The Tanka Challenge Project


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Water slaps pavement
Loudly enough to wake me 
Well after midnight. 
I wait for a softer rain 
To lull me back to my rest.


How fine it would be
To sit awhile longer and 
Talk the night away. 
Duty demands that we part: 
Tomorrow is a work day.


He questioned my choice
Of brushes and ink stick meant 
For a child to use. 
Yet one must begin somewhere 
When one is learning to write.


To camp or daytrip?
I cannot decide which which one 
Holds greater appeal. 
The company of my friends 
Or not having to sleep cold?


Light and shadow play
Out a simple, old fashioned tale 
That still wrings a tear. 
The faces of those long dead 
Still captivate the living.


Mist blurs the hilltops,
Underfoot, the dewy grass 
Seeps through my tabi. 
Why did I rise so early? 
The tourney is not for hours.


It is a good hurt,
To wake a bit sore, thinking 
Of yesterday's bouts. 
Four wins only, but each loss 
Was a far better lesson.


At night, a high wind
Makes the house shudder and creak 
Like a ship at sea. 
Lying beneath the eaves, I 
Listen to the storm's music.


As the sun went down
I saw them hunting for fish 
In the steel blue bay. 
The pelicans have returned 
And I sigh contentedly.


A solitary
Clump of purple and white spills 
From a stringy vine. 
Perhaps by next spring it will 
Cascade more elegantly.


The street is quiet,
Light shines from a front window 
At this late hour. 
I try to tread softly as 
I pass my neighbor's front door.


A thousand years on,
Monkey looks back laughing as 
Rabbit chases him. 
Cavorting in faded ink, 
The animals still frolic.


A slice of moonlight
Shaped like a smile, or perhaps 
The hull of a boat. 
It rides above my road home, 
Waiting for I know not what.


Were they all real men
Or the imaginings of 
Those who sculpted them? 
Two millennia old, they 
Gaze back at me in silence.


It roars off the bay,
Yanking at half closed doors and 
Rattling the windows. 
Halyards chime noisily as 
Boats jostle in their moorings.


It's almost midnight
But this poem will not come 
And I want to sleep. 
Whose idea was this challenge? 
Oh yes, that's right. It was mine.


Flowering trees wave
Their gaily colored sleeves in 
The morning sunshine. 
I spare them a glance before I 
Hurry off to my work day.


Wrists ache from the weight
Of drills with sword and dagger, 
Pass and pass again. 
Is he having an off night 
Or have I improved that much?


The wheel turns again,
Now rising, now falling but 
Always in motion. 
No matter what the season 
There is always more mending.


Wind sighs through branches
And tugs halfheartedly at 
A little boy's kite. 
Serenaded by songbirds, 
I lie back in the cool grass.


A darting motion
In the corner of my eye 
Alerts me to him. 
He hovers, snatching insects 
Wings blur with speed, then he's off.


Windows thrown open,
One hopes for a cool bay breeze 
Though it nears midnight. 
Soon enough the birds will wake 
Me with their noisy chatter.


A field of green silk
Awaits my inspiration 
"Paint me!" it whispers. 
I dip my brush in pure gold 
Steady handed by purpose.


On a quiet night
A distant train horn echoes 
Across the channel. 
Footsteps on pavement outside 
Hurry past, then a door slams.


So bright a spring moon
Makes one yearn for poetry 
And dreams of what was. 
Alas, I must watch alone 
As the rooftops gleam silver.


Tonight the moon plays
Hide and Seek among billows 
Of concealing clouds. 
Now hidden, now peeping through 
At its face deep in the bay.


Measured in gray hairs
Or a clock's tick, time never 
Stops playing its tricks. 
Like water cupped in the hand 
The day dripped through my fingers.


Tiny white flowers
In the grass beneath my feet 
Spring up like small stars. 
A breath of sea breeze floats in 
Off the beach beyond the trees.


She waits in a web
Strung across the window frame 
For a fly or moth. 
A door slams downstairs, making 
Her scuttle into a crack.


Another sunset
Gilds the water as sea birds 
Wheel and cry above. 
I turn homeward, thinking of 
What tomorrow holds in store.


Cresting a hillside,
I could cup it in my hands. 
My reach is too short. 
The golden teacup moon seems 
Caught in a web of branches.


The maple out front
Still defies the season with 
Sleeves still mostly green. 
Only a few flecks of red 
Hint at what is yet to come.


An old song plays on
Within a fragment of dream 
Unheard by others. 
Who was I dancing with then 
Beneath the breath of the stars?


As the days shorten
The light seems to lean sharply, 
Eager for sunset. 
Fooled by warm breezes, the trees 
Seem heedless of winter's fate.


Honed to a bright arc,
The setting moon coasts lower, 
Lost among rooftops. 
A sudden chill presages 
The darker season to come.


Shoes are a poor lure.
The cosmetics counter holds 
No sway over me. 
But the time I could waste in 
The aisles of a hardware store!


Only the street lamps
And the trees mark my passing 
At such a late hour. 
The streets are empty but for 
The rustle of fallen leaves.


I can barely see
The old house across the street 
Like a distant hill. 
That looming ghost is only 
A neighbor walking a dog.


Whiter than paper
They pose calmly at bay's edge 
Or scythe through the air. 
Among the egrets floats a 
Pelican like a great ship.


A warm bowl of rice
Makes me suddenly drowsy 
After a long day. 
Perhaps a cup of tea will 
Let me read awhile longer.


Low hanging clouds lid
The bay, grey mirroring gray 
To the horizon. 
The city beyond is but 
A jumble of pale shadow.


Though it is quite late
Restlessness keeps me sitting 
Awhile with my thoughts. 
Heedless of my foolishness 
Dark clouds play tag with the stars.


To wear such colors
Would be more presumptuous 
Than is in good taste. 
As ever, the sky outranks 
Those of us bound to the earth.


A year and a half
It took for someone to give 
The right instructions. 
Hearing it phrased a new way 
I now know what to correct.


Soon I can take off
That smiling mask worn to please 
A demanding world. 
Soon I will smile for myself 
In the company of friends.


First come the fish eyes,
Then pearls rise to the surface. 
Last, waves in tumult. 
So did Lu Yu give names to 
Stages of water boiling.


They crunch and rustle,
Scuttling before the wind like 
Startled animals. 
The lawn is awash in waves 
Of vermilion, brown and gold.


Though it is early
I see them rowing each day 
As I cross the bridge. 
Swift as arrows, they slice the 
Glowing waters of the dawn.


Rumpled silver silk
Veils the wan cheeks of a sun 
Seemingly mourning. 
In the north, leaden clouds pile 
Their dark threat of autumn rain.


Piled behind the hills,
They scowl darkly with the last 
Remnants of the rain. 
The sunset breaks through, setting 
The houses ablaze with light.


On a night like this
The house shudders like a ship 
On a stormy sea. 
Windows shake in their frames and 
Tree branches batter the roof.


Moaning and rushing
Through the lane between houses 
The wind is tormented. 
Sighing, I wedge more paper 
Into the window sashes.


The day's duties done,
It is time to douse the lights 
And seek a warm bed. 
Perhaps tomorrow will bring 
A new adventure or two.


Lo these many months
We banded together to 
Protect our Princess. 
A reign ends, a reign begins, 
And there is mending to do.


Downstairs the clock chimes,
Telling me to seek my bed. 
Yet here I still sit. 
Inspiration fails to strike 
As I struggle with these lines.


The market buzzes
With pre-celebration throngs 
Seeking provisions. 
Arms laden with treats, I pause 
To admire the sunset sky.


Nights are not dark here,
Not with ships unloading wares 
Beneath mighty cranes. 
A cloudy night gone pale pink 
With the bustle of the port.


Some unseen creature
Is pacing the roof shingles 
Above my head. 
Bird or squirrel, it taps 
And patters, then is away.


They raided my grain,
I fought them back, laying traps 
And small diversions. 
In a day I took three heads, 
Perhaps more will fall tonight.


The hills are erased.
I cannot even see as 
Far as the harbor. 
The fog is a living thing, 
Eating an entire city.


Copyright 2013, 2019 Lisa A. Joseph

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