Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dating Dance

"Is you is or is you ain't", that's what I really want to know.
Just as I thought you were loyal you found somewhere else to go,
Should you decide to keep this up, I'll find other rows to hoe.

Why People Write Diaries

Thoughts for the day,
What some people say,
Happenings on life's way,
Contemplations to convey,
To recall so that one can weigh
The course of one's life, how it displays
A shape and a flow that one can survey

Monday, August 30, 2010


Broken promises
Are what I remember --
The end of summer

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gate of Night

At sunset
Growing longer
As night approaches
Memories grow stronger
Slowly the past encroaches
While shadows merge with each other
Past, present, future become porous
A prelude to sleep where our dreams flourish

Friday, August 27, 2010


Under the sun
In the oak tree's shade
In the month of August
The plans for the day I've made
No longer appear so robust,
Perhaps I shall allow them to fade --
A sudden dry wind is stirring the dust

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Single Blossom

Santa Cruz Harbor,
The sound of the barking seals
In the morning fog

Summer heat pushes people
To the California coast

Watching the sunset,
Newlyweds are holding hands
On the balcony

A power outage has occurred,
But nobody seems to mind

The moon is rising
Over the distant mountains
In the cool fall air

She adjusts the thermostat
To a much lower setting

"We should concentrate.
We are blowing our budget.
Where is it going?"

He puts the folders away
And gazes out the window

Relentless winds blow,
Whistling through the power lines
Past the frozen pond

A diner prepares coffee
In the early morning light

The hawthorn blossoms,
White, with a tinge of yellow,
Bright against the leaves

She plucks a single blossom
And places it in her hair

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quarrels End

Quarrels End

August afternoon
Unintelligible chanting
From the temple

It was hot yesterday
But not so hot today

Sun on the sidewalk
Shading his eyes with his hand
On his way to work

The coffee shop costs too much
And gas prices have risen

Two lovers talking
On their cell phones in the night
Watching the moon rise

In the late September sky
A few clouds in the north-east

A shipment of clothes
Made in some foreign country
Arrives at the store

Just in time for the first snow
A feral cat finds a home

Surrounding the park
New developments emerge
In mountain shadows

Power lines sway in the wind
Together with the branches

Apple tree petals
Spread across the yard and street
Quickly disappear

I can't even remember
The reason why we quarreled

Monday, August 23, 2010

While Walking

The boy
By the river
Playing with the wet sand,
May the Lord gently guide his way,
I pray

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tea Etheree 22

Not weak, not strong --
Multiple brewings,
If not brewed for too long,
Can last for the entire day.
Each brewing becomes more subtle,
Each pot diminishes our troubles
As all the cares of the world float away.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Throat tight, constricted,
"I am finished arguing."
He slams the book shut.
"Dialectics of the mind?
Better to learn to be kind."

Friday, August 20, 2010

For Chuang Tzu

A small boat
Parting morning mist
An otter surfaces
A heron stands on the shore
The sound of the dip of an oar
No schedules, no calendars, no war --
At home in the cosmos, who could need more?

One Year Later

On my mind
And in my heart
As the day begins
As another day starts
I can hear your voice again.
It's as if we are holding hands,
It's as if we're talking, making plans --
Or is that only the sound of the wind?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I Saw This Morning

In August
As the sun rises
Clouds in the west changed colors
A silent display unobserved by others

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Riverscape in August

Redwood trees amidst the fog on the flowing Russian River
The sun breaks through at two hours past noon to finally deliver
Rays of warmth that touch the earth, dispelling the morning shiver

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I have many memories of choices unwisely taken --
If only I knew some magic to turn back relentless time,
I would keep the sun from rising and hold the moon in the sky.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Twilight Sunrise -- A Review

Twilight Sunrise: A Collection of One Hundred Tankas
By Christiana Rodgers
ISBN: 9781844261871

“Twilight Sunrise” is a collection of 100 Syllabic Tanka by American born, but British resident, poet Christiana Rodgers. One of the first things which struck me about the collection is the idiomatic nature of the English (note her use of the plural ‘Tankas’ in the subtitle). Rodgers’ English is the English used in everyday speech, found on the net, heard in commercials and songs. It is clipped and pointed. In some ways her work reminds me of Charles Bukowski in that it has the same kind of swift and to-the-point observational quality. Often her Tanka take note of gritty aspects of life:

Sarcasm is a
Refuge for one whose daily
Pint has been stolen
Along with his livelihood.
He is priceless and starving.

Other Tanka have a more traditional structure and theme:

Red leaf and brown stem,
November’s sign of winter,
Why are you so late?
Southern weather is as cool
As the souls who live in it.

Here we have a Tanka that uses juxtaposition. It moves from an observation of nature in lines 1 and 2, to a personal and emotional expression in line 3, and then concludes with a sociological remark in lines 4 and 5. The scope of this Tanka is remarkable and the amount of material Rodgers is able to include in this Tanka surprises me. Rodgers does this with no apparent strain and at first I didn’t even realize the scope. I think this is really fine work.

Rodgers has a gift for ambiguity which is expressed in the title of the collection, ‘Twilight Sunrise’. For example:

Stranger, I meet you
Lost in my own little world:
How can you chat with me now
When I will lose you later?

The ambiguity in this Tanka draws the reader in. The stranger contrasted with the familiar, yet the only actual contact in the poem is with that same stranger who is not familiar. It is an excellent expression of how the familiar can create a barrier to encountering what is right in front of us.

Most of the Tanka in this collection are thoughtful and they tend to stimulate introspection in the reader:

Two hearts together
Are a child’s challenge to live
Past a parent’s death.
One heartbeat’s arrhythmia
Is a parent surviving.

I am a stranger.
I live outside me, counting
Days until night falls.
Sleep becomes solace often
When we are awake alone.

This is another example of juxtaposition, which seems to be an approach that Rodgers likes. Regarding technique, generally speaking lineation is consistent with grammatical meaning, though run-ons are fairly common they are not disruptive and are used for emphasis and meaning when they appear. I don’t think Rodgers uses the pivot or other techniques that are derived from the Tanka tradition and which some English Tanka poets take special delight in. If there is a favorite deliberate technique it is, as already mentioned, juxtaposition.

This is a collection I have read several times since I purchased it a few years ago. I think I return to it because some of the Tanka have the mysterious quality of suggesting more, of echoing in my mind and leading me on to considerations I had not previously engaged. All of this is done in a natural English that is also focused on the traditional syllabic structure which makes this a valuable contribution to English syllabic verse and English language Tanka. In closing, here is one of my favorites:

Peace is unquiet;
War a hedonist’s excuse
For self-absorption.
God is really on our side
When we commute with strangers.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Source

The seasons' flow
The days of our lives
Everything comes and goes
But there's one thing that remains,
It's like the dawn's daily refrain,
Completely at ease, free of all strain,
A gift from the source, a nourishing rain

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lunch With A Friend

Afternoon cafe
The smell of coffee
Shared conversations
Thick soup with barley

Friday, August 13, 2010


Another morning --
Is this the same mist as last year?
Another mourning . . .

Dawn While Driving

Dawn sky
To my left
The growing light
And off to my right
The vanishing of night
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge
When there is almost no traffic
Suspended between heaven and earth
Perhaps it's a dream conjured by magic

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Past in Slow Motion

Morning mist
Cool morning mist
August morning mist
A cool coastal morning --
Without the slightest warning
Everything from the past has changed,
All my memories are rearranged,
A landscape I once knew that is now strange

Hidden Heart

A shadowland
Darkness within darkness

A red rose blooms
The air after rainfall
Cinnamon on the morning toast
This quilt wrapped around me
Memories of departed friends
Clouds moving between the autumn branches
A meditation bell is struck

A passerby assisting a stranger
Ignoring any thoughts of imminent danger
This is the heart at the void of the world

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

They Say the Middle Class is Disappearing

Tense --
Paychecks --
Deductions --
Obligations --
What is left over?
Turn the thermostat down,
Limit drive-ins into town,
Take care of mom who's now older,
Throw a blanket over her shoulder
As winter winds get colder and colder . . .

Kokinshu Commentary -- 9

Kokinshu Commentary -- 9

Book 1 Spring 1

9. Ki no Tsurayuki -- On a snowfall

When snow comes in spring –
Fair season of layered haze
And burgeoning buds –
Flowers fall in villages
Where flowers have yet to bloom

The link to the previous Tanka, number 8, is the snow. In Tanka 8 snow functions both as a seasonal marker for late spring and as a metaphor, through the technique of elegant confusion, to indicate the aging of the poet and the appearance of white, or snow, in his hair.

The technique of elegant confusion continues as the central device in Tanka 9. The ‘confusion’ is the mistaking of falling clumps of snow for falling blossoms when only buds have begun to appear. So Tanka 8 and 9 are linked by the central image of snow and also linked by how that image is used; to create a deliberate sense of ambiguity.

In addition the central ambiguity, or confusion, has to do with time. In Tanka 8 the snow in the hair indicates aging and the passing of time, as opposed to the seasonal now of snow falling in early spring. In Tanka 9 the confusion is between very early spring, when only buds have appeared, and late spring, when blossoms have fallen. Read together the two Tanka have a dream like quality to them:

Rare is the fortune
Of one who basks in the sun
On this springtime day,
Yet how can I not lament
That snow should whiten my head?

When snow comes in spring –
Fair season of layered haze
And burgeoning buds –
Flowers fall in villages
Where flowers have yet to bloom

This is the second Tanka by Ki no Tsurayku who was the main editor and compiler of the Kokinshu. There have been three by ‘Anonymous’; all other poets thus far have one each.

This Tanka was written to a topic: On a snowfall. We do not know what the circumstances were for the assigned topic, but it is likely that it was a public event and that Tsurayuki won the prize for the best Tanka on that topic. I think that one reason Tsurayuki won is that he wrote a Tanka on the assigned topic, but the season of his Tanka is spring. Normally ‘falling snow’ would be a winter Tanka, perhaps late fall. It is unusual, and counterintuitive to think of falling snow as a spring topic. But our poet pulls it off successfully, painting a picture from late spring, perhaps the last snowfall of the year. In my own imagination I think of the snowfall in this Tanka as melting almost immediately.

The progress of the season of spring is moving slowly forward. This is the first Tanka that specifically mentions ‘buds’, ‘burgeoning buds’. The way this Tanka is placed, after a Tanka on snow, and with snow as the central image of this Tanka, mutes the reader’s awareness of the introduction of this specifically spring event. There really is now ambiguity about the progress of the seasons; we all know when we can see buds that spring is here. In a sense spring means that buds are beginning to appear.

But Tsurayuki is a master of ambiguity and of hesitancy; of keeping us waiting for the definitive signs of spring. Tsuryakuki will introduce them not one by one, but in a kind of overlapping way so that when a particular sign of spring first appears it is done subtly, enmeshed in other signs so that we almost miss this new appearance. And isn’t that the way we actually experience the flow of the seasons? We often have the feeling that ‘suddenly’ there is spring, missing when the buds first appear, or when the plum blossom first opened. In this sense Tsurayuki’s method mimics the way we experience the seasonal display.


On the other side
Of the rural two-lane road
Sunlight on the oaks

Monday, August 9, 2010


The Russian River
Slowly curves around the grove of redwoods --
Warm dawn

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The line of dry hills
Etched upon the cloudless sky
A cloud of starlings

First Day Etheree

And among
Between people
The end of sorrow
The end of enmity
The cessation of despair
A vision that gives our lives worth
Hovering over the wounded earth
Angels of the Lord on wings of mercy

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tea Etheree 21

Clarity of air
High elevation light
Abundant seasonal rain
Steady cultivation and care
Spectacular conditions just right
Bring to the world famous teas that delight

True Fiction

And chapters,
Reading the lines --
Someone else's journey that's also mine

Friday, August 6, 2010


Hummingbirds circle
Around the geraniums
Grass is turning brown

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Grow longer
The sky darkens
On a moonless night
On a night without clouds
The silence of countless stars
A scene from last night's dream appears
A loved one from many years ago --
I cannot remember why we parted

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tea Etheree 20

Retreat --
A special place
For drinking-tea-grace,
But if not a whole room
Consider a special chair,
Reserve at a table a place
That one has set aside uniquely
For times deovoted to just drinking tea

Immigrants Gather

Moonlight in the heat
Of the short summer evening
Fills the silent house

Slow motion, a car drives by
The "For Sale" sign in the yard

Freshly sprouting grass,
Green, with a touch of yellow,
And the Aries sun

By the banks of the river
Seven or eight Poplar trees

Slowly the leaves fall
Through the deepening coldness
A few birds remain

At the edge of the strip mall
That was once a small orchard

Two high school students
Sneak away from their classes
It is their first love

Though a light snow has fallen
They feel warm, safe, and secure

In the living room
Of their tiny pre-fab home
Immigrants gather

Celebrating a new life
As the Hawthorn tree blossoms

Swans are returning
To the small hidden valley
Far from the city

If you listen and are still
You can feel the cosmos turn

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tea Etheree 19

Past noon
Afternoon tea
Creates memories
That one can rely on
When times become difficult
We can bring to mind the results
Of time spent in comaraderie,
Of friendships nourished over cups of tea

Monday, August 2, 2010

Me and Japanese Poetry -- 4

Me and Japanese Poetry – 4

I’m going to backtrack on the timeline I’ve been following. I’m going back to the mid-60’s. I don’t remember the exact year, but sometime in the mid-60’s an album, a vinyl album, was released called “A Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky”. The music was performed by Goro Yamaguchi and was the first shakuhachi music I heard. It was music from the small Fuke Sect of the Zen tradition; a tradition which plays a special kind of music, using an odd pentatonic scale. I was entranced. I played the album over and over. In looking back I think of this album as my introduction to Japanese culture. The hearing of this music planted seeds that included an interest in Zen and Japan in general. Many years later when I was in Kyoto I made a special effort to visit Meianji, the Head Temple of the Fuke Sect. I was successful and had a fine afternoon there talking to one of the Komuso, as members call themselves, who lived at the Temple.

One of the intriguing things about my relationship to Japanese poetry is that I never tried to actually write any poetry in Japanese forms until the mid-80’s. My main interest in the arts was music; that was my main focus. Though I was aware of connections made between Haiku and Zen, I was also aware that most Zen practitioners were not poets and most poets were not Zen practitioners. Even then I felt that the connection between Haiku and Zen was tenuous; kind of like saying that the Sonnet is a Christian form of poetry because of Donne’s famous theologically oriented Sonnets or Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets. Poetic forms are agreeable to be used for specific religious purposes, but they are not intrinsically affiliated with a particular religion or spiritual practice. At least that’s how I see it.

This interest in Shakuhachi continued through my life. In the mid-70’s I would briefly study the shakuhachi in New York. I wasn’t very good at it. Also during this time I studied Urasenke Tea Ceremony in New York, which I deeply appreciated. Still, poetry had not been brought into my awareness as something I could actually do myself. It would take another full decade for that to happen.

My Etheree Spree

Good Friends:

As those reading this blog can tell I've been having an Etheree Spree. I've been having a great time with it, a lot of fun. And I've been thinking about this feeling of exuberance.

When working with a new form like the Etheree there is a sense of freedom that older forms don't have. I'm talking about my psychological state. When I write a Sonnet, for example, there is a consciousness, an awareness, about the history of the form and the greatness of former Sonnet writers hovers in the background. It's almost like former Sonnet writers are looking over my shoulder advising and commenting on what I'm writing. At times I enjoy this sense of companionship; in fact most of the time I like it. But there is also the feeling, sometimes, that I can never live up to their standards or write something as profound or insightful as the Sonnet writers of the past. The same feeling appears with writing Haiku or Tanka or any form with a history of significant exemplars of that form.

With a new form such as the Etheree that does not happen. There are no Great Etheree Poets or Etheree Sages, no Institute of Etheree Studies promulgating the standards gleaned from years of dedication and research. No one has a Doctorate in Etheree studies and no one has written a treatise on Etheree Esthetics.

The result is a greater sense of relaxation. In addition a sense of exploration in the sense of entering new territory. I am aware, for example, that when I use end rhyme in an Etheree that this is an open choice; that there are no estblished rhyme schemes for the Etheree the way there are for the Sonnet. I am aware that when I choose a topic for an Etheree that there there is no historical precedent stating that such a topic is acceptable, or not, as happens in Haiku.

With new forms like Etheree, Lanterne, Tetractys, Rictameter, etc., as long as one sticks to the syllabic form, the poet is free to go where the muse leads.

Best wishes,


Morning Tea

At dawn
When it's cool
With the sunrise

Tea Etheree 18

Tea with crackers
Savory crackers
Perhaps crackers with cheese
Placed upon a simple plate
When served with tea are sure to please
Don't wory about the calories,
Tea served with crackers gives a sense of ease

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tea Etheree 17

With tea
The sweet and tart
Balance each other,
They merge effortlessly;
There are many recipes
(Most of them are bite-sized morsels)
That easily dip into the tea
Leaving a trace of sweetness in the cup

Tea Etheree 16

And numerous
Basic tea chemistry,
A remarkable balance
That offers us calm alertness
That never appears to desert us,
With years of use does not diminish us

The Path

There's a path through the forest
It was put there by the Lord
It is made of love and hope
It leads to lands unexplored