Martial Art Tanka

Despite my vow not to talk too much about my new Netflix obsession, I do want to mention my experiment of seeing if I could use fairly low rent movies as inspiration. To begin with, many folks (actually mostly librarians) object to my use of “trash” when talking about genre—in books or films. However, I’ve noticed within myself a slightly toxic reaction to too much of the same, akin to eating too many chocolate covered cherries or cheese doodles. Really great things don’t wear me out—I don’t feel toxic from too much nature, say, or time with those I love, or Shakespeare. I might need a change, but not because of toxicity. The same can’t be said for murder mysteries or spy thrillers.
That said, I may as well confess to my love of kung fu movies—particularly ones replete with fakey zen and flying monks. I can’t defend this, and the only other person I’ve known who shared this taste is my long dead first husband Robert (who was also a Zen priest). It all came back to me recently. I was watching several very morose and misery inducing Israeli firms about the horrors of fundamentalistic ultra-orthodox Jewish life—and its horrible toll on women. Pushed to the brink by misogyny, the heroines kill themselves, break down, fall in an existential abyss, and more. I needed a break. Shaolin it was. Here, when warlords destroy your innocent village, what do you do? Fight back and crush them! I started to feel better. The association of Zen with martial arts to this extent is a bit suspect—possibly somewhat historical, definitely Hong Kong movie making.
However, watching a few such movies, I did write the following sequence of tanka. And I’m pleased with it!


birdsong in mist,
an old tale of revenge—
in the birch forest
even the greatest archer
can’t hit the moon

blind swordswoman,
curtain of blue beads
eyebrows raised, unsheathed
blade slices a falling leaf

shaved head monk will steal
rice to feed the starving—
a warlord, a child,
a white flower, a corpse, all
have their own nature.

soldier shaves his head
to pass as a monk,
becomes a monk…
monk picks up a sword

a flight of birds
off a foggy cliff,
even the wind
can’t say if you’ll return
or from what direction

snow falling
on the temple’s curved eaves
a hanging bell
dusk, the border between
this and everything else

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