* sharing toys with Takuboku Ishikawa

Tanka are my sad toys.

Takuboku Ishikawa

Takuboku Ishikawa (1886 – 1912) said the above statement at the end of an essay, explaining how he approached the form with the intimacy of a diary.  They were “sad” because he wrote them while unhappy – they were “toys” because they were useless to society.

This outlook is better understood within the context of Ishikawa’s short life which was burdened with illness and poverty as well as a frustrated ambition to be a novelist.  He felt his gift for tanka was useless and felt his novels and essays were of more value.  This misplaced ambition opened up in him the possibility to really give himself to his tanka.  Despite his outlook, he is known to have said that on “unhappy days…[there is] no greater satisfaction than to write tanka.” *

* luchadores, yo *
* these were my sad toys *

Since landing in Cincinnati, I have been busy revising poems and putting together a new manuscript.  In working through this notebook from two years ago I came across my notes from first reading Ishikawa’s work.  His ability to channel restlessness and desperation into short lyrics moves me to this day.

There is also that spirit, that high, of going on a good writing jag .  Ishikawa had a famous three day writing spree where he only stopped to walk through graveyards.

The  poems I wrote after reading him delve a bit into the past – into childhood – back when I would play with the toys above – little luchadores I would keep in a box under the kitchen sink.  His directness with the line – which can be grasped in the lyrics below – helped me wrestle past myself towards a clearer line.


excerpts from “Sad Toys” – Takuboku Ishikawa

like a stone
that rolls down a hill,
I have come to this day.


Fallen leaves of late autumn, destined to decay!
Following them in sympathy, I hurried to start my journey.


Not knowing where the wind has gone that blew it from its twig,
This stray leaf, bewildered and lost, has fallen on my sleeve.


her black pupils
absorbing only the light of this world
remain in my eyes


as boys born in mountains
yearn for mountains,
I think of you when in sorrow


waiting til I was dead drunk,
she whispered to me
those many sad things!


these poor thin hands
without power
to grasp and grasp hard!


bristling over the way
my moustache droops,
so like the man’s I now hate!


Happy drooping!


* I found some useful information on Ishikawa for this post here.

* cemeteries, thrift stores & Hayden Carruth

*wonder why they call it Vine Street...*
*wonder why they call it Vine Street…*

This vine-riddled chap of a chapel can be found at the Vine Street Hill Cemetery – founded in 1849 – which we drove by yesterday on our way to a thrift store.  (We were hunting for a funky tablecloth and were not disappointed.)

In general, cemeteries are pretty charged places for people, myself included.  They are the great plots of our lives.  Ahem.

All seriously bad jokes aside, I am comforted by cemeteries because there is one that I have yet to walk through – the one where my father is buried – the location of which I have never been told.  I just know it’s out there.   A walk through a cemetery for me is a connection to all hallowed ground, here and elsewhere.  It is a space where life is put down and remembered.

Kinda like thrift stores.  A walk through a thrift store is a walk through former lives, former use and purpose.  Somebody argued over this mug, somebody turned restlessly in these sheets.  Somebody really needed/needs this black velvet painting of Elvis.

I know someone who took her grandson to a thrift store and together with him came across a tin of ashes.

Needed/needs.  There is the door you walk through in life.


The poem below by Hayden Carruth has stuck with me for some years now.  I want to call it light-hearted, but I think it’s more life-hearted.  The ending in particular moves me still to look at the world a little closer.


Graves – Hayden Carruth

Both of us had been close
to Joel, and at Joel’s death,
my friend had gone to the wake
and the memorial service
and more recently he had
visited Joel’s grave, there
at the back of the grassy
cemetery among the trees,
“a quiet, gentle place,” he said,
“befitting Joel.”  And I said,
“What’s the point of going
to look at graves?”  I went
into one of my celebrated
tirades.  “People go to look
at the grave of Keats or Hart
Crane, they go travelling just to
do it, what a waste of time.
What to do they find there?  Hell,
I wouldn’t go look at the grave
of Shakespeare if it was just
down the street.  I wouldn’t
look at — ”  And I stopped.  I
was about to say the grave of God
until I realized I’m looking at it
all the time….


Happy looking!


* photo found here.

* sketching with Miriam Sagan

*historically historic district*
*historically historic district*

This is a church right across the street from our new apartment in Cincinnati.  We have moved into a historic district which reveals new things with each walk we take around the neighborhood.

The drive across country was a series of things being revealed.  In Itasca, Ani pointed out a cardinal excitedly, fascinated with how the actual red of the cardinal is a different from what she envisions in her head.  I told her to sketch it.  She responded: How do you sketch that red?


A few weeks before the move I was delighted to receive from Miriam Sagan herself a copy of her book “Seven Places in America: A Poetic Sojourn.”  The poems and essays in the book follow Sagan as she travels to seven places and documents the life lived and seen.  It was a great guide for my own poetic sojourn, and the inspiration for my post last week.

The poem below is one of a number poems in Sagan’s book that create their magic through a series of short lyrics.  There’s something about the short lyric that is ideal for travel.  When you travel there is so much to see – you can barely take it all in, much less write about it.

How do you sketch that red?

One line at a time.


Sketches in a Notebook – Miriam Sagan

a lizard
in a rolled up shade

tree bromeliads –
two cormorants
build a nest of twigs

man with a cane
crosses path with
a tiny turtle

child pats the palm tree
the alligator

tree canopy
butterfly, and purple glade
morning glory

rare buttonwood vine
looks like any foliage –
but rare –

a leaf drops in
the mahogany hammock –
without season

out of the palm trees
a peacock darts – escaped –
but from where?

tree snail gleams
in the leaf canopy –
stolen ghost orchid

raindrops’ circles –
yellow spatterdock flowers
floating green pods –

two shy vultures
pick raindrops
off the car’s roof

only the most
delicate colored pencils
draw the tree snail’s shell

drawn in an inky line,
overcast afternoon

drop tip
implies rain


Happy implying!


* check out Miriam Sagan’s blog here.

* from the car: verses & such

As we made our way from O to O – Oregon to Ohio – I found myself writing little lyrics along the way.  I also wrote snippets of our conversation, bits that made me laugh or that meant something to me.

I consider it a sort of travel journal/daybook – one strictly written in the car, with all the randomness and fleeting nature of things passing by a car window, blurring and fascinating.  Keeping these in the car helped shape their brevity.

Today is the last day of the journey.  Expect the usual Influence biz next week.

For now, enjoy my own narrow road from a narrow interior.


DAY 1: Eugene OR to Spokane WA

shadow of a cloud
over the yellow grass – the
first time she’s noticed

“The clouds look painted on —

(in cloud voice)
You guys, they noticed.
I told you they’d notice.
You can’t just put on falsies!”

outside of Fishtrap
clouds in their schools of shade and
light over the trees

DAY 2: Spokane WA to Bozeman MT

snow on the mountains
in Montana – river sounds
cold against my ear

Coeur D’alene River
breaking as we pass – she asks:
why do rivers wind?

“I hope we’re not headed towards those clouds.”

“Where do you think we’re headed?  Behind us?”

DAY 3: Bozeman MT to Dickinson ND

“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”

cows dip their heads
into the grass
and move their mouths
eating under
through all these clouds

looking down into
the Badlands
we laugh into


DAY 4: Dickinson ND to Eden Prairie MN

Minnesota lakes
on the side of the highway
the sky’s loose pages

pelican alone
on the water – a white that
dives into itself

miles after leaving
North Dakota the red dust
streaked across the car

DAY 5 Eden Prairie MN to Itasca IL

morning fog on the
Mississippi River – map
trembles in my hand

rain dots the windshield
the colors of passing cars
under a gray sky


See you in Cincy!