Sweet Paulownia by Michael Leon

Sweet Pawlonia
Music and Lyrics by Michael Leon

Sweet Pawlonia blooms in spring
You and I’ve been through some things
The Sweetest blossoms never last too long
December flowers are cool and rare
crystals blooming in your hair
You were here and now you’re gone

Chorus:
You can cut me down and make me bleed
I’m gonna rise like that phoenix – watch me
Just you wait and see
Days may be dark and nights too long
And this might be a sad sad song
Pawlonia will always smell sweet to me

Met her on a Saturday
She drove all that gloom away
I thought my life was finally turnin’ around
But life is long and times got hard
And she and I we had to part
Misery lost is so easily found

Chorus

A hermit’s life may be for some
And maybe I should be all done
Some live and learn, but maybe I just don’t
Fresh growth will drive winter’s pall away
And maybe next time she will stay
I’ll hold on to her or I won’t

Chorus

12 December 4 Paulownia 12 December 3 Paulownia 12 December 1 Paulownia 12 December 2 Paulownia

This year for my birthday we are having fun with Hanafuda and Tarot cards.

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To see all the Hanafuda/Tarot tanka posted to date, click here.

Barb Lougheed's Death Collage -- Detail

A detail from the Death Collage by Barb Lougheed.

To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffin just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

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Hanafuda Frost and Moonlight Sonnet by John Mackenzie

Maple Leave 3c Maple Leave 4c Maple Leave 2c Maple Leave 1c

August Silver Grass_04c Chrysanthemum 4c Sake Cup

Hanafuda Frost and Moonlight Sonnet
by John Mackenzie

From June into October
the nine-pound hammers of wind
and sun and rain beat and beat
down on maple leaves until
they glow from red through gold
in the forge of autumn days.

And then the sun is set aside
as the night is broken open
for trace elements of frost
and moonlight to fold into
leaves before they fall white
and hissing, serrated blades
sharp around feet slipping in
and out of ice-rimmed puddles.

Depth Charge: To access John Mackenzie’s poetry blog, click on any of the maple leaf cards above. To find out why moonlight on the water is dangerous, click on the full moon card above.  To read an enjoyable article on the symbols of hanafuda, click on the sake cup card beside the full moon card above.

This year for my birthday we are having fun with Hanafuda and Tarot cards. John Mackenzie contributed this sonnet. To see the tanka I wrote for John, click here.
Tarot_14_Temperance_reversed

To see all the Hanafuda/Tarot tanka posted to date, click here.

Paulownia and The Empress: Eavan

12 December 4 Paulownia 12 December 3 Paulownia 12 December 1 Paulownia 12 December 2 Paulownia

Strange to think we walked
Where the phoenix came to rest
Under wutong trees
Now thick smog conceals the sun
Does the river still run there?

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(for Eavan)

Depth Charge: About what was then called Jinling and is now called Nanjing, Li Bai wrote: “Here once on Phoenix Terrace the phoenix birds came to rest, now the birds are gone, the tower empty, only the river flows aimlessly on.”

This year for my birthday we are having fun with Hanafuda and Tarot cards.

Tarot_03_Empress

To see all the Hanafuda/Tarot tanka posted to date, click here.

Maple leaves and Temperance Reversed: John

Maple Leave 3c Maple Leave 4c Maple Leave 2c Maple Leave 1c

August Silver Grass_04c Chrysanthemum 4c Sake Cup

Ten thousand falling
Leaves red and gold–these your words
Flowing through this world
Beware the seductive sight
The moonlight on the water

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(for John)

Depth Charge: To access John Mackenzie’s poetry blog, click on any of the maple leaf cards above. To find out why moonlight on the water is dangerous, click on the full moon card above.  To read an enjoyable article on the symbols of hanafuda, click on the sake cup card beside the full moon card above.

This year for my birthday we are having fun with Hanafuda and Tarot cards.
Tarot_14_Temperance_reversed

To see all the Hanafuda/Tarot tanka posted to date, click here.

Taking the Plunge with Li Bai: Tanka and Infinite Depth at the Surface

李白墓园 The Garment Tomb of Li Bai

Defeated by heat
We failed to reach your tombstone
West of Ma’anshan
We lacked your intense desire
To embrace the shining moon

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The endless depth of both the natural world and the conscious mind meet in the images of the Tanka form, like a reflection of the moon on the surface of a dark lake that hints at both the depth of the sky and the water.

In his essay “Depth,” Tor Nørretranders writes: “It is not the informational surface of things but its informational depth that attracts our curiosity. It took a lot to bring it here before our eyes. It is not what is there but what used to be there that matters. Depth is about that.”

This honing down, crystallizing, is what poet John Mackenzie refers to as shoehorning—the process by which the poet forces his language to fit the self-imposed discipline of a particular form, in this case, Tanka: “I now had constraints coming from two directions–the tension between the syllable count and marrying of subject matter and image (which is further constrained by a tradition of using the image chosen to link the inner world of the poem’s speaker to an object or objects in the outer, so-called natural world…”

What is left is the orderly form of the poem, but as Nørretranders says, “Very orderly things like crystals are not complex. They are simple.” What initially catches our eye and ear in Tanka is the crystal clarity of its form, but it is the hidden depths, the process by which the crystal was produced that fascinates us.

Italo Calvino, in his essay entitled “Exactitude” from Six Memos for the Next Millennium, refers to the symbols of the crystal (self-organizing system) and the flame (order out of noise): “The contrasting images of flame and crystal are used to make visible the alternatives offered to biology, and from this pass on to the theories of language and the ability to learn.”

When the flame is refracted through the crystal, when the mind of poet succeeds in revealing itself through language and imagery, when the simple fossil of syllables hints at ancient life still evolving, it is only then that things begin to get interesting.

This is my one-hundredth post on this blog, the first one being a brief explanation of Tanka and why I write it.  One reader asked “Why explain? It sounds like an apology. Just say what you want to say,” but that is ranting, not poetry, and rants are all flame and no crystal. Lord knows I love a good rant as much as the next person, but it is the tension between simple surface and complex depth that attracts me as poet.

“Intellectual life is very much about the ability to distinguish between the shallow and the deep abstractions. You need to know if there is any depth before you make that headlong dive and jump into it,” says Nørretranders.

But depths can be dangerous and demand attention and dedication. In June of 2004, I was living in Nanjing, China. On a blisteringly hot Saturday morning we were up at 5:30 am to catch the 6:45 am bus to Ma’anshan, Anhui, about an hour or so Southwest of Nanjing.  Ma’anshan ‘s claim to fame is that it is close to the spot where Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai is believed to have died. Legend has it that he was drunk on a boat and, reaching out to touch the reflection of the moon on the water, he fell in and drowned. The body was never found, so the poet’s cap and cloak are buried on a mountainside just west of Ma’anshan as a memorial to him.

We were in Ma’anshan for the wedding of one of our classmates, a British lad, to a Chinese woman. The day got off to a rousing start. We were loaded into limos and driven to her parents’ house. Outside they were setting off roll after roll of firecrackers. We proceeded to pound on the door of the apartment, demanding that the bride be brought out. Inside they asked for money, which we slipped under the door in red envelopes. Much pounding, yelling and many red envelopes later, the front door was finally opened. But the bride was now locked in her own room and we had to repeat the whole process over again. Finally, that door was opened, thereupon he went in and, on bended knee, asked her to marry him.

Li Bai Garment Tomb Ma'anshan Anhui ChinaWe had several hours before the wedding banquet, to which over 550 guest were invited, so we decided to go see the Garment Tomb of Li Bai. Dressed in our formal wear we started up the hill in the 40+ degree weather. The whining soon started and we were forced to turn back, also being worried about being late for the banquet and insulting our host.

In the end we never saw the tomb, and the wedding of our classmate that began with such fanfare ended in divorce several years later. Unfulfilled goals, broken promises, memories, a cap and gown in an empty tomb, and a simple poem are all that remain. None of the back story is visible in the poem, not even Li Bai’s name, but the poem would not exist without both the legend and this personal history. That is what depth is all about.

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