I had to write haiku my sophomore year of school, like everyone else. I can still remember the first one, though I won’t quote it here. During that time my preferred mode of writing was song lyrics for my band, or for solo coffeehouse gigs, but it was changing as I began to read poets– a mix of sophisticated (Eliot), unruly visionary (Ginsberg), whimsical (Brautigan) and awful betseller (McKuen–but then girls liked McKuen).
    Fast forward 3 1/2 decades: I picked up a copy of Takuboku’s Poems to Eat, the Carl Sesar translation from 1968. And couldn’t put it down for weeks. And began to assimilate what it could teach (“it” being the hybrid imagery/voice of Takuboku/Sesar) by writing tanka.
    There are many of them now, but not many published–and all of those are thanks to Dennis Garrison (east coast) of Modern English Tanka, and Michael McClintock (west coast) who co-edited a couple of anthologies, The Dreaming Room and Landfalls.
    _____________________________
    From Modern English Tanka 1:3 (Summer 2007), a sequence I wrote for John Keats while in Rome. It was later anthologized in The Dreaming Room, and was kindly noticed by Kristy Karkow in a Simply Haiku review:

    DEAR JOHN

Dedicate a room
to love and you will die there—
In Italian
as well as in poetry
it’s called a stanza

* * *

No oleanders
no jasmine or hibiscus
no Roman summer
or spring for Keats—just one breath
like a red crocus

* * *

I’m dying too
in this small blue Roman stanza
the fountain Keats heard
in the street below repeats
Love Fame Nothingness

* * *

A bed two windows
desk he was too sick to use
his voice a stone boat
at the base of the Spanish Steps
sunk in clear water

* * *

As naturally
as leaves from a tree as blood
in a white towel
as water rising falling
in the same fountain

* * *

Where’s the deathbed—
burnt like his rival Shelley
or disinfected
gilded for someone’s
mother-in-law in Trastevere

* * *

Piazza Spagna
Hans Christian Andersen dreams
a merman whose gills closed up
when he quits singing—
It’s Keats, dreaming him

* * *

Fled is that vision—
do I wake or do I sleep
Good manifesto
for any moment passing
this one included

* * *

So how many breaths
gild the breadth of time elapsed
between Keats and me—
Shelley measured it with stars
just before he drowned

* * *

Maybe in the coffin
he wore Italian shoes—
I bought a pair yesterday
for parties but today
for Keats I’m going shoeless

    :: :: :: :: ::
    The following assorted solo tanka appeared in MET 1:3 and 1:4 (Summer, Fall 2007):

My wife composes
our New Year’s message
faith hope love the works—
On each solemn envelope
I stick the flag-stamp upside down

* * *

All night the city
is mapped by fire trucks
police and ambulance sirens—
My primroses face the stars
no sign of distress

* * *

University
starts back up tomorrow—
In the coffee shops
sophomores practice
staring at blank legal pads

* * *

A phone number
inked suicide-red
on an unsmoked cigarette
in the gutter—probably
the woman I should have married

* * *

Each muffin I buy
I pick walnuts off the top
for house sparrows
crumble leftovers for the ants
both hands cinnamon

* * *

My neighbor’s red truck
is decades younger than him
Some nights he climbs in
and sits there—radio
driving his heart in reverse

* * *

I own one tree
an incense cedar’s stump
Set drinks on it? sure
break off splinters of perfume—
Don’t be parking your boots there

* * *

Sprigs of dwarf bamboo
turn my Italian courtyard
slightly Japanese
I drink Scotch in Mexican boots
Poetry has no country

* * *

Straight as the crow flies—
ever see one fly that way?
story of my heart
knows truth’s a straight line
lies in big curves and swoops

* * *

What’s that crow saying
This pine is a leaky house
the rain is damn cold
I’m hungry where’s my mother—

shuffles wet feathers and flies

* * *

Writing love poems
in a park where boys spit
and make machine-gun sounds
I gulp a Blue Sky soda
at the bottom of the sky

* * *

Texaco Car Wash
Hong Kong Restaurant Starbucks
Two Hour Parking—
when the poem comes it’s green
as a go-light turning yellow

* * *

In the woodblock room
of the Asian gallery
a sliding drawer reads
This Display Not For Children—
inside, lovers making kids

* * *

Saw a dead shrew
in the pioneer graveyard
my black dog sniffed it
wagging No, just a twig
Right, I said, that’s my soul

* * *

Shake hands with the moon
ghosting out of the haw’s
ten thousand blossoms
whiter than the hand that writes
then drifts off its darkened page

* * *

A single robin
rehearsing his pick-up line
in a row of late-March oaks—
My spayed white dog cocks
her ear, uncocks her ear

* * *

A drop of rain is
not a drop of rain when
it strikes my window
in the airport bus
after a fight with my wife

* * *

Always a baby
bawling on the long flights
eventually he’ll stop—
the wind on the jet’s wings
has to quit somewhere

    :: :: :: :: ::
    From the anthology Landfalls (2007), 4 brief landscapes:

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH NORTH CAROLINA

Marble, slate, beach sand—
where do you leave a good name?
I peel sunburn off
my writing hand, stare through
floppy mica at the hand

* * *

STATE COLLEGE PENNSYLVANIA

Pokeberries purple
the backyard’s ivy fringe
cardinals get drunk on them—
I pluck a black one
to crush against my wife’s tongue

* * *

PA VA NC SC & BACK

Snow then sleet then rain
then seventy degrees of
spring sun then drive north again—
wherever I stop
the cardinal sings one song

* * *

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH NORTH CAROLINA

Nude, twenty-something
I drank May wine and said No
to gay men cruising
the uninhabited strand
where I burned to be a poet

    :: :: :: :: ::
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