Drinking, Under a Blue Moon, From a Cup That Is Already Broken (Tritina)

Summer Night, Albert Bloch, 1913

Drinking, Under a Blue Moon, From a Cup That Is Already Broken

I think of the Buddha, who, when his mother
lost a child, assuaged her grief with the promise
that a seed from a home that has not known mourning–

just a mustard seed–I can get one this morning,
the mother cried
–could bring life, with all its promise,
back. Lest the child grow cold, the mother,

feet made fleet, spine steeled, with anxious promise,
rushed from house to house  – have you known mourning?
Known death? 
All had mustard seeds – but the mother–

the mother learned then–the promise–of each new morning.


Explanatory note – this is based on a Buddhist tale of the Buddha (coming back after acquiring Buddha-hood) to visit his family at the time his mother lost a young child.  He told her that the child could be brought back to life by a mustard seed coming from a house that had not known death.  The mother could find plenty of mustard seeds – a common spice in India – but no house that had not known death.  This then brought her to some understanding of the universality of suffering, and that, in turn, helped her to accept her grief.  (Yes, it’s a bit hard-hearted; not made for Hollywood.)

Also – the saying “the cup you are drinking from is already broken” refers to the fact that everything comes to an end; that its end is incipient in its beginning.  In other words – the cup is destined to be broken, not that it is actually already chipped.   (That is, unless you’ve taken it from my cupboard.)   

The poem is a tritina – a mini-sestina, that rotates around certain end words, and tries to follow a consistent meter.   I have put in the dashes to slow down the reading of the last line – they don’t really have grammatical significance. 

I am posting this for Tess Kincaid’s Magpie Tales, where Tess posts a photographic prompt each week. 

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34 Comments on “Drinking, Under a Blue Moon, From a Cup That Is Already Broken (Tritina)”

  1. Grace Says:

    Lovely form K ~ I like the meaning of mustard seed, death and significance of each morning ~ Your notes are very helpful, including the power of the dash ~

  2. hedgewitch Says:

    I like the way the meanings of the end-word sounds work, K. They help carry the sense of urgency, like a repetition that is not a repetition…and the parable core of the poem folds into the search–which of course, is the solution, not the seed. Good luck with your project–mine is a writing project which I’ve neglected in order to do laundry and clean house and spray weedkiller, and… and…work on a different poem, etc. So you see how that goes. ;_) But tomorrow is another day, very fortunately.

  3. Makes so much sense to me. As I tell my teen, death is inevitable, no-one can escape it so why fear it, because its truth is that from the moment of our birth, we are born to die, it’s just a question of how we fill the time between it that matters most of all. I love the lesson he tried to teach the mother, I too would doubt there isn’t many houses that haven’t known death.
    Really enjoyed this K.

  4. brian miller Says:

    hey here it is…and very cooly played to the form….cool tale as well…and i kow what she learned that day as well….death has touched us all…..great story telling k

  5. Ritva Says:


  6. Mama Zen Says:

    This is absolutely exquisite.

  7. Such a great play with mourning and morning…… A definite signature of the poet in this form! And the new morning might bring the promise of the elusive mustard seed…. Miss Manic, the following words are absolutely musical and I am just floored by the symphonic wave that tore through me as I read them:

    “feet made fleet, spine steeled, with anxious promise”

    I have not seen such conscious, thoughtful assonance coming from a contemporary poet in a very, very long time….. This poem is entirely beautiful and incredibly thoughtful…

  8. JInksy Says:

    Cups destined to be broken? Hm…goes with the territory…

  9. kaykuala Says:

    This is fascinating K! Yes, drinking from a cup already broken conjures many things. But your explanation provides the right tonic in appreciating the story. Brilliantly done!


  10. janehewey Says:

    mourning and morning work wonderfully. this poem is so fluent, I’d no idea of the form until I read your descriptives. I enjoy the Buddha story of the mustard seed and the cup. Compassion is salve for the human condition.

  11. David King Says:

    What a fascinating narrative you managed from the image. I’m bowled over by it.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Dave – it’s not my story, of course, but one I’ve read before and have thought about for some time, so I was glad to find an opportunity to squeeze it into something. And after doing tritina last week was thinking about words that might work in one of those forms. I think it’s helpful in this kind of poem -sestina too- to have words that are homophones so that you can spice up the lines a bit. k.

  12. Helen Says:

    Incredible! A form most difficult, you mastered it!!

  13. Berowne Says:

    Fascinating; I learned something…

  14. What a lovely story of the Buddha, true and compassionate. And your poem shows the urgency of the mother and of course her deep learning. I found this rich and moving and comforting.

  15. jenneandrews Says:

    This is a stunning poem, Karin– you bring this story to life in your inimitable fashion– xxxj

  16. Fascinating topic to conquer, especially as a tritina. I tried this format last week, and found it quite challenging. You have done well to take this intriguing topic and combine with difficult format and have it turn out so well. Nicely penned!

  17. Wayne Says:

    well done indeed….thanks for sharing your words

  18. I’ve read many stories of the Buddha, and have had the chance to re-interpret them in poetry as well; but your interpretation is the first time I’ve heard this specific story, and what a wonderful way to encounter it, especially in the way you’ve re-cast it as a tritina. Every note in this rings true, every assonance, every rhyme, up to the concluding homophone. Well done.

  19. Karen S. Says:

    What an interesting and delightful form of poetry and still be wise and useful, besides good to read!

  20. Linda Fraser Says:

    Your brilliantly crafted work contains such a life lesson on grief, Karen. Visits with friends helps with acceptance on so many levels. Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge from Buddha, =D

  21. Tess Kincaid Says:

    Elegant, spiritual write…loved this one, K…

  22. Dick Jones Says:

    Beautiful – style and content in perfect balance.

  23. Kutamun Says:

    Great image, Manic, the horn of plenty is sometimes empty , or bitter, yet it seems it must still be drunk , every drop, thanks

  24. Little Nell Says:

    I enjoyed this, it had a lovely rhythm. I’ve also learned about a tritina and a story of Buddah. All this from a visit to your blog!

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