birdsong

we recently lost a friend to cancer, a death that prompted a number of close-to-the-bone poems for me. some so close that I don’t feel like I can share them without causing pain to her family. perhaps this, about a dinner we shared with her husband along the way, might touch on it without going too far…

 

raptor

 

he should get out some, she said, but how?

out of what? into what? knowing as we do

 

that her disease

is consuming their lives together.

 

that she’s at home slowly dying

while we sit here, sharing a meal.

 

we spend the evening speaking of birds

of the intelligence of crows.

 

of how she would watch the eagles

over the lake hunting the ducks.

 

of how she always sided with the ducks

though they rarely survived the attack.

 

of how birdsong at morning

differs profoundly from the songs of evening.

 

of how darkness seems to swoop down

and swallow the final notes.

 

of how in the deepest dark of night

countless birds are said to pass overhead

 

through the highest of heavens,

following the ancient ways north, and then south

 

and then north again. of how this migration

of souls passes completely unseen.

 

of how, in the end, there is so very much

that each of us must ultimately take on faith.

 

 

© 2018 jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com

 

 

treat ’em like a dog…

happydog.5.31 (1)

 

About five years ago, I needed a dog. We’d just lost our beloved golden retriever, Abby, to cancer and I was lonely. My wife was out of town, so I stopped by the local pet rescue place to check out any puppies they might have. As karma would have it, they only had one puppy left, a seriously shy black pup who was hiding at the back of the puppy pen, trying very hard to avoid any eye contact with humans. I asked the woman at the front desk what the story was with this guy, and she said that he and two litter mates had been rescued from a “kill shelter” downstate a couple of days earlier (they’d been 12 hrs. from the gas chamber at the time.) His brother and sister had already been adopted and this little guy was left behind, mainly, she thought, because he was so shy.

 

I got down on the floor and picked him up. He wasn’t crazy about the idea and looked away from me the whole time as I tried to give him a scratch. Not exactly the golden retriever “lean”  I’d come to expect from a dog after 30 yrs. of goldens. I was bothered by this, but like I said, I needed a dog, so I told the woman at the counter that I’d take him. He wasn’t a golden, I’d never had a black dog, and I hadn’t had a male dog since high school. What could go wrong?

 

They thought he was about eight weeks old, a Labrador-border collie mix (wrong- he’s lab for sure, but also pitbull and pointer and…) Like I said, my wife was out of town, so it was just the two of us for several days. He was scared and I was sleepless, having forgotten how often a puppy needs to go “out.” Many was the time we looked at each other and asked- who’s bright idea was this?

 

I could have returned him- the rescue folks would take him back anytime up to three days post-adoption. But for some reason, I decided we’d hang on and see what we might work out. Picking up on his readiness to play and hike anytime night or day, I named him Jackson after the cartoon character from my childhood- “Action Jackson.”

 

Well, as I said, we’ve been together for over five years now. I can say without reservation that he’s the finest dog I’ve ever known. He’s smart, gentle, athletic and, in his own individual way, very affectionate. In the days, weeks and months after he came to live with us, Jack set about training us in how he wants to be loved. He still isn’t big on “cuddling,” or on direct eye contact, and please don’t reach toward his face to scratch his head. But if you’ll let him hold a ball while you’re petting him, he loves the “carwash” (scratching both sides as he slides between your legs), loves a belly rub on a sunny afternoon, and would absolutely accept an invitation onto the bed at night, though he always jumps off when its time to sleep.

 

In short, we couldn’t make him something he isn’t. He’ll never be a golden retriever. But he’s been patient with us, and over time, we’ve come to understand who he is and how to respect that. I was thinking about this history over Christmas this year as my kids, friends and family gathered in our home to celebrate the holiday. Inevitably, a human behavior laboratory like this can create frictions and irritations. No one, it seems, behaves as we’d like them to. Especially for family members and children, if they’d just listen and maybe take a hint, things would go so much better, no?    No

 

Why can’t I treat my sons, for example, as I’ve come to treat Jack? Why can’t I tune into how they want to be loved and do my best to give them that? Why, in other words, can’t I just treat my kids as well as my dog? I remember stories of students meeting with the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala. They say that CTR always spoke directly the basic goodness in everyone, not to their superficial neuroses. Maybe this “like a dog” thing is similar. My projections for Jack didn’t fit, and he shook them off, well, like a dog shakes off water. So I dropped the projection and began to see the real black dog in front of me. Suffering was reduced; love grew.

 

So that’s my New Year’s resolution – I’m going to try to treat everyone close to me like a dog. Try genuinely to see them as they are in themselves. Try to slap down my projections for them when they arise. Let them show me how they want to be loved, and try my best to give them that. My wife is always telling me that I give Jack too many treats — I tell her that one day, Jack is going to die (as dogs do,) and when that happens, she’s going to wish she’d given him more treats. So that’s on the New Years list too- more treats, fewer “corrections.”

 

We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I have a dog. A beautiful one who I love to distraction, and for that I’m profoundly grateful. By the way, Jack and I have talked at some length about this business of dogs dying. He’s promised me that he’ll never die, that he’ll stay with me forever.

 

I plan to hold him to that.

IMG_0027

 

© 2018 jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com/jfinkimages.com

Let Us Come Together

This Spring and early Summer, I’ve been struck by the richness of community, the simplicity. With heartfelt gratitude for family and friends…

letuscome

let us come together

 

let us come together here

on the rocky spine of this world

 

let us suspend all judgment

of ourselves and of those

we would hold as friends

 

let us watch the shadows

of the clouds as they race

across this darkening land

 

let us hold this hour

in the companionable silence

of those collected here

 

let us ask for nothing more

 

than the warmth of these hands

than this breath

than the tender, fragile heart of this day

 

let us cherish one another

and in this,

 

let us be glad

 

 

© 2017 jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com/jfinkimages.com

 

 

Home

This was written for the wedding of my oldest son last month. Life…

reception

 

Home

 

the man on the radio

said children first learn

there are three dimensions-

 

height and width and, of course

length, like a shoebox, or a house.

and only later do they learn

 

of the fourth dimension, time

the one that lends meaning

to all the others – standing here today

 

as we watch you prepare

to begin building your life together

I am acutely conscious of time

 

of how the immediacy of youth

can ripen of its own accord

into patience

 

of how we begin by thinking that love

is something that happens to us

like a bee sting, or an unexpected fall

 

and only later do we see that love

is something organic, that if we’re lucky

is something we might grow

 

to inhabit, like an atmosphere

or more, something that might

come to infuse us, like blood.

 

the older I become, the fewer things

I take to be certain. But some few things

I do know. I know that keeping score

 

is never helpful. I know that love

for one another is cultivated

through an appreciation of small things.

 

I know that even amid the uncertain winds

of this life, in this you might find shelter —

that if you are willing to work together

 

with patience, and with love,

and perhaps with some small measure of grace,

you must certainly succeed

 

in constructing of your lives a home.

 

© 2017 jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com

 

 

 

the stretch (Detroit ’68)

for the world series, and for boys and baseball…

detroit-1962-2

 

 the stretch (Detroit ’68)

 

it’s bottom of the ninth, two men out

two men on, so I’m pitching from the stretch.

 

he’ll be looking for the heater, so take a little off,

go outside, right at the crack in the second

 

porch step. it’s September, and the Tigers are a game up

with three to play – Freehan is flashing the signs

 

Ernie Harwell’s voice is in my head—“how could the skipper

leave the kid in the game at a time like this?”

 

as I start my motion, the runners go — absolutely everything

comes down to this–down to this lonely kid throwing

 

and throwing again, down to hitting that porch step, down

to this ball spinning now toward home

 

down to the twitch of the hitters’ hands, down to this cutter

finally starting to bite

 

detroit-1962

© 2016 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

 

 

My Father

My father, Allen Medford Fink, died of lung cancer in 1986 at age 72. He was not an easy man. As I explained once to an adult nephew, he was our father, so we wanted to be close to him, but it could be a dangerous place to stand. He taught us to be strong. But as I grow older myself, I can see that if my brother and I are, in our own ways, more gentle, well, he must certainly have given us the seeds of this gentleness as well.

 My father was 42 years old when I was born, so he was dead by the time my sons Patrick and Nathan were born. But his presence remains. In the Buddhist cosmology, the “three times” of past, present and future and not as solid as we ordinarily take them to be. Perhaps this is how I know that if he were to meet my sons today, I am certain he would be amazed. I am certain that he would be most pleased.

My father with me, the baby, and my big brother Joe on the lawn of our small house in Detroit in 1958.

My father with me, the baby, and my big brother Joe on the lawn of our small house in Detroit in 1958.

Written April 2015 in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah —

rains

the wind

is beginning to howl

a late season snow coming in.

by morning, everything

will be blown back

into white.

 

I remember my father

staring out the kitchen window,

massive and simmering,

considering the evening sky.

 

he left the farm just before the war-

came North, but never lost the habit

of weather,

 

of watching the clouds

for signs of impending danger

of flashing from sun into thunder

with no warning.

 

we’re grateful for the snow-

it’s been dry here for too long.

 

redemption can come

through the blessings of rain

of a rain that falls hard all day

of a rain that might protect us

 

from the lightning

from rage without warning

from the flames

t

hat can race up from the valley

and sweep us all away

incinerating everything

 

 

 

©jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com

stones

stones-2

I’m old enough now to see

how I’ve lived my life in dogs,

each a sun-warmed stone

in this stream of loneliness.

by these have I kept my feet dry,

have I so far made it across.

I look into the brown eyes

of my young black dog,

and can’t help but do the math.

My heart breaks in the knowing

of that distant day when he tells me —

it is time. When do we begin

to die? not at birth, surely,

there’s such a rush to life

for so long, but it slows somewhere,

somehow deep inside of itself

it starts to slow, until one day

as we sit together talking,

this slowing shows itself

in our faces, in our eyes, in our first

clear diminishing, and then we know,

yes we know. We’ve had a week now

of cold nights and windy mornings

the clouds dropping down, scraping

the tops of the aspens, stripping them

of leaves. Snow will come soon

to these mountains, but for today,

I still have this chair by the stream,

still the sounds of the stream over stones,

still a black dog warming his bones

in the late day sun. for today,

this is sufficient. for today this

is wealth enough for a life.

 

 

©jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com