, Sept 2015

sipping
the fallout
from Fukushima
green tea and the flutter
of butterfly wings
     25 Tanka on The Atomic Era, Atlas Poetica

eating
the apple's bruise
wishing
i could take away
your pain as easily
     Moonbathing, a journal of women's tanka, Issue 12

there are stories
a mother shouldn't tell
her daughter--
that cloudless summer day
when you told me
     All The Shells, Tanka Society of America, 2014; also One Man's Maple Moon, Vol 11, 2016

talking
to myself I answer
myself--
in the echo of the loon's call
this loneliness
     Moonbathing, Issue 14, Summer 2016

that little girl
afraid of father's
disapproval--
never learning how
to state what i want
     Gusts No. 23 Contemporary Tanka

my lifeline
stopping abruply
mid palm--
still breathing but maybe
not fully alive
     Gusts No. 23 Contemporary Tanka    

brother, there you were
in my dream on the far shore
of a vast lake--
you, freshly dead
and all this water between us
     Gusts No. 19 Contemporary Tanka

how the wind
flips up the edges
of the lily pads--
that photo of Marilyn
in the streets of NY
     Moonbathing, a journal of women's tanka, Issue 11

i stop short
of ordering the needle
for my sick cat…
afterwards, i get drunk
and contemplate endings
     Gusts No. 19 Contemporary Tanka

60th birthday
and buying
a new suitcase
where exactly do I think
I'm headed
    Moonbathing, a journal of women's tanka, Issue 15 

off-guard
at the swelling
of my heart
the prodigal daughter
returns home
      cattails, Sept 2016

the jerk
of the  up-pull
on the yoyo
again and again you change 
your mind
     Ripples in the Sand, Tanka Society of America 2016

moving
from a small town
to the city
learning to pass strangers
without saying hello
     Neon Graffiti, 2016

beginner's
tai chi class
lakeside
i flow in the opposite direction
from everyone else
     Neon Graffiti, 2016

wearing women's clothes
before
it is fashionable
the old man on the street
who dresses like my grandmother
     Neon Graffiti, 2016

run off the sidewalk
by the guy
in the electric wheelchair
overcoming political correctness
and cursing at him anyway
     Neon Graffiti, 2016

the deaf couple
in the parking lot arguing
with their hands
the sound of heat lighting
on a humid summer's night
     Neon Graffiti, 2016

the panhandler says
I'm the prettiest woman
he's ever seen
I dig into my pocket
and pay for the lie
     Neon Graffiti, 2016

secondhand
post-traumatic stress
disorder
every day a new mass killing
in my living room
     Neon Graffiti, 2016

all these years
inhaling the oxygen
exhaled by trees
only now learning to distinguish
spruce, fir and pine
     Bright Stars 5 An Organic Tanka Anthology

seaweed
and an orb snail
on the skeg--
the lake comes home
with me
     Bright Stars 5 An Organic Tanka Anthology

waking up
to a full moon slung low
over a prairie horizon
for the first time seeing life
through my father's eyes
     Skylark A Tanka Journal, 2:1 Summer 2014

standing in the hallway
outside my mother's room
nurses at her bedside--
I know she is too busy dying
for more goodbyes
     Skylark A Tanka Journal, 2:1 Summer 2014

the boy
stalking his sister
with a toy gun--
through an open window
the barrel of a gun
     
Ribbons, Fall 2016

spinning
a silk pad, the larva
hangs itself--
one needs to die to find out
if there is anything else
     Skylark A Tanka Journal, 2:2 Winter 2014

wearing
my wedding band
on my pinkie
so many changes over the life
of a marriage
     Spent Blossoms, TSA Members' Anthology 2015

worrying
about what I look like
in a bathing suit
violets and other shades
of summertime blues
     Tanka Cafe, Ribbons, Spring/Summer 2016

thousands of years
for the ancient yew tree
to sprout berries--
telling myself it's not too late
to discover who I am
     cattails, Jan 2106 

the trumpeter swan
chases the Canada goose
across the lake--
we shoot guns and drop bombs
to establish territory
    The Tanka Cafe, Ribbons, Fall 2014: Volume 10, Number 3

two grey herons
hunched on the willow tree
along a river--
how the north wind lifts
the tips of your white hair
     cattails, September 2014

the swell
of birdsong along
the trail
that night i dreant you
had risen from the dead
     Gusts No. 23 Contemporary Tanka

under the tree
hand-carved into a cross
the passing marked--
some dogs are mourned
more deeply than people
     cattails, May 2014

temari
from the silk scraps 
of the kimono--
my mother-in-law stitches
family history into her quilt
     cattails, May 2014; also Neverending Story


do you feel it yet--
the subtle shift in season
winter at the edge
of autumn: old age at the edge
of your waning years
     The Bamboo Hut Volume 1 Issue 2 A Journal of English Language Tanka

the geese overhead
call me to my future--
hoping
for time enough
to grow old with you
     Ribbons, Winter 2015: Volume 11, Number 1

wearing
my wedding band
on my pinkie
so many changes over the life
of a marriage 
     Spent Blossoms, Tanka Society of America, 2015 

little one:
each incarnation of you
is held in my body
i carry you with me
in every cell
     The Bamboo Hut Volume 1 Issue 2 A Journal of English Language Tanka

my family
doesn't read
my tanka--
i give myself freely
to strangers
     Bright Stars 5 An Organic Tanka Anthology

the cat lies in the sliver
between my hip and the edge
of the couch--
seems we both crave
living presence
     All The Shells, Tanka Society of America, 2014

all those people
who see Christ in the shading
of burnt toast--
looking for love in all
the wrong places
    The Tanka Cafe, Ribbons, Winter 2015: Volume 11, Number 1

finding out
the mountain ash
isn't truly an ash--
you walk away
while my brother lay dying
     Ribbons, Fall 2015

even behind
the closed curtain
the shamrock
opens
to the morning
     The Bamboo Hut Volume 1 Issue 2 A Journal of English Language Tanka

fruit flies
circling the peach
in the kitchen
soft bruises ripening
on her skin
    Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology 

she asks
why my hands
are so old
how to tell a child
about end games
    Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology 

baby boy looks up
from his iPad and notices
the clouds
maybe there is hope
for the planet after all
    Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology 

one lone cabin
perched on the cliff
above the river
i envy the occupants
their solitude
     Gusts no. 22

spending
quality time together
kayaking
he, on his side of the lake
and me, on mine
    Gusts no. 22 

Canada Sucks
graffiti scribbled across
a CN freight car
in the background, the towering uprise
of Rocky Mountain glaciers
     Gusts no. 22

in the grass
a toy soldier
lies broken
war destroys the bodies
of the littlest ones too
      Gusts no. 24

wanting
to dream my brother
for a long time--
the emptiness of a street
so full of ghosts
     Gusts no. 24


sharing
a backyard fence
ith a funeral home
from the other side
the skirl of bagpipes
    Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology 

drawing
down the moon
the goddess
and the sea coral
await night fullness
      Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology 

recycling
my little girl's
first tutu
time to recognize
she is a woman now
     Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology

the moth flutters
between the window
and the screen--
in your last days did you search
for an answer
     Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology 

i write
poems in safety
of home--
i bow to those writers
who risk their life for words
    Bright Stars 7 An Organic Tanka Anthology 

in the rearview mirror:
strobe lights flash and sirens
wail of mortality
cars pull over, then drive on
as if nothing has happened
     The Bamboo Hut Volume 1 Number 1 A Journal of English Language Tanka

the toad's fat body
stuffed into the mouth
of the snake--
nature is not as benign
as i want it to be
     Gusts No. 19 Contemporary Tanka

finding out the maples
in my yard are not native
to Canada--
like my ancestors
they are immigrants
     Gusts No. 20 Contemporary Tanka

the morning sun
illuminates a strand
of spider silk--
i wake with the answers
to yesterday's problems
     Gusts No. 20 Contemporary Tanka

in the Philipines
ten thousand dying
in the cyclone
on this side of the planet
a leaf is buffeted
     Bright Stars 4 An Organic Tanka Anthology

i trim the bonsai
hold the cuttings
in my palm
scatter them to the garden
as if a loved one
     Bright Stars 5 An Organic Tanka Anthology

mama hunched over
the old Singer machine
furiously sewing
our new Easter dresses
a slip of the needle crucifies her
     Bright Stars 3 An Organic Tanka Anthology

Starbucks newbie
how sophisticated i feel
ordering grande
instead of medium
still, middle of the road
     Bright Stars 4 An Organic Tanka Anthology

on my knees
scrubbing dirt and dust-bunnies
from the corners
haven't felt this close
to heaven in a long time
     Bright Stars 4 An Organic Tanka Anthology

trying hard
to force the climbing
rosebush
to bloom on my side
of the fence
     Bright Stars 4 An Organic Tanka Anthology

pulling up
the unwanted saplings--
how the chestnut
curls around the root 
a fetus to the umbilical cord
     Bright Stars 4 An Organic Tanka Anthology

in memoriam
words rooted in memory
i remember you
in that space between heartbeats
the echo of blood rushing
     The Bamboo Hut Volume 1 Number 1 A Journal of English Language Tanka

© Marianne Paul 2011