STARS

Once the winter stars
wrapped in their cloudy shroud
shed frozen tears, unwilling
to come out of hiding.
We searched for them in vain,
knowing our failure,
retreating to the warmth
of home, only to repeat
the failed effort on so
many other nights.

Now, here, the winter stars
are usually fearless,
some drowned by the moon,
but she waxes and wanes
and they reappear, the brightest
never fearing the chilled sky.
We stare at them in wonder
having forgotten for so many
years just how beautiful
they can be in their glory.

CURFEW

We sat in the cramped kitchen
huddled around the stove
the open oven door spreading
a faint warmth that barely
slid through the winter chill.
The bare bulb in the ceiling
strained and flickered
fighting to hold as the generators
were shut down, and darkness
enveloped our small world.
The sky was lit by the flares
and the odor of exploding shells
seeped through the towel
sealed windows covered
in the tattered bedsheets
too thin to afford warmth.
Ibrahim had been gone two weeks
sneaking out of the city
to join his brothers in Gorazde
or Tuzla, or wherever it was
that they were struggling
to save what little was left.
We huddled under the small table
and dreamed of the taste
of fresh bread, or even pork.
In the morning he would run
among the craters in the streets
in search of the convoy
and the handouts, which we
would raven as the sun set
over our war torn hell.

First published in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. XXX, No. 1 & 2, 2006

QINGYUAN’S “COME CLOSER”

Walk slowly
through this bramble of words.
Do not allow yourself
to become tangled in them
though they will certainly try.
Tear out this page
burn it for faint warmth
or steep it into tea,
reduce it to simple fibers.
Then it will be
a poem
of some small worth.

A reflection on Case 10 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

UNKO SENDS CLOTHES 鐵笛倒吹 七十八

If I receive warm under robes
to ease my winter meditation
I will refuse them.
If you ask me why, I will say
I was born with such robes as I need.
If you ask what I wore before birth
I shall remain silent.

In the deepest winter
there is no chill
that can reach
the empty mind
for it is full of a warmth
that cannot be replaced
and one needs no shelter,
for ashes know no temperature.


A reflection on Case 78 of the Iron Flute Koans

APPROACHING WINTER

We are in the season of stasis
where nothing wants to move and nothing
should shed the mantle of snow
that has announced winter’s arrival
in terms we full understand, as do
the finches clinging to the feeder
casting nervous glances skyward.
The neighbor’s cat has decided
that the remote chance of catching
a bird or squirrel is easily outweighed
by the warmth of the house, and even
the dogs down the block have found
their own lawns much more to their liking.
We know our feet will thaw
after our morning walks, but suspect
this may happen only with the Spring
that seems impossibly far away, and so
we imagine ourselves bulbs, clinging
to what warmth the earth offers
knowing the bloom has infinite patience.