The Tanka Challenge Project    


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The sun is not up.
A distant train whistle cries warning 
To still empty streets. 
It is some mean prank of age 
To wake so far before dawn.


Insistent birdsong
Streams through the open window 
Long before the sun. 
This year's nesting family 
Raucously demands breakfast.


In their SUVs
Replete with flea market finds 
They barely see me. 
Somehow biking past them all 
Is easier with Buddha.


Fingers of sunlight
Reach through the window, taunting 
As I try to work. 
Thoughts of a stroll by the bay 
Distract me from my duties.


A fingernail moon
Pursues the last rosy tracks 
Of the vanished sun. 
Tired and hungry, I turn home 
To an empty, silent house.


The wisteria
Is already half naked 
From your attentions. 
Taunt me with smiling skies, then 
Rattle windows, fickle Spring.


Chaotic winds beat
Blossoms from flailing branches, 
A snowless blizzard. 
Clouds race each other to cross 
The line of the eastern hills.


Fox paws on the roof
Patter even as the sun 
Peeps through the window. 
The afternoon is confused 
By rain and wind off the bay.


They start while it's dark
Chirping relentlessly near 
An open window. 
To greet dawn so cheerfully 
I'd need a decent night's rest.


Perhaps this day is
Better spent on kite flying 
Than flower viewing. 
Such a rough handed spring has 
Tattered so many branches.


Where do I find it?
What is this thingummy called? 
Why do it that way? 
The days are not long enough 
To answer all your questions.


Graceful branches reach
Towards the skylight, posing 
Like a small dancer. 
Potted nature makes me pause 
Each time I mount the stairway.


Ruthlessly I prune
Lanky tendrils gone amok, 
Cutting their lifeline. 
Yet a jar of water holds 
New promise with those cuttings.


The scarlet sky begs
Admiration, reflected 
In the channel's waves. 
Spokes tick like a clock as I 
Pedal across the old bridge.


She thinks I'm so brave.
Independence seems to her 
So enviable. 
"Strong" and "self-reliant" is 
Often quite lonely.


Sacred mountains call,
Demanding spring pilgrimage 
Offerings of awe. 
Blessings abound in the touch 
Of a waterfall's cool kiss.


Each step taken in
The mountains holds a blessing 
For body and soul. 
It's in the scent of the air 
And in the depths of sound sleep.


Strawberries glisten
Like rare jewels as they drain 
In a reed basket. 
Restraint be damned: I cannot 
Resist such a sweet treasure.


The streets are quiet.
Lights glow in a few windows, 
A man coughs next door. 
As I wait for sleep to come 
The dog down the street barks once.


A heavy grey quilt
Muffles the sky from the bay 
To the hunching hills. 
The very air feels sodden, 
Yet looked-for rain does not come.


We nod a greeting.
The light changes, we pedal, 
I fall in behind. 
At the bridge I can't help think:  
Real men don't ride on sidewalks.


Yet more clouds roll through
and shadow covers the land 
As chilly winds blow. 
Is it coincidence or 
An old cosmic memory?


Each stem is studied,
Each bud is considered for 
Balance and beauty. 
Under careful hands they bloom, 
Dancing even in stillness.


Another cool dusk
Cloaks the hills in weighty clouds 
As the sunset fades. 
Soon mist will hide those lanterns 
Flickering on the hillsides.


After all these years
And so many stitches sewn
You'd think I would know.
Needles and subtitled films
Are a bad combination.


The glitter of lights
Strewn across the darkened hills
Reaches my window.
Halyards clink in the channel,
In the distance a train howls.


Above the bustle
Of hurrying passers by
I hear notes bending.
As I fumble for my fare
An old man plays his erhu.


Branches wave wildly
And shutters rattle protest
At the seaborne gale.
What kind of spring is this that
Tears at my hair and clothing?


In my rustic hut
Warm blankets and tea beckon
Comfort before bed.
Yet I lie awake to gaze
A bit longer at the stars.


Beneath the willow
He laments his loneliness
To the summer moon.
Alone too, I lie sleepless
All because of a bullfrog.


There will be no glimpse
Of a sake cup moon in 
The sky tonight. 
The fading light is cool, grey 
And soft rain drips from the eaves.


She weaves patiently
Despite comings and goings 
And slamming of doors. 
I get a broom with a sigh 
And reach once more for her web.


Eyes, ears and mouth clasped
With frozen brass paws, they sit 
Silent on their shelf. 
Hear No Evil seems puzzled 
By an eternal silence.


Helplessly they wave
Leafy arms as if it would 
Save them from torment. 
Harsh gusts off the sea care not 
For the plight of a few trees.


I wake with a start.
Autumn rain hammers the eaves 
Just above my head. 
As suddenly as it came 
It stops, leaving me wakeful.


I close my eyes and
Drink its earthy scent as I 
Wait for hot water. 
At last, the blurred edges of 
Sleep are banished for the day.


He carried my things
And made some silly jest as
We walked together.
My breath caught on memory:
He reminded me of you.


Moon and sun face off
Across the afternoon sky
Matching stare for stare.
All too soon the sun retreats
Before the advance of night.


I followed the moon
Down quiet streets guarded by
Shadow-leafed trees.
I fished for my key ring and
Bade her a silent good night.


I sit waiting for
Some inspiration beneath
A skylight gone dark.
There is no romance in a
grocery cart, or laundry.


Oars slice through water
The color of sunrise as
I watch from the bridge.
Then it is my turn to strive
Against the traffic's current.


Surrounded by books,
I delight in the world of
Words and ideas.
The more I read, though, the more
I find I have more questions.


Preparing for sleep
I heard their whispers above
Against the canvas.
There's something peaceful
About soft rain on a tent.


There you are again
Guarding my path homeward
And shining through blinds.
Wide awake, the moon and I
Keep each other company.


An audible huff
Precedes the smell of
Year old dust burning.
The true harbinger of fall
Is the heater coming on.


I am the shime,
The racing pulse as thunder
Builds behind my back.
An earthquake roars through my ears
While sticks gallop in my hands.


It's not yet midnight
As I climb the stairs humming
Snatches of Handel.
A night of opera and
My head is full of eighth notes.


Never was there shade
As restful and gentle as
That you lent in summer.
Though autumn winds tear your robes
It will be springtime again. 

(Inspired by “Ombra mai fu” from Handel's “Xerxes.”)

Angry clouds contort
Themselves, driven by hard winds
Off a cold ocean.
Impatiently they wait to
Ambush me with lashing drops.


Instead of brush strokes
I write my poor intentions
With needle and thread.
My forebears copied the sutras,
I must take another way.


Window frames rattle
As shingles echo with the
Drumming raindrops.
I wonder, would a new house
Sound the same way when it rains?


A pale wisp of moon
Floats like a feather in the
Cold sky before dawn.
My feet feel heavy as I
Go out to begin my day.


The moon hid from me
As only a few stars peeked
Through reaching branches.
Faced with a dark sky, I tried
To recall being in love.


Melting brown eyes and
Whipping tail greet my return
Though he never barks.
My neighbor's dog makes up for
Not having one of my own.


A gracious table,
Children and dog underfoot,
We laughed and feasted.
In this dewdrop existence
Is much to be thankful for.


The bridge seems to float,
One end vanishing into
Nothing in the mist.
Bay and sky melt together
As if the city had gone.


Tzuzumi boshi
Floats above my head, strangely
Silent for a drum.
The rattle of fallen leaves
Accompanies my footsteps.


Stitch and snip and stitch,
Each seam is victory,
Each hem is progress.
Like a climb up a mountain
The summit view is worth it.


Muffled by the mist,
I cannot see the lighted
Windows in the hills.
On such a night as this
The house feels like an island.


Trees become shadows
Raising ragged arms as if
To haunt the still street.
Somewhere in the fog a train
Wails warning as it passes.


Leaves scurry like rats
Along the gutter's edges,
Fleeing angry winds.
Over in the marina
Halyards bell against their masts.


Copyright 2011, 2019 Lisa A. Joseph

No HOBBY LOBBY products were used in these projects.