Tag Archives: aging

spring fragment

the afternoon sun is strong
even though apple blossoms are weeks away
and only slightest hints of early-green
appear on the knoll horizon

smoke drifts from the pile of collected brush
as my father points out streaks of grey
in the stubble on my cheek

i always wonder if there is more to come

Rudbeckia

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the rudbeckia aren’t usually still in bloom,
so close to my birthday,
and even these are brittle –
but in the patch near the small gravel pile,
perhaps sheltered by the overgrown viburnum,

a few stragglers remain.

if I’d noticed them last year I might have arranged
one more vase
and placed it by her bedside,
so she could have turned her head
and thought to herself,
how I love those black-eyed susans.

 

I Peel an Orange

Our home is a pale shade of blue,
one you might find looking west in the spring
minutes after sunrise,
or in a robin’s egg whose green tints
have been replaced by gentle grays.

It was once a deep red,
more readily apparent in recent years
from the street-facing, sun-bleached southern side,
where spots of peeling and chipping have grown
past neighborly size,

reflecting the same inertia
that has kept me from replacing
the almost imperceptibly dripping basement pipe.

I peel an orange –
the fruit itself is disappointing and dry;

my son pushes the lawnmower
back and forth across the lawn,
glancing to me each time he makes a turn.

It’s the first time I’ve stood back so far.

Cardboard Box

I’m finally looking into the cardboard box
I brought home from my mother’s house
late last month;

The clementines she insisted I take and perched on top
have long since been eaten;
it’s been otherwise untouched
sitting in the corner of the yellow room.

Two pairs of my infant pajamas —
The yellow corduroy with the embroidered lion;
the faded white and green night dress.
She had remarked on the drawstring
she had sewn into the bottom,
how it was still there,
and the fold-over sleeves to keep me from scratching myself
as I slept in my crib.

My white shoes, too —
laces gone,
but still with their impossibly stiff soles;
my grandmother’s blue-and-white Canton ware,
wrapped in the 1975 Daily News
from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

That night,
just before I left,
we sat on the basement couch flipping through
faded Kodak prints, square with rounded corners,
(most taken before we moved into the house on the hill).

We paused at one where I wore that night dress,
standing with my sister
in the deep darkness of an evening east window.
There were others, too, from that forty-years-ago,
and she told me again about each one.

We had such fun, she said,
such fun.

Before the Snow Arrives

A poem hasn’t completed me
since last season;

I bring an occasional one
to the finish –
so I don’t forget
how many lines are in a stanza,
or to remind myself
the weight of my pencil.

I have to get the leaves moved;

the ones scattered
withered
across the lawn

I have to get them moved
before the snow arrives.

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birthdays, too,
hold misunderstood questions
alongside bright smile greetings.

at the end of the day,
I stayed late at the Temple
to water Roshi’s flowers.

oceans of bright clouds,
oceans of solemn clouds.

The final couplet comes from the words of Dogen in our school’s translation of the Ninth Precept.

Forty-Something this Summer

It’s supposed to be raining this morning,
but I awake without the sound
of small drops trickling from maple leaves or
spattering the old tin roof
outside our bedroom window –

either would have muffled the clinking of
spoons against the edges of
glass cereal bowls that
filters up from downstairs.

Yet well past the hour when
I often find myself alone,
you are still beside me,
only breathing;

I watch your breasts rise and fall
under the softness of your light blue camisole,
its narrow strap rising over your left shoulder
into a blur of light from the south window.

Your birthday is two days from now –
early forty-something this summer –
I should get up and settle the children’s argument,
plan for a gift.

Spiderman Pajamas

Standing at their top
in the old house on the hill,
it seemed a long way down
the steepness of the dimly lit stairs.

From below in the kitchen,
you called my spiderman pajamas
superman.
I thought to correct you —

but even at nine,
I knew it didn’t matter.

Driving to work this morning,
it was even more remote
from the concerns of this day
or the decades in between.

Yet there we were,
among the forsythia
and apple blossoms
in the brightness of spring.

There’s a much more involved prose piece in here; but for Mother’s Day, this is the essence.

Does a Stone Have Buddha Nature?

My kids don’t often come with me to the Temple. Given its significance in my life, I often regret that the place and its people feel a bit foreign to them. Yet they looked comfortable as I watched them run ahead of me down the old brick path on the grounds early this afternoon. I would have expected an impulse to quiet or calm them, but it never arose. I caught up and we walked the twisting path together.

We were there so that I could install a piece of stone sculpture that I had done for an upcoming art exhibit. The rain was falling softly on a day that felt too chilly for late April, which made the early green of the spring seem even deeper and richer.

Working in stone is a new creative endeavor. For the last year, there have been piles of it lying across the ground in front of our barn as I have constructed a stone wall along one side of our property. As I shaped a few pieces for the wall with a chisel and point last summer, it occurred to me that perhaps I should shape a piece for something more than utility.

I began to carve a bowl out of a large piece of granite that had an almost glass-flat top. With everything I have felt the need to accomplish, there was really no cause for taking up a project with such a long timeline and that would result in, well, still having a rock sitting on the ground.

Often, as I coaxed out small pieces of stone, the bowl didn’t seem to get any bigger. Perhaps for a moment it would, as a chip or flake flew, but then the shallowness of the bowl would predominate in my attention. I worried that even if I were able to approximate the right shape, I wouldn’t know how to finish the job, know how to smooth the inside to match the image in my mind of how it should be.

Yet I kept working well into autumn. When winter approached and snow began to fall, I rigged up a small sled out of an old barrel cover in order to slide the stone into the barn; it is too heavy to simply lift and move. While I moved it because I had intentions of continuing to work the stone during winter, it sat in the barn mostly idle, between the chicken coop and the kids’ bikes stored for the winter.

I passed by it often and began to wonder if it would always sit there, unfinished.

The first time I tried to pull it out of the barn this spring, I used the same sled on which it had moved across ice and packed snow in the late fall. On the dry barn floor, though, there was too much friction, and the sled only tipped up as I pulled on the rope, sending me backwards to fall hard on a body that has been feeling suddenly older.

As I looked up from the floor, the stone simply sat – and I began to realize that that is what it does. It accepted my dissatisfaction and sat with me.

Days later, when I did manage to move it out of the barn into a pale but warming spring sun, it sat with me there, too, reflecting my growing acceptance that the bowl might never be exactly what I expected.

Sitting outdoors in a hard spring rain, the emerging bowl filled with water and overflowed. A small stick blown by a blustery wind came to rest in the bowl, and the stone didn’t question its arrival.

It listened as my daughter and talked about what I might do next to shape it, or how on earth I was planning to move it, and received them.

It sat still yesterday as I alternated sandpaper, water, and a blowtorch across its surface, and allowed me the space to work without knowing the effect of my efforts.

The stone became my teacher.

Its Buddha nature is clear and bright. For what else is our Buddha nature, but our receiving and reflecting of what the universe has to offer?

Right now, it sits at the edge of a path at the Temple, in the company of wet ground and early-spring growth. Drips from the trees above are falling into its bowl, and it is welcoming each of them. When the sun rises, it will receive that light and grow warm.

As we left the installation, I wondered aloud to my youngest as he shivered why he didn’t put up his hood. My children argued gently about who would have the chance to roll the dolly (which had carried the stone to its resting place) back up the brick path, and I introduced them all to a beloved sangha mate.

“You’ve got your whole crew here, huh?” he said, eyes bright and laughing as we hugged.

“I do,” I responded as my children and I walked back through the rain to head for home.

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Sitting and receiving on the Temple grounds

I Walked in the Woods Today

I walked in the woods today
far under scattered clouds —
though it didn’t make me a boy again.

No dog by my side
circling ahead and back,
no sense of wonder at where I might emerge.

Patches of snow from an indecisive December
lay astride the path and filled in hollows.

Straining for the distant sound
of my mother’s voice
calling me in from play,
I heard only birds calling.

Nearly a month from moment to paper, when everything but renunciation seems a struggle.