James K. Zimmerman

Incantation: Felling Ash

select the one with the most
military bearing — straight, tall —
that calls for both arms to reach
to full extent around its girth
and solitary enough to assure
that its fall to earth does not rip
the lower limbs of its neighbors
out of their sockets

tell it tales of beautiful bats
and hockey sticks — smooth
straight-grained and strong
wielded against all odds —
that will be born of its steady
trunk and massive leaders, then

lead with the bite of a singing
ax swung from the hip, carving
at its feet a clean fifteen-degree
wedge to foretell the pathway
of its crash-and-thudding fall

now turn to the high side
and swing for the fences or a
slap shot on goal, over and over —
rhythmic and merciless — until
the ringing song of metal on wood
yields to crack and twist
of fibers giving way, letting go

falling to final rest on leaf, copse
and loam at your quaking feet


Incantation: Stacking Oak

you must talk to it, each piece
release it from familiar place
in trunk or phantom limb

free it of its fading memory
of leaf and flower, acorn, seed
read in careful tones the history
of its life in grain and knothole
bark, twist, and burl

acquaint it with its new
companions, united not
by annulus or cambium
but by fit and comfort on the pile
full contact in its resting place
nested in among the others
anchored in forbearing earth

tell it softly of coming rains
slashing sleet and snow
the huddling they will need
together against icy wind

until the great reward to come
inseparably bound in flame
and coal, ember, ash, and smoke
remembered long in gratitude
for bringing primal warmth
and flickering glow to the depth
and dread of winter


En Una Vida Pasada

in a past life I was
una fragata magnifica

with a wingspan far greater
than my arms can reach
I embraced wild currents
of the wind, del viento

I sang, canté las olas
the waves sculpting
the beach en las mañanas

a poem, fui un poema
a través del cielo, across
the sky en la tarde

and even I, floating there
on magnificent wings
even I was awe-struck

by the colors, los rojos
de sangre, anaranjados
rosados, azules del sol
muriendo, the sun

that so suddenly fell
beneath the massive green
shoulders of the ocean

and the stars, las estrellas
como luzes de un otro mundo
a world where I could fly

and join the eternal voice
la voz, el río, the river
of the Milky Way

y a causa de esto, even here
and now, todavía recuerdo
I will forever remember

el corazón pulsando
del cielo, the pulsing heart
of windswept sky


James K. Zimmerman

I first began my meditation practice in 1967, after a series of epiphanic experiences that I couldn't integrate easily into my understanding of what constitutes reality. My practice has always been grounded in Buddhist Vipassana, with added influences of Zen and Mahayana, among other traditions and disciplines. Recently, I have been involved in metta practice in particular, recognizing that what is sorely needed in the world today is a little compassion.

James K. Zimmerman is a frequent Pushcart Prize nominee and award-winning poet—most recently the Edwin Markham Prize and the E. E. Cummings Prize. His work appears in Vallum, Pleiades, Chautauqua, American Life in Poetry, Nimrod, and Tipton Poetry Review, among others. He is the author of Little Miracles (Passager, 2015) and Family Cookout (Comstock, 2016), winner of the 2015 Jessie Bryce Niles Prize.

More on James K. Zimmerman’s work can be found on our Links page.

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