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Winter Tanka


Before winter ire,
the blue jay ink-blotched sky
squawks snowflake notes.
I blow warmth on frostbite hands,
birds nest in my frozen beard.


Between blue sundown
and black-and-blue morning snow
whispers blue-sky dreams,
blue frost kisses the window;
I notice brown chickadees.


Blue shadowy land.
Blue snow melts into voices —
single crocus stirs.
I leap out of bed; my heart
Anticipates some sledding.

First Snow

The snow alights like moths
covering the fluttering distance,
lineaments of quiet introspection,

a play of light reflecting off each one
while we reflect
on the tumbledown all-day silence

and its incredible restraint. Outside is
mummified. Hearts sigh like snow
finally sifting off pine branches.

Flakes catch wind-drift-thrust, threading air,
scissoring fields into pieces of silence.
At first, I can’t get enough of snow —

but after a week, I can’t stand it,
its rusty-bucket grey
from constant road salt.

Tea House at Koishikawa. The Morning after a Snowfall

Based on The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, picture # 14, by Katsushika Hokusai

Excited people at the tea house point towards Mount Fuji, quieted by snow. White edges are everywhere. I hold one flake on my hand as it finally melts, giving into the heat from my palm; but for a moment, it was the same weight as the first time holding our baby. All life is temporary as tea steam, but we can try to cradle memory.

Long shadows stretch between the generations of my family, and now those shadows are covered softness. See how memory melts. All morning, light fills footprints in snow with blue shadows, continuous silences, elusive snow flexing its quiet intent. Snow is giggling in the air.

Snow is the color of my beard and remaining hair. Snow is the memory of cherry blossoms.  Snow is the stillness of cranes trying to stand on uncertain ice. Steam rises from water as tea kettle mist. I cannot see my wife in the clouds or reflections of snow.

Each day shortens during winter. Then days increase their steps towards spring. What do I know of permanence? I went on a journey without my wife, and now her memory swirls as snowflakes in the indecisive winds.

Even Mount Fuji does not know what to say this morning. Instead, Fuji choses meditation. It goes silent, accepting the chill and snow. It merges with snow, steam, silence, cranes, wind.

People on this balcony are pointing to the mountain. Cranes open white wings, fly off chasing the sun. My breath flies with them to the mountain. The cranes sing with my wife’s voice when she greets me. I am off on this journey, sketching these images, quick as each flake. I miss that sound, that morning-waking call of my wife, excited about the smallest moments.

I drop my paintbrush. Feathers bristle against my painting. I feel the invisible. A snowflake reddens my cheek, a wife’s kiss.

Snow softens all sounds
until less than your poured tea
or feather drifting.

Martin Willitts Jr has 24 chapbooks including the winner of the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, The Wire Fence Holding Back the World (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 11 full-length collections including The Uncertain Lover (Dos Madres Press, 2018)  and Coming Home Celebration (FutureCycle Press, 2019). He is an editor for The Comstock Review.


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