Monday, December 31, 2012

Thinned by drought

thinned by drought, fire,
and finally autumn—
through these woods
I see a freight train
carrying off the year

—Atlas Poetica, Autumn 2012


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter sun

winter sun
finally breaks through—
my mother
knew to cut my apple
so I could see its star

—A Hundred Gourds, 1:3 June 2012


Saturday, December 22, 2012

I marvel

I marvel
at these small-town ways
more than once
the post office clerk
wishing me Merry Christmas 

—Dec. 2011 (Magnolia, Texas)

Happy Holidays . . . and warm, peace-filled wishes.


Monday, December 17, 2012

After the snow

after the snow
a large-winged seagull
fills the sky

—Haiku News, Dec. 16, 2009; Haiku News Anthology, 2012

It was big news for us: a beautiful, light snow—the earliest one on record for Houston, Texas. Houston is located about 50 miles from the Gulf of Mexico; it rarely snows there, much less the first week in December (not to mention one day before my birthday). An exceptionally cool winter would follow.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Special post

Prayers and thoughts for all those affected by the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut ... those precious little children and many other victims.

Also today, for the 22 children wounded in a knife attack outside an elementary school in Henan Province, China.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My grandfather; his early years

my grandfather,
grower of Christmas trees
rows of them
.....before that, children
.....rows of them

      his early years

      on the Kansas prairie,
      and hard . . . like the squares
      of his homemade fudge

Landfall: Poetry of Place in Modern English Tanka, 2007

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The needle

the needle 
skips across tracks
on a warped LP 
.....songs in my life
.....I cannot replay

Ribbons, Autumn 2012

A friend gave me three or four wonderful LPs many years ago. For some reason, I left them in my car, which was parked at the top, i.e., open-air level, of a parking garage. Brilliant, I know. (Vinyl melts.)

LPs? I must be old. Today's my birthday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I scavenge

I scavenge
perfect pine cones
from downed trees,
unsure if my pail
holds joy or sorrow

—GUSTS #16, Fall/Winter 2012

Update (Spring 2013): I noticed that the above tanka is now in the list of favorites at the GUSTS website. A designated poet or two choose three to four of their favorite poems from the latest issue for inclusion in the list.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Shortened days

shortened days—
scooping out seeds
from butternut squash,
allowing the orange ripeness
to permeate

Ribbons Tanka Cafe ("leafless autumn" theme), Winter 2006
In retrospect, I suppose I didn't need to say "orange." But it was sooo orange. ;)

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

Those in the USA:  H A P P Y   T H A N K S G I V I N G !

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Vultures

Only a yard or two and a barrier
of extra-strength window glass
separated me from them
as I managed the obligatory
post-surgery stretch down the hall—
the diseased organ ripped
from my body just hours before.

They were two elderly men
on a low corner of hospital roof,
hunched beneath overcast sky,
taking a smoke between courses.

We revile them. Winged warlocks,
we call them, these other-world scavengers.

Yet we revere them. They sense
the nearness of death long before
     the white coats do.

Tryst, issue X-XI, 2004  

Not the right thing to see after surgery? It wasn't the painkillers, really.

Just got back home after a short stay in the city, where I had a somewhat-dreaded medical procedure involving anesthesia. I typically try to stay away from medical establishments, however.

Monday, November 12, 2012


my thoughts of crawling
under our bed,
you deep in a dream world
I sometimes envy

Haiku News, wk Oct. 15, 2012

There's a sense of relief when we reach the end of the Atlantic hurricane season each year, which officially is November 30, though here in the Gulf region we usually feel "safe" by the end of September. The 2012 season was quiet for us but of course not for the northeast with freaky, destructive superstorm Sandy. I can't help but think of the New Jersey township where I briefly lived as a kid (and the favorite place I've ever lived); it was among the many areas that experienced significant damage.

In the poem above, I'm remembering Hurricane Ike from a few years ago (also see "nonstop footage"). I was very close to taking shelter under that bed, halfway convinced the big windows were going to shatter at any moment (they didn't, although we did get a bit of other damage).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Each year, for you

each year, for you
a box of birthday chocolates . . .
what's yours is mine?
how neatly I slice in two
the pieces for you to share

Modern English Tanka, Fall 2006; Fire Pearls, 2006 

Unfortunately, this tradition may fall by the wayside. Can't find See's Assorted Dark Chocolates just anywhere.

P.S. Some of my early tanka were pretty long.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We may not be as unique as we think

The big sigh when we compose something we're convinced must be totally unique, only to stumble across its already-published cousin a while later. Or vice versa: after we've published our special poem, another one from someone else follows with a hauntingly similar treatment. Possibly the "original" imagery is very similar or the particular message or concept or sometimes a few key words—or some combination of those things. The shorter the poem—such as in the case of tanka and, even more so, haiku—the greater the inevitability that sort of thing is going to happen.

Perhaps we should enjoy the synchronicity. Perhaps we also should find solace when we know we're writing who we are, infusing ourselves and our experiences as deeply as possible into our words, delivering our own takes on what has "already been written," even if we may be unaware at the time that it has.

Margaret Dornaus sums up this situation well in a post, "Revisiting déjà-ku . . .," at her Haiku-doodle blog. So I won't say anything more here and will let you read her beautiful words.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Autumn chill

autumn chill
and the tug of past lives . . . 
blissfully I arrive
at this, my latest state
of imperfection

Simply Haiku, Winter 2009

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn wind

I rarely write haiku—the tanka form seems to fit me better—but every now and then I guess I want to say a little less.

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

autumn wind
the whole earth woven
into my hair

—Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine, 2011

Monday, October 22, 2012

What in the world are tanka?

A few weeks ago, a fellow writer-blogger asked me what a tanka is. For those perusing this blog who may be unfamiliar with the term, and also wondering what it is that I've been posting, a tanka is a "short poem" with a long, interesting history. The word is used in both the singular and plural (poem and poems) and applies to both genre and form. Its Japanese origins and relationship with waka, translating to "Japanese song," go back around 1300 years or so; the more-familiar haiku is several centuries younger.

In English, tanka consist of five fairly brief lines. There have been some colorful discussions, maybe small wars, in the English-language tanka (ELT) community over the exact particulars of the ELT form. An ELT isn't just any five-line poem, that's for sure, but it's tough to define in a meant-to-be-brief blog post. There are certain characteristics, to do with both structure and flavor, that seem to make it what it is. By the way, a 31-syllable poem is not a good or accurate description; the use of as many as 31 English syllables can result in fairly cumbersome tanka. Japanese tanka cannot simply be mimicked in other languages. Perhaps "we" shouldn't even call our non-Japanese versions "tanka," but here we are. To learn more, as well as read lots of examples, check out several of the sidebar links I've provided in this blog. 

Current ELT writing styles are all over the place. Myself, I'm most drawn to those poems that are lithe, concise yet lyrical, deceptively simple, and fresh, and that make use of natural contemporary speech. I attempt to write the bulk of my own in a "traditional" short-long-short-long-long line-length pattern, though my subject matter and approach may not always be thought of as traditional.

At any rate, the worldwide ELT community seems to have expanded fairly rapidly over the past several years. Composing tanka can be a challenging yet addictive pastime.

P.S. Quite a few small, quality journals exist that either are dedicated to ELT or otherwise feature it. Still, the time may be ripe for additional tanka-friendly 'zines, especially since one not long ago shut its doors and another one or two have been on hiatus. Anyone out there up for the task?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The outline

the outline
of its wounded body—
this fit of rain
not bold enough
to wash it from my mind

Modern English Tanka, Autumn 2008

I still can see it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Left alone

He will miss 
      the seasonal change,
      subtle as it will be:
      the first two waves of chill. 

He will leave
      when humid air still knocks
      against skin like angry beads
      and the jasmine draws in
      its final bees for the year— 

And will be gone
      while the oleander begin
      their hibernating droop
      and the hibiscus expose
      frameworks of thinning bones. 

He will not know
      the needle’s drill into
      tame, unsuspecting flesh,
      or the restive landscape
      of waiting for results— 

But will return
      in time to witness
      the expected conflagration:
      scarlet berries on the yaupon. 

Loch Raven Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2005

The berries on our city yaupon tree (pictured) would turn bright red during November. Here in this rustic place where we now live, the clump of native yaupon by our driveway already is loaded with red berries.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Being imperfect and unsafe: two essays

Something I've finally learned in life is to try a little less and stay a little mussed up (well, I may have gone overboard with the last part). I enjoy discovering beauty in the rustic or ramshackle, in plants some may call weeds, in things or even people discarded by others. And I'm drawn to poetry that may be a wee bit askew, while shedding light on our imperfect selves.

Thought I'd share this link to a lovely brief essay by Erin Coughlin Hollowell: "The Art of Imperfection in Poetry (and in life)" (with her permission). And here's another essay from her Being Poetry blog that I can identify with, about neat poems versus those with ragged edges: "Headfirst into the Picture Window—Risk in Writing."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roadside daisies; golden wings

roadside daisies
vibrant in my hand—
at home
this vase unable
to contain their wildness

golden wings
of a butterfly . . . 
it flees
after grazing
the edge of my shadow

—A Hundred Gourds, 1:4, Sept. 2012

They're not nearly as prolific as they were this summer, and the blooms are smaller. But it's early October, and still there are wild daisies at the edge of the woods.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

She warns me; I cringe

A couple more kyoka, or kyoka-like tanka, from Prune Juice:

she warns me
not to let the cat get out,
her old Persian
that barely even moves
an inch an hour

I cringe
at my reflection . . .
the charm
with which he offers
to bash out all our mirrors

Prune Juice, Issue 9, July 2012

See "Kyoka vs. Tanka - examples" by M. Kei at his Kujaku Poetry & Ships blog. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Eighty-one; homemade books

In honor of my father's birthday:


my father building 
new closet shelves,
once more rearranging
the deepening layers

Simply Haiku, Spring 2008; Take Five, Vol. 1

homemade books—
You can be a writer
my dad once said
though hoping, I suspect,
I'd do something sensible

Simply Haiku, Spring 2008

Over the past couple of years, he's spoken again of building shelves. I don't get it. And this time, I can't see him getting around to it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The oldest oak

the oldest oak
by our wet-weather creek
succumbs to drought—
with this spray from the hose
a rainbow still forms

Atlas Poetica, No. 12, Summer 2012

Sadly, that huge tree had to be removed.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bills laid out; I contemplate

A couple of tanka-esque poems, or kyoka, from Prune Juice. Have always loved the name of that online journal.

bills laid out
for payment by phone . . .
I clear my throat
before conversing
with the automated voice

I contemplate 
buying "hotel" towels . . .
as advertised,
the comforts of home
away from home, while at home

Prune Juice, Issue 9, July 2012

Will post more from Prune Juice in the near future.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I hand water

I hand water
a beautyberry— 
differing views
my neighbor and I
on what a weed is

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

Southeastern United States, including pinewoods of east Texas
—"From Lime Trees to Eucalypts: A Botany of Tanka," an Atlas Poetica special feature, August 2011
Now that so much vegetation has been cleared from our lot, including a number of tall, struggling pines, the resultant brightness has enabled the beautyberry plants to thrive. Though they're close to invasive around here and in dry spells can look pretty scraggly, I've chosen to keep many of them. First, in early summer, the delicate flowers are unveiled, then before summer's end, there are those berries that resemble no other berries I've ever seen. 

Note: I very much enjoy reading the Atlas Poetica special features, where 25 poems on a given theme are selected. I'm especially looking forward to the next feature, on ekphrastic tanka, which should be published sometime this fall.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Months later; nonstop footage

Time to pull these poems out again while it's still the peak of the season here on the Gulf coast. Not counting the recent rage of Isaac, the 2012 season has been on the quiet side. Seven years ago, deadly Katrina missed us in the Houston area. But three years later, Ike pretty much came right for us; interesting times.

months later
he still clutches
the bowling ball—
all he could salvage
after Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, late Aug. 2005
—Wisteria, July 2006Haiku News, Oct. 2009; Take Five, Vol 2

nonstop footage
of surge-battered homes
.....near our back door
.....a small displaced turtle
.....retreats into its shell

Hurricane Ike, Sept. 13, 2008
—Moonset, Spring-Summer 2009; Haiku News, Oct. 2009; Take Five, Vol 2

Am happy I came across my photos of the actual little turtle I describe here—and hope it found its way.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Having lost

having lost
some of the brightness
from my eyes
I choose a new shirt
in cloudless-sky blue

American Tanka, #21, June 2012

More photos by ImageANAlogy: 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Using sieves; days after

using sieves
as prospectors would
they search
for nuggets of life
beneath their home's ashes

days after
the wildfires
we venture out
among the charred-stick pines. . .
too fortunate for our bones

Atlas Poetica, Number 12, Summer 2012

The first major wildfire in our drought-stricken area began on Father's Day, June 2011, when I happened to be in Houston. The flames reportedly erupted only about 1-1/2 miles from our new place to the north, and with the right shift in wind direction, we would have been particularly vulnerable. Though the fire caused significant devastation, ultimately a big rain came. Fire did make its way into the front part of our small rustic community, but no major damage occurred there.

The next local wildfire, far more widespread (up to 22,000 acres or so were affected), began less than three months later, on Labor Day. We'd left the house for Houston (with a bad tire, which was another story) an hour before the first fire broke out. Due to evacuation orders, we ended up staying in Houston, one of us with flu, for eight days. The flames kept hopping around, and at several points our new home was in what appeared to be the direct path of the main outbreak, dubbed the "Riley Road" fire; we'd only just finished moving there. To give a sense of perspective, our community is located right off Riley Road. Fire did damage parts of the neighborhood, but amazingly, no residents suffered any property damage, thanks in great part to the firefighters. A number of others not far away weren't as lucky, though, including the small "Country Haircuts" enterprise (though they're rebuilding). And sprinkled up and down Riley Road, and many other places too, souvenirs still remain: acres and acres of downed fences and charred forest that gradually is being cleared.

Several massive forest fires also occurred in other locations throughout Texas, most notably in Bastrop, where more than 1600 homes were destroyed. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


—for Jonathan

Stone not yet placed, but weeds
fill in. New home, extra room.
Crib unused, still up and dressed.

Earlier, the breeze unseasonably
cool. Now, melted sun-pelts splash
across shoulders, drizzle down backs.

See the family ringed around
the site, fingers intertwined,
prayer whispered:

One who carried him into
the world for three seasons.
Another who carried him out
in a tiny white case.
Delicate daughter, able
to comprehend.
First son, tow-headed two-
year-old I think I must be,

Who, moments later, will run off
to twirl a pinwheel. Will scoop up
the small American flag blown loose
onto a narrow hallway of grass,
then wait for feedback.

—The Penwood Review, Spring 2005

I knew no sadder thing. I flew up there to see if I could help, and together we visited the site. All the details in "Pinwheel" are literally true, down to the strange weather: cool, then suddenly blazing. My sister later asked me for an item of remembrance, and I was glad I could give her a copy of the print journal containing this poem. Each year since then, in recognition of Jonathan's birthday, the family has been placing a pinwheel beside the small stone.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Too many months

too many months
with a for sale sign
in our yard,
this old house reluctant
to let us move on

Ribbons, Fall 2010; Take Five, Vol. 3

This actually went on for much longer—nice house too. The situation was surreal—the recession, well, plus . . . long story. It seems I'm good at buying high and selling low. The eventual buyer, on August 26, 2011, got a real bargain, including some brand-new beautiful wood floors and new AC units. Insane: had closing just one week after the offer and had to be out of there within a few days after that. The temps were above 100 degrees F as we were madly throwing things into vehicles. It wasn't surprising that I soon ended up with a huge case of flu—and hubby with a series of migraines—and at the same time came the massive wildfires near our new home to the north (see an upcoming post).

By the way, can you see the red-and-white for sale sign? More photos by ImageANAlogy:

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm just a woman; with sugar

I'm just a woman
building her life
around a garden. . .
this deep-seeded need
to nurture

—Moonbathing, Issue 6, Spring/Summer 2012

with sugar
I lure hummingbirds
into the garden;
you, though, never were drawn
to sweetness and light

kaleidowhirl, Autumn 2006

No, this is not a photo of my garden; it was taken at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. I don't have much of a garden here on this patch of ground that was notched out of the forest. For one thing, it's hard to grow anything "normal" in this somewhat harsh environment where stubborn yaupon thrive. For another, I've found the native trees or plentiful weeds, combined with the heat, give my immune system major fits. Also, because of the condition with my back, I haven't been allowed to bend very much. So I've been staying inside a little more often. I suppose my garden now is my poetry.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Red clay soil

red clay soil,
hardened into ceramic—
with a trowel
I attempt to chip
my way out of this drought

—August 2011

For more than a year, we were in a state of "exceptional drought." The times were strange and trying in a variety of other ways too. I remember squatting down by the ground last August and trying to chip through a small area of hardened sandy loam and clay. Eventually, things got better, though not before getting worse.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I am hollow with petals of August.
My thoughts form deadened fields,
even before the sun is opened full.

The air hangs humid, in tarry slabs.
Bricks of heat are savage
against backs, across faces,

While garden plants lie listless—
fading, faded—their lips pursed.
At least rain threats bring variance.

It hasn't always been like this:
There were years the sweat would tap dance
on vulnerable skin, not cling.

But now the world's awry;
and the Texas summer doesn't quit, 
just blurs itself into the fall.

—Pebble Lake Review, Summer 2005

Augusts can be brutal here, even when we're not officially in a state of drought. Two more months, two more months, I tell myself.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sinking deep

sinking deep
into memory foam
if most impressions I make
are as temporary

Notes from the Gean, 4:1 (Summer 2012)

That foam felt really good several months ago, after I royally did my back in.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

He warned me

he warned me
he came with baggage,
not seeing
the hefty knapsack
I lugged around myself

Ribbons, Spring/Summer 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

They don't tweet

they don't tweet
they don't do Facebook—
my band
of faceless friends
with nothing to say

Notes from the Gean, 4:1 (Summer 2012)

Well, not all my friends and family members are faceless—I'm not either—but a good many are, and adamant about it. Though Facebook may come close to violating a few personal principles of mine, I must admit it can be a convenient tool and an endless source of fascination. I haven't gotten into tweeting, though. ;)

Note about the artist, Karen A. Smith: I became acquainted with Karen more than 15 years ago. I'm pleased she agreed to produce this drawing for use at twigs&stones. "Joe Goodbuddy," the recurring character in her artwork, is a regular person wandering the halls of Corporate America. Joe's been seen at various other places too, such as on the walls of a solo exhibit (68 pieces) at Darke Gallery in Houston, Texas, and at the Big Show 2006, Lawndale Art Center, also in Houston. 

Watch for Joe's return at twigs&stones a few days from now. This next time he'll arrive with baggage.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The SILOH Tanka Contest

Check out Kirsten Cliff's blog for the results of her SILOH Tanka Contest, including the wonderful top-placing poem by André Surridge. This year's theme: Winter Dreams.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Radio tuned; the heartbreak

radio tuned
to Texas country,
its lonesome cowboys—
my nondescript accent
briefly switches to twang

red lights, June 2012

the heartache
in those country tunes—
whole cornfields died
before my own heart
would grow back again

—red lights, June 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I step right through

I step right through
a mad swarm of love bugs,
until now
unsure of my status
as a superhero

—Simply Haiku, Winter 2009

And there were masses of them, in the thousands, that summer during construction. Inside, they mostly were dead—heaped throughout the future living and dining rooms, in the AC floor registers, filling (and nearly discoloring) the brand-new tub. But outside they swarmed for weeks. It wasn't long before I stopped bothering to shield myself from them as I walked up the steps, bare-armed and bare-legged, to the side entrance of the house.

I had no idea then that those little bugs were harbingers of things to come over the next three or so years.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

This room of theirs

this room of theirs
a mishmash of themes
and colors,
photos of us kids
anchoring the decades

A Hundred Gourds, June 2012

That day when we must begin going through decades of stuff and moving our parents to a different place may not be so far away.

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

Friday, July 13, 2012

Off the highway

off the highway
Old Potato Road
etched through the pines
like some kind of secret
no one ever told me

—Eucalypt, Issue 12, May 2012

When we first came across that road, on the drive to Round Rock, the inevitable question arose: "Where's New Potato Road?" We've looked and, not too surprisingly, have never found it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Never thought

never thought
a life could grow to be
this unadorned,
my daily pot of oatmeal
steaming on the stove

—Modern English Tanka, Autumn 2008; 
Take Five, 2009

Never thought I'd be wanting that routine back, but after a long stretch of semichaotic living I believe I do. Time to simplify again and even get a wee bit organized. . .while still keeping the infusions of fresh ginger (per the previous poem)?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Into steaming tea

into steaming tea
I release curls
of fresh ginger. . .
one in a while, my life
borders on exotic

Modern English Tanka, Summer 2007

photo copyright of Robert Curtis