Harryette Mullen writes: My tanka diary started with a desire to incorporate into my life a daily practice of walking and writing poetry. Normally 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 student poets on "tanka walks" in the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden on the campus of UCLA. At other times, I stroll through unfamiliar neighborhoods as I travel. 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.
Shy extrovert entices and repelswith petals and thorns. Modest exhibitionisthides her blush under a pink ruffle.***In my hotel room in Columbus, Ohio,an arrangement of flowering weedsplucked from the Olentangy River trail.***The list of recently discoveredzoological specimens includes a flat-faced frogfish and a carnivorous sponge. [End Page 85] ***I managed to do it only that one time whenmy grandfather taught me how to bait a fish hookwith a squirming wet earthworm.***A story from my mother's girlhood:Dining with friends, she asked for her favoritepiece of chicken. Was told, "Rabbits don't have wings."***Squirrel, stretching yourself out flatto cool your belly on a shaded rock.On hot days do you wish your fur coat had a zipper?***It merely looks bedraggled, that gangling gardenof rogue roses with stems untrimmed.It doesn't stir the heart like a true wild rose.***The police and health departments wantto find out who's been dumping human wastein the streets of Venice and Santa Monica.***Water trickles down on clean white flower,star of five petals sheltered under green leavesheld up like cupped hands to catch the raindrops.***"Oh no, not whale meat again," the Japanesestudents murmured, complaining abouttheir lunches in the school cafeteria.***That fellow whose heart leaps at the sightof a double rainbow in the sky could starin advertisements for the golden arches.***Caught a quick glimpse of bright eyes,yellow feathers, dark wings. Never learned your name—and to you, bird, I also remain anonymous. [End Page 86]
Harryette Mullen's poetry collections include Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002), a finalist for the National Book Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Award, and Recyclopedia (2006), winner of a PEN Beyond Margins Award. Her work appears in the anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy (2009). She teaches American poetry, African American literature, and creative writing at UCLA.