Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Gratitude and poetic riffs: 5 tanka poems from Joël Tan

Joel Tan
Enlarge Icon
Alabastro Photography

Each day during the month of April, KUOW is highlighting the work of Seattle-based poets for National Poetry Month. In this series curated by Seattle Civic Poet and Ten Thousand Things host Shin Yu Pai, you'll find a selection of poems for the mind, heart, senses, and soul.


very day, Joël Barraquiel Tan posts a 5-line tanka poem to his Instagram. Approaching poetry as a daily practice that intermingles with mindfulness, gratitude, and joy, Tan's short poetic riffs give insight into the poet's perspective and his care for the world.

Joël Barraquiel Tan (siya/he/him) is the Executive Director at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. He is the author of "Type O Negative" (Red Hen), and various works on identity, AIDS, and queer politics appear in academic and commercial venues. Joël co-founded L.A.'s Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team Health Center and was the Director of Community Engagement at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from 2004 to 2015. Before coming to the Wing Luke Museum, he lived in Hawai'i Island and served as Touching the Earth's Director of Social Impact.

Leave home to come home
there’s a porch light on for you
adventure forward
no leaving just becoming
again, a gain, + again.


this is all a dream
time & place are illusions
yet it feels so real.
cherish doves as well as wolves
every creature is holy.


my hearing's changing
like listening to the sea
spoken word drifting
away from meaning's anchor
to the feeling of what is.


got 2 birds squawking
'life is joy' + 'life is crap'
which to listen to?
neither! why listen to birds?!
relish your grounded silence.


a deeper truth runs
underneath these daily poems
it’s not the meaning
we assign our life stories
it’s our patterns, our heart’s beat.

Why you can trust KUOW