Winter Poems

 

 

 

aa 1 bamboo fence snow

Poetry is a practice that I thoroughly enjoy, but one that I engage in far too infrequently. Similarly haphazard has been my collection of the “finished” pieces. They’ve wound up here, there, and everywhere. I guess I never thought of myself as having a deep enough trove to seriously consider their publication. Some have been offered up to various email groups over the years. Others have become buried in the deep scrolls of social media. A few have enjoyed publication in one blog post or another. Many others, however, exist only in handwritten form, stashed away in drawers and filing cabinets. Perhaps it’s some sense of mortality that has me gathering them all together at this point in time. At any rate, it’s winter, and an obvious theme has come to mind at this time for at least a small collection.

Embracing Winter

I wonder at my readiness for winter
As I step into darkness
Filled with the creaking of unseen branches overhead
And crunching ice beneath my feet.

Coldness caresses coldness…

When first light breaks,
I see yesterday’s snow
Nestled in the furrows
Of a cornfield that has taken leave.

Coldness nestles within coldness…

Here,
A black pond gazes up at the gray sky,
As if calmly recognizing an old friend.

There,
A broken barn door hangs open,
Welcoming the sunless morning.

Coldness welcomes coldness…

And I, too, feel myself begin to open
To the possibility
Of welcoming another winter,
And warming up
To coldness being coldness,
And being a sun for the world
On an otherwise sunless day.

 

wintercreek

Where Does Mind Reside?

I wonder if geese discuss their coming flight
to warmer climes —
Clucking amongst themselves
as they bed down,
Before concluding:
“Yes, tomorrow at dawn we rise.”
Or is it a surprise even to them,
When as one suddenly they lift up
And keep on going?

Where does mind reside?
Is it in our heads,
Or do we billions hold it
In the basket of our interwoven lives?
Or is even that too small?
Perhaps nothing less than the universe itself
Could be the dwelling place
Of even the faintest glimmer of mind…

And so the geese depart,
And my mind follows,
Growing bigger and bigger
As they circle the lake,
And finally disappear,
Leaving me gazing into emptiness.

 

geese on a lake at dusk c

Mind Is Held By Everything, and Holds All Things In Turn

Earth holds the gathered rain
That holds the ice upon its surface.
Ice holds the brightening sky,
And corn stubble ‘round its ragged edge.
Sky holds the rising sun,
And clouds that wander ‘neath its gaze.
Eye holds it all within its empty cup
From which the mind drinks in 10,000 things.

Crows In Two Dimensions

Black limbs of a lone, dead tree
Lose dimension against the flat gray wash of winter,
As do the wary crows perched upon them,
Looking left, then looking right.
Only their stark cries belie their apparent lack of worldly form.

Thousand Year Old Footsteps in the Snow

I step outside and watch the snow fall
From darkness into light.
The others have already gone
For dinner in the mess hall,
But the cold feels too good on my face
To not linger for awhile.

It felt good this morning, also,
After we’d rousted ourselves from slumber at 3:40
To sit straight-backed,
With palms together –
Facing our respective walls
By the time the teacher made his rounds at 4:05.
And after two hours of absolute and utter stillness
Overlaid with daydreams,
And sleepdreams,
And stomach-growling yearning for the bell,
And wondering if I’d make it through the day,
And wondering why the hell I’m doing what I’m doing,
I stumbled out into the pre-dawn blackness
To see a shining silver sickle of a moon,
And Jupiter,
And the black sky –
As black as anything can be.

Ah, but that was light years ago…
That was this morning.
And anything that is not right now might as well be light years away.
Oh, sure, I’ve glimpsed that absolute and utter stillness
A number of times throughout the day,
But this is why I do this:
So that I can step outside and see the world
With brand new eyes –
Eyes without a “me” to tell me what I’m seeing.

So I hobble though the snow
On my zazen-weary legs,
Leaving thousand year-old footprints in the snow.
And as far as what all this amounts to
Once these bones are in the ground,
And how the hell my sitting facing a wall
For over eleven hours a day
Can possibly make the world a better place…
Well, I kind of like to think of all of this
Zazen after zazen after zazen
As stitching together the pieces of a robe
To someday be worn
By my great-great-great-great
Granddaughter in the Dharma
As she steps outside into the night
To watch the snow fall
From darkness into light
Before gliding like a shadow to the mess hall
Leaving thousand year old footsteps in the snow.

 

snowy footsteps

Walking In The Snow

Walking in the snow is a meditation
That unfolds of its own accord.
If one must speak in terms of beginnings,
Then it begins with the closing of the door behind us.
And it ends when…, well…,
Who can say when it ends?

A closing door,
A garden fencerow –
A walk in the snow quickly leaves such things behind.
And what remains are memories
Of what we want,
And what we need.

A path to walk,
A place to sit –
These will not be as they once were.
But as the snowy walk continues
The nature that is us
Becomes the nature of that which is,
And new paths,
And new places for the mind to rest
Appear.

Snow-laden bamboo
Bends to earth,
And we receive its cool embrace.
A darkened hollow beneath a rock
Invites us in,
And mind accepts.

For mind is a deer
Walking nimbly.
And mind is a rabbit
Waiting in stillness.
And mind is a tree
Rooted in the heavens.
And mind is a bird
Peering into the circle of all the world.

The pine bough bends
Beneath the weight of so much snow.
It is our teacher.
Revealing to us how we can be –
Bending without breaking
Beneath the weight of all that is.

Such teachings abound during a snowy walk:
Revealing how to subtly color all the world
With precisely the required hue,
Showing how we might stand with all beings
With the entire measure of this Life force that is “ours”,
And whispering to us that in death is Life –
What a gloriously resounding whisper to be heard!

 

aa 7 pine bough snow

 

Embracing Winter © 2018 by Mark Robert Frank. This one first appeared on the Heartland Contemplative Facebook page.

Where Does Mind Reside? © 2018 & 2019 by Mark Robert Frank. This one first appeared untitled on the Heartland Contemplative Facebook page. I also added the last line before publishing it here.

Mind Is Held By Everything, and Holds All Things In Turn © 2019 by Mark Robert Frank. This one first appeared on the Heartland Contemplative Facebook page.

Crows In Two Dimensions © 1985 & 2019 by Mark Robert Frank. This one has been sitting in my vault unpublished for over thirty years!

Thousand Year Old Footsteps in the Snow © 2011 by Mark Robert Frank. This one bounced around in personal correspondence for a bit before appearing in my first blog, Crossing Nebraska, where you can find it here. Shortly thereafter, it appeared in Just This, a publication of the Austin Zen Center.

Walking In The Snow © 2014 by Mark Robert Frank. This one also appeared first in Crossing Nebraska, where you can find it here. It also appeared on the Sanshin Zen Community Facebook page.

 

Copyright 2019 by Mark Robert Frank
(except as noted)

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.

Calm Abiding

The weather is lousy outside, with sleet coating the roads, trees, and windows, and a foot of snow on the way. At least, that’s what I’ve been hearing on the local news – the foot of snow that is. The sleet I can see with my very own eyes. I can hear it, too, peppering the windows when the wind picks up, first from one side of the house and then the other. Like a child home from school on a snow day, I stand at the window surveying the backyard where everything is covered with white or dripping with ice. Absent is the usual activity of squirrels dutifully managing their stashes of nuts, rabbits hopping about tentatively as if they’ve only so much energy to spare, and starlings flitting en masse from lawn to tree to who knows where. They all seem to have simply disappeared. The squirrels I know are up there in their leafy nests, huddled together and swaying with the wind. And the rabbits are down in their unseen burrows, wonderfully insulated with grass and fur. The starlings are more of a mystery, though, at least to me. Apparently they’ve faded away into the nooks and crannies of the world – amongst the leaf litter that collects under the bushes, or in whatever other secluded hollow they might have found – there to patiently wait for the storm to pass.

snowy hollow

I think of them calmly abiding out there in the frigid cold, hunkered down in places that are growing quieter and quieter as the ice continues to accumulate. There is great wisdom in their abiding. I know that first hand now, but only after many years of living. There is great trust in their abiding, more trust than I can usually muster. Huddling in their chosen places, with whatever food they might have collected or none at all as the case may be, they abide with innate trust that the storm will eventually abate, and it will do so before their strength runs out. They know this because they are of this world, and so they fear not that the world might conjure up a storm too furious or long-lasting for them to survive. They know they simply have to abide. And so they wait, without any contingency planning, without any fretting or lamentation, and without any pining for the day when spring will come. They simply settle into calm abiding.

Those feelings are like the wind that roars outside while you’re safe and warm in the burrow of your breath.

Calm abiding isn’t easy for us humans to do. We’re so filled with ideas about what’s fair and what should be. We’re so used to setting our own agendas and deciding what is right for us. We’re so socialized to struggle with and fight against anything that we determine is not in our best interest. That’s what strong people do, right? They stick up for themselves. They make things happen the way they think things should happen. Yes, that’s the way we usually live our lives. Until, that is, we can’t. And that’s the part that we seem to forget.

I learned a lesson that I’ll not soon forgot while on a long and solitary bike ride across the West. “You’ll be tougher than boiled owl by the time you make it across Wyoming,” the old woman said while ringing up my can of soda and bag of chips somewhere in the middle of nowhere in between Shoshoni and Casper. Yeah, that’s right, I thought, rather enjoying the prospect of being tougher than boiled owl. I’d already pedaled over all of the mountains between there and the Pacific Ocean. And the hundred miles of “rattlesnake country” seemed to be going well so far. How bad could the Great Plains be?

post hollow

Ah, but it was only a couple of days later that I collapsed – dehydrated, exhausted, and on the verge of heatstroke. And as I recovered my wits in the welcome shade of a highway overpass, vowing to roll out my sleeping bag right then and there if I had to, I realized that what the old woman meant by being “tougher than boiled owl” wasn’t at all about any prideful sense of achievement. It was about learning to abide. You do what you can, and you do what you must, and above all else you learn to abide.

So, when the storms of life rage, when the cold settles in around you and the winds of annihilation howl, remember those rabbits and squirrels and starlings out there, calmly abiding one and all. Sure enough, listen to whatever anger and fear and bewilderment you might be feeling, but just keep breathing all the same. For those feelings are like the wind that roars outside while you’re safe and warm in the burrow of your breath. Breathe in and let it fill you up. Accept its gift with gratitude. Breathe out and trust that another will arrive to sustain you. For you are of this world, and the world still has a place for you. Breathe in and let if fill you up. Breathe out and settle into stillness. The storms of life may rage, but you are alive and calmly abiding.

 

Originally published on Crossing Nebraska in February, 2011.

Edited and updated January, 2019.

Copyright 2011, 2019 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.