Selection from Tanka Diary

by Harryette Mullen

My tanka diary began with a wish to incorporate into my life a daily practice of walking and writing poetry. Usually I go for short walks in various parts of Los Angeles, Venice, and Santa Monica, or longer hikes in the canyons with friends. I also regularly lead students on “tanka walks” in the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden on the campus of UCLA. Other times I stroll through unfamiliar neighborhoods. These poems are my adaptation of a traditional Japanese form of syllabic poetry; usually a tanka is thirty-one syllables, often written in five lines.

I’m seeing lots of dead zebras lately
on floors of elegant homes pictured in
interior decorator magazines.

“We proudly harvest rainwater”—a sign
in a neighbor’s yard. With a deep barrel
I could humbly and thankfully harvest rain.

Several homeowners organize a neighbor-
hood watch patrol after discovering used
rubbers discarded on their lawns.

Folded cardboard tent-shaped trap
hanging among dark leaves of the lemon tree
to capture the galling Mediterranean fly.

A profusion of oleanders—to beautify
the freeway and filter the air, though
leaf, stem, and blossom all are poison.

Dried-out snake on the road
I brought as a curiosity to the child—
who insisted we give it a proper funeral.

Urban tumbleweed, some people call it,
discarded plastic bag we see in every city
blown down the street with vagrant wind.

Published on July 1, 2020

First published in Harvard Review 43