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

 

 

when i came here

may the new year bring you peace, companionship and adventure…may all beings be happy!

cropped-dawn-patrol-2.jpg

when I came here, I believed

it was the mountains that called,

 

and so they do – Dogen told us this

hundreds of years ago.

 

these mountains walk.

these blue mountains always

 

walk. How slowly we must see

to see this. the morning sky

 

speaks softly running west to east,

reaching to embrace the mountains –

 

fog and rain,

the blue white brilliance of snow.

 

everything is a sign

to those who would see. Winter

 

is here. the grasses of summer

are brittle and brown

 

beneath my feet. Up ahead,

a dozen mountain bluebirds

 

break cover as one, each

a singular sliver of blue, each

 

a slice of heaven, rising,

spiraling up into this limitless sky,

 

reaching

for the embrace of the mountains,

 

yearning

for the blue-white brilliance

 

of snow

 

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

 

 

message

message

for jessica, who showed us all that gentle does not mean weak…

 

Message

we got your message in the morning

that she’d died the night before

on the other side of the world. tears

 

mixed with iceland’s rain. so cold

so very far away. Every one of us

is so very far away

 

© 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

 

 

Driving this rusty vehicle of self…

What is this vehicle we call the self? Certainly, the infamous ego is a part of it, but is that all of it? What does that even mean?

From the perspective of our 21st century consumer economy, the self has become the repository for all that we try, over the course of a lifetime, to accumulate — think of the shopping cart icon on any of your favorite e-commerce sites.

There’s a famous Zen cartoon of a little man who is born into this world and proceeds to ingest the full contents of a massively rich cornucopia, to pass the residue, and then, in due course, to die, leaving behind nothing more than a sizeable pile of, well, you get it…

My friend and noted Buddhist teacher, Ken McLeod, often says that what we call the self isn’t a thing, it’s an experience (sorry Ken if I misquote a bit here – see Ken’s excellent website,  Ken Mcleod- Unfettered Mind ) Like a child’s flipbook, these experiences pass so fast that we mistake them for a continuous film, an entity with some sort of permanence.

And then of course we die.

As anyone who has ever had the duty of cleaning out the cherished possessions of a dead loved-one can attest, even the most closely held keepsakes are simple junk once we’re gone.

So, using this life, this self, as a cosmic shopping cart probably won’t work out.

But neither can we function without a self, an identity- we’re creatures of a relative world. The IRS insists that we maintain a self, and our significant others probably do as well. So how do we work with this self?

How best to drive this rusty vehicle?

One classic Buddhist image of ‘self’ is of waves in the ocean, each somehow distinct but each still entirely of the water, inseparable from it. I like to think of each of us as a local concentration of sentience, of mind, of life force. Why the universe has chosen to organize itself this way I have no idea; but I think it does — moreover, I think it’s through this manifestation that the universe expresses itself and looks to experience itself.

If I’m right about this, then our mortal selves remain essential, but in a rather different way — what if the point isn’t to see how much we can accumulate for our selves, but instead to see how much we can express of our selves?

This shift changes everything — instead of contracting and gathering, our life experience might take on the quality of a gift to be offered rather than a treasure to be hoarded.

This expression of self, of life, can take almost any form – an art, a skill, parenting, a job. The blood of the difference is in whether or not we’re subtly trying to bargain for a specific outcome from offering. Again, Ken McLeod talks often of the insidious nature of the exchange mentality, the bargain of the marketplace co-opting all of our human actions. For artists who need to sell their work to pay the rent, this is a perpetual quandary. Even in the spiritual realm, we’re so deeply conditioned to the exchange that we’re often subtly (or not so subtly) looking for a payoff. But that’s just another form of shopping, of using our precious time on this earth as some sort of coin.

 No, I’m suggesting here that the only “payoff” worth the race is the freedom to stop gathering, to stop hoarding.

 By “expressing the self fully,” I mean taking this life-stream as a gift to be given completely, as an offering of all of one’s talent

and all of one’s difficulties –

 as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, no privacy.

 Whatever our gift, we manifest it fully, without reservation,

no withholding.

 We live completely into our lives through the full offering of them

to this sacred world.

 We come to recognize our own basic goodness and that of the world

as being one in the same.

 We manifest sacredness and we offer that back to the source.

 No giver, no recipient, no gift.

 Outrageous, inscrutable

 and free.

old cars, old trucks, california

abandoned truck, sonoma california, 2014

 

 

©jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com

 

 

 

 

Poems From Retreat – Shambhala Mountain Center July 2014, Part I

Poems sometimes surface while on retreat. Most simply rise and then fade away, but a few linger long enough to be written down. Here the first of several from a recent retreat in Colorado

golden heads

mountain center

Part I

grasses, tall

ready to seed. sage

intermingled

 

the incongruity

of six bright

blue flowers

 

across the path,

yellow columbines–

aliens everywhere

 

Part II

vetali, vetali

life, life!

 

so little water here, so

precious

 

grow spines

so as not to be eaten

 

then explode three

impossible

yellow flowers

 

for each of us

its either bloom

or die

 

© oldbonesnewsnow/J.A. Fink

 

 

cactus head