Eileen R. Tabios writes: About a year ago, I visited Japan and had the chance to visit Nijō Castle, one of 17 “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” and first constructed in the early 1600s. As we toured the flatland castle, the guide drew our attention to the creaking floors, noting that the sound which mimicked nightingale bird sounds was actually an alarm for alerting inhabitants that someone(s) was approaching. That was the first time I thought of nightingales as not just lovely, benign creatures and the thought made me write this poem. The form is “hay(na)ku,” my invented tercet of the first line being one word, second line being two, and third line being three words. Variations are allowed to the form, and this poem uses “reverse hayna)ku” where the word count is reversed. I reversed the word count to 3-2-1 to symbolize diminishment, as in life diminishment, because the poem is also from my series “Hay(na)ku Death Poems.” The series was inspired by the death poem genre developed in East Asian cultures. “Death poems” reflect on death but also often include an observation about life, e.g. how to live.

This poem is in my book The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets:1996-2019 (Marsh Hawk Press, 2019). The book came out this past December and, pre-Covid-19, we were scheduled to launch it in May at New York’s Poets House. Had I read this poem during the launch, perhaps I first would have played the sounds of nightingales, of which samples you can hear at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdlIbNrki5o

Eileen R. Tabios

I’ve always felt 
Beauty can 

death, even before 
I discovered 

floors at Nijo-jo 
Castle chirping 

against Ninja assassins 
solidifying the

The nightingale does 
not always 

as if perched
on branches

pink blossoms on
wet gray

“For prosperity, let
all senses

this old woman
cackles with

Eileen R. Tabios’ books, including The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku, are available through Small Press Distribution: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780996991162/the-intervention-of-the-haynaku-selected-tercets-19962019.aspx as well as Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-in-ter-vention-of-the-hay-na-ku-selected-tercets-1996-2019/9780996991162 Review copies are available by request through https://marshhawkpress.org/contact/
ERT: My new dog “Nova” who we are adopting this month specifically because the Covid-19 lockdown gave my family a window to take on and transition a new dog :)