The Tanka Challenge Project


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Defiant birdsong
Batters at a sombre sky's 
Cloudy defenses. 
"Glower all you like," he cries. 
"My branch is covered in buds!"


The lambent glow of flame,
Their spark smiles in eyes brightened 
By nightfall's promise. 
Who would not wish to live in 
A world lit only by fire?


A polished mirror
Twins the dawn sky above it, 
Glum with seaborne clouds. 
A lone boat glides up-channel 
To pass beneath a green bridge.


Writing three tanka
Today does not fulfill 
The terms of the challenge. 
Though scolding you does fulfill 
MY requirement for the day.


Alone with her thoughts
And the last of the sake, 
She lays out her bed. 
A breath to quell each lantern, 
A sigh for the chilly quilts.


Visions of stars and
Thoughts of a sake-cup moon 
Break in on her day. 
If only life were all silk 
And bright lanterns in the dark!


Muddy marks sully
Pristine floorboards, carelessness 
Shaped like a man's foot. 
Who would trespass so crudely 
Beneath these once tranquil eaves?


Beneath moody clouds
Low tide silvers rippled sands 
And clings to cold feet. 
Sea birds bicker and careen 
Over the gleaming shallows.


Sea grasses whisper
Eternal secrets too soft 
For a straining ear. 
Someone once walked beside her 
Murmuring other secrets.


Shadows shroud the land
As storm clouds mount the summits 
Of the eastern hills. 
What do art and work matter
When faced with eternity?


They want to be fed
Instantaneous answers. 
Let them eat silence. 
Though silence is a blessing 
They cannot appreciate.


Old stones huddle
As if pondering moves 
On a shogi board. 
Among dearest friends, a game 
Can never last long enough.


They look so young as
They peer at the Muni map
On the shelter wall.
"Where are you going?" I ask.
"Japantown." "Take the 38."


There is nothing like
The company of my books,
Peaceful and knowing.
If I sip or I drink deep,
They are a comfort to me.


The trees hiss as if
In pain, waving fretful arms 
In warding gestures. 
Shutters rattle warning of 
The approach of a spring storm.


Happy is the bee
To have so many flowers 
Offer their nectar. 
Scent spent, color faded, the 
Flower dies, dreaming of bees.


A sprig of cherry
Reminds her of that meeting, 
All smiles and poems. 
Po Chu I sits on his shelf, 
Flirting with Murasaki.


Night falls on the bay
Small boats sway at moorings 
Like tired dancers. 
Further east, flecks of gold light 
Shine from a thousand windows.


Sunset reflected
From windows across the hills 
Reach her own window. 
Soon the pearl sky will deepen 
Through the thousand hues of dusk.


Night lies heavily 
On the district. A dog barks, 
The trees are silent. 
No sleep comes to soothe her; 
No breeze wafts in from the bay.


No stars shine tonight
And the moon hides her pale face 
From casual view. 
Again the night seems too still 
As if waiting for something.


A growl of thunder
Belies the clear twilight sky 
And low sailing moon. 
Lost in the rhythm, we drum, 
United by sweat and joy.


Throwing his head back
A sparrow serenades the 
Heedless passersby. 
Though perched on rusting barbed wire 
His song is all the sweeter.


He lands at my feet,
Orange wings flicker, 
Then he flutters off. 
Flying, feeding, breeding, are 
Far more urgent than my walk.


Dark, gravid clouds birth
A litter of fat raindrops 
Above the paddies. 
Yet sun shines north and south of 
My road, promising rainbows.


Like demons they come,
Each ignoring the others 
As they blow their pipes.
Drums beat, feet march 
To the whirl of cacophonous colors.


Late afternoon sun
Sparks green from the grassy hills 
Bright as a knife blade. 
Am I the only pilgrim 
Who pauses to drink it in?


The scent of woodsmoke
Rises to a starry sky, 
Rich with memories. 
Firelit smiles and friendship are 
Better than feasts and soft beds.


Exhaustion is the
Enemy of poetry 
On such days as this.
Vainly grasping for ideas, 
Still the words do not come.


Spears of sunlight thrust
Through a parapet of cloud. 
Sparks shower the bay. 
Shorebirds forage busily, 
Heedless of the silent fray.


He: "The teeth now blackened
soft faces powdered whitely 
to go moon viewing 
Cherry blossoms all but gone 
yet lingering for the moon." 

She: "She needs no powder 
To dazzle a watcher's eye, 
Nor garish garments. 
The moon reduces her to 
A wan child playing dress-up." 

He: "Bright moon gazing, full,
resplendent in its glory, 
can but turn away- 
squinting at the lovely one 
who sits on that porch, watching." 

She: "Once more, misty clouds 
Conceal moon and stars alike 
From her searching gaze. 
With no earthly suitor 
There's no point in sitting up".

06/10/2009, with Date Saburou Yukiie* 

He: Morning bell tolling
Cobblestone clack of geta 
Dew covered penance..... 
Will the white rice of day-break 
Match the glow seen from her face? 

She: The temple bell lies, 
Surely time moves more slowly 
Than fleeting dew! 
Endless seem the days, waiting 
For a note, a glance, a word.

06/11/2009 with Date Saburou Yukiie*

Earthbound, she listens
To a mockingbird as he 
Tries out each new song. 
If she could fly too, perhaps 
She might sing as joyously.


Incense burns, heedless
Of the falling rain, or are 
Those a thousand tears? 
Memories like candle flame 
Warm a chill autumn evening.


Did you write today?"
Rising moon asks setting sun 
O'er the glinting bay. 
"Nearly forgot!" she blushes, 
Hurrying homeward to write.


Morning mist rises
From the inlet, ghost-like trees 
Stand watch on its banks. 
Silently they let me pass 
As if I too am a ghost.


Sun warmed afternoons
Tease the spirit with such 
Mendacious weather. 
The truth is in angled light 
And trees garbed in tattered robes.


Grey marbled morning
Retreats before the noon sun 
Into the high hills. 
Ever-fickle autumn plays 
Her tricks again and again.


Ramparts of dark clouds
Advance upon the east hills 
With desperate speed. 
Is that pounding rain I hear 
Or is it all in my head?


Clouds race and tumble,
Yet for all that, it seems 
Such a timid rain. 
Mist would be more aggressive 
Than this pathetic dripping!


Three kites, a basket,
A charming tanuki and 
Onigiri molds. 
A thirty dollar spree nets 
Much at the 100 yen store.


The morning threatens
Escape from my control as 
I gaze to the east. 
Masts rise from the marina 
And trees blaze upon the hills.


Heat rises and soothes
As I gaze down into the 
Warmth cupped in my hands. 
Though life is fraught with problems 
A bowl of tea solves a few.


Merciless shears clack,
Lopping helpless branches off 
In verdant carnage. 
Had I such gardeners, it 
Would be they who would suffer.


Milky bay mimics
A sky leached of all color, 
Waves a dull shimmer. 
The only sounds are the cries 
Of sea birds and lapping waves.


A window rattles
In its frame, complaining of 
A door shut downstairs. 
Old houses tattle on each 
Tenant as we come and go.


The night is darker
And chill is the wind blowing 
Off the endless sea. 
Still they live beneath bridges 
Waiting with their empty bowls.


A shadow flutters
Past the window, another, 
Maple leaves falling. 
What must it be like to die 
Dancing upon a cool breeze?


To know who she is
I would walk her narrow streets 
And meet her people. 
Like Genji I wish to see 
Who lives inside that screened room.


Once more, dawn intrudes,
Poking bright fingers at each 
Night shuttered crack. 
A dog barks at some 
Early passerby, I sigh and rise.


The first impression
Is all dash and elegance 
That delights the eye. 
But can he write a poem 
That reveals his true merit? ;-D 


Ah, Gracious Beauty
Had not your attention caught 
On dye or bearing 
Would you wonder if poem 
Could issue forth from one?

- Takeda Sanjuichiro Akimasa*

A waving banner
Is no man, yet it catches 
The eye by design. 
A man either has true worth 
Or merely flaps in the breeze.


Loyalty, friendship,
And a strong moral code 
Are hardly vices. 
One may do far worse than to 
Be born into the Dog's Year.


Night comes too quickly,
Driving folk homeward as if 
In fear of the dark. 
Windows bloom on the hillside 
Like flowers of golden light.


Winds buffet the inky clouds
Even as the sun stabs through 
Curtains of raindrops. 
Venture out at your peril: 
On such days, foxes marry


A teacup moon floats
Through a reef of clouds of an 
Impossible pink. 
Twilight remembers herself 
And dons a more subtle robe.


With nightfall it comes,
The loneliness of a still 
And silent old house. 
Ears strain for unheard footsteps, 
Or for a remembered laugh.


Sometimes it's easy.
An image begets ideas 
And it writes itself. 
Sometimes, though, I sit and sigh, 
Forced to admit I've nothing. 


The little gingko
In the corner garden is 
A waif in tatters. 
Once lushly garbed, she mirrors 
The impermanence of life.


Blazing pumpkin rinds
Join eggshells and persimmon
Peels in a bucket.
 read the recipe twice 
Why is so much filling left?


The scent of spices
Is not half so pleasing as 
Your smiling faces. 
As we sit down together,
Nothing can separate us.


Mantled in dark clouds
The hills hunch shoulders against 
The rain's cold fingers. 
I watch from my window and 
Wonder when it will rain here.


Raging like wild beasts,
They throw themselves hungrily 
Against the pale sand.
Such roaring surf can hardly 
Have earned the name "Pacific."


Softer than a cloud
It billows from my fingers 
Like a waterfall. 
Cutting silk feels like murder 
And destiny all at once.


One cannot ignore
The death rattle underfoot 
At each passing step. 
The nights grow colder, longer, 
And the passes fill with snow.


The shutters protest
An onslaught of winter winds 
Blasting off the bay. 
Even the moon has set and 
Neighbors' lights seem far away.


Copyright 2009, 2019 Lisa A. Joseph, except *Mike Lehman. 

No HOBBY LOBBY products were used in these projects.