First Place    - an'ya, USA

 

 

unattended

among toxic weeds

in a boneyard

only forgotten souls—

the dead mourn the dead

 

This poem claimed my attention from the first reading. Written in traditional format of s/l/s/l/l/ with the personal implied of someone observing a neglected place. The poet’s carefully chosen words toxic, boneyard, forgotten, mourn reinforce this scene.  Even so, the tanka flows as it builds to a haunting and unforgettable last line.

 

unattended

among toxic weeds

 

The first two lines set the scene. The words unattended, toxic weeds make us feel a little uncomfortable.

 

in a boneyard

 

Line 3 the pivot line, shows us place.  The short, harsh sounds of ‘a’ a, yardcombine with the imagined image of a boneyard, for me, conjures a place with many bones exposed to the elements and scavenging animals among thistles, brambles, and nightshades.  We don’t know what sort of bones.

 

only forgotten souls—

 

The tanka builds to another level in line 4 as we are shown whose bones. They are not animal bones but human bones.  forgotten souls, perhaps soldiers from armed conflict or refugees from a pogrom of ethnic cleansing or even COVID deaths of families in some isolated place. It could be a tanka about the past or it might literally be a graveyard. The clever word choice of only adds emotional weight.  The emdash makes us pause before we read the final line.

 

the dead mourn the dead

 

Line 5 completes the story. The impact of this authentic tanka has stayed with me. A tanka that is both modern and ancient, a comment on human failings.