Most of us know Robert Wilson through the excellent online journal, Simply Haiku, which he owns and manages

. With the publication of this book, the poetry audience can finally get to know the man behind Simply Haiku through his own tanka. These are poems of long nights, intuitive dreams and a deep yearning to find, in nature, equanimity and a path to happiness. Wilson treats his readers to poems filled with mystery. His original images of the world and its inhabitants will not fail to stir deep-seated emotions and leave the reader breathless. Kirsty Karkow, Maine

By Robert D. Wilson

Tanka Fields

White Egret Press
20734 Hemlock Street Groveland, California 95321 U.S.A.

Robert D. Wilson is the owner and managing editor of Simply Haiku, the online literary journal showcasing Japanese short form poetry read by almost 6,000 people world-wide. His poetry has been published in literary journals, textbooks, anthologies, newspapers, and presented orally on television, radio, and the stage Robert Wilson is the author of the highly acclaimed e-book of haibun, Vietnam Ruminations, available online at: http://www. He lives with his family near Yosemite National Park in California and has a second home in the Philippines.

©2006 by Robert D. Wilson. All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

Robert D. Wilson

Tanka Fields
with a foreword by Michael McClintock

White Egret Press Groveland, California U.S.A. 95321

in a dream, i give to you the love i cannot bear as a savant writing poetry

staring at you, word; wondering whether or not to use you, like me, an enigma bordering on taste

a shit-faced moon wobbles across the lake into a fishermanʼs bucket, empty-handed . . .
No one writes tanka like Robert Wilson. These are poems that nudge but do not push, that have the delicacy of sumi-e brushwork. The insights and percipience of reverie, daydream, and vision have, in English-language tanka, no more persistent or skillful servant. Wilsonʼs vocabulary is that of shadow, moonlight, water-image, and restless loneliness--punctuated by some small detail that surprises, intrigues, or arrests. These are poems to contemplate, ponder and reflect upon, to read again and again, plumbing each for its meaning and music---that flickering, singular substance that is the tissue of all poetry. Experience and understanding are delivered in a language that cannot be summarized or paraphrased. Each poem, like a remembered dream, may shadow our thoughts and feelings for the rest of the day---or for many days and nights. Our reward for such haunting is to see, be, and breathe the air of this teeming world in a way that is new to us, strangely re-birthed, washed, freshened, and changed. --Michael McClintock Los Angeles, January 2006

they whisper all night long, the reeds, swathed in clouds, plucking stars from lacquered bowls

longing for a nest, and the feathers mother left, between feedings and summer moons

a sea bass fanning light with its fins into a kelp bed of shadow

in this floating world of ducks and hyacinth . . . an egretʼs stillness

she cries out from the hen house swaddled in fog; and the rain, cutting a swath back up the hill

Author ʼs Introduction
water . . . listening to what it has to say in the stillness between clouds Originally a 31 syllable genre of poetry indigenous to Japan, waka, now called tanka, is a stirring of the soul, painting a mural on a canvas the size of a periwinkle blossom. And much more . . . Few English speaking poets adhere to the tankaʼs 57-5-7-7 syllable formula because our syllables are longer than those used in the Japanese language. Like haiku, it is a matter of breathing, a sense of metre, a tonal quality we listen for. And we know when we have found it, having done our homework. Like any genre of poetry, success does not occur overnight or after a short course. It is imperative to study the waka (tanka) penned by those who founded and popularized the genre; and to practice on a daily basis. The following tanka are my own, inspired by the poetry of Shotetsu, Saigyo, Emperor Kogon, Fujiwara Teika, Tonna, Masaoka Shiki, Saito Mokichi, Yosano Akiko, Fumiko Nakajo, Kisaburo Konoshima, Tawara Machi, and Michael McClintock. And a special thanks to Anita Virgil, my best friend and muse. I bow to each of them. Robert D. Wilson

stepping out of herself and bowing, a doe follows her breath into the forest

a tailor, spring, sewing a new coat for the old tree standing naked behind my house

is this the moon iʼve come to know; a sad-faced poet writing haiku on the backs of oxen?

am i mad, wanting a jellyfish to teach me how to breathe the tide?

gold buddhas sitting on the echo of muffled cries . . . gunships setting fire to the moon

my teacher, a bowl, listening to the emptiness of winter

step with me into the rice field of dreams we shared on that hotel roof in saigon

coarse dreams work their way through my veins like lost geese chasing an echo

no longer autumn, this morning . . . heronʼs reflection fastened to the earth

a warrior, the snake, gulping eggs, watching sunlight drip from mangosteen trees

heron flies into the stillness of winter; her breath, a canvas gathering dawn

a kinsman to the reeds, the egret . . . planted in a soldier ʼs ashes

winter slips into the keyhole, insistent on a face-to-face meeting

how will this laborer stand straight again, his back bowed for centuries, a cousin to the ox? [tribute to Edwin Markhamʼs epic poem, The Man and The Hoe}

she whispers to me, this winter night, from sallow pools left on the runway of what could have been

Iʼll never forget the first time I saw my mother cry. Iʼd received orders to fly to Saigon, the capitol city of the Republic of South Vietnam. My tour of duty was for one year. I would be in the heart of a war that was sending soldiers home in pine boxes on a daily basis. Some of them we knew. In January of 1968, I boarded a commuter plane in Long Beach, California, near where Iʼd lived most of my life, on the first leg of my journey. I turned around to wave to my mother. She was standing on the runway, weeping, waving halfheartedly, hoping and praying that I would come back to her alive in one piece. I never doubted my mother ʼs love from that day on. When she passed away in 1997, at the age of 70, I was holding her hand, returning the tears.

sipping sunlight hesitantly, the trees knowing too well what comes next

teach me, tree, the tao of death, so i too can remove my clothing in winter

the sun, this morning, lingers beneath the clouds like a prisoner biding time; kicking whatʼs left of its shadow

a parting of clouds; the weeping of worms . . . a tree sweeping dreams into a hollowed out moon

we sank with the sun into autumn . .. our beds painted with whisper

who is lowly, snail? the thought of trudging forward in this weather, unimaginable!

dance with me, for a moment, amongst the stars, breathing the emptiness of eternity

an egret flying out of autumn to the moon . . . folding darkness into paper clouds

i think of you when i eat cantaloupe, and when i dream . . . sowing seed long ago in jasmine scented shadows

a starless night . . . the embers replacing them, rise from a foxʼs loins

brother snail offers a prayer of thankgiving, this harvest moon . . . . new rice!

dining with you on a plate of stars . . . each one a memory painted with what could have been

twilight dusk . . . watching the raven disappear into a beggar ʼs cup

she shivers momentarily, as if to tell me itʼll be okay . . . a full moon!

a samurai, the wind, cutting down trees in a field of egrets

end of autumn . . . fox scurries across the highway carrying moonlight on his tail

as always, alone, stirring thoughts in a cup of strong coffee, sweetened with your memory

bowing to the ashes of those who had no time to dream . . . an egret wading through clouds

i saw you, this morning, passing through a salmonʼs shadow on the way to coffee

last night, moon, the look on your face . . . light dripping sideways into teacups of laughter!

it was hard for me not to smile, whale watching with a boatload of fat people

across the ocean, inhabiting someone elseʼs dream of me tonight, when the reeds refuse to whisper

the frog, this morning, hops out of darkness into a little girlʼs dreams

stepping outside of myself into a teacup filled with stars, a lighter me stirring memories

your shadow remained behind, watching over mourners . . . their black clothing shouting, “winter!”

dragging me into autumn depths, your smile whispering water

partially drunk cups of coffee . . . that long ago summer when dad flew into another manʼs dream

how could you have known sheʼd take your jacket, lock you outside in the snow, and drink mango juice?

i thought of you this morning, leaning into a jasmine scented tomorrow

what will become of you, son, when i am carried off by crows, and the clouds you sleep on, kidnap the moon?

stepping out of the tanka iʼm writing, your smile stretches across the horizon

that man cycling in circles . . . dying leaves and a thousand more like them

moonlight brushing my lips . . . and the glossolalia of tongues slipping into wetness

the night she whispered, “yes, i love you” . . . shuddering like an autumn leaf

a baby boy, programmed to die, pops up like a jack-in-the-box from his mother ʼs stomach

like the arch in her back on our wedding day, the crescent moon

this breath, this flower, this prayer easing out of her mother ʼs birth canal; from darkness into light, and back . . . again

whisper to me, once more, from the crevice of a dream . . . without an offering plate

a year older, your future an origami ship sailing between folds

dreams woven into a cheap bracelet, gathering dust in a drawer full of mismatched socks

i can still feel the coldness of that morning; the smell of bacon working its way upstairs . . . your smile lassoing dreams

this blank mind, this colorless sky, painted with the buddhaʼs smile, turned inside out

the coldness of your shadow passes through me into a dream i shouldnʼt dream

koi pass through my face, unaware that i am lonely . . . a short day

sleeping alone . . . between dreams and autumn skies, a shadow pulling moonlight

a short night is all i have left of you . . . a whisper unwrapped later when the moon is sitting

what do you think about at night when your shadow canʼt measure up and stars fall from the ceiling like plaster?

the moon wading across this dark river . . . does she dream of me too, between crossings?

he sees no need to converse with the trees he cuts down, fancying himself a god

egret, what do you think about at night, when the river above you fills up with stars?

does it know heʼs dying, the hollowed out tree towering above students like an aging alumni?

koi stir my reflection into a dream hanging on the clothesline . . . upside down

she lights a candle, reciting a prayer learned long ago in a cathedral made of paper

you hold it in well . . . the mirror refusing to give you up

the hatred in her eyes; a crow staring at itself, furrowing the sun with dusk

like the marmot, she slips into a dream, unaware of passing cars

i think of the grasshopper . . . her legs clinging to a leaf she will eventually eat

dream of me, this humid night, when the echo of your laughter is lassoed by a frog

day moon . . . she pops her head in periodically to see if the curtain is still up

i turn around and swallow the moon dangling in front of me like a fresh worm

hyacinths . . . i canʼt remember the last time you asked me to step into a cloud and dance

why is this doe always alone . . . tall grass with not enough water for a young girlʼs dreams

i fold the tiers of this tanka into a simple bird and let it loose, bading it to remember me

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