I stopped remembering my dreams years ago
as they starved themselves into transparency—
like Claude Raines in The Invisible Man, once
he stripteased bandages and clothes and threw
table and chairs around to show he was there—
oxygen molecules as alarm bells, pitched true.
Wind spins a fig’s dry, yellowing leaves
into spokes inside a black carriage wheel,
pining as if longing for another autumn—
their whisper of bone ringed in iron tires,
set to hooves’ rhythm, harnesses’ squeak
and gravel humming its fractured refrain.
Crows perched to watch one another’s backs
along yellow pilings and white corrugated tin,
watching the ocean, watching the bike path—
as if the ocean could come from any direction,
as if they were inclined to choose a direction—
paint peeling from wood as if waves, wavering.
steel rails hum
dirge to the sky
—“steel rails hum” published previously in Cherita Poets on
Site (Facebook, 20 June 2021)
In July, I was thrilled when Jonathan Yungkans sent me a batch of poems to consider,
comprising the ekphrastic “Woodcuts” (which appears here in MacQ-9) and
several cherita (four of which you see above). In my thank-you reply, I had included
this cheeky—and unsolicited—opinion about the micro-poems:
I kinda think only one of them may qualify as cherita, “steel rails
hum.” The other[s] seem to have too much meat on their bones, so to speak.
As I understand it, cherita, like haiku, senryu, and tanka, are concise and
BUT, I’m still learning about Japanese short-forms and their Western variants.
The cherita is fairly new to me...[having first learned of it in 2017]...so I’m
no expert just yet.
And I invited Jonathan’s thoughts in return. To my delight, he graciously
went above and beyond by expending time and effort to respond with the following
thoughtful letter-essay. Glad to say, my perspective has been expanded!
I can understand the emphasis on cherita which are concise and distilled. At the same
time, does this emphasis preclude the potential for thematic interplay among the
form’s three stanzas? Such a working-out of interrelationships potentially means
dense poems. For this density, I am guilty as charged. (Maybe that also makes some of
my cadralore a relative chore for readers, or at least not easy going.)
When I pulled together most of the cherita in the latest batch, I was trying to follow
guidelines that ai li supplies on thecherita.com:
Cherita is the Malay word for story or tale. A cherita consists of a single stanza
of a one-line verse, followed by a two-line verse, and then finishing with a three-line
verse. It can be written solo or with up to three partners.
The cherita tells a story. It was created by ai li on 22 June 1997 in memory of her
grandparents who were raconteurs extraordinaire. It was also inspired by Larry
Kimmel’s sensitive recognition of a shorter form contained within the
opening three-verse stanza of ai li’s LUNENGA, which had been created on
27 May 1997.
I was focusing largely on narrative potential, letting musical qualities of the
language essentially fend for themselves. Maybe that is where I erred—in emphasis
on story over image, multiplicity over singularity—and if I did err, the works
are six-line poems, not cherita. This generalizing would be like readers of my cadralor
“Morro Bay” calling it a haiku sequence. To me, those
stanzas are not haiku. They are three-line poems that resemble haiku. (Writing
“Morro,” by the way, was also the only time I wrote anything close to
haiku without becoming self-conscious. Maybe that was because their being haiku
didn’t enter my mind.)
Again, from ai li:
Storytelling is about healing the heart and mind.
It enables us to remember and not forget those who went before us, and also of those
who loved or hurt us with their words and deeds. The recording, both oral and written,
and sharing of stories is age-old. When we start to write, we bring to life the lost
words of yesterday—from just a few moments ago to the time of our ancestors
huddled around a roaring fire in some smoky cave of all our
The process of storytelling—and with it the process of diagnosis and potential
healing—reminds me strongly of what Los Angeles poet Kate Braverman calls
“poetry of exploration.” This avenue deals “with what the poet does
not yet know...shining a flashlight into the pitch black,” which “has the
advantage of stumbling on the brilliant connections that make us human.”* The
story is told as the storyteller discovers its twists and turns for himself or herself.
This axiom has driven much of my work for some time. It also might be something upon
which I fell back too firmly for the cherita form to take. This confession comes from
a writer who thinks poet Robert Creeley’s motto, “Form is never more than
an extension of content,” is one of the greatest things since sliced
bread. As Bugs Bunny phrases it, “Maybe I should have taken
that left turn at Albuquerque.”
Quotations by Kate Braverman are from Cameos: 12 Small Press Women Poets,
edited by Felice Newman (The Crossing Press, 1978), p. 41.
—Commentary by Jonathan Yungkans is from email correspondence with
Clare MacQueen in July 2021, and appears here with his permission.
is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State
University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review,
Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, Gleam: Journal of the Cadralor,
MacQueen’s Quinterly, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook,
Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was
published in February 2021 by Tebor Bach.
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