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Buddha Shovels Snow

people-shoveling-snow-600x600

It’s been a long time since I posted any poetry from Billy Collins.  He’s an interesting poet – irreverent at times, addressing life even in its difficulty with equal parts depth and humor.   His poetry is accessible to even those who don’t like poetry.
I was having an online conversation with a Northern Michigan friend, speaking in metaphors about how even the most mundane, repetitive work can be honored as sacred.  She began to tell me how much this mirrored her day shoveling snow, and I was immediately reminded of this poem.  So for all my friends out there who weathered the snow and frigid temperatures lately, this is for you:
Shoveling Snow With Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

~Billy Collins~

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The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found —
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

~Mary Oliver~
excerpted from American Primitive

Those who are familiar with Mary Oliver’s poetry know that she has a deep and abiding love of nature.  It’s one that I share, hence I am often drawn to her poetry.  At the conclusion of the poem, the statement: “feels like one”, I believe she is saying it feels like an answering.  Said another way, amidst the quiet majestic beauty and stillness of nature there are no unanswered questions.  Immersed in the wonder around you suddenly there are no questions left.  It is a union with nature that is so brimming with the wholeness that you and everything else is.  What’s left but to happily lose yourself inside that world, devoid of questions now, awash in a knowing and an ineluctable sense of how incredible it is to bear witness to this amazing world and yourself in it.

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