Lunar Rover

Roses outside a window

The craters on the moon, the valleys, the mountains … everything the moon has is higher and wider and deeper than the things we have and this is because the moon has no air, nothing to get in the way of things falling or rising. If only you could breathe there you could grow, you could be a fine seven-foot specimen with an attenuated spine and a pianist’s fingers and delicately pointed ears. You could ride a racehorse forty hands high across the Planitia Descensus just in time to meet two tiny men in wide white suits, flailing along in terror of a fall. You could catch them up joyfully in your arms and set them behind you on your mount, you could take them back to the city you’ve built, full of spires and minarets and elegant hundred-foot lampposts. You could tenderly remove their awkward suits and tell them to breathe, to just try breathing, it’s not so hard once you get the hang of it …

and as a monument to their failure you could erect the tallest grave marker in the city.

summer dusk
the length of a vine
and its shadow

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Contemporary Haibun Online, October 2011

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(grandmother moon)

Moon over trees

altered photograph by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

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grandmother moon
I can’t help wishing for
a gold tooth like hers
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(Haiku Bandit Society, June 2011 Moon Viewing Party)

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full moon
one plate missing
from the setting
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(Haiku Bandit Society, July 2011 Moon Viewing Party)

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Hey…do you like writing moon haiku? Like reading moon haiku? (If you say no to either of those questions, you have to turn in your official Haiku Poet Badge, so think carefully before you answer.)

If so, you should really consider joining the party over at Haiku Bandit Society every month. It starts a few days before the full moon. Anyone can contribute a poem about the moon for those few days. Willie posts them all on the blog, and they are a blast to read. Then his dog Dottie picks out the three she likes the best and gives them the Dottie Dot Awards.

This is another one of my favorite things that people do with their blogs. I wish even more people would participate because I love moon haiku so much and there really are an endless variety of twists on them. I bet you’ve got something great up your sleeve. Think about it.

Babushkas


Broom
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Old women everywhere, like crones out of fairy tales, sweep dirt from and onto the streets with bundles of twigs. I think about stopping one of them to ask for three wishes. But they stare at me suspiciously from under their kerchiefs and mutter when they hear me speak. “She doesn’t even know Russian. Her coat isn’t warm enough. What is going to become of all of us?” All I really want, I think, is one of those brooms.

new moon
the once upon a time
of my life

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.Contemporary Haibun Online 7:2, July 2011

illustration: Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

Status

Heat Wave (Yotsumono)

heat wave
reading a classic novel
that bores me

a tiny family
fashioned from clay

this is the last time
I’ll give in to your request
for fried eggs

she takes another drag
on my last Pall Mall

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verse credits: melissa, willie, melissa, willie

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For more about yotsumono and this project, see here.

Summer Moon (Yotsumono)

Moon behind clouds

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summer moon
coaxing from memory
the shape of her face

a Cubist painting
hanging crooked

only to discover
a stain
on his old school tie

the flame shared
between pieces of kindling

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verse credits: willie, melissa, willie, melissa

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For more about yotsumono and this project, see here.

Drifting Clouds (Yotsumono)

Clouds against blue sky

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drifting clouds
all day drinking
from one tall glass

on a dare, naked,
into the lake

train whistles –
I can’t reveal
my true motivation

the hobo’s sign
etched in packed snow

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verse credits: melissa, willie, melissa, willie

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More about yotsumono and this project here.

(a small shadow)

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firefly
a small shadow
on the star chart

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.Notes from the Gean 3:1, June 2011

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.Addendum, 6/21/11:

I was thrilled when the following French translation of this haiku appeared on my Facebook page, courtesy of the marvelous Vincent Hoarau:

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luciole

une petite ombre

sur la carte des étoiles

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Merci beaucoup, Vincent!

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The Rainbow Cafe

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We like to visit a co-op cafe in our Moscow neighborhood, one of the new private enterprises that Gorbachev has encouraged; they have more and better food than most of the state restaurants, and are never “Closed for Repairs” when the employees feel like taking a day off, never display “No Vacancy” signs when the place is empty. The staff are solicitous and polite, and apologetic if something on the menu doesn’t happen to be available, instead of incredulous that you might ever have expected it would be.

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winter flea market —
a wind-up doll
that’s already broken

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It drives the staff crazy if I order for myself instead of letting my boyfriend do it for me. For this reason, I make a point of always ordering for myself, and always before he does. They stare ferociously at him while I speak, and only after he gives a slight nod do they write down my order. Even after I’ve been doing this for months, they don’t yield on their principles. No one there ever asks me what I want.

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I eat my chicken Kiev watching them as they bustle from table to table with worried lines in their foreheads, as if they’re calculating profit margins in their heads. Butter drips down my chin. My boyfriend reaches over and wipes it off with a napkin.

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meteor shower
the wishes I make
in another language

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.Haibun Today 5:2, June 2011

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Tanka? Okay, I Can Do That

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I check
to see what’s sprouted
we’re separated now
by the life span
of squash and cucumbers

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on the way
to see the apple blossoms —
I admire how
your story changes
with every streetlight

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(Ribbons: Tanka Society of America Journal, 7:1, Spring 2011)

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Tanka. I keep mentioning tanka in what I know is this extremely skeptical tone of voice. I spent a long time trying not to think about them. I think I was having a hard enough time trying to understand haiku (not that that process is or ever will be over for me) and seeing these tanka things, which looked kind of like haiku but were the wrong length and sounded very different, confused me. And kind of annoyed me, too, because a lot of them (although not, by any means, as high a percentage as I used to think) are flowery and dreamy and romantic and … I’m not. Flowery, dreamy, romantic things usually just make me want to go balance my checkbook or something. Or throw up. (Yes, I am a fun date. Thanks for asking.)

So I was all grouchy about tanka and didn’t even want to learn anything about it, which is unusual for me because generally I want to learn everything about everything, and the sooner the better. I sneered at and winced about and cast aspersions on tanka … and then, at some point this winter, I started writing it. Still without having the slightest idea what it actually was. Don’t ask me what that was all about. I think I was just having one of those days where haiku seemed too short. You know those days. Where you’re like “Seventeen syllables? Max? Give me a break.”

I wrote a bunch of these things and eyed them warily, and then heaved a weary sigh and went crawling humbly around the web to find out what I had done. I was thrilled to find this essay about the origins of tanka by Jane Reichhold, because it’s very funny and made me feel like maybe I didn’t have to worry so much about tanka but could just enjoy it:

“From tanka’s long history – over 1300 years recorded in Japan — the most famous use of the poetry form of tanka was as secret messages between lovers. Arriving home in the morning, after having dallied with a lover all night, it became the custom of well-mannered persons to write an immediate thank-you note for the pleasures of the hospitality. Stylized into a convenient five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 onji, the little poem expressing one’s feelings were sent in special paper containers, written on a fan, or knotted on a branch or stem of a single blossom. These were delivered to the lover by personal messenger who then was given something to drink along with his chance to flirt with the household staff. During this interval a responding tanka was to be written in reply to the first note which the messenger would return to his master.

Usually under some pressure – the writer had probably been either awake or engaged in strenuous activities all night – to write a verse that related, in some manner, to the previous note, that expressed (carefully) one’s feelings, and which titillated enough to cause the sender to want to return again was not an easy task. Added to this dilemma was the need to get the personal messenger on his way with a note so written that he couldn’t know exactly what was what but that the beloved would understand and appreciate. Then the giggling servants would get back to work.

“…Looking at tanka history it seems that the only infallible way of writing great tanka is to have an affair. Go ahead! Do it now. But that doesn’t mean that it must be a behind-the-bushes affair in the no-tell motel. Let yourself fall in love with anything or anyone you want to. It can be nature, a scene, a place, an activity, persons; your own kids, grandkids or even – your mate, or just life itself. Whatever feels good and right for you.

Because of their original use as a way of privately expressing emotion and especially between friends and lovers unhappy because they are separated, the feelings expressed in traditional tanka were usually either longing for better time, more faithful lovers, younger years or grief because of old age, lack of lovers, or hard times. You get the picture. When reading a great many tanka you realize you are hearing a lot of bitching. For some writers this is just the outlet for which they have been looking.”

– Jane Reichhold,  “Tanka for the Memory

So that was my first tanka breakthrough. My second happened when I humbly sent a bunch of my lame tanka off to be edited by Aubrie Cox, who graciously refrained from telling me I had no idea what I was doing and with her magical touch lightly and deftly transformed the least lame of them into something that a tanka editor might not be too appalled to see appearing in his or her inbox. The two above are the first I had accepted for publication. It felt pretty weird, I have to tell you. “Wait — I’m not a tanka poet. Am I? Oh God. I guess I am. Can I go throw up now?”

I’ve gotten over it, though. For one thing, I’ve actually read a lot of tanka since then, and a lot of it I like a lot. Also, some of my best friends are wonderful tanka poets, so I’ve really had to force myself to examine my unwarranted prejudices. If you get this issue of Ribbons, for instance (which I highly recommend you do), you will find the following stupendous tanka by my buddy Margaret Dornaus of haiku-doodle gracing the back cover, and being wonderfully and lovingly dissected inside the journal by its editor, Dave Bacharach:

at Toad Suck
I contemplate syllables
and old ponds
like a child puddle-jumping
loudly through soft falling rain

— Margaret Dornaus

And right next to it you will find another stupendous tanka by Jeffrey Woodward (Haibun Today editor extraordinaire), which Bacharach has deliberately placed in counterpoint with Margaret’s:

sweet,
but with a slight tang,
the rejected
and twisted little
apples of Winesburg

— Jeffrey Woodward

Even I have to admit that there is nothing romantic, dreamy, etc. about either of these tanka, and that they are, in fact, quite brilliant and thought-provoking poems that just happen to be two lines longer than your typical haiku and to be attempting something rather different though not entirely unconnected. If you’re looking for a better explanation than I or probably anyone else but R.H. Blyth could provide of what exactly that something is, check out this essay by Don Wentworth over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, which gives us plenty of Blyth for our delectation.

For even more tanka information, Tanka Online and American Tanka are good places to look, and Charlotte Digregorio has recently written an essay on her blog that is a good, brief introduction to the subject. Besides Ribbons, the print journals Moonbathing, Eucalypt, and red lights publish tanka exclusively; bottle rockets publishes it among other Japanese verse forms, and so does the online journal Notes from the Gean. I’m probably forgetting someone. As I so often do. Feel free, as always, to tell me what I’m missing.

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[Note: If you subscribe to this blog, you are not imagining things. Another version of this essay appeared a few days ago. It was an accident -- it wasn't finished yet -- and I promptly deleted it. Sorry about the confusion.]

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things to wake up for

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full moon
her water breaks
silently

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April 2011 Moon Viewing Party, Haiku Bandit Society

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(I woke up for what I thought was no reason last night and then realized that I must have been wakened by the full moon, which seemed to be taking up most of my window. It reminded me of one night in September 1994 when I also woke for what seemed like no reason, except that when I stood up my water broke and fourteen hours later my son was born. So that was a good reason to wake up.)