TODAI-JI

The snow capped mountain
stares at the December sky
shredding laughing clouds.
I sit by the fire dreaming
of the slow approach of spring.

There is a moment
when all is only silence
the zendo in stillness.
In that moment I can hear
the entirety of Dharma

The temple bell tolls,
the deer assume their posture,
afternoon zazen,
I walk around Todai-ji
in futile search of Buddha.

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.

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.

A CAPPING VERSE

Snow always seemed so right
capping the summit of Fujiyama,
not dulled by the windows
of the Shinkansen to Osaka.

You barely noticed the rice fields
fanning out from its base
wanted to reach out and touch it
for that is what you do with icons.

Mount Hood had the same effect
but the chill along the Willamette
urged you to retreat quickly back
to the wine bar for a Cabernet.

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

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.

INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY

It is easier to think about death
on a wintery evening, when so much
of life slips into stasis, and there is
nothing to do but concede your mortality,
and with good fortune, then slip
into sleep before being lost
in a sea of depression.

I must be thankful for my dreams
for they keep the night from becoming
the little death of the ancient philosophers,
and on awakening in the morning,
the mantle of snow that has painted
the world in a glittering white, does
not demand the shovel as yet, but
celebrates the world’s rebirth,
and with a nod to the sun, my own.

THE PROMISE

The moon has gone past full
and as waning as I write,
it’s slow retreat hopefully taking with it
the burden of winter, that we now
must measure in feet, the inches
having been heaved up, one upon another.
Spring will come soon
for a taste of it, for spring
is an inveterate tease, preferring
to appear only long enough
to let the melting snows
floor around, and to occasionally
into our homes, so that we,
maps and markets in hand,
pause to dream of the summer
which we now doubt will ever appear.