Every summer for the last eleven years I have hosted a Karatedo Doshinkan special training on beaches of Lake Michigan. This year it isn’t going to happen: I’m just too busy finishing at my seminary and preparing (I think) for ordination. My heart is heavy — I’ll miss you so much, my training friends! Here’s a poem I wrote, a sestina about training on the beach.
Beach Training We come here every summer, to the bright shore returning. Glad to be together, full of life, we paw the sand. We anchor our stand by the water's edge and let fly the flag, White cloth flipping in the breeze, its free red circle, Drawn by the master's hand, lifting up and away. We kneel. A rush of swan's wings passes above the water. Some days we practice throwing into that icy water. With rolling motion the bodies rise and fall, like waves returning: One partner grabbing the other, sinking, turning away, The other arcing over, head-first in the water, escaping the sand. The heat of the sun and the cold of the lake chase themselves in a circle. Seagulls wheel away from the splashing, and from the flapping flag. The wind dies. Dead fish wash up. The flag Hangs flat and limp. We take a break, drink water. Aware now of our breathing, we smooth on sunscreen, sitting in a circle. Time is up: we leave the shade, to the beach returning. The sun presses us down hard toward the scorching sand. Striking, ducking, advancing, retreating, the afternoon wears away. Worn away, too, are all superfluities, worn well away. Distractions followed us all as far as the first unfurling of the flag -- A plan for dinner; a pretty girl's bare feet in the sand; A check-engine light -- they fade from heat and want of water. In their place, a new strength comes, flowing and returning, Everything else under the sun shrivels within our circle. Around the fire at night we talk, cooking and eating in a circle. The fire pops like the sand in our teeth; we wave mosquitoes away. The conversation turns to those who will not be returning, To those now gone, like him who drew the circle on the flag, Never now to train with us, here by the edge of the water. We ease our aching limbs into sleeping bags, now full of sand. Up again at dawn. Every day sweating. The sand Sticking to us like cinnamon sugar sticks to the hot circle Of a deep-fried doughnut. It isn't washing off in the freezing water. Blocking, turning, rolling, pulling in and pushing away, Moving in the old ways, here beneath the flag, Every thrust safely deflecting, every attack returning. Here by the water, burned and bleached, everything wears away In the end. Tending my tired joints, I slowly fold up the flag. From the empty circle of sand a spiral rises, like a swan returning.