Edward J. Rielly

This collection of tanka is dedicated to my wife, Jeanne, whose love and support make my poetry possible.

I am also am indebted to the editors of the following magazines and anthologies in which many of these tanka first appeared:

American Tanka
Five Lines Down
Piedmont Literary Review
Tanka Splendor 1996 (AHA Books)
Wind Five Folded (AHA Books)

1. "marking my place with a blade of grass"

in my backyard
watching a gopher watch me . . .
listening to birds
joyfully wake the day
just, it seems, for me


on a warm afternoon
how easy to remember
golden oat shocks I built --
and the tall straw piles
I slid down to adulthood

summer twilight
and coolness settles
under trees, on me,
and God said, let there be
this hour between day and night

black hole
somewhere out there
pulling in
what cannot be held
against the darkness

watching a dark
unmoving object
in the salt marsh --
how inscrutable
are life's mysteries

all alone
in my backyard grove
when a blue jay lands
on an elm branch . . .
the sky falling

beyond the stadium
foul ball floating
out of sight --
my friend and I discuss
windshields and childhood

three woodpecker holes
in a tall saguaro. . .
under my white hat
and behind dark glasses
I wait patiently

raking my leaves
I rest for a moment
imagining earth,
air, fire uniting
at the flick of a match

my birdfeeder
sways in the wind
with a swallow
holding steadfastly
to something certain

in the starless night
fireflies . . .
fireflies --
all I see by their light:

on a bright summer day
how silent we become--
my wife, my daughter, and I --
in a ragged churchyard
of two-hundred-year-old graves

on the petal
a drop of blood
mimicking its color . . .
my hand reaches again
for the rose's heart

hauling to the dump
loads of objects we once
thought important
I remember how we emptied
Mother's house after her death

a squirrel runs down
one backyard tree, up another;
lost in shadows I set
by book on the ground, marking
my place with a blade of grass

this spring comes slowly--
my son, for the first time,
to be a father,
the new buds calling me
"grandfather . . . grandfather"

2. "at dusk the owl's question

tiger lilies flaming
under a crab apple tree --
the color of your hair
the warm summer evening
we first met

our summer son
and spring daughter
fall asleep
during the long winter
of Christmas Eve

rain turning to ice,
husband and wife
drive home quietly,
bags of groceries
filling the trunk

touch of wind
the first spring night
we leave windows open,
and your presence adding
just enough warmth

working late
I come home feeling
I have missed
something of you
unique to this day

should we care
how far away
the stars are?
your eyes light my years
mile by mile

the earth;
in your eyes
candles flickering

in the back seat
wind twisting your hair:
despite our friend
seated next to me
my fingers ache on the wheel

sudden fog
hiding the ocean --
we see each other
in a new,
pale light

even beyond
the last light
from the last galaxy
still no end
to my love for you

shaking my rake
over the leaf pile
I remember your hair
sparkling, too,
under an autumn sun

in a cathedral crypt
eight hundred years old,
marveling how your love
grows solid as those pillars
holding eternity

all my years using
pronouns, yet I recognize
only in this moment
how your enfolds our,
how sky holds the sun

you, my treasure, remain

alone together
we listen to the wind
blowing souls
of our past dreams
against the windowpane

narrow mountain road --
at each corner you tense,
stare straight ahead,
until, at the top, we stop
to see the world at our feet

blasting wind
and driving rain
on the cliff's edge --
mist hiding the ocean
we hold each other

mile after mile
on our ancestor hunt
we travel back
into the green country,
into past lives

hot summer evening:
on the spur of the moment
we drive to the ocean,
our twenty-eight-year marriage
sparkling like stars

a son
and a daughter --
now as grandparents
we start again,
your love and mine

another anniversary
creeps closer
but two grandchildren
make us, each day,
younger and younger

a grandmother
but your red hair
and the child on your lap
take us back, this afternoon,
to our first years together

at dusk
the owl's question
leads me, in deepening shadows,
to answer, simply,

HOW SKY HOLDS THE SUN is Copyrighted © by Edward J. Rielly 1998.
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