dawn among the vicuna – 16 tanka

The tanka is a five-line Japanese poetry form from which the haiku was derived.   A tanka is 31 syllables arranged in five lines: 5-7-5-7-7.   [Haiku = first three lines of that, 5-7-5.]  I have written many tanka, and have, in particular, combined tanka with photographs elsewhere.   Thus during this Peruvian journey I slipped into that mode on occasion.


To the vicuna,
after long, cold mountain nights,
dawn’s a mystery.
he leaps, then stares in wonder,
as I stare in awe at him. 


Above the steep cliff.

burros munch grass. Clouds drift past
below them. Inside,
kids’ eyes, bright in the dim light,
point us toward the next world. 
at the pass
Surrounded by sheep,
pretty in pink, la nina
pays no attention
to sunset or shadows, but
her childhood is magical.


Clouds cling to the peaks
like that child to her mother
on their patient horse.

They have ridden from their farm, 

which wires and roads do not reach.










In the high mountains, 

purity not found in life.

it must be a dream!
No one is here to wake us.
Or were the cities the dreams?












Silent brown village,

high green hills, children’s laughter, 

Sra. Delgado - San Antonio del Rio Mayo

Lazy animals . . . 
Knowing each face in each home
comforts, but is not enough.

the village market 

fills with motion, sounds, and scents
– and a mother’s love.
her hands quickly fill orders,
make change. Her eyes do not move. 






















those eyes! You behave

– but not from fear. Just because
those eyes protect you
with love and faith and patience.
To ease sorrows she denies.
Teresa and son
gossip and giggles. 
why should you be in a rush
to take our pictures?
we have chattered here for years
and still have years left to say.






sm-08-8158-taquile-initial-archsm-08-8153-taquile-long-view-down-to-harborsm-08-8162-taquile-steps-near-topFive hundred stone steps.

This old man never hurries,
always he’s smiling.
Ask why, he shrugs. “Top, bottom,
any step, I am still me.” 


Like an awkward child,
the vicuna sits, listens,
watches her bright eyes
– as if she were telling him
long-ago tales of magic.

Turquoise mountain lake.

Sun striking white peaks, bright clouds  

hugging them softly.
I should return here to die:
my final view of this world.






Racing home, the sheep
kick up dust the setting sun
turns to an aura.
Thinking of boys or schoolwork,

a mythical shepherdess! 



Passion like the sea
is full of powerful waves
that crash and roar
then ebb all too rapidly
into the sea’s great stillness.




Late afternoon light

fills the scene with extra life;

children laugh and scream, 

desperate to keep the day

from ending; as do we all.



the blinding river

flows past our thin silhouettes

in afternoon sun.

dance of boyhood, dance of life,

it is ours for the moment.









Centuries have cleaned
from our bones all that we were.
Each skull’s smooth baldness
is like another’s – yet you
imagine you are unique?









8 responses to “dawn among the vicuna – 16 tanka

  1. I like your combination of Tanka and photographs. They give you a great visual and mental picture of what you are trying to communicate.

    You have kept strictly to the rules of the English tanka of replacing the 31-kana or letters of Japanese with 31 syllables in English (or other languages i guess).

    My recent reading of Takuboku Ishikawa, a pauper poet of the early 20th century in Japan has taught me we can be more flexible when interpreting the syllabic rules because 31 syllables gives us greater scope for expression than 31-kana or letters in Japanese.

    For me the best parts of Tanka, and yours included, are when they are personal. We can create artificial beauty throughout but the personal parts are the most pleasing.

  2. Peter:

    Thank you for sharing these spectacular shots of Peru. I particularly like the turquoise lake . . .


  3. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  4. Hi ! ^_^
    My name is Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    Sorry for my bad english:)

    • Thanks!
      Your English is fine! Sometimes finishing this blog seems more like work! I started the blog both as a useful site for people wandering the same back roads and to keep friends and family up-to-date on the trip. Wandering around Peru for more than six month was such a delight that I had to do something with all the photographs and experiences, so the blog’s it — unless and until I can interest someone in publishing a book!

  5. Peter
    I am gladdened and astonished with being able to share in this hidden part of you that I was not aware. This is not just a white guys vacation to Peru, this is the poet aware of the poem that is his life and his awareness of his connection to all that is. I had tears in my eyes by the time I reached the turquoise mountain lake, this is powerful medicine whose time has come to share, expand and touch many many more hearts! Congratulations to you for this and to your new marriage to Dael!
    Many blessings, Staci

  6. Beautiful photography.

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