Koan #2: Last Shudder before Spring

Winter trees, Chicago (Bertulfo, 2009)

Flat white Great Lakes sky,

Distant frozen fog,

Yet warm enough

for hammers

to sound on rooftops.

Men work in hooded sweatshirts,

jeans, thin tennis shoes

upon brick bungalows

that kept us warm

in the bleak months.

But the trees

stand haggard,

bare-limbed and stoic.

Maple and oak and Kentucky buckeyes –

indistinguishable to my eyes.

All stand equally stripped,

naked, vulnerable

in the diminishing chill.

Oh, how they stretch

their feathery twig tips

towards the hiding sun!

How can I not cheer

for their survival?

No one calls Chicago trees heroes,

but they are.

Even we hearty people,

blood winter-thickened,

cozy up inside our walled homes.

Our windows may rattle

beside the El tracks,

but still, we are warm.

Chicago’s winter trees

brave ice storms,

branches snapped

by unflinching winds,

endure the bitter bite

of Below Zero.

Water-stained, whorled, gnarled

gray on brown bark –

they stand and endure.

In 40 degree air,

my hands gloveless,

the skin on my fingers redden,

knuckles chafed and aggravated.

Nowhere near Below Zero.

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