Call and Answer: my tanka to answer Ono no Komachi.


My beautiful picture

My beautiful picture

(Morning sky to the east a few years ago…)

In the spirit of what was done 1500 years ago, I am answering the call of Ono no Komachi’s wonderful poems with a bit of my own, trying to stay ontheme in each one.

These are just fast written responses., but sometimes that fulfills the task.  As to whether there are ‘real’ tanka, I don’t know, and frankly right now, I am happy enough with what developed.

Lady Nyo


Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.


How long will it last?

I know not his hidden heart.

This morning my thoughts

Are as tangled as my hair.

My blushes turn my face dark.”


When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

No moon tonight

Only a cold wind visits

Murasaki robe

Stained the color of grass

Invisible on this earth.


My longing for you—

Too strong to keep within bounds.

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

Come to me, my man,

Part the blinds and come into my arms,

Snuggle against my warm breast

And let my belly

Warm your dreams.


One of her most famous poems:


No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.


When my needing you

Burns my breasts-torments me

I tear open robes

To lie naked in moonlight

The wind your hands, caressing



Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.’


Autumn wind startles–

Lowered to an ominous

     Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!

     The fat mountain deer listen-

   Add their bellowing sorrow.


The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.


Tonight, foxes scream

Cued by a howling wind.

Maple leaves quilting

A lonely time of season

No one to share the moonlight.




A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?


So lonely am I

My soul like a floating weed

Severed at the roots

Drifting upon cold waters

No pillow for further dreams.



Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.


Dreams, reality

How can one truly know?

I stumble through dreams

I stagger through the lost days

Tell me: what has more substance?

I did my poems  fast. I will refine and revise later. And try to complete this with the remaining poems of Komachi.

All Komachi poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016



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2 Responses to “Call and Answer: my tanka to answer Ono no Komachi.”

  1. Brian Says:

    *Claps hands and bows*

    reincarnate words
    tallow flickers – tai fung howls
    reach through time’s thin veil
    kimono caught pine branches
    eyes passes passion quickens


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Lovely, Brian! You capture the true spirit of this relay. I wish others would but they don’t. And that is such a shame. Tanka call and answer by any other name…is a challenge and a wonderful way to deepen and inspire poetry. there is a marvelous book….a small one, published out of Japan….”Love Songs from the Man’yoshu” that is so beautiful to hold in the hand (as the Japanese know how to color and bind)and with such beautiful illustrations….cut outs…that it is so worth to get on Amazon. I get this book to give to friends. You should look this up….the explanations on the individual tanka and the cut outs, etc. are superb. As is your tanka above. Thank you, Brian…’tai fung howls reach through time’s thin veil…marvelous imagery!


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