SAMPLE TANKA from First Winter Rain

26 Feb

Samples of my tanka poems from First Winter Rain: Selected Tanka from 2006-2010:


My wordless neighbor
Working long after dark
Burying his old hound
The shovel biting the dirt
Like a falling ax


Before the race
The dirt track being raked
The rig rattling
Behind a swayback horse
Remembering thunder


Leaving home
Without your blessing
Forgive me, Father
This headwind
Is a cold cruel knife


Intensive care
All the chirping monitors
Song of the cicadas
Rising to a deaf moon


Glistening seaweed
Pulses on the waves
In damp tendrils
Your red-honey hair
Soft on my cheek


After the raid
We bury our dead
In the burnt melon field
The littlest graves
Take the longest to dig


Moving house–
There, under my desk,
Your lost photo
Smiling in sweet ignorance
Of cruel days ahead


Hours before dawn
Drinking vodka on the porch
While others sleep
I turn off the light
And give the moth a break


BALTIMORE – A Tanka String

To get off
The crowded bus
I shuffle,
Stretch and lean–
The old straphangers’ dance

Stepping off
The Trailways bus
At Fayette Street
A chilling rain
The fragrance of diesel

Deep in the stacks
At the Enoch Pratt
I sense the ages
Still breathing, intelligent
Pages waiting to be seen

A National Boh
Sweating on its coaster
Cod cakes catching flies
I’m lost in my newest find
At the Peabody Book Store

Lunch at the deli
Next to the fish market
I choose pastrami–
So fine with mustard
And crowds and noise

After working late
In my trudge to the garage
Always this delight–
The moment the sensors click
All the streetlights on at once

Headed north on Charles
In the evening rush hour
Bicyclists pass us by . . .
Inside, my car’s AC
Drowns out the daily madness

After a late dinner
We step outside
The street is white-carpeted
Snowglobes around each lamppost

Mid-town arcade
Everyone crowds around
The fun-house mirrors . . .
Any illusion will do
For prisoners of reality

“Things go well,”
My friend says “. . . Well. Well.”
Adjusting his coat sleeve
To hide a soiled cuff
I peer across the street

Fund-raising dinner
Slides of starving children
Flash quickly by–
The tinkle of crystal
And silver almost stops



An azure ceiling
Dangles its yellow parasol
Paper shreds flutter
Like aspen leaves from the beams
As the room goes dark, goes bright

Mounted butterfly
Hanging under hardened glass
Floating over cork
Just enough room for your dreams
Meadow breeze . . . a sapphire flash

The loathsome woods
Do not mean, but be
May the silence
Of the oaks
Abide with thee

I slept in the woods
And the bracken went chestnut
This ancient lake glows
Green at each stroke of my oar
Flocking birds darken the sky

The day’s heat broken
My damp shirt cooling, drying
In the tree-row’s shade
Red mulberries stain my hands
And the old wooden bucket

This cold white room
Takes on many colors
In the changing light
When will I see you next?
How long until a full moon?

What do I become
In the stupor of the night?
My familiar hands,
What do they conceal by day?
Which nightmare is real; which dream?

Rose-grey blanket
The same old smog hangs
Over Baltimore
Night shifts in full swing
The predators awaken

Skyscrapers sway
Dreaming in the night wind
City’s black canyons
Shimmering rivers of light
So faint, the bleats of prey

My ivory dome
Lit by foxfire and coals
The shadows writhe
As my sins flicker
Like dying searchlights

Wet velvet forest
Rooted in the flotsam
Of a sea of tears
The yew-beams of my lodge
Pulse dully in the night

The townsfolk panic
At the sight of painted birds
They raze dark places
And fence-off the forest depths–
Hell arrives in a white van

Rye whisky
Burns my gut, so, cheers!
I’ve lived so long
An enemy of death
I know pain is proof of life

The doctors insist,
“Lobotomies are painless;
Taking half will leave
Room for happiness, for dreams”–
For whom? Which half am I? Who . . .?

For weeks
After anesthesia
I search
Those hours are nowhere
Like a hole in the sea

Gone are the nightmares
Past are the manic midnights
All’s gone sober-grey
Everything tastes like test scores
I dance to the clock’s tick-tock

The boy says
He wants to see it all–
Shaking my head
I wonder what he’d do
If the scales fell from his eyes

Some nights
All I can do is lean
Against the old wall
And know
That stone is cold


from First Winter Rain: Selected Tanka from 2006-2010 ©2009 Denis M. Garrison.

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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Short Verse, Tanka


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