JANUARY

It is an odd feeling, in the middle
of January, to no longer consider
becoming a bear, choosing
to hibernate until Spring arrives
demanding an awakening.

I did that for years, never
grew the heavy fur coat needed
and wasn’t much for digging dens
in the snow, so I sat inside
and dreamed of bearishness.

Living now among the birds
where we shiver when it is
in the 40’s, and I sweat and
complain when it is 90, I try
occasionally to remember

once wanting
to become
a bear.

THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

CHANGES

The finches are struggling
this morning, searching the lawn
for the odd clover seed that’s yet 
to be reduced to dust by a summer
where the rain has painted
our world with a palette 
of parchment, ochre, leaving us
wandering an increasingly sepia world. 

We know that the rains will come 
again, that nature’s green will 
return, however briefly, before
winter encases us all in its white
mantle that we pierce at our risk.

The finches and wrens know,
or simply care nothing of this
and go on with their search, until
the approach of the cat brings
their effort to a sudden end.The finches and wrens know,
or simply care nothing of this
and go on with their search, until
the approach of the cat brings
their effort to a sudden end.

HAKUUN’S BLACK AND WHITE 鐵笛倒吹 十四

Like Hakuun
shun the city,
flee the towns
and find a home
in the forest only
in the deepest part
of winter, but
do not shun people
in your solitude.

Write verses
of total silence
and dig deeply into
newly fallen snow.
Let it drift over you
until you black hair
is all that appears
on an endless field of white.

A reflection on case 14 of the Iron Flute Koans

TAIGEN FANS HIMSELF 正法眼蔵 三十二

When a leaf leaves the tree
it falls precisely where it should.
When a flower petal is carried
off on a strong wind it
comes to rest in the proper place.
When you smell the sweet aroma
of next summer’s roses
use the nose you had
before your parents were born.

A reflection on case 32 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye) Koans

WINTER

As I stare out the window and watch
the snow slowly build on the limbs
of the now barren crab apple, painting
it with a whiteness that bears heavily,
giving the smaller branches a better
view of the ground in which their
fruit of the summer lies buried.

I am forced to wonder if the tree
continues to watch me, if its vision
is clouded by the snowy blanket
in which it wraps itself this day,
and if it does, what must it think
of someone so sedentary when it,
bearing its winter burden can still
dance gently in the morning wind.

THIS YEAR I

It is a day set aside for resolutions
although there is no reason
you cannot make a resolution
any day of your choosing.

Perhaps it is a day for those
resolutions you might not
otherwise make, the bold
or daunting, more likely a day
for the resolutions you know
you will abandon as too hard
or simply utterly impractical.

This year I have resolved not
to engage in the annual ritual,
the annual farce more accurately,
and will achieve a long-held goal
of conceding failure early,
in a new year that will afford
myriad chances to come up short.

And there is a hidden blessing
in my newfound resolve
to swear off resolutions, so
take that old Epimenides.