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About this Poem 

“The spirit of tanka interests me more than following rigid conventions. As I understand it, the tradition allows a variety of approaches, from simple description and heartfelt expression to classical allusion and evocative wordplay. Succeeding generations rediscover and renew the form so that it retains its vitality.”

—Harryette Mullen

From Tanka Diary

Harryette Mullen, 1953

The botanical garden is just as I remember,
although it is certain that everything
has changed since my last visit.

How many hilarious questions these fuzzy
fiddleheads are inquiring of spring
will be answered as green ferns unfurl?

Walking the path, I stop to pick up
bleached bark from a tree, curled into
a scroll of ancient wisdom I am unable to read.

Even in my dreams I’m hiking
these mountain trails expecting to find a rock
that nature has shaped to remind me of a heart.

Copyright @ 2014 by Harryette Mullen. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2014.

Copyright @ 2014 by Harryette Mullen. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2014.

Harryette Mullen

Harryette Mullen

Harryette Mullen's work is driven by wordplay, allusion, and popular cliche, and is centered in a larger tradition of African American writing.

by this poet

poem
mister arty martyr
a jackass to water
changing partners in
the middle of a scream

bereft of flavor
for lack of endeavor
he chooses a heifer
and loses forever

delirious boozer
he smoothes her sutures
removes a moocher
from her future

a thing of shreds and patches 
hideous scarecrow she
puts teeth in any
poem
just as I am I come
knee bent and body bowed 
this here's sorrow's home 
my body's southern song

cram all you can 
into jelly jam 
preserve a feeling 
keep it sweet 

so beautiful it was 
presumptuous to alter 
the shape of my pleasure
in doing or making

proceed with abandon 
finding yourself where you are
poem
Forgive me, I’m no good at this. I can’t write back. I never read your letter. 
I can’t say I got your note. I haven’t had the strength to open the envelope. 
The mail stacks up by the door. Your hand’s illegible. Your postcards were 
defaced. Wash your wet hair? Any document you meant to send has yet to 
reach