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
Pulling out of the old scarred skin
(old rough thing I don't need now
I strip off
slip out of
leave behind)

I slough off deadscales
flick skinflakes to the ground

Shedding toughness
peeling layers down
to vulnerable stuff

And I'm blinking off old eyelids
for a new way of seeing

By the rock I rub against
I'm
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
poem
if your complexion is a mess
our elixir spells skin success
you'll have appeal bewitch be adored
hechizando con crema dermoblanqueadora

what we sell is enlightenment
nothing less than beauty itself
since when can be seen in the dark 
what shines hidden in dirt 

double dutch darky 
take kisses back to Africa