Skip to content

Oshogatsu Poetry



Dawn walk

No footprints in the snow

But those left behind.


Oshogatsu, New Year’s Eve

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

~W.B. Yeats


Everywhere, we hear the rounds of bells,

believe there is a center held by the zeal

of monks and nuns, intense not bored,

or priests and bishops in capes with gold buttons,


unhappy abbots in lamé rakasus.

With each strike the huge immobile bells suspend

our fears—we will not drift or float away,

though still we may explode. We know ourselves,


one in billions, cameras at the ready, on the fringe

gaining our way into the inner-most sanctum through

our lenses and tablets, where we find the brown-robed

chanting in stillness beneath gigantic, magnificent bells.


They do not so much as flinch each time the bells

are slammed by the crews tethered to the ancient beams,

who with each strike forgive and cleanse the world of sin.

We shout, “See, the center always holds!” then see ourselves


among the throng with thoughts ever-present of an out and in.

Howls rise from the bars as the rabble notices time shorten.

They funnel onto the streets and up the hills to the temples.

Pandemonium again, for the New Year.


In their left hands they grip fortune cards that predict

how Lucky-You will fare this year. How wise we think we are

to stay this close to the center of the random universe

without having to do a thing; but click―observe


the hard-wired center as active as a hive,

while the plague continues to spill from bars

long past mid-night into the first new day—in lines

that wind tighter and tighter circles without end around

the radiance of bells, from where it is not possible to stray.

~Kagayaki Karen Morris


New Years at the Zen Center


We sit on black cushions in the Zendo

as Oshogatsu bell-ringing begins.

The Shoten firmly strikes the gong,

sweeps her arm and mallet through the air.


Oshogatsu bell chimes loud and clear,

then guests recite the Bonsho chant,

Shoten draws an arc above her head,

Sensei bows and touches head to ground.


Guests repeat the Bonsho chant,

an echo of the bell still in the air,

Sensei bows with knees upon the mat.

Over a hundred times the bell, the bow, the chant.


The humming of the bell fills the air

as we sit in meditative pose

and bow and chant over a hundred times

to purify and welcome in the year.


Celebrants sip warm sake afterwards,

speak of how the Shoten struck the gong,

the message of the Bonsho chant,

the power of our practice for the coming year.
~ Norma Ketzis Bernstock



full moon wrapped in black
the temple compound in white
a piece of sushi
the perfect inside-out roll
being dipped twice in the light
~Glenn of Trees


full moon
wrapped in passing clouds
the tray full of sushi
at the temple feast


Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: