Purity

a tanka

Photo: Egret by Kim Douillard

Lone snowy egret
by moonstone sea genuflects
in pious homage.
Opalescent baptism

on the wings of no regret.

*******

Thanks to Margaret Simon who shared Kim’s breathtaking photo for “This Photo Wants to Be a Poem” at Reflections on the Teche.

I love symbolism and am awed by certain images that come to mind during composition:

Egrets, snow, opals, and baptism all symbolize purity. So does the sea; it cleanses itself.

Egrets and moonstone are linked to balance. The colors on the water in this photo brought moonstone and opals to mind—they are gems of light-play. Note the posture of that bird.

Egrets also symbolize piety. They prefer solitude.

Retooled tanka poem

Today Cara Fortey invites teacher-poets to compose tankas for VerseLove on Ethical ELA. A tanka has thirty-one syllables and, in English, is usually arranged in five lines of 5/7/5/7/7. Cara offers the example of Harryette Mullin, who reduced the lines to three, for flexiblity of form. In honor of Mullin’s nature walks captured in tanka, Cara extends this invitation: “Write one or more of your own tankas in the style of Harryette Mullen. Take a walk, literally or imaginatively, and write what comes to you in three lines with 31 syllables.”

Mourning Walk

Last summer when I walked here 
the fallow field at the end of the lane opened up before me
an undulating sea of green

Long before I reached the shimmering expanse
I could feel the mystical, quivering aliveness
in the depths of the grasses

Infinitesimal orchestra, vast insect choir
assembled in its tabernacle, offering lifesong
to all the Earth

Today, I stand here in memoriam
for the field is no more, shorn of its green tresses
its body ravaged by bulldozers

An unseasonably cold wind
whips with knife-shivering emptiness
even doves, high on the power lines, bear silent witness

The call

In a poetry class with Highlights Foundation, I recently wrote an Edenic or Fall of Man/Woman poem in which I touched on the idea that animals once had free communication with humans. Maybe we once understood all the lyrics in birdsong. Maybe that’s why I have such a pang when the Carolina wren on my back deck sings, with its whole being, with what sounds like unbridled joy; it fills me with unspeakable longing for something I cannot name. Maybe this lost dialogue is why dogs’ loving eyes so pierce the human soul…begging the question of who’s the purer creature…

One morning this week I heard a sound that I haven’t heard in years. I hadn’t even realized it was missing: the distinctive call of Bobwhite quail. A quick online search told me that their numbers have diminished in my area. Surely some of this is due to habitat loss as more subdivisions are being built. As is often the case with one simple search, I now have more research to do…

And then one afternoon, pulling into my driveway, I saw four tiny brown birds running from the roadside to safety in the grass. A new covey of these quail, forging their life together. Got me thinking about how challenging it is to survive, being a ground bird, considering the neighbor’s prowling cat and any number of things in the snatches of surrounding woods… it is a line of thinking I can’t let myself follow very far. Leads me back to the poem, the idea of Eden, the true unity of all living things, before the loss of it all. Before the first bloodshed.

But today, I will simply savor the sound. And the living. And the message, as much as I can understand it.

Bob-white, bob-bob-white
onomatopoeic call
of little ground birds
skittering through the grasses
looking out for each other

Lead photo: Northern Bobwhite quail. Steve Maslowski/USFWS. CC BY

End photo: Northern Bobwhite. Don Faulkner. CC BY-SA

Resurrection fern tanka

Teacher-poet Margaret Simon features a weekly writing invitation on her blog, Reflections on the Teche, in response to a photo. Today’s offering is a resurrection fern photographed by her neighbor and friend, James Edmunds.

Few things are more intriguing to me than a resurrection fern, which seems to die but can manage to live again, maybe even after a century of drought, with a little watering. Somewhere I have an unfinished short story in which this inspiring plant appears…

For today, however, a tanka seemed called for. The form consists of thirty-one syllables, lines of 5/7/5/7/7. It is meant to be song-like.

withering, drying,
fronds curled heavenward, dying,
resurrection fern’s
thermoluminescence burns
until rain regenerates.

Here’s to holding onto the life-spark, Friends, ever how long the drought … storing the inner light for strength until the healing rains finally fall.

Photo: James Edmunds

Poetry Friday: Soul shine

I’m a relative newcomer to Poetry Friday. First let me thank Irene Latham for hosting today’s Roundup and Carol Varsalona for extending the invitation on social media to come and honor author Nikki Grimes.

Carol created a lovely rose-adorned Buncee card which reads: “Nikki Grimes—Do more of what makes your soul shine, because you inspire others to write.”

Those words, soul shine, beckoned me to ask … what makes one’s soul shine?

Nikki’s soul certainly shines through her poetry as well as through her faith and her literary contribution to children. I’ve read that her favorite color is purple and it got me thinking that our souls shine with all that we love, all that is most precious to us. I still consider myself mostly a storyteller with poetic leanings, but I thought I’d try capturing this idea of “soul shine” by exploring what our favorite colors might represent in a form that Nikki uses, tanka:

Your soul shines purple
with creative energy

imparting faith, calm,
stability and passion
for people, stories, and words.

My soul shines rose-gold,
a fusion of alloyed strength:
Copper for healing
in gold of faith, hope, and love
for people, stories, and words.

I often think about writing as a means of healing. Today I contemplate writing poetry as a striving to grasp what is just beyond our reach—whether the parameters and inner workings of nature, the universe, or own souls. Sometimes it comes as an anguished cry, other times quiet awe or wonder, a celebratory outpouring of joy, always an embrace of the nearly-inexpressible, real and ethereal, images of life and the living of it. What does the soul crave most? Beauty? Truth? Understanding? Freedom? Peace? It may change as we change.

Whatever the answer … poetry beckons the soul to shine.

Peace is the lofty landing place
Of our souls’ storm-torn flight.
Exhausted, expended
Transcending
Rising still to shin
e—
Your soul and mine.

Thank you, all Poetry Friday Friends, for being the wellspring of inspiration that you are.

Lead photo: Shine. Rodnei Reis. CC-BY