Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Jigsaw Puzzle Tanka

the pieces
of his jigsaw puzzle
litter the floor . . .
winter moonlight slipping
through the hospice window

Tanka First Place, 2015 San Francisco International Competition, Haiku, Senryu and Tanka

Judge's Comment by Margaret Chula: A poignant scene, beautifully rendered without overstatement or sentimentality. Beginning with the first line (“the pieces”), this tanka is about separation. A jigsaw puzzle serves as the perfect metaphor for how we organize things in our minds to have them make sense. But, for this man, deterioration has set in, both physical and mental. Things don’t fit together anymore. The verb “litter” is an excellent choice to illustrate how pieces are scattered like trash with no organization or purpose. Both the puzzle and the man have come apart. The brilliance of this tanka is that the reader does not know that it takes place in a hospice until the final line. In the first three lines, we can easily imagine a child scattering puzzle pieces on the floor—eliciting an entirely different emotional response. Strong verbs with multiple meanings add an emotional resonance. “Slipping” can be interpreted as “slipping away,” which is what happens in hospice. And yet there is hope here, too, with the moonlight suggesting a moment of lucidity.