The Tanka Challenge Project


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Clouds hike their long hems
To hurry over the hills, 
Chased by yet more storms. 
In the breath between, I pause 
As birds bravely try to sing.


Wet pavement shimmers
As I pick my way through a 
Network of puddles. 
Yet it is not all wet feet 
With a rainbow to the west.


Peeping through the clouds
A shy crescent moon briefly 
Shows her shining cheek. 
It is but a brief respite 
Before the next rains begin.


Three years' worth of weeds
Have suddenly become a 
Sea of mud puddles. 
Consult the weather forecast 
Before making that garden.


I pass miles of them,
Ruthlessly pollarded and 
Planted in strict rows. 
Yet even in regiments, 
The cherries wear lovely blossoms.


"You fought well today,"
He said, to my puzzlement. 
What was he watching? 
Or did he mean the battle 
With constant pain and myself?


His repertoire is
A marvel as he shows off 
In hope of a mate. 
Try though I might, I could not 
See where the mockingbird nests.


Dancing with a drum
Or wielding a sword with grace 
Do not come with ease. 
I must make up for prowess 
With enthusiasm.


How quiet it is.
Windows open to the night 
I wait, listening. 
In the distance I hear the 
Wail of an oncoming train.


An inscribed flyleaf
Bears well wishes from the past 
In ink faded brown. 
Someone else once loved this book 
That I now hold in my hands.


A reunion with
My sister awaits, as I 
Wend my way southwards. 
Tomorrow we shall journey 
Through mist and sun to the sea.


A lone sentinel
Watches from a rocky cliff, 
Gazing out to sea. 
The gnarled cypress stands guard for 
A sea lion nursery.


Our path takes us through
Dunes robed brightly in purple 
Sloping toward the sand. 
An icy wave causes shrieks 
Of surprise and wet to the waist.


The full moon
Dances with stately grace 
But I shall not see. 
Tonight's portents are cloud veiled 
And not for the likes of me.


Despite the workday
My thoughts turn to bright flowers 
And the roar of waves. 
Springtime on this rugged coast 
Is laden with wondrous sights.


Which way can I go
When every road is mired 
With new construction? 
I am coming to loathe the 
Sight of hardhatted flagmen.


Creeping one by one
Toward midnight, the minutes 
Taunt my empty page. 
This challenge is hardest when 
Inspiration does not come.


Despite a strong breeze
The pot achieves its first boil
As I ready cups. 
In a sunny meadow, my 
Guests enjoy tea and good cheer.


If one picture is
Worth a thousand words, what of 
Thousands of pictures? 
Hidden in boxes, a trove 
Of images comes to light.


The dirt patch next door
Is suddenly dotted with 
Tiny sprouts of green. 
After three seasons of weeds 
The neighbors will have a lawn.


The clock downstairs peals,
Another half hour counted 
As the night draws on. 
How many such chimes have I 
Counted on how many nights?


Beneath the streetlight
The pavement seems to sparkle, 
Puddles like ink pools. 
The scent of rain follows me 
As I pull my coat closer.


Poring over maps
Of a place I've never been, 
Except in my mind. 
Some day I shall walk those streets 
And admire maple crowned hills.


The old house groans as
Rough winds rush down the alley 
And batter the trees. 
My aching head is not soothed 
Even by a cup of tea.


The cool kiss of rain
Greets me as I hurry to 
The laundry room door. 
Inside it is warm as I 
Sort and fold and stack my things.


Vines drip with purple,
Petals hiding the arbor 
With their bright cascades. 
In spring, it is the fuji 
Which is my favorite bloom.


Windows thrown open 
To the night air, I wonder 
At the odd weather. 
Surely the calendar lies 
And we should wear unlined robes!


In another life
I would glide in rustling silks 
With elegant grace. 
Instead, I sit listening 
To passing trains in the night.


I never saw it,
As we sped through walls of mist 
On the Shinkansen. 
Fuji's grandeur must be saved 
For when I return one day.


Her words transport me
Back from the darkened cabin 
To shrines and gardens. 
Amidst sleeping passengers 
Sei whispers to me alone.


Where did the day go?
Laundry and groceries should 
Not have stolen hours. 
Now I take back a moment 
As night washes the cold sky.


Kodaiji's lanterns
Glow against the turning leaves 
Of its night gardens. 
Is that the same moon I saw 
Watching over the treetops?


Hello, my old friend.
I see you floating above 
The telephone lines. 
Later you follow me home, 
Silver moon in the night sky.


His eyes plead with me
As he reaches through the wire: 
I hold out apples. 
For a brief instant I don't know 
Which hand is mine or Monkey's.


Beneath a kind tree
I shelter, watching ripples 
Spread from each raindrop. 
A dark shape passes, heedless. 
Koi do not care if it rains.


Humble kasuri
Vies with elegant brocade 
For my attention 
What a dilemma! I don't 
Know which project to begin!


Late afternoon sun
Glances off polished granite 
And casts tall shadows. 
Graves of ancestors look down 
Upon the old capital.


Someone placed them here,
Each tree and plant, each old stone 
Now bedecked with moss. 
As we admire the effect 
A garden requires hard work.


Cranes may be icons
Of good fortune, but I saw 
Silver clad herons. 
They watched me from riverbed 
And garden, like tall shadows.


Pausing to catch breath
I am suddenly alone 
With the mountainside. 
So many gates, limned in light, 
Leading eye and spirit on.


Silently they wait
In a corner for the hands 
That will make them sing. 
In my mind I already 
Hear the music of heaven.


Her gaze arrests mine
Amid the glowing ranks of 
Guardian, general, she 
Watches even as she prays.



Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, photo by author. 


Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, photo by author.


Mawara-nyo at Sanjusangendo, Kyoto

Golden leaves shimmer
As if lit from within, though 
The sun hides her face. 
Gingkos wave at each other 
Like friends from across the street.


Each night I sit here,
Trying to call to mind a 
Poetic image. 
I set the bar high so I 
May bruise my forehead on it.


We bow and spar,
I die once again, 
My hands and feet are too slow. 
So much I have lost, missing 
Two weeks/ practice with a sword.


Waking to raindrops
Pattering on the skylight 
Is a cozy sound. 
Alas, I cannot lie and 
Drift back to sleep, I must rise.


Months of dying grass
Give way to autumn storms and 
Suddenly lush lawns. 
I dash madly for the house 
Between drops, my hems now soaked.


It is often hard
To make pilgrimage in the 
Proper frame of mind. 
The cacophony of crowds 
Besiege the gates of heaven.


The road takes me through
Curtains of rain, now heavy 
And dark with their threats. 
Yet peeping between the veil 
Are pale bands of a rainbow.


Teppanyaki made
By a chef named Miguel and 
Cheap cups from Daiso. 
You did Christmas shopping 
While I sighed for my Kyoto.


Blazing like a torch,
The maple out front begins 
To scatter its leaves. 
One caught beneath a wiper 
Flutters gaily as I drive.


A fingernail moon
Supervises our swordplay 
Without a comment. 
My foe and I start laughing 
As we double-kill. Again.


A fragment of news
Sets the mind racing like 
A hamster on its wheel. 
It is hard to be patient 
Waiting for information.


I divert children
While their mother prepares for 
Our holiday meal. 
Her dishes are delicious 
And my pies are a success.


The falls flow thinly
In autumn, their spring thunder 
Hushed by summer drought. 
The riverbed now a Zen 
Garden of stone and mirrors.


Heedless of tourists
Valley deer graze as we stroll 
Through autumn grasses. 
A crescent moon shows her hull 
As she sails for the sunset.


Heart leaping, I brake
As a ghostly shape crosses 
The mountain roadway. 
In silence, she passes close 
As if we were never there.



Yosemite National Park, photo by author. 


Yosemite National Park, photo by author. 


Yosemite National Park, photo by author. 

The patter of rain
Wakes me even as it lulls 
Me to stay abed. 
Warm coverlets tempt even 
As the day's duties beckon.


Copyright 2014, 2019 Lisa A. Joseph. All photos by Lisa A. Joseph except where noted. 

No HOBBY LOBBY products were used in these projects.