tanka

Oblique Music: A Book of Hours by Elizabeth Bodien

oblique

By Jenny Ward Angyal

a life entire
in the swoop of a blackbird
wing flash of red
sufficient this morning
for a rising up of wonder
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Poet Elizabeth Bodien has captured ‘a life entire’ in the 102 tanka of this handsome little book. Subtitled A Book of Hours, it is divided into nine sections inspired by the traditional structure of the liturgical day. Each section opens with essentially the same photograph of the sun over water, but the colors of the image and the sun’s position within it change to reflect the time of day or night, until we reach the final section, ‘Beyond’, which opens with an image of star-filled sky. The poems are printed in restful periwinkle ink on creamy blue-white paper; one poem per page allows plenty of time and space to contemplate each small gem. .

And it is of course the poems themselves that matter most. The poems in this collection, most of which first appeared in various tanka journals over the course of a decade, move simultaneously through the hours of a day, the seasons of a year, and the seasons of a life, capturing moments and reflections each of which is ‘sufficient . . . for a rising up of wonder.’
he poet displays a fine sensitivity to the world around her:
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iridescent blue
two dragonflies
catch and throw
waning sunlight
onto the path
.
 . . . and also to her own interior landscape:
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lingering in bed
one moment longer
I trawl
the vast in-between
where creation might stir
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The first tanka above is an exquisite capture of something that most people would simply overlook; the second explores that fertile state between sleeping and waking where the riches of the subconscious mind may be most accessible. Elizabeth Bodien’s creations are shot through with ‘waning sunlight’, a poignant sense of the ephemeral:
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I buy cut tulips
arrange them in a vase
for their color
and because I trust
they will be here tomorrow
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The closing lines suggest that the narrator—like all of us—knows well that many beautiful or beloved things will not ‘be here tomorrow’. The clarity and simplicity of this tanka typify the way in which these poems illuminate everyday phenomena and help us to see how such ordinary things point beyond themselves to the unknown.
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barely touching
his scraped bloody knee
the boy ponders
for the first time
what is inside him
.
From the child’s first intimations of vulnerability to the adult’s full knowledge of death, these poems simultaneously mourn losses and celebrate life:
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we are all old
now that you’ve gone
you danced
like a butterfly
on the lid of our lives
.
What a beautiful five-line portrait of someone whose life seems to have been emblematic of freedom and joy. Loss of loved ones leads inevitably to reflection on what happens ‘beyond’:
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smoke rises
from the burning barrel
our trash
turns to ash, to air
what will we become?
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 . . . and it is no accident that the final section of this ‘book of hours’ is entitled ‘Beyond’, reaching outside the traditional cycle of the liturgical day and  hinting, like the following tanka, at a larger reality:
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frost flickers
on the dark window
a thin veil
separates this earth
from beyond
.
Elizabeth Bodien, who holds degrees in cultural anthropology, consciousness studies, religions, and poetry, recently published a nonfiction book about her past-life regressions. She has also published five books of ‘mainstream’ poetry and has won numerous poetry awards, including several for haiku. Readers of her Oblique Music will hope that this accomplished poet, with her wealth of experience, insight, and wonder, will continue to travel the tanka road.
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we peer
from the bus
across the river
our final destination
the city veiled in mist
.
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Jenny Ward Angyal’s  poems have appeared in many journals and may also be found on her blog, The Grass Minstrel. . Her tanka collection, moonlight on water (Skylark Publishing), appeared in 2016. She co-edited the Tanka Society of America’s 2016 Members’ Anthology, Ripples in the Sand, and was Reviews & Features Editor of Skylark: a Tanka Journal, for over five years.
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